How to Make a Screen Printing Press
Every good independent artist has, at one time or another, had the need to screen print something. Whether it be a poster to advertise an upcoming event, a piece of clothing to exhibit a personal design or a banner to hang behind the table at a zine fair, it’s a useful skill to have; so Broken Pencil editor Lindsay Gibb investigated and tested the cheapest and easiest way to build a screen and print at home.
By Lindsay Gibb
If you live in a big city there are probably a few of options in your area of places you can go to screen print. Local arts colleges and artist run facilities often have screen printing materials you can use, and even offer classes where you can learn how to use it first.
Then there’s the silk screening kits you can buy at art stores. They’re not cheap, but they have everything in them (or nearly everything) that you need to get started.
However, if you’re not lucky enough to have screen printing facilities in your area, and you don’t want to drop a lot of money on a kit, why not make your own screen on the cheap so you can print in the comfort of your own home?
I’ve screen printed a bit in my time (though not much since the ’90s), and I’ve attempted to make a fair amount of things from scratch in the past, with varying degrees of success; but I’d never attempted making my own screen until I undertook this project for your benefit. Believe me, it took some time to figure out how to do this on little money.
Getting started with screen printing is expensive and complicated, period. There’s normally a lot of materials used and many steps to go through in order to complete the task. But the method I found takes only a few steps and doesn’t require a lot of tools. Most of the things you need can be found at second-hand stores or around the house (save for the ink you need to print with — though if you look hard enough I’m sure you could find alternative ways to make your own ink. That’s another project altogether).
If you’re up for a challenge that will leave you with a useful tool for all your one-colour printing needs, follow me through my first adventure in screen building and printing…
Using last year’s DIY issue of Broken Pencil as inspiration, I decided to take Evan Munday’s interpretation of how to draw Broken Pencil publisher Hal Niedzviecki and put it onto a shirt.
To build the screen you will need:
-The frame (I used a picture frame but you could use an embroidery hoop if you don’t want to use the staple gun)
-The screen (I used nylons, but you can use any porous fabric such as a sheer curtain)
To print you will need:
-Your image, printed or hand draw onto a piece of paper at the size you want it to print
-Non-water soluble glue to prep the image on the screen (I used gel medium instead, either will work)
-A paint brush (or a few paint brushes in different sizes if your image is more detailed)
-Screen printing ink (speedball brand is pretty cheap and easy to find)
-Something to print onto
Step 1) Build the screen
Grab your frame or embroidery hoop to attach your screen. If you’re using a picture frame remove the glass, any backing and metal or plastic bits that might be attached so all you have is the wooden frame.
Take your nylons and cut them down one seam so you have one large piece of nylon. I bought a large size so I would have enough to fill my frame. Take the staple gun and, starting at one corner, begin attaching the nylons to the edge of the frame. If one side of your frame is flatter than the other you will want to attach the nylon to the flattest side of the frame so that when you use it to print it lies flat. Make sure to stretch the nylon as you attach it to the frame to make sure that the screen ends up being tight. If it is too loose it might shift when you’re printing.
Step 2) Draw the image onto the screen
Take your image and put your screen on top of it with the flat side down. Trace your image onto the screen and shade the parts where you will want the ink to come through so that you remember when you get to the next step.
When I started tracing Hal’s face onto the nylon screen, I found that the original design was a bit too detailed and I was worried that I might not be able to block the screen (the next step) well enough if I stayed with that design, so I went back and rejigged the image so it was a bit simpler. Depending on your level of artistic skill, you may find it easier to start with a simple design and, once you’ve done this a couple of times, you can move on to something more detailed later.
Step 3) Block out your screen
Now that the image is drawn onto your screen you will want to paint your non-water soluble glue or gel medium onto the parts of the screen where you do not want the ink to come through. Make sure not to leave any holes or you will get little stray dots in the finished product (dots can look good depending on what aesthetic you’re going for, so it’s up to you how careful you are here). Let the glue dry for a few hours and check for holes once it’s dry. You may have to touch it up and let it dry again before you move on to the next step.
Step 4) Print!
Now that your screen is ready you can start printing. If you are printing on fabric you should iron it before you print so that you don’t get any creases in the design. If you are printing onto a T-shirt you should put a piece of thick paper or cardboard inside the shirt so that the ink doesn’t soak through to the back.
Once whatever medium you are printing on is ready, you can place the screen face down, making sure it is in the place that you want to print. You then pour the ink onto the screen above the image, take your squeegee and drag the ink over the image so that it fills in all the space you want the ink to come through. You should try to get the ink through all the parts of the image on the first swipe so you don’t have to go back over it. Sweeping back over the image with the squeegee can chance moving the screen and smudging the image. If you have to go back over it, try to swipe in the same direction with the squeegee and be sure to keep the screen as still as you can. When you’re sure you have the best coverage possible with the ink, carefully separate the fabric from the screen and let your image dry. Now you have a Hal T-shirt! (or whatever it is you’re making.) Make sure to rinse the screen when you’re done printing so the ink doesn’t harden in place and you can use the screen again.
There’s obviously a more pro way to do this, but it involves more prep time, more materials and more money. This is a good way to start, but if you want to learn a more advanced method of screen printing, Broken Pencil will be getting a lesson over the summer from screenprinter Michael Morton and we will share it with you on our website. Check brokenpencil.com throughout the summer for an advanced screen-printing tutorial.