Silk Screen Printing

I was up late last night/this morning doing my first ever run of silk screen printed t-shirts.

It was fun. I can see how it can be addicting.

Two nights ago I mixed up the chemicals and treated the silk screen with the photo sensitive solution so it would be dry and ready to use.

First, I started off with a design I made for the KW Awesome Foundation Logo. I printed it onto three layers of acetate, lined them up, and taped it together. My toner is currently bleeding on my printer, so I took it to Fed Ex Kinko’s to print.

Once together, I set up the low-cost 150-watt incandescent bulb and pie plate method to burn the image into the silk screen, so the image could be washed away to make the negative.

I left it alone for 45 minutes to return to this:

You can see the image burned into the screen ever so slightly, in yellow.

Next part was to wash out the negative in lukewarm water and then let it dry. Washing it out was fun, and once you were done it was very satisfying to see the negative as clear as day on your screen.

While the screen dried, I ironed out the shirts, and got the set up ready to go.

Once the screen was dried, I covered the back with green painter’s tape everywhere except for the negative. During the washing-out process with the negative, a few pinhole-size holes appeared in the screen, so instead of having random colour dots on the finished shirt, I decided to just cover it all with tape to be safe.

Then, I dumped some ink on the screen and squeegeed. First shirt:

I learned three things from the squeegee process:

  1. If you used a backer, make sure it is flat and smooth. Initially I used a flat piece of cardboard from a crate of spaghetti sauce my wife had recently purchased, and its surface was slightly bumpy and textured. The first shirt shows where the circles were in embedded in the cardboard from the weight of the jars.
  2. Ink is best transferred if it is spread out evenly on the negative before it even put onto the shirt. I thought you could put the screen down first, apply ink in a line, then squeegee it across, but this method doesn’t transfer ink well on toward the bottom of the print.
  3. When you squeegee, use a little more pressure than the weight of your hands, and press evenly across the length of the squeegee, ideally with two hands. I was pressing so hard the ink was going through the shirt and onto the backer I had put in to support the shirt.

End results:

In the end, I was very happy with the result. In the picture with the 8 shirts all in a row you can see my technique progress. I am pretty confident now that I could do a run of shirts of any quantity successfully from the start now.

Start to finish, it took me about 4 hours to go through everything. It could have been shorter if I made the negative the night before, which I would probably do in the future. Basically, 1 night to prepare the screen and let it dry, a second night to expose, wash out and dry the negative, and another night to print. I guess you’d also need a fourth night to iron the shirts once the ink is dry as well. You’re supposed to iron them to help the ink set in permanently.

I look forward to doing this again in the future. My oldest son has a drawing he recently did that my wife and I adore. I’m thinking of scanning it on our computer and making a negative from that to print on some shirts. It should make for a great gift.

2 thoughts on “Silk Screen Printing

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  • November 30, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    The other major factor to consider is mesh count. The mesh count refers the tightness of the weave in the mesh fabric of the screen. A higher mesh count means the fibres of the mesh are closer together and a lower count means the fibres are more loosely woven, so more ink can pass through the screen. If you are printing on paper, you want a screen with a mesh count of about 230 for really optimal results. A screen that tight will allow you to print images with finer details and thinner lines. Since fabric is generally more absorbent than paper, you need a screen that lets through more ink when printing on t-shirts, totebags, or anything cloth. For fabric printing, you should use a screen with a mesh count of 110 or 160 (those tend to be the standard counts sold). I use 110. A lot of folks also opt for a mesh count of about 180, which allows printing on both paper and fabric, but there is an obvious loss of fine detail if you print onto paper at that count.


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