Making a mess: Screen printing rookie at work

It’s kind of crazy that I had never done this before, since making a mess and making my own prints sounds like heaven to me. And now finally, 10 years into my creative career, I joined a workshop screen printing at MESH PRINT CLUB 2.0 here in my hometown.

It was for all levels and there was no need for any preparation. Well… when we were asked to design something on the spot to screen print a tote bag, I actually wished I had some more time to think about it. But maybe that’s a good lesson as well: let go of perfection and not try to control every detail. Which is the overall lesson of screen printing, I guess. Unexpected results. Good and bad.

So screen printing is basically just using a ‘stencil’ to transfer ink onto another surface, using a screen, a blob of ink and a squeegee. I never really knew how the actual screens were made, so that was interesting to see. There are two ways apparently. With photo emulsion + light and with physical stencils. Using light is the ‘professional way’, I guess. It allows you to use your screen over and over.

A nice example that was laying around / screen print by Nina Fernande

The mesh you are working on is completely covered in photo emulsion, your design is drawn (or printed) onto a transparant piece of paper. These two combined are exposed to bright light. The areas where your illustration is, blocks the light and the rest is exposed to it. When that is done (this took about 35 seconds), the mesh is cleaned with water (under high pressure). The emulsion that was behind your illustration is now washed off and you’re left with this shape as a ‘hole’ in the ink on your screen. Still following?

The photo emulsion is removed where the image blocked the light

Basically you have a closed surface (the photo emulsion that reacted to the light and was fixed onto the screen) that will not let any ink through and you have the part where the emulsion is washed off, so there your ink will be pushed through the mesh. Okay, so now you have your screen, but how do you print? To keep it very simple, you put a piece of paper underneath, a blob of ink above the ‘hole’ in your screen, take you squeegee and pull the ink downwards over the image. The ink will go through the screen onto your paper, only where your image is. That’s it. It’s a simple technique, but as we all noticed it does take some practice to not make a giant mess of it.

*disclaimer: this is my translation of what we did during this workshop, in my own words. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

The teacher’s preparing the screens for us to print from
I love the look of the ink on a screen printed piece of paper

When you’re using stencils, you don’t need any photo emulsion or bright lights, but the results can be a bit more messy and you can easily ruin your stencil, especially when you are using paper. The tote bags we made were printed with a stencil between the tote and the screen. Where the stencil is, the ink won’t come through the mesh and that way your design is transferred into the surface beneath (or in my case the other way around, since I wanted to keep the letters white and the rest inked).

I made a dozen of little quick sketches and finally decided to not make it too difficult and go with a bit of lettering. I need to bring this tote bag to my Italian class this afternoon…

Making a stencil for the tote bag
Printing the tote bag
We had some really nice results. The CIAO CIAO is obviously mine, but I absolutely love the dancers that are next to it!  

I came home all excited and had to keep myself from buying myself a DIY screen printing kit. I did find a few online and they’re actually quite compact. But first let’s see if MESH has a spot for me in their introduction course at the beginning of next year. Get a little more practice and then I just may start my own printing studio at home…

UPDATE. I just received an email from MESH that I can start the introduction course this Thursday. Whoohoo! 

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2 thoughts on “Making a mess: Screen printing rookie at work

  1. So next time you can make me a t-shirt with the text “My sister went to a screen printing workshop and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” 🙂

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