Screen printing is a popular starter business because of its relative ease to learn, inexpensive startup costs and the ability to print on many items. Developed in China around 900 AD, screen printing is one of the oldest printing methods in which the basic process has remained largely unchanged. With a small work space, self-training and a small investment, you can learn to screen print.
Startup supply packages from screen printing suppliers save time and money. Since ink and screen materials are engineered for specific tasks, decide on what you would like to print before ordering. Most screen printers start out with paper or fabric printing, but screening is also done on metal, wood, plastics, stone and other materials. Your supplier will provide you with the right materials based on your decision.
Basic supplies include printing screens, ink squeegee, ink, cleaners, stencil film and hinged screen clamps. Shipping tape, spray glue, plywood, rulers, and a precision cutting knife are available at hardware stores.
Building Your First Press
A basic screen printing press consists of two hinged screen clamps mounted on three-quarter inch plywood. Cut the wood slightly larger than the size of the screen, leaving room for mounting hinges.
A 12-to-16 inch piece of wood molding, nailed to the side of the screen frame to swing downward when the frame is lifted, will act as a holding device.
Cut 1- by-2 inch cardboard rectangles to use as printing gauges. These will allow items to be easily loaded on the press in the same position during a print run.
Preparing The Screen Stencil
Screen printing is a stencil process, with the screen fabric used to control edge bleeding and allowing for uniform ink deposit.
Screen stencil film, or frisket, is a self-adhesive material used to hand cut a design, which is then applied to the screen. Designs may also be cut out of heavy paper or sheet plastic and applied to the screen with spray glue. You may also paint the design in reverse directly onto the screen fabric, using artist's opaque fluid or latex paint.
Professional printers use the photo-emulsion method, which is a complex process requiring expensive equipment and chemistry. While it is possible for the novice to use shortcuts and take advantage of this method, it is beyond the scope of this article.
Preparing To Print
After applying the stencil and allowing to dry thoroughly, tape the inside edges of the screen with shipping tape and mount onto the press hinges.
Place item on the press and lower the screen. Move the item until the image is in the desired position, using a ruler sandwiched between the item and screen to make measurements and square the print. When the item is in place, lift the screen and place cardboard gauges next to two sides of the item, taping securely.
Pour a line of ink at the top of the screen. Using a printing squeegee, pull ink across the screen, using enough pressure to push ink through the fabric and onto the item. Experiment with different squeegee angles and pressures to achieve desired results.
Place the squeegee upright at the hinged end of the press and lift the screen. The molding should hinge down to hold the screen up, allowing you to remove the printed piece and replace with the next.
Hang printed items to dry with spring clips and clothesline, or lay out on tables. Drying times vary with the type of ink used, item material, humidity and room temperature.