Project #66 – Burning a Screen Printing Screen

Screen printing is one of my absolute favorite hobbies. I think I’ve burned close to 100 screens in the last two years alone. It’s a little cheaper than buying a print Gocco and you’ll be able to print in a larger format. You’ll just need to buy a screen, some photo emulsion, a squeegee and print out a transparency of what you want to print. In all, it will set you back about $40 if you order from Dick Blick.

First, you’re going to prepare your screen. I use a Speedball kit and squeegee a thin layer of emulsion onto my screen, covering both sides evenly. We have a completely dark room under our porch where I leave most of my screens overnight. We seal it up during to winter to save money on heating costs, so I leave my screens in a large cardboard box. I elevate the corners of the screen slightly with tiles for circulation and cover the whole box with a black cloth. From this point on you’ll want to expose the screen to as little light as possible until you make your exposure.

Once the screen is dry (~18 hours later) I use the same box to help make an exposure. First, keeping the lights as low as possible, I removed the tiles and checks to make sure the screen was dry. Next, I arranged the transparencies of the images I wanted to print on the screen. Then I overlaid the transparencies with a piece of glass from a picture frame to keep the film settled and flush against the screen fabric. I covered all of this with an opaque piece of vinyl and closed the box.

I very gingerly carried the box with the screen inside to a sunny spot of the yard. I then opened the box and uncovered the screen and transparencies, exposing them to sunlight. I waited about 10 seconds and then turned the box a quarter turn
to eliminate the shadow the glass edges cast. I waited five more seconds and then covered everything back up.

I took the box to a shady part of the yard and turned on the hose. Moving quickly, I grabbed the screen, threw off the transparencies and immediately soaked the screen on both sides with the hose. This will set your images and you won’t have to worry about overexposing the screen anymore. If your exposure was successful, you’ll see a slight shadow corresponding to your transparencies.

Now blast the screen with the hose at the highest pressure possible. You’ll start to see the bits of the unexposed emulsion wash away. If you put the emulsion on thickly this might take some time, but a close up blast of the hose will usually take care of it. The picture above shows an area with most of the unexposed emulsion removed, but with a few light green bits left behind. This part of the process is likely to get you pretty wet, so wait for a warm day.

Hold your screen up to the light to see if you completely washed away the areas you want to print. Once the screen reaches your satisfaction wipe it off gently and let it dry. Use the screen as soon as possible because a screen that gets too dry will be difficult to clean and reset for the next set of images.

Tomorrow, I’ll post about some simple, multi-color printing techniques.

If you live in Pittsburgh and don’t want to bother with photo emulsion or buying your own equipment, try visiting AIR on Tuesdays during open studio. There are a lot of helpful people and lots of studio space. It’s a good way to pick up new techniques and get started. It only costs $5 for a screen and free access to the exposure unit and studio space.


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