The Back Yard Guide To Fabric Screen Printing

The Backyard Guide to Screen Printing, on Fabric.

I have been screen printing for 30 years now and have had to do it under some pretty primitive circumstances and in some pretty remote areas of Australia.
 Along the way I have learned tricks and shortcuts and have also discovered a lot of the things I learnt at college 30 years ago are not completely true!
 Some great misconceptions revolve around the practice of screen printing and one of them is that you need fancy expensive equipment to do it.
 This is not true at all and before you invest in one of those new beaut Udu thingys maybe you would like to blog trip with me over the next few weeks and learn to screen print with basic materials in your own backyard

Part 1 Making a screen

PART 2 “Inks, Stencils and Print Surfaces and Squeegees”

If you wish to revise anything from last time or have joined us recently Please go to the above link to download previous chapters. You will need to do this before you proceed any further The file is in Adobe pdf.

Chapter 3: Using your screen.

This is where we get to the fun stuff,

You will need;

  • Your download shellacked stencil
  • Printing ink, 2 colours, I recommend colours that mix well ie two primaries or two analogous colours. ( I will cover colour theory and mixing in the next chapter)
  • Reducer print base.
  • Sticky tape
  • Fabric for printing
  • Paper for test printing A4 printer sheets or butcher paper.
  • Your covered print board.
  • Spatulas or spoons for applying ink
  • Jars or containers to mix ink.
  • Access to a hose in backyard.

1. Taping out your stencil.
First you will need to tape your stencil to the screen this goes on the back of the screen, Tape it along one edge only, have the screen and the stencil in the portrait position.
Line it up straight and tape along the top edge making sure you do not block any of the cutouts with the tape.

You must then tape out any bare mesh around the stencil top and bottom and on the sides
Extend the tape 1 cm under the stencil on all sides so that the mesh does not have any small exposed gaps on the sides. This is to stop ink squeezing out of the sides and making an unwanted printed line on your fabric.

2. Applying your ink

 With your screen taped and the stencil in place, turn it over so you are looking at your stencil through the mesh.
Place a piece of scrap fabric or paper onto the print table and line up your screen on the top of it.
I suggest you mix some ink with reducer so you are not using a full strength colour for this exercise , of course you may choose later to use your colours full strength if you wish. Simply use a ratio of about 1 ink to 3 reducer to get a mid strength hue. If you are unsure if your ink is strong enough wipe a little of the mixed colour on a scrap of white fabric to test it, it always looks darker in the jar.

When your ink is ready apply it to the screen in a line at the top of your stencil, don’t be frugal, but don’t overdo it either. You need enough to cover the stencil in your pull without it becoming too sloppy and over spilling the frame.

Ok now my photos become a bit hard as its hard to pull a screen and photograph too but I hope you get the idea.

 3. Pulling the screen/ Making a print.

Hold the frame edge with one hand; place your squeegee behind your line of ink

Slightly angle the squeegee towards you then gently pull the squeegee down to the bottom of the frame, do not press hard you only want to cover the stencil with a layer of ink at this point, this is called “flooding”, it sits an even layer over your stencil. If you find you have missed any parts of the mesh and some stars are showing uncovered with ink, gently pull some more down from your ink line at the top.
This is what your screen will look like at this point.

Now put your squeegee to the top of the screen and pull again this time add a bit more pressure, it does not need to be ultra hard though a gentle pressure will suffice

Lift your screen to see your print, if you see any colour, where it is not meant to be apply more tape to the back of the screen to cover the offending area.
NB; This is why we always do a test print to make sure there are no leaks!

When you go to make a second print, place your squeegee at the bottom of the screen, this is where the ink has deposited, Using the wood of the frame as leverage angle your squeegee and pick up the ink.

 It will be all sitting in a line along the rubber of the squeegee blade. Now take it back to the top where you started.

 Angle the squeegee towards yourself and move it up and down a couple of times without lifting the blade from the mesh. This will deposit your ink at the top of the screen again ready to pull for the second print.

4. Making a second print alongside the first
 If you wish to print a piece of fabric in a continuous pattern there are two ways of doing it one is by measured registration and one is by eye registration. By eye is a more random, more spontaneous way of doing it Measured registration is an industry method by which the screen image is measured exactly to fit in with its next repeat. Registration bars are used for this and every second print is made on the fabric leaving gaps in between the design that are filled in later when the first prints are dry enough. We will cover this in a later chapter.
We are going to register by eye now and as you will not want to wait for the print to dry there are two ways of doing it,
Hitting your wet print with a hand held hair dryer, effective but a bit cumbersome and you must be careful not to get hot air anywhere near your stencil as ink will dry in the mesh and render it useless.
  • Wiping the back of your screen in between prints, your screen will pick up thewet ink from your previously printed stencil and sit on the back of the screen, if you don’t remove it, it will “ghost” print on your next image.

Like this!
To make sure this will not occur;

Use a cloth to wipe away all those unwanted ink deposits from the back of your screen

It is a good rhythm to aspire to print and wipe print and wipe. This way you wont have to wait and you will have a pristine clean print.

5 Printing Blended Colour
 This is a simple special effect that can give simple variety and tonal pleasure to your print, it is simply the blending of colours on your screen.

  • Use colours that will mix well unless you purposely want to create tertiary browns.
  • Place them like so at the top of your screen.

  • Place your squeegee at right angles in the centre of the line of colours, gently raise it up and down a couple of times , this will blur the line between the pools of colour and make a better blending.
  • The same way as you did for the single colour, angle your squeegee and pull down flooding your screen.
  • Then make a second firmer pull.
  • Pick up your ink from the bottom of the screen the same way you did for the single colour, making sure you line the ink up with its previous colours place them back at the top of the screen and you are ready to go again.

6. Wash Out of Screen

Washing out of your screen is very important you do not want to have ink residue dry in it or it will block the mesh and make it unusable.

  • First carefully un tape your stencil, this can be either wiped down or gently washed out under water, BUT wash your screen first!
  • Place you screen in an upright position under a tree or against a fence and it it with water from the hose, wash away all ink from around the  frame edges too. Turn the screen around and thoroughly was the back as well.
  • You may notice you can still see your image on the screen, this is normal , it will stain the mesh, however if you hold the screen to the light you can clearly see if any ink it still in the mesh. 
  • Do this a couple of times during washing to make sure you have it all. This washout procedure is especially important when we later use opaque inks or metallics as they are fast drying and can soon ruin a screen.
Enjoy your first prints!!! Next we will cover colour theory and mixing and over printing of colours.