How to Make a Homemade Silk Screen

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Learn the basics to silk screening to create wonderful shirts, linens, etc.

Things You'll Need

  • 2 wooden picture frames that are completely flat on one side, one smaller than the other
  • Screen with mesh count of 110 or 160 or an old curtain that is tightly woven
  • Staple gun or stapler
  • Degreasing agent (Mr. Clean or other cleaner)
  • Transparency film
  • Emulsion and sensitizer
  • Scoop coater or art squeegie, or just a piece of cardboard with a straight edge
  • Screen printing or fabric ink
  • Rubber gloves
  • Black bristol board, or black cloth or felt (very opaque)
  • Garden hose with a strong nozzle or kitchen sink sprayer
  • Masking tape

Building the Frame

Take apart two wooden picture frames, removing all metal pieces that may be attached to them. Save the glass from the frames, particularly the smaller frame.

Stretch your screen — either mesh with a count of 110 or 160 or an old curtain that is tightly woven and in good shape — over the flat side of larger frame. Stretch the fabric tight and flat without ripping it. Staple the fabric to the frame, using one staple on each side of the frame so that the stretched area of the fabric is in a diamond shape. Place the staples in the middle of each side, not at the corners of the frame.

Starting on one side of the frame, stretch and staple your way to the corners. Repeat this on the other sides, always starting from one of the initial four staples. However you stretch the fabric, it needs to be tight and flat. Cut off excess fabric, being careful not to cut too close to the staples or the screen may fray and tear.

Printing an Image

Design an image and have it printed or photocopied onto a transparency at maximum darkness. Remember that a lot of fine lines will be a lot harder to transfer, so if you're just starting out use a simpler design. The image on the transparency needs to be very dark because the image won't transfer to the screen properly if light gets through it. Hold the transparency up and make sure that all the lines in the image are dark and solid.

SPREAD PHOTO EMULSION ONTO SCREEN - Try doing this step in a somewhat darkish area as light may cause some problems, though with enough light so that you can see what you are doing. Mix the emulsion and activator bottles as per the directions on the bottles. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY. Pour some emulsion onto the screen and spread it in a thin and even layer on both sides. Try to avoid drips as best as you can, and get it as even as you can. Place the screen in a dark area to dry for at least 2 hours, or until it is no longer sticky. Once it is dry, go right to the next step because waiting too long may damage the quality of the emulsion.

CREATE YOUR IMAGE ON THE SCREEN - Ok, so the screen is dry and you already have your image on transparency. Now you need to lay the screen down, indented side upward, onto your black cloth (whichever type you purchased). This needs to be done outside and in sunlight, even on a cloudy day the rays can still get through. Place your transparency inside the indented area so that it reads correctly left to right. Then lay the smaller glass from the smaller frame on top of the transparency for the added pressure needed for the transfer. Leave it there for a while, at least 15 minutes or a little longer if it is not sunny.) The sunnier it is, the quicker this will be. It is also suggested that another light source, such as a task lamp or flood light can create the same result. I have not tried this yet.

START TO PRINT - Put some masking tape around the edges of the screen to avoid leakage in those areas. As always, protect your workspace with some newspaper or other means (a cheap plastic table cloth from the dollar store?) Place the screen down onto the fabric that you are going to print on. If it is something like a shirt, you can place a large piece of paper or cardboard inside the shirt to keep anything from leaking to the back. The screen should be placed so that the flat side is on the fabric and the indented side is facing you. Now, put some printing ink along the top side of the indented area of the screen and pull the ink down over the image using the scoop coater, art squeegee, or straight edge of a piece of cardboard (whichever works for you.) Be careful that the screen does not move during this, or you may smudge your image. Hold it down firmly and pull a nice even amount of ink over your image. Then, lift the screen off, careful again not to move it or slide it off the fabric. You should see your image there. Have fun with it. Once you get really good at this, you can introduce finer lines in your images or try with colors (which requires each color to be done in a separate layer from each other color usually.) You can also try using objects instead of a transparency image such as lace, leaves, some type of doily. Have fun and good printing!

Tips & Warnings

  • Keep practicing! Get really good at this, and then explore more advanced printing options (soon to come to my ehow articles.)
  • Make sure to always protect your work surfaces and hands to avoid irritation and/or messy clean up.

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