Chapter 3 – Screen Printing Basics (part 2)

In part 1 of this chapter, I reviewed the various steps I have to take to get a “burned screen.”  Now that I have a “burned screen” with an image I want to print, I need a few other tools to make everything work.

DSCN2436First, I need a printing surface with two hinged clamps (see image to left).  I use melamine shelves for this, as they are sturdy and come in various sizes.  I have two such boards in my printing studio, one is 18″ by 36″ while the other is 24″ by 48″.  I had only the smaller one for several years, until I started working with larger screens to print larger images.


The hinged clamps are very important, as I want to be able to lift the screen away from the printing surface without altering the orientation of the screen.

For artists who screen print onto paper, the direction of the screen rarely matters.  For me, given I print on clothing, I need that screen oriented so that there is plenty of space for the clothing, as you do not want it piled up underneath the clamps or the frame of the screen as this will impede the screen getting flush to the printing surface.

Second, I need my ink right next to my printing surface.  I use textile printing ink, as it can be heat set to the fabric, meaning it will not wash off.  I print primarily with black ink, though have several others colors and mix my own colors as needed.

DSCN2438Third, I need a spatula or putty knife to get the ink out of its container and onto the screen.  I find long thin putty knives to be best here, as they keep being useful when you get toward the bottom of a tall container.


Fourth, I need a squeegee and the type of squeegee I use is important.  Characteristics of squeegees include length, width, shape and durometer.  The squeegee is comprised of the rubber or polyurethane blade, which is nestled into a wooden handle, ergonomically shaped for the hands.  The length of the squeegee varies.  I have squeegees varying in length from 2” to 18”. DSCN2439

The length is comparable to the width of the design you are printing.  When I am printing a single word, I use a 2” squeegee, as it will cover the entire word lengthwise.  When I am printing my largest labyrinth design, I have to use the 18” squeegee, as the labyrinth is nearly 18 inches tall (it is over 24 inches wide).  The width refers to the blade itself, normally 3/8”.  There are smaller blades for some print work, but my work requires this standard width.  Shape refers to the shape of the blade.  The bottom of the blade, the part that interacts with the ink, can be square, square with rounded corners, beveled or rounded.  For textile work, a square bottom is most effective, so that is what I have with most of my squeegees. DSCN2440

Finally, there is durometer, which is the hardness of the blade.  These range from a durometer of 55-60 (soft) to a durometer of 90 (very hard).  Most of my squeegees are in the 70-75 range (medium to hard). I choose this durometer as it is well suited to both fabric as my substrate (printing surface) and mesh count of my screens.

Fifth, I put it all together.  I center my fabric under a clean screen, getting the fabric oriented correctly (very important if I am looking for an image to be centered both horizontally and vertically). DSCN2445

I then raise the screen to a 45 degree angle and use the putty knife to place a line of ink at the edge of the design closest to me (a good 1/2” of ink is necessary).  I then use the squeegee to flood the field or cover the design with ink.

DSCN2446I do this by dragging the squeegee away from me, across the image, keeping the squeegee flush with the screen.  Once the design is covered in ink, I allow the screen to become flush with the fabric.  Then and usually with two hands, I drag the squeegee back toward me, at an angle, so that the ink is transferred through the holes in the screen to the fabric.

I lift the screen and, if all went well, have a nicely printed piece of fabric underneath.DSCN2448

At this point, I can print many pieces of fabric, as long as I do not allow the ink on the screen to dry.  If the ink dries, it will clog the holes that represent the design.  I have done 30 prints at a time.  Another factor here is having enough drying space for everything I print, as each piece needs full exposure to the air.

DSCN2444Once I have finished printing, I clean the screen right away, using the spray nozzle in the sink (or, in my case, the claw foot tub in my studio).  It is important to get as much ink out of the design as possible, so that the screen continues to be useable.  Then, I dry the screen and it is good to go another day.