How to Print a Multiple-Color Silk Screen


Layering color to create complex images and vibrant hues is where silk screen printing becomes really exciting. Consider printing glossy over flat color to build up surface texture.

Things You'll Need

  • Clear Ink Extender
  • Drying Retardant
  • Leg Props Or Brick
  • Silk Screen Squeegees
  • Silk Screens
  • Cardboard
  • Clean Rags
  • Sponges
  • Water Sources
  • Plastic Containers
  • Plastic Spatulas
  • Ink
  • Notebook Papers Or Fabric
  • Scrap Papers
  • Acetate
  • Common Nails
  • 3/4 inch masking tape
  • Print the first color by following the instructions for printing a single-color silk screen in the Related eHows.

  • Allow the image to dry fully. Silk screen inks dry fast. Within 2 hours you'll be ready for your next "drop" (ready to print again).

  • Re-clamp the silk screen to your printing unit, well side up.

  • Raise the silk screen and prop it up using a leg prop or brick.

  • Use a sponge to wash off your acetate for reuse, if you haven't already done so.

  • Mix your ink well, making sure you've included at least 10 percent clear extender (either flat or glossy) and one capful of drying retardant for each 8 oz. of ink.

  • Stand at the open side of the silk screen.

  • Pour a generous amount of ink into the low side of the silk screen well and below the image. Pour a thick bead of ink onto the screen above the image (so that the image is framed in two lines of ink, with the lower line thicker than the upper).

  • Hold the squeegee at a 45-degree angle with the handle toward you. Use light, even pressure and flood the image by pushing the thinner bead of ink toward the thicker bead.

  • Drop the frame onto the acetate by rotating the leg prop.

  • Grasp the squeegee at both ends, holding it slightly tilted toward you. Set the squeegee edge down into the big ink bead, capturing enough ink to print the image (probably about one-quarter of the ink).

  • Pull the squeegee across the entire image, applying firm, even pressure.

  • Lift up the screen and re-prop it using the leg prop.

  • Hold the lifted edge of the frame steady with one hand. With the other, hold the squeegee at a 45-degree angle with the handle toward you. Re-flood the image by pushing the ink back toward the low side of the well.

  • Take a dry print and slip it underneath the acetate guide and position the second color over the first, taking extra care to register (by eye) the images. That is, make sure the image layers match.

  • Remove the acetate (lift it and flip it over and out of the way).

  • Use your registration guides to outline the near right-hand corner of the print and the right-hand edge near the far corner. You're making a guide for this drop so that the second color ends up in the same place in relation to the first on all prints. Always use the same corners for registration - whichever corners you used the first time, even if they're not the right-hand ones.

  • Lower the silk screen frame by rotating the leg prop and print (as in steps 11 to 14).

  • Repeat for each additional color.

Tips & Warnings

  • Usually colors layer lightest to darkest (that is, you begin with the lightest color and proceed to the darkest) - but you may wish to vary the order. Experiment.
  • The biggest challenge is that, eventually, the ink will dry and clog the mesh of the screen. This usually happens right at the beginning as you are getting set up and making adjustments. Use a wet rag to loosen ink from the bottom by rubbing over the mesh. If it's really a problem, sandwich the screen between a wet rag (top) and dry rag (bottom) and rub in concentric, opposite circles. (Print a few samples on scrap paper to eliminate water after using the wet-rag technique.) If all else fails, wash out the entire screen and start over.
  • To alleviate drying and clogging, have everything set up and set out (paper, registration guides, acetate, hunger, thirst and toilet needs) before you put ink in the well. After you put ink in the well, work steadily - don't let the screen stand for more than 3 minutes or you'll risk clogging.
  • If the ink is sliding and smearing under the edge of the open area, tape a few layers of cardboard to the printing unit baseboard so that, when you lower the screen frame, it will stop just above the level of the print. This will make the silk screen fabric pop up more quickly.
  • Even though this is not a highly toxic process, make sure your work area is well ventilated.
  • The registration gets trickier with the addition of each color, so take enough time to get it right.

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