Screen Printing: The Process

By Nicole Tinkham

ImageScreen printing allows you to print an image onto fabric (t-shirts, tote bags, hats, etc.), paper and wood. The process is similar to stenciling but instead of pre-cut shapes, a screen is used. The image is “cut” into the photo emulsion which coats the screen and acts as your “stencil”. So why should you be interested in screen printing? Imagine your own design (or logo) on a t-shirt – or hundreds of t-shirts. Bet you’re ready to get started, aren’t you?

Step 1: Gather supplies

The basic supplies needed for screen printing are as follows:

  • Photo emulsion and sensitizer
  • Screen
  • Ink
  • Squeegee
  • Material to print on

Our blog post Screen Printing: The Supplies talks more about the supplies needed for screen printing. We suggest you take a look at it for helpful tips when purchasing your supplies before beginning the process!

Step 2: Create an image

As a beginner, we recommend starting off with something simple. Stick with bold lines and one color (each color is a separate print). Print your design on transparency paper using a laser printer. You can have this done at your local print shop if you don’t want to purchase a bunch of transparencies.

Step 3: Emulsion

The emulsion is actually sold in two separate parts: the photo emulsion and the sensitizer. Follow the directions on the bottle and mix them accordingly. To avoid too much of a mess, lay your screen down on top of a garbage bag or old sheet. Pour the emulsion on the screen and use the squeegee to evenly coat the area in which your image will be (make sure the coated area is larger than your image). You want a thin, even layer across the screen that you cannot see through. When finished, leave the screen in a pitch black room until dry (about 2 hours).

Step 4: Expose the image

At this point you’re probably wondering how in the world we are going to get the image on the screen. Well, this is the step where we will be exposing the screen to light. In the pitch black room, take the screen and lay it facing down on a black cloth or board. Lay your image transparency on the screen where the photo emulsion is and secure it with tape. Set up your lamp a few feet above the screen and let sit for about 15 minutes without any additional lights on. Desk lamps work great for this but no worries if you don’t have one. You can always use tinfoil as a reflector to aim the light toward the screen. When complete, you will notice blue lines where the image has been burned onto the screen. *Do not overexpose – your image will bleed!

Step 5: Spray the screen

Use a hose or shower head to spray the screen with cold water. You will notice the areas where your image is will start to flake off. Continue to do this until you can see your image clearly. Once your image is perfect, let the screen dry completely. If there are any areas where the screen does not have any emulsion (aside from your design), cover with tape so it doesn’t end up printing on your material.          

Step 6: Time to print!

If printing on a t-shirt, put a piece of cardboard in between the two layers of the shirt to avoid getting ink on the opposite side. Lay your material down flat and line up the screen where you want your design to be. Pour some ink along the top of the screen horizontally. Use the squeegee to bring the ink all the way down the screen in one motion. Run the squeegee across your design in each direction to ensure the ink went through onto the material. Lift the screen carefully and remove any cardboard. Throw the printed material in an oven set at 400 degrees for 30 seconds. This helps to keep the image lasting a long time.

Step 7: Clean up   

This is probably the most dreaded part of any project but it’s especially necessary in screen printing. The ink dries quickly so if you want to be able to use your screen again you better clean it as soon as you’re finished printing! If you want to use your screen for an entirely different design, all you have to do is get an emulsion remover to wipe the screen clean.

To see the entire screen printing process in action, check out the video below. These guys have great techniques and ideas on how to make your print come “alive”.

Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get your first print perfect. Like anything else, it takes practice and some time to get used to. After doing a few you should get the hang of how much ink to use and how long the exposure takes. After completing your print, please share a photo of it on our Facebook page. We’re so excited to see what you’ve created!

Image used under Creative Commons from lovelihood.

For more information about our art supplies stop in, give us a call (941-747-2995) or visit! For a list of our upcoming workshops, check out The Artist’s Corner.

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