I have spent months AND MONTHS thinking about screen printing and possibly trying it out, but I shied away from it because of the upfront cost and learning curve, not to mention the mountain of supplies that would inevitably end up stock-piled in my house. There's a TON of stuff out there and it was all just completely overwhelming.
On the flip side, hiring someone else to do your printing is also quite an investment (especially if you're ordering in small quantities - you end up paying more per unit) and stuff just takes longer (emailing back and forth, waiting for your order to be complete and being nervous the whole time about whether or not it'll come out the way you envisioned.)
I ultimately decided that I want to move toward screening my own stuff, and if you follow my SoPupuka account on Instagram, I've been sharing a little bit of what I'm doing. And now I'm going to recycle those exact same Instagram pics (sorry but those are the ONLY pics I took of this whole process).
To get the ball rolling, I ended up purchasing what looked like the easiest possible screen printing kit - EZ ScreenPrint. It totally lives up to its' name. It's virtually foolproof and I've made several screens successfully already.
As I understand it, creating a traditional screen goes something like this:
1) You start with a silk mesh stapled to a wooden frame.
2) You squeegee emulsion fluid to the screen and let it dry. It has to be THE RIGHT amount. This fluid is light sensitive.
3) You print your design in black onto a transparency (whatever's in black is where the ink will go through).
4) You put the transparency onto your screen and expose it in direct sunlight (exposure time varies)
5) You take your screen inside, remove the transparency and rinse your screen in water. The emulsion that was not exposed to the sun (because your design was blocking it) will rinse off, leaving the bare screen, and the areas that were exposed to the sun will have hardened emulsion that prevents any ink from passing through.
6) After everything dries you print.
Did I mention that if you have a multi-color design you need to create a screen for each color? Ya. It's involved.
EZ ScreenPrint takes out a few of the steps. The process goes like this:
1) Print design onto transparency.
2) Places it on a clear plastic plate (provided)
3) Take your screen (which already has the perfect amount of dried emulsion on it) and place it over your transparency).
4) Place a black board (provided) over the screen and clip everything together with binder clips (provided)
5) Expose for 1 minute in direct sunlight.
6) Soak for 15 minutes, rinse emulsion off, let it dry in the sun again, tape it to a plastic frame (not provided - I had to buy it separately and didn't realize it until I was ready to print) and print.
So basically, the process is shortened drastically by the fact that the screens come with emulsion already on it. All I have to do is print my design and expose it, then rinse and dry and voila! I have a screen ready to go, reusable for as long as I want - provided that I take really good care of the screens.
I'm still of course, getting used to the printing technique. I have one tiny bottle of screen printing ink and I obviously get the best results from that. This print above was made with acrylic paint, and it's a little too runny. Because the screen is flooded with paint and the paint drawn down with a squeegee, it's important to have paint that is the right consistency so it fits through the mesh but doesn't run everywhere like it did in this print. See the strokes from the squeegee? Too much paint, and too runny. Still, I'm completely stoked that this printing method is now within reach. I'm going to try this particular design on hats, shirts and tote bags.
I gotta say though, what REALLY excites me about screen printing is the potential to design and create my own fabric. I don't want to make whole garments with it, just small little pieces like zippered pouches. Today I created a screen using this lokelani design (the photo below is just a small sample screen). Lokelani is a Hawaiian variety of rose, and I'm so excited to use this design in small zippered pouches. Assuming that I enjoy this process (especially the sewing) this will be the first of several designs.
After being so much into digital stuff and not actually making or printing stuff with ink, making screens and working with actual paint over the last few days has been really refreshing, and addicting. I can't wait to have some final products made. I'm hoping that soon I'll be able to do all my own printing for my business. This could either be really awesome, or really exhausting and time consuming and not sustainable. 72 hours in, it's still really awesome.