What Are the Best Tips for Silk Screening?

Sandi Johnson

Silk screening, also known as screen printing, is a simple process for imprinting an image onto virtually any material. Shirts, posters, signage, and flags can all be created using a simple screen, the proper ink, a negative of the image, and the chosen material. The best tips for silk screening, however, depend on the specific project being completed, the number of items to be printed, and the printer's experience. Choosing the right ink and the right screen for a particular design is imperative to a professional-quality finished project. Additional tips are project-specific.

Silk fabric.
Silk fabric.

Two of the most important decisions to make when silk screening are what material to use and selecting the appropriate ink. Inks and their associated handling requirements vary. While some inks must simply air-dry, others require heat. Drying times can vary greatly from one type of ink to another. As such, printers should consider the material used in the finished product before selecting an ink. Certain materials, such as cotton for t-shirts, shrink when exposed to heat, so an ink that requires heat to dry might not be the best choice.

Stencils may be used to create silk screen designs.
Stencils may be used to create silk screen designs.

When creating negatives to use in silk screening, printers have numerous options, from paper to specialized photo film. If only one print is to be made, a simple negative cut from brown paper will suffice. More detailed designs, however, benefit from the use of a photo screen. Photo screens require the use of an emulsifier that, when exposed to heat, hardens in the shape of the chosen design. Since the emulsifier is water soluble, any material not exposed will rinse off, leaving a negative of the design.

For novice printers, one of the most important tips for silk screening is understanding that the process is simple, but messy. In addition to choosing the right inks, screens and materials for a given project, printers should also have adequate cleaning compounds. Screens, frames, squeegees, and other supplies must be cleaned after each use. Some cleaning compounds include harsh chemicals, so proper protective gloves and clothing should be used, as well as performing cleaning tasks in a well-ventilated area.

Whether a particular silk screening project is done in a commercial setting or as a do-it-yourself craft project changes how chemicals should be handled. Commercial printers must follow regulations regarding airflow and ventilation in work areas; the use of certain chemicals; and proper disposal of ink, ink canisters, and cleaning supplies. Even home printers should be aware of proper handling and disposal of the chemicals used in the silk screening process. Containers for ink, spillage ink, and cleaning rags, for example, typically must be discarded separately from standard household rubbish.

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