Screen printing is a fantastic way of translating your artistic expressions onto textiles and you might have wondered whether you can do screen printing at home. I’m here to share my experience to help you get started.
Screen printing at home is quite easy; all you need is a small amount of clear space, inks, a screen printing frame, squeegee, stencils and paper or fabric. With practice you will be able to screen print art onto textiles and paper to great effect with a low cost.
As an experienced textile artist I’ve learned the simplest techniques to successfully screen print at home, so let’s dig into the subject and find out more!
Screen printing is a printing technique used to produce an identical image on multiple objects, often clothing or paper. You use a screen designed for this purpose and stencil of your choice, then push ink through the mesh using a squeegee onto your shirt, paper, or object. Being able to screen print at home enables you to create copies of your design on anything – you decide the surface.
What Materials Do I Need For Screen Printing?
To screen print at home you will need the following materials:
The ink you choose depends largely on the surface you will be working with. There are two main types of screen printing ink:
- Water based
- Oil based
When screen printing on paper and fabric, I have had good results using this water based ink starter kit by Hunt The Moon. The kit contains six tubs of ink, black, white, green, blue, red and yellow which you can mix to experiment and create your own colours. The tubs are large enough to last a long time, depending on how often you screen print.
Make sure though that you screw the lids on properly after each use, so they don’t dry out and waste.
Oil based inks are heavier and more commonly used in print making studios. While you can use them at home, you will find the water-based inks to be versatile and easy to clear up, so they will be the best choice to begin with.
Please check what the ink is designed for before you order it so that it suits your needs.
Screen Printing Frame
The screen printing frame is a rectangle made from wood which has polyester mesh tightly strung onto it via the application of staples. I found a great one online from Hunt the Moon, the same supplier as the inks I use. I like it as it is A3 in size, very sturdy and light to hold. This makes it easier to lift around and handle when screen printing.
It is possible to make one yourself, but buying one is so much easier as it is already made up and ready to go. It has the mesh fitted on already so it is great for beginners and those short on time who wish to get screen printing straight away. The one I have recommended is also very smooth on its frame – no wood splinter worries to deal with!
You will need a squeegee for screen printing. It is used to push the ink through the mesh screen, so that the pattern will print on whatever paper or fabric you are using. I like to use a lightweight squeegee, as there are different types. The wooden ones are heavier so I go for the aluminium ones which are easier to handle. The Hunt The Moon Deluxe Aluminium Screen Printing Squeegee is a great option, as it is lightweight, a good size for beginners and lasts a long time. It does not break easily and is easy to handle and use with the Screen printing frame.
Some people use pre-made stencils – they are great for practicing with when you are beginning or have a design in mind. The A5 garden themed PEBEO Stencil, is a great option. I like this set because it contains a few stencils, so you can try different designs. They are made from a flexible and durable material, so can be rinsed and used again and again without breakage.
You can hand cut your own, by using this Sizzix Stencil Film and drawing your design out onto it, cutting it out with a sharp craft knife. You can get another type of screen printing film which can be used with a computer printer. If you like a design, print it out onto some Inkjet Film Screen Printing Paper (A4 size made by Esports) and cut it out using a craft knife again. If you do not own a craft knife, the Modelcraft knife is a great option as it is very sharp and comes with its own storage box for safety.
The advantages of this method are that you can make your screen printing personal to you, the designs really feel personal. So it is something to aim for once you have had some practice.
This method of cutting your own stencil is a bit more tricky, so if this is your first time screen printing then I would recommend using pre-cut stencils such as the the PEBEO Stencil, before moving on to this more complex method.
Paper And Fabric
Flat surfaces work best to screen print on, so make sure you have a table area ready before you begin to set out your paper and tools. You can screen print on most paper, however for the best results use a thicker paper to hold the ink and create a more durable piece of art work.
Fabrics are great for screen printing onto and if you are a textile artist then you will be able to fit this screen printing technique with your own pieces you create. You may then be able to embroider your screen prints once they are dry, creating new exciting mixed media pieces!
Plain fabrics are my favourite to print on as they have a tight weave; a high thread count fabric which is closely woven works best as the ink sinks in well without bleeding out and creating a smudged print. I prefer something like a cotton sheet fabric over a thick cheap calico.
You may decide to use a coloured fabric, if you do, make sure that the colour of ink you are using will not be hidden by the fabric colour. It is no good printing with black ink if you are printing on black fabric! I often use white fabric with darker ink colours so that the screen print itself stands out. Pastel colour fabrics may work well too. Sometimes I pre-dye my fabric by painting on suitable fabric dyes. This can make the result very individual. For those starting out with screen printing, I would recommend practising first with plain fabrics to become comfortable with how they respond to the inks, before branching out too far.
Screen printing can add a lovely pattern to your work. Like a stencil design, it can be repeated and repeated so that it turns into a repeat design over a large surface area. Notice how many ideas there are – if you like this screen printing method you will never run out, just keep experimenting to discover your favourite ways to screen print.
What Space Do I Need To Screen Print?
For screen printing, a clear space, such as a table, which you don’t mind getting paint on or one covered with a waterproof cloth is enough. The surface area of the table does not have to be large, it just needs to hold your screen printing frame and inks.
If you choose to purchase a waterproof cloth for your table, it does not have to be an expensive purchase, do a little research online before you buy one.
You may have a waterproof cloth you can already use without buying one, or even try covering your surface in cling film as you can simply throw it away afterwards. I have even covered my surface with a thin old shower curtain which was no longer fit for purpose.
Is Screen Printing At Home Messy?
Screen printing at home will create mess, but you can easily clean up the materials using household cleaning products and if you are careful with using the inks, you can remain quite clean.
Here are a few top tips for reducing mess when screen printing at home:
- Don’t wear your best clothes. Choose clothes which are old.
- Wear an apron, a waterproof one if possible.
Once you get more experienced, you can make your designs a bit more complex. However there are plenty more areas to cover before you get to that stage. Once your design is dry, if you are screen printing onto fabric then you can sew around the design, to add an embroidered surface. More than anything, really it is another skill to your list; one which you can be excited by.
How Do I Clear Up After Screen Printing?
Warm water and a cloth are required to remove any surface paint smudges on your table; use some washing up liquid to ease any dry paint areas off the table you are working on. Make sure that you rinse and cleanse all the items you have used.
I use my home bath to rinse my screens and brushes. If you are worried about any staining on your bath, then please use an outside tap to wash your mesh, stencils, brushes and squeegees and leave in a dry area.
Where Do I Store My Screen Printing Stuff?
Make sure that you store all your tools for screen printing in a dry area, so that the materials are kept in good condition for repeat use. Make sure that you always screw the lids of your ink on tight to prevent them from drying out.
Try to find a drawer for your paints and equipment. Again, make sure that you have checked all the tops of your paint to make sure that they are all on and not left as they can spill or dry out.
If the weather outside is dry, I recommend drying your tools there – just make sure that you bring them in if it starts to rain.
If you have a dedicated studio for your art or a room you can use, then store in this location.
Screen Printing Results
Very soon you will have your own screen printing results to look at. Before you get going, let me show you a few of mine.
The piece below was inspired my a self portrait. I first coloured my background fabric with dyes and then once it was dry I ironed the fabric flat ready to screen print onto. I made this stencil by hand cutting it myself.
Sometimes I prefer to use a clean white fabric with a dark contrasting colour so that the pattern really stands out…..
Once you feel more confident screen printing, you can start to experiment more. I love using vintage fabrics. The sample below illustrates this…
Using older fabrics is an eco friendly option and the fabric itself can add extra detail to your print. The example below is another family based portrait in a cartoon style. The fabric is vintage, a cotton with a high thread count. The flowers already on the cloth add embellishment. I have begun to embroider the face with simple stitches to make areas stand out.
The examples show you what is possible once you feel more confident, so if you would like to check out more on screen printing, take a look at this post on screen printed fabric with the work of Lu Summers.
For those interested in print making and surface design, there are other posts on different types of printing, for example this post on Lino Cut printing by Jo Burgess.
As you can see, we have already covered the basics of what screen printing is. Some people enjoy the social side of being in a print making studio. Others would love the idea of working from home. It is personal preference. In a printing studio there are types of equipment which would be too expensive to purchase at home. This makes it a little exciting to work in such a place dedicated to producing many varieties of print making artworks. But you can succeed in print making from home; you do not need a studio setting, you do not even need a studio setting at home. So there are no excuses – you can start anytime you have a spare table.
Do you have any screen printing or Textile Art questions that I can answer in a future Ailist article? Get in touch!