from design to print
When I tell people I am a screen-printer I get one of two reactions: a blank stare or an idea for a T-shirt they've been wanting to make that says something like "guns don't kill people, dad's with daughters do." And then they ask if I can make it for them. That's when I say "no" because frankly that's not my gig. I design and make my own stuff.
That's usually when the conversation goes towards me trying to explain what I make and how I make it. Which is not easy to explain because screen-printing is not easy to explain. I get all techie about "mesh-count" and "exposure times," and then I stop when people's eyes glaze over. I hear them thinking, ". . . never should have asked . . . "
So I decided to do a post on my process. It's an entirely selfish motive of not wanting to explain how I screen-print every time the topic comes up. Now I can say, "funny you should ask, I just posted the process on my blog." Here it is:
1) CREATE THE DESIGN: This is when I either use the computer to create the design or go old-school with pen and paper (my preferred method). If the pattern is drawn first then I scan the image and finesse it on the computer.
Next, the image is printed onto mylar (a clear film sometimes called velum or transparency). Or sometimes I go even more lo-tech and put my design straight onto the mylar. This can be done with stickers, contact paper (see above) or with opaque pens.
2) BURN THE SCREEN: Once the design is on mylar it gets burned into the screen. This happens by coating the screen with a light-sensitive photo emulsion and exposing the screen to light with the pattern underneath it. When the screen is washed under water the emulsion that did not get exposed to light will wash out and the emulsion that was exposed to light hardens onto the screen. Basically, anything on the design that is opaque will be washed out and anything that was clear will stay. This means that the open spaces that have been washed out will have ink pushed through and be the colored ink parts. Got all that?
3) PRIN THE IMAGE: Once the screen is prepared it's time to print. There are different ways to set up the printing, but this is a simple way to do it: the screen is placed in clamps so it can move up and down. The paper or fabric is placed under the screen and ink is squeegeed through. Pretty simple, right?
4) DRY THE WORK: If sunshine is available I like to put my fabric outside to dry "naturally." But, if a second color is being applied, I run it through my conveyer dryer which is exactly what it sounds like: a conveyer belt with hot air and heat to dry the fabric quickly and set the ink. Once it's dried the fabric can go through the washing machine with a minimal amount of fading. If I didn't have a conveyer dryer then I could put the piece through the home dryer and it would set the ink just as well.
And that's it! I'll never have to explain it again.