Digital Design for Screen Printing: Tips for Making it Work

I've heard it said that artists see what others don't see. Fiber artist Margaret Applin has a way of taking a familiar surface design technique and turning it inside-out to create designs and textures with a different look.

canvas pillow digital design for screen printing and fabric painting
Margaret Applin uses Thermofax screen
printing and fabric painting to create
this design on canvas.

She does this by looking at a technique from the other end of the telescope, so to speak, and uses photo-editing software to help her achieve the effect she's created in her mind.

For example, Margaret showed how to take your surface from flat to fabulous in the October/November 2011 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine using digital monoprints.

Here is the twist: Instead of printing with paint or ink onto paper or fabric, Margaret imports images of her own unfinished journal pages, fiber art, photographs, and hand-drawn images into her photo-editing software. Then she digitally creates the look and feel of a monoprint made the traditional way.

Now Margaret is at it again with a Thermofax screen printing technique. Instead of printing the lines of the design, using Photoshop Elements Margaret creates designs for screens that print the negative image. Then she paints and stitches on top of the design.

It took me a while to wrap my head around this surface design technique, because it's the opposite of how I'm used to viewing this screen printing method.

from digital design screen print to fabric painting
The negative or black area of the digital design becomes the screen printed white background on the canvas. The flowers are then painted.

Also, I'll admit that I sometimes lose track of where I am in the design process when I'm using a tool like Photoshop. Which layer am I on? Did I save the right version?

Fortunately, Margaret's digital design skills match her talent as an artist. In both the article and her new Quilting Arts WorkshopTM video, "Digital Design for Screen Printing: Creating Mini Canvas Screens for Surface Design," she gives clear, easy-to-follow instructions for using the photo-editing software to achieve the results you're looking for.

Here are some of her tips for avoiding frustration and confusion while designing:

  • Pay attention to what layer you are on while making adjustments. You may think you are making a specific adjustment and you don't see the results you want because you have a different layer selected.
  • Use the "Undo" and "Redo" buttons as you make adjustments to see if you really like the changes you made before continuing.
  • During the design process, if you love a particular result you have created, duplicate it and save it as its own file; then continue working on your main file. That way, if you are unhappy with the results after further manipulation you can go back to the part you especially liked.
  • When you start to build your digital design files, it helps to be very organized. Create a file-naming convention or different folders for your backgrounds, brushes, etc. Before you realize it, you will have collected a number of images that you will be searching through for a design.
  • If you are sure of a design that you want to print out, save it as a duplicate with a new file name ("xxx-final") and use that smaller file for printing. Save your original design with all of the layers as your "recipe" file.

margaret applin digital design for screen printing
Margaret Applin

In her Workshop video, Margaret takes you step-by-step through the digital design process, giving you tips and hints along the way. First you create your individual brushes (the negative part of your screen design), then you overlay the line drawing (taken from a photo) that becomes the positive portion of the screen design. Lastly, you incorporate mixed-media techniques that add color and texture to the finished project. The result is some of the most beautiful screen-printed and painted fabric art I've seen.

Anyone who's looking for a new spin on Thermofax screen printing and fabric painting while getting a personal tutorial in digital design would love Digital Design for Screen Printing.

P.S. Do you use digital design? If so, how? If not, why not? Leave your comments below.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Fabric Painting & Dyeing, Monoprinting & Screenprinting, Quilting Daily Blog

3 thoughts on “Digital Design for Screen Printing: Tips for Making it Work

  1. Margaret,
    I love your designs using the Photoshop and the Thermofax prints. I have been drulling over the thermofax machines for months but the cost is so extreme I may hold off for a while. I would like to inquire on a resource(s) for creating the themofax stencils indiviually. I haven’t been able to find a good source. If you could I you could help it would be much appreciated. Bonnie

  2. I am new to the family of art quilt craft how-to’s, would love to get more involved, but I see a lot of references to “thermofax screens,” and in every instance, the writer assumes everyone reading her article is completely familiar with the product and the process. I never seem to see anything which introduces the product and process to people — would such an introduction be available anywhere in the Interweave world of publications and videos?? I am a multi-media artist, children’s book illustrator, and traditional quilter, but would need a BEGINNER’s exposure to the world of thermofax screens in order to even understand many of your articles. What exactly are they, where do they come from, can they be made by someone at home, or do you have to buy them already made, etc. etc. Thanks so much — ignorance is NOT bliss!