Screen Printing with small screens

Pots of screen printing colours with text Screen printing at home with small screens

It can be a bit daunting to start screen printing at home, deciding which type of frame and the size you need not to mention mesh count, squeegees, clamps, inks and other equipment. if you want to start without too much expense, here are some screen printing tips for beginners to try on a small scale at home.

SETTING UP A PRINTING SPACE AT HOME

It’s important to have plenty of space to work when printmaking with areas for preparation, printing, storage and drying. When screen printing, you should have access to a sink for washing out ink from your screens and squeegees. For more information, read our guide to setting up A Home Printmaking Studio Space.

EQUIPMENT FOR SCREEN PRINTING WITH SMALL SCREENS

Equipment for screen printing with an embroidery hoop screen

 

INKS & PAPER

Choose an ink with a slow drying time that won’t dry out on your screen, such as  Speedball screen printing or Daler Rowney System 3 Acrylic colours mixed with printmaking medium.

Start with a paper weight of 270-330 gsm and experiment with sketching, printmaking and handmade papers as you gain experience. Paper shouldn’t be coated as this may affect how the paper absorbs the ink.

INKS & FABRIC

Our favourite fabric inks are Permaset Aqua or Supercover, which give excellent results and can be machine washed. You can mix water-based acrylic colours with textile printing medium to print onto fabric, though your prints won’t be of the same quality as specially formulated fabric ink and you’ll need to hand wash your printed fabric.

Begin fabric printing on medium weight white cotton fabric and then try different weights, textures and fabrics.

SQUEEGEE

Use a mini squeegee to push the ink through the screen. For a DIY squeegee, sandwich a piece of foam between two pieces of cardboard and tape together or use an old credit card.

MAKE YOUR EMBROIDERY HOOP SCREEN

The first method of small scale screen printing that we cover in the workshops is printing with a screen made using a plastic or wooden embroidery hoop and net curtain fabric.

These small screens are an ideal introduction to screen printing. They’re relatively inexpensive to use and even if you move on to using larger screens you can use your embroidery hoop screen for testing inks and design ideas or embellishing existing designs.

You will need:
EMBROIDERY HOOP SCREEN Cut a circle of net curtain fabric a little larger than your embroidery hoop, lay it between the two parts of the hoop and tighten the hoop, pulling the fabric outwards so that the fabric is held as taut as you can get it.

When you’ve worked out your design, you need to transfer it to your screen. You need to block the areas of the screen that you don’t want to print, so that the ink can be pushed through the untouched areas of the screen. We’re going to work with stencils or screen block and won’t be exposing screens with photo emulsion.

Cut (or tear) your STENCIL from newsprint, vinyl (contact paper), freezer paper or copy paper and tape to the edge of the flat side of the screen using a little masking tape.

Alternatively you can block areas by painting them with SCREEN BLOCK or EMULSION PAINT (that you paint on the walls in your house). Screen block makes a temporary stencil that can be washed out but emulsion makes a permanent stencil. Mark your design onto the outside (flat side) of the screen with a pencil and paint the areas that you don’t want to print. Leave to dry and apply more coats until you can’t see even a pinhole through the blocked area. Don’t use the screen until the block has completely dried.

You can make a positive or negative print and also use talcum powder and threads of fabric to create interesting effects.

Clear your printing space, mix your inks to the desired colour and start printing.

PRINTING WITH AN EMBROIDERY HOOP SCREEN

Make a test print first. Place your screen, stencil side down, onto a piece of paper and spoon a small amount of ink into the screen.

Using your squeegee firmly, and with as few passes as possible, move the ink evenly across the whole of the design.

Lift the hoop to reveal your screen print.

Rabbits repeat print using embroidery hoop screen

Check the print and if it looks good, start printing onto your chosen paper or fabric. You can use this method to print repeat patterns but avoid placing your screen on the wet design to prevent ghosting.

 

The second small scale screen printing method that we try in the workshops uses a thermofax screen.

PRINTING WITH A THERMOFAX SCREEN

Thermofax screens are great for producing reliable, fine detailed screen prints. We recommend Thermofax Screens who sell pre-designed screens or will use your artwork make a custom screen.

 

Screen printing with Thermofax screen
Lay your screen onto the print surface (paying attention to ‘this way up’), spoon a well of ink across the top of the screen and push the ink across the screen with the squeegee. More pulls will create a thicker line, but you can also add water to your ink and mix colours on the screen.

Once you’ve mastered these small scale screen printing methods and have been bitten by the printmaking bug, you may want to move on to large screen printing.

 

We run printmaking workshops and courses throughout the year at Slamseys and these notes are designed for our students as a reminder of the techniques covered in the Screen Printing courses.