Things I’ve learnt: screen printing

I have a new love! It’s screen printing!

F is for fish screen print | Wolves in London
I made this with my own fair hands

Screen printing was the very first thing I wrote on my Things to Learn list, that lengthy tome of everything I need to do to get this fabric business started.

I want to print onto T-shirts, babygrows, bags, cushions… …you know, the usual old things. But I didn’t really have a clue how to go about it.

So, I was pretty excited as I went off to my first screen printing class a few weeks back. Excited and a little trepidatious too. I had a horrible feeling I was going to be the least “arty” person there. That everyone would turn up with amazing intricate images they’d drawn themselves and poke fun at me (or at the very least sneer behind my back) for my envelope stuffed full with vintage images that I had not lovingly drawn by hand, but downloaded from the internet.

Of course, I needn’t have worried. I was, most definitely, without a shadow of a doubt the least arty person there. In fact,  I was the only person there who wasn’t a fine art student. (Okay, okay, it was only a class of two, but the tutor was also a fine art student as was the, erm, fine art student who was there using the studio…)

But, not a single one of them laughed at me. I know! It’s almost as if I’m not still at school anymore, but a functioning adult in the real world, isn’t it?

The screen printing process was actually a little more complicated than I was expecting. And used a lot of really big, impressive swanky machines, that I couldn’t possibly hope to get into my spare bedroom. (Yeah, that had been the plan before I set off…)

I’m certainly not about to give you a step-by-step of how to screen print, but this is what I did on the day…

First we drew out our designs on acetate.

This is mine:

Screen print acetate
I actually think this looks even nicer than my final print

I traced out a fish image I got from Old Book Illustrations and the F is from a free downloadable font called Coffee Tin. (I’d printed them out beforehand onto normal A4, but actually if I’d had some tracing paper that I could load into a printer, that would have been the easiest way of doing it…)

Screen printing works by building up layers of different colours on top of each other. The prints I made just had two colours.

For my base layer, I used red. So when it came to printing this layer, I just needed the block outlines of my design.

Acetate design for screen printing
The simple block outline gave all the red parts…

For the top layer, I used black ink. This was where the detail of the images were really going to show and this was more the more intricate design.

We then needed to get these designs onto the silk screen.

I’ve got no photos of this part, but a very brief overview is that we put emulsion on a screen, which, when exposed to light, sets hard. Our designs, put onto the top of the screens, prevent that part of the emulsion reaching the light, so you can wash off that area and the ink goes through later.

Clear as mud? Thought so.

Anyhoo, the end result is a screen through which you can push paint in certain parts.

It was amazingly good fun doing the actual printing and I got a bit carried away and made ten copies of my design. I’m not actually planning on using this on paper (otherwise I would have given it a background colour too) but I thought about doing an alphabet like this on the front of babygrows…

So this was the finished result:

Screen print F for fish
F is for fish

I’m really pleased with the way the F turned out. The way the paint’s come through the design looks pleasingly aged…

Screen print F
Looks like it could be emblazoned on a big top, doesn’t it?

The fish was less successful, however. The middle fins have turned out really well. The tail is pretty good too:

Screen print close up
Though the lack of edges being perfect is, perhaps, a little mistake, I really like the effect…

But the face hasn’t taken as much detail as I would have hoped, nor has the cross hatching on the  main part of his body.

See, this is how the face looked on my transfer paper:

acetate design of a fish
Shall I frame him as well?!

Compared to the end result:

Fish face screen print
Oi fish face!

This is because I didn’t go over the black lines on the tracing paper enough times, so they’ve let a bit of light get through when we were exposing the screens. I’ve still got the design though, so I plan on going over a little more and trying again.

Still, imperfections aside, it’s not a bad first attempt is it?

My main disappointment was that the open access studio is going to cost a lot more than I had hoped.

However, and hold onto your hats people, because here is the first really useful bit of info I’m sharing in this post… …I have found an absolutely brilliant tutorial on screen printing at home from the ever-amusing blog The Art of Doing Stuff.

I need to look into buying the supplies, but it might be, it just might be, that I could set it all up in my spare bedroom after all.

Related articles

  • If screen printing sounds like a bit too much (and I certainly haven’t made it sound simple, have I?!) then have a go at ironing printed images onto fabric. It’s really, really simple. See my step by step tutorial and take a look at a few more tips and hints for getting a really great result. (The last one was another Things I’ve Learnt post!)
  • There are various other projects and ideas I’ve made with vintage images in the vintage images category, if you feel like a browse…
  • And this lovely fish (a smelt, apparently) shows up again in the fabric designs I made on Spoonflower.
  • You can head over to my tutorials page for more projects to make.
  • My only other article sharing things I’ve learnt was about photography. But I warn you in advance, the main point is that I’ve not learnt enough… Ah well. One day.

Small print disclaimer:

The title of this post is a little misleading. The premise for my things I’ve learnt series, is that I discuss things I have genuinely learnt as I embark on this whole fabric business project. Learnt to the point – dare I say it – of being good at them.

It was a great idea when I first thought of it, right back at the very beginning of this blog. I would share information and tips that would hopefully be useful to others, all about setting up a craft business.

But, of the 62 blog posts I’ve written since then, only two of them have been for this series. Why? Because I haven’t yet learnt that much, ha ha.

So I realised that if I’m going to wait until I’m properly really, really good at things, this series is never going to get going.

That, then, is the disclaimer: I have only “learnt” screen printing to the point that I technically know how it works and I have made one, just one, print.  I am certainly not an expert. Not even an amateur yet, really. Definitely not “good”… Just someone who has tried it out.

Linking this post up at the Shabby Nest, Shabby Creek Cottage, Today’s Creative Blog, Skip to my Lou and Sew Can Do.

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6 thoughts on “Things I’ve learnt: screen printing

  1. I’ve got a silk screen and printing is one of the things I really want to do more of too but my god the cost!!! Only thing I do that makes my silversmithing seem reasonably priced! Your prints look gorgeous btw 🙂

    1. It was when I found it was £3 just to use the emulsion for one time to set the image on the screen once that I really started to worry. On top of the cost for being a member of the studio, an annual fee, an induction fee, the fee to hire the screens and a fee per hour for using the tables!

      I’m definitely going to have to try and rig up a lightbulb somewhere to do the exposures in a cupboard…

      Now, silversmithing. That sounds like something worth trying as well!

    1. Ha ha, you totally sound like one of those spam comments “Hello, I enjoyed the first part of your post but all of your readers think you need to work harder on your SEO, click on this link here: buy second hand watches”…

      But yes, that blog is great! I have a few of the girl’s baby clothes Pinned from before I knew I was having a boy… Just need someone to make them for now!

  2. Always wanted to have a go at screen printing. I really love the vintage looking results. But I think I would end up with hundreds of tea towels! A skill to be learnt one day. When I have a studio in which to indulge all my crafty plans #pipedream!

  3. Your first print is so much more impressive than my first attempt! I love your fish, it’s amusing and your printing is really well done. I too recently joined a screen printing class, and everyone seems to know much more than I do.

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