What is screen printing?
According to the dictionary, screen printing is a printmaking technique where mesh cloth, or silkscreen, is stretched over a wooden frame and a design is painted onto the material. Once the resist is in place, a squeegee pulls the printing medium across the surface to force color through the openings of the screen.
Screen printing evolved from stenciling as a way to accommodate designs that contained floating areas within the desired design. At first, Japanese artists would connect the pieces of their mulberry paper stencils using gossamer silk or human hair. The fine mesh used today to connect the floating areas of a design is considered far more durable.
Screen printing is a versatile and low cost method for adding pattern to fabric. By the middle of the 20th century it became the major method for printing fabric. Compared to the wood blocks and engraved rollers used to print fabrics prior to the rise of screen printing, this handy method allows for more intricate designs and the ability to produce smaller quantities of a particular pattern.
Today, screen printing is still a versatile and low cost method for adding pattern to fabric, from t-shirts to fat quarters to bolts of yardage. Many contemporary methods have developed from traditional screen printing, including Thermofax printing, drawing fluid, and burning a screen.
To learn more about the history of screen printing along with how to incorporate this technique and others into your repertoire, check out Holly Brackmann’s eBook The Surface Designer’s Handbook. This book is packed to the gills with information on a wide variety of surface design techniques including dyeing, printing, painting, and creating resists on fabric.
Interested in silk screening at home?
Learn how to make a silk screen and use it with these instructions from Sue Bleiweiss originally published in the February/March 2015 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine.
1. To set up the screen for drawing, elevate the blank screen so that it’s not touching the tabletop. I use a jar of paint in each corner to lift the screen off the table.
2. There are a variety of ways you can apply the drawing fluid to the blank screen. Try gutta applicators, foam or bristle brushes, or found objects.
3. After you have applied the design to the screen, set it aside. Keep it elevated until it is completely dry.
Apply the Screen Block
1. Place the screen on a flat surface which is protected by a piece of scrap fabric.
2. Spoon some screen block across the top of the screen and use a squeegee to draw it across the surface of the screen—just as if you were making a print.
3. Cover the entire screen with screen block and set it aside, elevating it off the surface of the table until it is completely dry.
Wash Out the Drawing Fluid
1. Put the screen in a sink and place a layer of paper towels on the surface of the screen. Fill the screen with cool water and let it sit in the sink for 10 minutes. This softens and dissolves the drawing fluid (but not the screen block).
2. After soaking, remove the paper towels and spray water on the screen. This washes the drawing fluid away. The screen block will remain on the mesh, allowing the paint to pass through the areas where the drawing fluid washed away.
3. Let the screen dry completely. Once dried, it is ready for printing.
Print with the Screen
1. Choose paint with some body to use with the screen. Thin paint may seep under the screen, muddying the design.
2. Create a lightly padded printing surface by placing a plastic sheet over layers of felt or batting.
4. Spoon some paint along the top edge of the screen and, using a squeegee held at a 45° angle, drag the paint across the screen. I usually make 2–3 passes back across the screen to make sure the paint has permeated the screen and the image is printed on the fabric.
5. Carefully lift the screen off of the fabric and place it down in another area, repeating the process until the fabric is printed as desired.
6. Let the paint dry completely and then heat set according to the paint manufacturer’s directions
For the full article where you’ll learn how to reclaim the screen for a new design and to check out Sue’s expert tips download the February/March 2015 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine.