Silkscreen printing, what is it, how does it work?

I discovered silkscreen printing when I arrived in Lyon (France) and immediately fell in love with it!
But what is screen printing? I will try to explain it to you as clearly as possible. I know the vocabulary in french, but I’m not sure of the words in english. If you see some mistakes, feel free to tell me.

Frame and emulsion

For screen printing, the frame is an aluminum or a wooden structure with a fine fabric stretched over it. It’s called a mesh screen. This screen is coated with a light-reactive emulsion and left to dry in the dark for several hours.

About the fabric that is stretched onto the frame, there are several available: different thicknesses and with a certain number of threads per square meter. These are notions that I don’t master yet so I invite you to do some researches on your side if you want to know more about it.

The design

Step number one: we need a black and white drawing! Whatever the technique, it can be digital or traditional. We scan it if necessary and then print it onto a transparent sheet of paper (acetate sheet).

Sérigraphie : typon. Lama.
Lama on acetate sheet.

Expose your screen

Once the coated emulsion-coated screen is dry, place your design on it with scotch tape. The whole thing is then exposed to a very bright light. The machine will illuminate the mesh screen for several seconds/minutes: the emulsion will dry… But not in the places that are covered by the black lines of the design ! This step can also work when it’s sunny outside ☀️ it will just take more time.

We remove our acetate sheet and wash out the screen with water to remove the emulsion residue.

We check that there are no defects. If there are, we take a fine brush and add emulsion, dry it (with a hair dryer so it goes faster), exposed it to a bright light again and then we can use our frame.

Wash the mesh screen after it has been exposed.

Let’s print

Grab a squeegee and here we go! The screen must not move, you have to press well so that the ink go through the mesh and on the support (paper, fabric…). It’s really easy and very fun to do: if you have a workshop in your city that offers screen print activities, I strongly advise you to test it.

About the inks: the ones I use are water-based, but there are many others (solvent-based for example). Almost all colors are possible, it’s more economical when you want to make a fluo or gold print for example!

Sérigraphie d'animaux mignons pour créer des broches, spécial Saint Valentin
Vinyl stencil and a squeegee.

On what can we screen print?

On EVERYTHING (or almost). I have tried on different types of paper and fabric, but I have seen designers print on wood! You have to make sure that the paint stays on the chosen support. I tried a glitter ink on a fabric, and unfortunately the glitter didn’t stick well and went away at the first wash… So don’t hesitate to do some tests to make sure everything is OK.

I mainly print on fabric (mainly cotton) and the result holds REALLY well: the fabric can be washed, ironed, there is no (or little?) degradation after washing instead other techniques (I am thinking of transfer paper or flex).

Sérigraphie sur tissus
Screen print on fabric.

Screen printing at home during lockdown?

At the end of the year 2020, I had to drop several plans. But not serigraphy.

The workshop in my town thought of me by preparing a kit to screen print at home. And I recently welcomed a cutting machine in my workshop… It allows me to cut vinyl stencils and use them on my mesh screen. I can avoid the steps of emulsion coating, exposition to a bright light and washing the screen (I don’t know the right word in english. You can remove the emulsion and reuse the blank screen with another design), which I cannot do at home because of my lack of space and equipment.

So I will be able to work on small series with simple designs, and I’m considering taking custom orders for brooches and pouches! The Christmas Animals Biscuits pattern has been silkscreened with this « vinyl stencil » technique, as well as the special Valentine’s Day brooches. ?

Saint Valentin broche sérigraphiée artisanale
Brooches with pockets, handmade and hand screen printed for Valentine’s Day.
Noël 2020 - Pochette sérigraphiée faite à la main
Cute Animal Biscuits on handmade and hand screen printed pouch for Christmas.

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