Silkscreen Printing Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide

By Quill And Fox


Silkscreen printing has always captivated me with its retro charm and tactile quality. The combination of bold colors and strong lines creates a unique style that digital production simply cannot replicate. In this article, I will guide you through the popular photo emulsion method of creating a screenprint, as demonstrated by award-winning illustrator Eliza Southwood. So, grab your creativity and let’s dive in!

How to Make a Screenprint

The photo emulsion method is the most common technique used in screenprinting. Here’s a breakdown of the process:

Materials You’ll Need

To get started, you’ll require:

  • A wooden or aluminum screen with synthetic mesh fabric
  • 270gsm paper (though screenprinting is versatile and can be done on various materials)
  • Printmaking inks
  • A squeegee
  • Transparent film
  • Brown tape
  • Masking tape
  • A bucket of water
  • Spatula
  • Rags

Step 1: Designing Your Image

Begin by sketching out your design and deciding on the colors you want to use. Remember to keep it simple and effective. Eliza suggests limiting the number of colors to three, with white space acting as the fourth color.

Step 2: Creating the Stencils

Using black acrylic paint on semi-transparent film, create a stencil for each color. Start with the lightest color and apply paint to the areas where that color will be printed. Overlapping the stencils slightly allows for proper registration and prevents white gaps between colors.

Step 3: Coating the Screen

Using a trough and a squeegee, coat the screen with the photosensitive coating. Ensure the edges are clean and leave the screen to dry completely.

Step 4: Exposing the Screen

Place the coated screen on top of the first stencil and expose it to UV light for approximately a minute. The exposure time will vary depending on the strength of your lightbox. Shorter times work well for fine lines, while longer times suit bolder stencils.

Step 5: Washing It Down

Rinse the screen with water to reveal the design, which has been “burnt” into the impermeable coating. Let the screen dry once again before proceeding.

Step 6: Masking the Paper

Before printing, mask off areas where ink might get through, such as the edges of the screen. Apply a generous amount of ink to one end of the screen and use the squeegee to pull it across.

Step 7: Registering Your Print

Create a register by printing onto a semi-transparent sheet. Tape one side of the sheet to the print bed’s surface. Once you can see where the ink will come through the screen, slide a piece of paper underneath and use marker tabs to align subsequent sheets.

Step 8: Proofing Your Print

Print a few test prints to check the color balance. Adjust the pressure applied with the squeegee until you achieve the desired result. Once satisfied, print the entire edition, numbering each print individually.

Step 9: Cleaning Up

After drying your finished prints, clean up the tools for reuse. Scrape up any excess ink, rinse the screen, and apply a solution to clean the photosensitive coating. Finally, rinse the screen once more with a high-powered jet wash hose.

Congratulations! You’ve successfully created your own screenprint using the photo emulsion method. Now you can enjoy the unique charm of this traditional printing technique.

If you’re looking for more art guides, demos, and inspiration, check out Quill And Fox. Get ready to unlock your creativity and explore the world of screenprinting!