Screen-printing – it’s a term that I use a lot as it's the process that allows me to do what I do. I use the term in the knowledge that some of you will fully understand what I’m talking about but I’m also well aware that some of you have probably never heard it before. So, I’m here to put that straight and answer the question, “so what is screen-printing anyway?”
Screen-printing is actually an ancient form of printing developed in China around 1000 years ago that became extremely popular in the 1960’s with the advent of the pop-art movement (we’ve all seen Andy Warhol’s work I’m sure). I’m not here to tell to the entire history of the craft though. I just want to give you an overview of what I do to get the designs out of my mind and onto a T-shirt.
The Screen / The Stencil
First comes the screen. It’s basically a polyester mesh that allows ink to pass through it. I need to block out parts of this mesh to effectively make it into a stencil. To do this I apply a photo-sensitive emulsion to the screen that hardens when exposed to light. During exposure I shade the areas that I don’t want to harden meaning some of the emulsion can then be washed out to create the stencil. You could think of this as a negative that I'll then use to create a positive on the T-shirt itself.
A careful and considerate eye is required to mix the ink in order to replicate the colour of the design. It’s also very important not to waste ink during this process. It can take only a slight mistake to leave you with a pot of brown ink that looks like… erm… actually, I’ll leave that to your imagination!
Alignment & Printing
Once the screen and ink are prepped I have to accurately align the screen with the T-shirt; now I’m ready to print. To help me with this I use a printing press that holds the screen in place. After all the careful preparation this is actually the easiest and quickest part of the process. After a quick pass with the squeegee to flood the screen with ink, I take a second pass with a little more pressure to transfer the same ink onto the T-shirt below. Et Voila! That’s all there is to it.
Drying the ink properly is actually about as important as it is boring to talk about. As I only use water-based ink it is very important to ensure all the water is removed from the ink so that the design doesn’t fade when you wash your T-shirts. A handy infra-red flash dryer helps me do this in double-quick time.
So there you have it. I hope this inspires you to go out and try screen-printing for yourself. There are lots of courses out there that help you explore the process further; that’s exactly how I got started and I couldn’t recommend it more.
If you are based in the Manchester area I would certainly recommend the courses run by One69a in Salford. They have a really fun print your own T-shirt day try-out, as well as a full six week course that gives you in-depth knowledge and ability as well as the confidence to do everything I've just mentioned here.
Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or any general curiosity.
All the best.
P.s. A big thanks to Mark Hesford for taking the photos in this post.