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Do screen printing yourself The screen printing instructions for beginners

We have already described what screen printing is on our page What is screen printing. With this guide we now explain the basics of screen printing in ten easy steps.

Step 1: What do you want to print on?

In the first step you first have to decide on which surface you want to print your motif. There is an optimal screen mesh and corresponding colors for every material that is to be printed. It is therefore important that you first know what exactly is to be printed on. This determines which screen mesh is the best choice for you.

Covered screen printing frames are not only available in different sizes, but also with different mesh fineness. It is important that you choose the right screen mesh for the prints. For the first prints on textiles, we recommend a frame with mesh type 54T, an all-round screen printing mesh for various areas of application.

First prints on paper can be made with a screen printing frame with 90T mesh. If you would like to take a closer look at the classification of the fabric types and their areas of application, simply take a look at our table on the What is screen printing page. Using the table, you can then choose the right screen printing frame with the right mesh fineness for your project.

Step 2: Select the motif and make the graphic suitable for screen printing

After you have decided which material you want to print, you have to select and prepare the motif so that it can be used for screen printing. For the first prints, we urgently recommend single-color motifs with full-tone colors, i.e. without color gradients. Fonts and simple, full-colored areas, for example, are particularly suitable. Color gradients (such as in photos) and multi-colored motifs can be printed with screen printing, but are much more difficult to implement and not recommended for beginners. We'll cover these topics elsewhere later.

In order to process a monochrome motif in such a way that it can be used as a template for exposure, it must be available as a completely black graphic. (RGB: 000000 or CMYK: 10, 0, 0, 100). The motif must then be printed on a transparent film with an inkjet or laser printer. We recommend the use of our milky screen printing films for inkjet printers. We recommend Photoshop as an image editing program. However, this is not absolutely necessary. Free programs for editing graphics are e.g. Paint.net and Inkscape (for vector graphics).

Download

Download our demo motif "Mutant Astronaut" to get an idea of ​​how you can prepare your own motifs for screen printing. (Includes the file formats: PSD (Photoshop), TIF, PNG, JPG) (10MB).

Basically it is important that the foils are printed with your motif in deep black so that no light can penetrate through the motif. After printing, it is best to hold the film up to the light. You shouldn't be able to see through the print. If you cannot print this out, it is best to print out two transparencies. You can then place these on top of each other during exposure.

Photos and graphics with color gradients can also be screen-printed. Here, however, the image material must first be rasterized. We will explain this procedure later in another place.

Step 3: clean the screen printing frame well before use

Before the first use, the screen printing frame must be free of grease (no fingerprints) and free of dust particles so that the photo emulsion can adhere well. After unpacking the frame, it must first be cleaned with degreaser, washed off well and then dried.

The degreaser is harmless and can be disposed of in the normal way via the wastewater. You can also wash in the bathtub or shower. The screen printing frame can then be dried with a hair dryer. Please keep a distance of approx. 10 cm from the sieve, as it can tear if the temperature is too high. Alternatively, the frame can also be dried in the air or on a heater.

Step 4: coating the frame with photo emulsion

In order to be able to produce the ready-to-print stencil in the screen printing frame, the photo emulsion is required first. This liquid is drawn onto the frame on both sides with the coating channel.

Photo emulsion is sensitive to light! Attention during processing! Please only use in the dark or under yellow light!

Before you open the packaging of the photo emulsion, please make sure that the room in which you work is darkened. Bright daylight must not penetrate the room. If you don't have a suitable room, please carry out the following part of the coating and exposure in the dark. Use a candle or a very weak source of artificial light so that you can still see something.

For example, when developing photos, it is optimal to use a yellow light lamp, which prevents premature exposure of the photo emulsion, but still provides enough light to be able to see clearly.

Why all this? Our photo emulsion is very light-sensitive and hardens under UV light. We use this chemical / physical process to manufacture our stencils. We offer two different photo emulsions for different areas of application. With the Easy Blue photo emulsion, for example, you get a very easy-to-use emulsion for printing simple motifs with our water colors. With our Mega Definition Emulsion you get a photo emulsion that is also solvent-resistant. With this emulsion, even the finest details can be exposed, e.g. to expose photos in halftone raster. You can find the corresponding instructions under Instructions> Halftone Screen.

First you have to coat the frame with photo emulsion on both sides. For this purpose, the coating channel is filled with the photo emulsion. Please add enough photo emulsion to the channel so that it is halfway filled. With the photo emulsion you now coat the screen printing fabric from both sides. The frame is held at a slight angle. The lip of the coating channel is now held against the screen, tilted towards the fabric and then quickly pulled up along the screen as soon as the emulsion touches the screen fabric on all sides.

It is important that the lip of the coating channel is always in contact with the screen mesh. This is the only way to achieve an even screen coating. The channel should be pressed well against the sieve mesh.

If the frame is now completely coated, it must be dried. This can be done with a hair dryer, for example. Alternatively, the frame should be stored horizontally and in a dark place to dry. We recommend quick drying with a hair dryer if there is no drying cabinet available. Please make sure to keep the hair dryer at a distance of at least 10cm. Please also make sure that the sieve does not get too hot, because it can tear. If the frame is dry (you can tell by the fact that the emulsion no longer shines and sticks (finger test)), you can now start with the exposure. The fun begins!

Step 5: Exposing the screen with your own motif

The exposure takes place by means of UV light. So it can also be done with sunlight, but the method is too unpredictable depending on the weather. If you want to achieve reproducible, consistently good exposure results, we recommend using an exposure lamp.

First you position the film with the motif mirror-inverted, in the middle on the outside (the side on which the fabric is glued) of the dried sieve. Stick the foil firmly to the frame with a transparent adhesive tape.

Protect the inside of the frame from light with a piece of cardboard, newspaper or photo cardboard. The ideal spacer base for our A3 frames is exactly the right one. When using our 400 watt exposure lamp, an exposure time of 3:30 minutes with the Easy Blue photo emulsion applies. If, on the other hand, you use sunlight, you can expose the screen for a maximum of 1 minute.

Important when exposing with daylight: It is best to expose in the shade and never in direct sunlight. Before and after the exposure, you should protect the frame from further incidence of light, e.g. with the help of two cardboard boxes or a black garbage bag.

Step 6: developing the stencil with water

Please always make sure that the freshly exposed frame is not exposed to any further, intense light radiation until the motif has actually been washed out of the screen, i.e. developed. Once the exposure has taken place, remove the film from the screen and wet it on both sides with water. For example, you can simply shower off the sieve or wash it off with a water hose. It is ideal if you can put the sieve in a water bath for 1-2 minutes. If that doesn't work, just hold the water jet on the sieve until the motif is completely washed out. This should be done successfully after 2-3 minutes. Alternatively, moisten the sieve well on both sides with water, leave to stand for 2 minutes and then wash all remains of the emulsion from the stencil.

If the subject does not develop at all, only vaguely or incompletely, even after several minutes, this is always an indicator of overexposure.

How can overexposure occur? There can be several causes here:

  1. You have exposed the screen to a light source for too long
  2. You have exposed the sieve to a source of light that is too strong (e.g. direct sunlight)
  3. Your graphic was not printed sufficiently opaque on the film so that light could hit the photo emulsion through the graphic.

However, if all of the photo emulsion can be washed off the screen under the action of the water, this is always an indicator of underexposure or the use of chemicals that worsen the adhesion of the emulsion to the screen. Please only ever use our coordinated products in order to rule out sources of error.

If the exposure was successful, you have a finished stencil that can now be used for correct printing. Now the stencil can be exposed to daylight again. If your stencil is not developed as desired, you should remove the coating from the screen immediately. The stripper is simply applied to both sides of the screen with a sponge or a spray bottle. After a few seconds you can wash the emulsion out of the sieve with the help of a sponge. Now wash everything thoroughly with water, dry the sieve and coat it again for another exposure.

Step 7: preparing for the first screen prints

The sieve has to dry first. You can help a little with a lint-free cloth. However, avoid wiping the motif with the cloth, as emulsion residues in the remaining water can later clog the sieve. After the screen has dried, the edges are taped off with screen tape, because no ink should later penetrate through the edges during printing. The frame is then ready for printing. In our case we are printing a T-shirt with our motif. The great thing about screen printing: after a few seconds you have a high-quality, very elegant and durable print in your hand. Large numbers of items can also be quickly realized in screen printing once the stencil has been created. For example, several 100 T-shirts can be screen-printed within 1-2 hours.

Step 8: printing with ecological watercolors

In textile printing in particular, it is important that the inks do not contain any chemicals that are harmful to health or cause allergies. Therefore, we only offer Ökotex 100-compliant screen printing inks, for example, which are harmless to the user and the clothed person. In this example we are now printing a T-shirt with this color by placing the finished screen printing frame on the textile, painting the color on the screen and using the screen printing squeegee to brush the color through the screen.

If we now take the frame down, we have a clean print. The printed color now dries in the air and should be ironed inside out again after drying (hottest setting). For larger quantities, we recommend drying the prints on a suitable shelf called a drying rack. It also makes sense to use a professional screen printing machine if you want to print larger quantities. With the right printing table, the entire printing process is much faster and more convenient.

The Pro Set is used in these instructions.

Step 9: screen cleaning, tools and frames are cleaned

After printing, all tools such as squeegees, screen printing frames and spatulas that have been in contact with water-based paint can be cleaned with water again. The sieve in particular must be washed off well with sieve cleaner and water. Unfortunately, watercolors not only have positive properties, they also have a major disadvantage: They dry quickly in the sieve and have to be processed quickly. There should therefore be no long pauses when printing with watercolors. In the worst case, the paint dries up in the sieve and is then difficult to remove. So please never let screen printing inks dry up in the screen.

A positive exception here is our new HyprPrint TEXPRO ink system. This water-based screen printing ink dries very slowly in the screen and can be easily washed out of the screen with our organic screen cleaner.

Step 10: stripping a frame - making new out of old

As already described in step 4, a screen coated and exposed with photo emulsion can also be decoated again so that it can be used for a new motif. All you have to do is apply the stripper on both sides of the sieve, wait a few seconds and then wash the sieve completely using water. After being degreased again, the screen must then be dried before it can be coated again. You can also do this process at home.

These are the basic steps in creating a screen printing stencil.

With our various basic equipment, as you get with our screen printing sets, you will be able to coat, expose and develop a screen printing frame yourself and then make your first screen prints on paper, cardboard or textiles.

You can find our screen printing sets here