Tag Archives: DIY

Indecent Exposure

Coating the screen can be tricky at first, and my first attempt was, honestly, just plain shit. I’m gonna go through my first few attempts to show how it can go wrong, then go through a better method properly at the end.

NOTE: The mixed emulsion must be left to settle for at least an hour before applying to the screen, just give it a stir to make sure that all the bubbles have dispersed.

The correct tool to use for this job is a coating trough, but you can do essentially the same thing with a squeegee (or bit of card for the squeegee-less fools).

This video is quite handy to show you how to use a coating trough, although the guy that does the narration sounds like the most boring bastard ever and makes screen printing seem about as exciting as playing Bridge with the corpse of a snooker player’s accountant.

The bad thing about that video is that it led me to think that quite a thick layer of emulsion was needed on the screen, which is absolutely not true. I put a shit load of emulsion on my screen, and when I spread it around, it was dripping all over the place like a lusty hound, making a god-awful mess and a screen that was frankly bollocks. Here it is in all its glory:


If you make this mistake, it’s probably not even worth exposing the screen because it’s just gonna be a waste of time; the results are never going to be good. If  future me had been able to go back and advise myself, I would have slapped myself in the face and told him to wash it clean and start again like a good boy. However, temporarily unaware of my own incompetance, I continued with more blunders and idiocy. Westward Ho!

Once I left this screen to dry, things went from bad to worse; the thick emulsion pooled and dripped through the screen until it resembled the face of a 15 year old World of Warcraft gamer; a blotchy, spotty, hideous mess of shame and regret.

I then exposed the screen in daylight for about a day (probably about 6 or 7 hours):

First exposure

After washing the screen out this was the result:


Not only was the emulsion thick and patchy, but the screen was overexposed. You can tell this because all the fine lines of detail have been mercilessly obliterated, while the any other lines come out semi-transparent, rather then truly clean (which is obviously what you want, so that ink can pass through). The stencil needs to be cleaned off the screen with Stencil Strip fluid, which is relatively cheap because you dilute it with water 1:30. I think you can use bleach to do this, but I take no responsibility if you do use bleach and your screen turns to trash somehow. Oh yeah, remember to wear some fetching rubber gloves while doing this job.

My next attempt was a bit better. I realised that only a relatively thin layer of emulsion is needed on the screen, and devised a better method.

Firstly, push some drawing pins into the corners of your frame on the bottom side (the side to which the mesh is stapled):

This means that you can work on the bottom side of the screen without it touching the table. After making loads of mess last time I also decided it would be a good idea to tape along the edges of the screen on the inside to minimise the amount crap dripping into the corners of the frame.

Start out on the top side, and dribble a relatively small amount of emulsion in a line across the top of the screen, and then, with a medium-light level of force, pull the squeegee across at a 45° angle so the screen is flooded with a thin layer of emulsion. Repeat this on the bottom side, then flip it over again and finish by doing another coat on the top side. You can do as many thin layers as you like until it’s evenly coated, just remember to use small amounts of emulsion and always finish on the top side, thus leaving a smooth surface to print through later. When you’re done, it shouldn’t look thick and painty like the first one I did above, but rather semi-transparent and evenly coated, not unlike this:

See the difference? Yeah, it’s pretty obvious.

If you’ve done it right, you should be able to dry your screen in front of a fan in about ten minutes. If you have a little fan heater, you can use that; I dried mine in front of a cosy electric fire with a fan pointing at it. You want the screen to dry as evenly as possible, so keep turning it around regularly. It’s actually kinda easier to just prop it up with a fan pointing at it, then you can leave it drying for a while and just turn it a couple times. However, the fire was quite nice:

The emulsion – like most things – will turn from shiny to matte when it’s dry, and if, after a while of drying, there are patches which remain shiny and tacky, then the emulsion was applied too thick in those areas (but don’t worry about it too much, it’s hardly disastrous). Run your finger lightly around the edge to check if it’s dry.

Once fully dry, the screen is ready to be exposed. Still having faith in the magic of daylight, I exposed it a second time by the window, this time for about 4 hours. The result was better, but still not very good:

Again the screen was over-exposed. This meant I had to actually scrub the emulsion to remove it, which results in lots of bits that you actually wanted to keep being scrubbed off as well, leaving me again with a pretty shit stencil. After stripping this one and re-coating it again, I decided to expose it in a controlled manner. To do this, I had to either construct a light box, or come up with a hilariously botched together alternative. Of course I chose the second option:

Plain Awesome

As you can see, I made a reflector for my lamp with some aluminium foil, and then proceeded to entwine its power cord around a dining chair to secure it in position. I quite like it as an object, it looks a bit like the Pixar lamp has gone insane and thinks that government satellites are monitoring its brain waves.

Exposure times vary depending on many factors including type/thickness of emulsion, type/brightness of light, size of screen etc, but Speedball handily provide some guide times in their manual for the popular Diazo emulsion. Here are some times for a 150W clear incandescent bulb:

Screen size, bulb height, exposure time
8×10, 12 inches, 45 minutes
10×14, 12 inches, 45 minutes
12×18, 15 inches, 74 minutes
16×20, 17 inches, 92 minutes
18×20, 17 inches, 92 minutes

I only had a 60 watt bulb, which is two and a half times weaker than 150w, so I multiplied the exposure time by 2.5, resulting in a time of 230 mins, or three hours and 50 mins. My lamp was also about 20 inches above the screen so I just gave it a nice round 4 hours.

To expose the screen you need to get something to put underneath it to provide a firm flat surface for the design to sit on top of  (I used a bunch of excellent records – The Locust, Cult of Luna, Lionel Ritchie, you know, the usual). It’s best to cover these with some black material so that no light goes through the screen and bounces back up from underneath. Then you put your screen over this, place your transparency (printed onto either OHP film or tracing paper) the WRONG way round (face down) onto the bottom side (the one with staples), and cover it with a piece of glass, which will hold it down tight against the screen so you get a crisp exposure.

If your glass is light and rubbish, you may have to weigh it down just to ensure the best contact:

Once the exposure time is up, remove the screen and whisk it away to the bathroom, where you can gently spray it with the shower head until the water soluble parts (which have been protected from exposure by the black parts of your transparency) are washed away. It’s best not to scrub the screen, especially if you have fine details; the unexposed emulsion should just run out with ease. If some parts are being stubborn, rub the screen gently with a finger. Once you’re happy with the stencil, you may want to put it back under the lamp for a bit to harden the remaining emulsion, just to make sure it’s gonna withstand lots of printing later:

If you want really good results, the best thing to do (what I should have done from the beginning) is to expose a screen as a test, similar to the technique one uses with photography to determine the correct exposure time. To do this, expose the screen normally, but use an opaque piece of card or paper to progressively cover the screen, moving it further over the screen at regular intervals, say, every 15 mins. Then at the end you will be able to tell exactly what length of time you need to expose your screen for by looking along the screen for the first strip that has exposed properly. Times vary widely, and doing this method will save you a lot of time and effort that is otherwise wasted by doing trial and error. If you are doing trial and error, at least try and keep everything constant, and only change one factor (eg bulb wattage, time, height etc) at a time instead of blindly fumbling around.

Turns out third time was lucky, and I’m pretty satisfied with the screen as it is, so I’m gonna go ahead and see how well this little baby is going to print. Make me proud Screeny.

….note to self. come up with better name for the screen.

Currently listening to: Intronaut – Prehistoricisms, Orff – Carmina Burana

Mixing things up

Once your screen is ready, it’s time to mix up some photo emulsion and apply it to the screen. I did this in a really haphazard way, and through trial and error managed to work out the right way to do it. I find that most tutorials you read are handy, but they never explain all the things that you can do wrong, and you are pretty likely to fuck up a couple of times, so I thought it would be helpful to show my errors so that others can learn from them without making the same mistakes.

NOTE: due to working with light sensitive materials all the following procedures must be done in subdued light – it doesn’t have to be like a dark room or anything, just make sure the curtains are closed or do it in the evening with a fairly dim lamp on.

The first thing to do is mix the emulsion. Different brands will vary slightly in their directions, but they’re mostly the same process. Basically, you have some emulsion (big pot of blue paint-like substance) and some sensitizer (little pot of dirty yellow-green powder) which have to be mixed together. The powder needs to be dissolved in some water before being mixed with the emulsion. As long as you do those two basic steps with approximately correct quantities you’ll be alright.

First it is best to decide how much emulsion you want to sensitize. It is easiest to mix the whole pot in one go, but since the emulsion lasts about a month sensitized and about a year unsensitized, I didn’t want to use all of mine in one go, so I decided to mix a quarter at a time.

Tip out your sensitizer powder onto a bit of paper and roughly divide it up into heaps (in this case four):

Next, measure out the right amount of emulsion and pour it into a mixing pot. It’s a good idea to get some lightproof pots/jars to keep the mixed emulsion in, or make your own like I did. Here’s 250ml (quarter of the litre pot) of emulsion:

After already making quite a lot of mess, I then proceeded to completely forget what I was supposed to be doing, and mixed the powder directly into the emulsion:

The correct thing to do is to pour one of the four heaps of powder into a little pot, mix with a small amount of water (about 25ml, or a UK single shot glass) and then add it to the emulsion.

Then mix it in thoroughly. You should notice a change in colour towards a darker blue-green colour:

Not the best example, but you get the idea

I mixed another quarter pot afterwards with the correct method, and there didn’t seem to be much difference between them so I imagine if you fuck up and mix the powder straight in like I did, it will most likely still be useable. Make sure your pots are pretty light-tight, and label them with the date they were mixed so you can use them up before they go off later. These can be put in the fridge and used for the next 4-6 weeks.

A cracking pair

Currently listening to:  Om – God Is Good

I Screen Fundae – Part 2


Once the frames had been fully strengthened, there was only one more step before stretching the mesh: varnishing.

The lightweight canvas wood is very soft and will need to be completely sealed so that it’s waterproof. This will prevent the wood from soaking up water when the screen is washed, which means it should last a lot longer without bowing or becoming retardedly deformed.

It’s a good idea to lightly sand down the wood before applying varnish, thus removing any dirt or loose splinters. I also sanded down the edges and corners of the frame to make stretching easier later (without the mesh tearing on the corners):

I then went a picked up some Ronseal varnish designed to weather proof external timber, and set to it. Remember kids! Stir up the tin before and during application!

Each frame will need at least three coats of varnish, preferably more, and you must wait at least 8 hours between applying each coat. Because it’s fucking freezing here mine took even longer to dry so this took a couple of days. We also played a gig on Saturday in Liverpool, hosted by Brickface Press, supporting Maths, who played some impressively intense screamo-noise. We Came Out Like Tigers were real good as always, with new drummer Rik, who did a commendable job on his first show with them.

Afterwards the wood was feeling better than ever and had also gained a healthy golden glow:

Once the frame is completely dry, we’re ready for stretching. It’s a good idea to moisten the mesh before you stretch it, I don’t know if it actually makes much difference but it may help loosen it up a touch.

Here’s mine soaking for half an hour:

Now you can drape your mesh over the frame and begin to staple it down one side at a time as tightly as you can (see pictures for directions). This is my 12-Step Programme:

The screen should be as taut as you can manage; the more tension, the crisper the prints because the mesh will spring back snappily off the paper. I washed the grime off mine, and when wet, it rings like a drum; sounds like  nice jazzy little tom. Finished:

It also has a rather nice kaleidoscopic effect when you look through it:

After spending way too long mesmerised by the magic screen, it’s time to attach it to a base-board. This board must be strong, completely flat and fairly large, mine  is just some boring old manatee dung folicles (MDF).

If you’ve got cash lying around in piles about your feet, then you should get some hinge clamps, also known by Americans as Jiffy clamps. You can get these from screen printing suppliers for about £25 or more. Try here.

I opted for the cheaper alternative and bought some hinges. I looked in B&Q and couldn’t see the right thing, so foolishly bought some Speedball screen printing hinges, which cost about £4 each (£5 postage for two was also a kick in the pants). I later discovered that B&Q did actually have some, they’re just called loose pin butt hinges, and were £3 for a pack of three. They were also much bigger and stronger than the stupid Speedball ones. Awesome. As long as the pin is removable, any sorta hinge is fine, it just needs to be able to be removed and reattached easily.

Now you can attach the hinges onto the frame and base-board, with the screen face down touching the board. It’s a good idea to attach the hinges so that the frame sits a couple of millimetres away from the board; this will give a better print later.

Now the frame should flip up and sit comfortably upright out of the way. Pretty sweet.

Onward to emulsion/developing stuff!

Currently listening to: Clutch – Robot Hive / Exodus, especially Burning Beard

I Screen Fundae – Part 1

Yesterday I bought some canvases which will hopefully end up as workable screens. They will never be as good as bought screens, which are often made of aluminium or steel and are real strong, but this is the cheapest and easiest way I could think of doing it. The cheapest I could find online were the aluminium ones at Wicked Printing Stuff, and they were the cheapest by a long way, running to 25 quid each for the large sizes (other places sell them usually between about 40 and 80 quid each, and then there’s obviously loads of pro ones for much more, including easily restretchable ones which would probably work out worthwhile in the end). I wanted at least two fairly large screens and just couldn’t afford this, plus it will be fun making my own.

I usually get cheap canvases from The Works or Home Bargains (sometimes HB have them for insane prices, like 50p), but you can also get canvases online for pretty cheap at Art Discount. I wanted ones with thick frames so they would be stronger, but I ended up getting one thick and one thin, because I wanted a large one for A2 prints. These ended up costing about 6 quid each from The Works, sadly they did not have a sale on at the moment. By the way most of the art stuff in the works is useable, but I wouldn’t buy their paints, I’ve got some acrylics from there before that were balls, really transparent and weak.

Upon returning home and raising the drawbridge to keep the serfs out, I proceeded to undress the canvases (seductive music optional). Its pretty easy for anyone with two hands and a mediocre brain – you could cut it off, take all the staples out or, like me, make little cuts on the edge side of each staple so that the canvas just pops away from each one if you pull it up.

Large canvases will have a brace running through the centre, which will have to be removed. I thought I’d try and strengthen my big canvas a bit so I used this brace and just moved it to the end, glueing it in place with some wood glue (I use Gorilla Glue, which is insanely strong as long as it’s clamped properly while setting – this stuff single handedly fixed my acoustic guitar headstock which broke off at the neck and that’s holding solid under a lot of tension due to the strings) and clamping it down evenly, or if you have only one measly clamp, using weighty film studies books:

This frame is fairly flimsy, and will have to withstand quite high tension under the stretched mesh so I reinforced the corners more by glueing in those canvas stretcher things you get with canvases. Corners modelled by Richard the Cat:

The thick framed canvas actually turned out to be more shoddy than the other one once the canvas was taken off, but a bit of glueing later and it seems pretty good. It also seems to make a rather fetching picture frame:

These bad boys are now waiting to be covered in loverly mesh, which will hopefully happen soon.

In other related news, I saw this desk outside someone’s house today and made it mine. It weighed a bloody ton but somehow I managed to single handedly Bring It On Home, and it now sits proudly, and moistly, in my room. Gonna be real handy for printing fun later on. Plus it has a pretty sweet boarding school kinda aesthetic.

Excellent desk

Currently listening to: Waking the Baby Mammoth (channel 4)

Big Throbbing Package

So this morning I received my package of goods. I ordered the stuff on tuesday, despatched on wednesday and I received it on thursday, so pretty good work from the oft maligned company called… *ahem*… Wicked Printing Stuff.

So here’s the box…. it looks pretty magical doesn’t it? In fact I’m pretty sure I heard  Father Christmas flying overhead with a sack containing a giant white crane carrying a bundle in it’s beak which it opened to reveal a messenger owl, who dived down my chimney and left the box on the floor before departing with a hoot and bustle of feathers. It might have been Pogues though, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him doing that kind of shit before.

A Box

A box

So here’s the things in the box (and a couple other things I picked up in the city today). They’re in retreating order of necessariness.

First, the yellow thing is the mesh. I ordered about 30″x48″, so it should be enough to do two decent sized screens, and it cost about a tenner. Screen printing mesh is categorised with different ratings depending how fine the mesh is, presented as the number of thread crossovers in a centimetre of material. As far as I understand (I’m obviously no expert) anywhere between 10t (very wide mesh) and around 73t (medium-wide) is suitable for printing on material, because you want a lot of ink to go through the screen. Anything between 73t and 190t is good for printing on paper or card; less ink is needed to stain/coat the paper so much greater levels of detail can be achieved. The bottom end would be good for bold, simple posters, whilst the very fine meshes will, with the correct technique, achieve a photographic level of detail. Mine is 140t yellow swiss monofilament sefar…. the colour of the screen doesn’t make a huge amount of difference, but yellow material will absorb slightly more light than white, so the emulsion will develop a bit quicker when we come to that stage later.

The mesh is obviously very necessary. If you really wanted to be ghetto, you could use some old net curtains, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope of good prints from it.

Next is the emulsion and sensitiser. The emulsion will last for about a year in the fridge unsensitised, and about 6 weeks once sensitised. You basically mix the sensitiser into the emulsion, which becomes active, so that it can be spread on the screen and exposed to UV rays which will bake the exposed parts (white parts in your image) hard to create a photographic stencil. This stuff is obviously very necessary, but photographic screen printing is not the only way, and there’s loads of different techniques to try such as painting ink-resistant paint or glue onto the screen, using vinyl or card stencils or just printing block colours or patterns of ink straight through the screen, like blobs and splatters or whatever. Emulsion is quite pricey, I got a 1 litre tub including the sensitiser for about £17, and that’s really cheap. By the way you can get Speedball liquids and screens in lots of art shops, and whilst they are very good, they cost bare dollar. To have bought Speedball emulsion and sensitiser from the art shop in the same quantity as I have just bought would cost over 30 quid, which is not cool.

Next we have the stencil strip liquid, pretty necessary if you’re using emulsion. You can apparently clean the baked emulsion off the screen with bleach but I think it’s gonna end up easier and better for your equipment to just use exactly the right thing for the job.

Next is some A3 transparencies. These are very necessary if you’re doing photographic screen printing, and will sit on top of the emulsion while it bakes in UV thereby creating the stencil.

Along from that is a squeegee, which as well as having one of the best names ever, is pretty damn necessary for flooding and printing the screen. These cost about a tenner depending on size and are definitely worth having. Mine is an impressive 12 inches of hard, weighty wood, and bucks like a stallion, with the roar of Aslan himself. You could just use a bit of cardboard (flexible but strong) to scrape the ink across, but obviously that’s just gonna get fucked up after a few prints and then what? huh? you gonna sit and cry? No, you’re gonna order a god damn squeegee, that’s what.

edit: I’ve just found out that the squeegee was originally called a squilgee, and was a  “long-handled, wooden-bladed tool fishermen used to scrape fish blood and scales from their boat deck”. I now like the squeegee even more, perhaps too much. Thanks Wikepedia.

The other things are:

Invisible tape: not actually invisible unfortunately (for many pranks would follow), but it is invisible at least to UV, and is therefore pretty handy for joining transparencies.

Cleaning brush: just like a washing-up brush but bigger and flat, handy for scrubbing the screen at various points. Got this from a pound store so it’s no biggie.

Some food containers with lids: gonna be pretty handy for mixing up inks/emulsion/whatever and keeping them sealed. I was planning to just use some of our many mugs but these plastic things were only a quid for six and are pretty exciting. You could fill one with some dirt from the garden, label it as an insect/bug/worm/microbe zoo and give it as a christmas present to some foolish child perhaps.

Here’s some festive candy canes, not neccessary (unless maybe you’re a tiny crippled elf), but they are pretty tasty.

Pogues seems to have eaten many of these

Currently listening to: Portishead – Dummy & Third

December 2nd

Ok, just to give a background to things:

I’ve recently been doing some illustrative pieces for my own pleasure/furtherment which I think will work really well as screen prints. I hadn’t thought about screen printing for a long time (the last time I did it was in school, prolly 6 years ago), and never really thought of it as a technique that would suit me, because my work is usually based in direct draughtsmanship. However, at the moment it would be really great to actually sell some stuff because I’m skint as can be.

Doing screen prints by hand means that I can produce a lot more pieces to sell in a short space of time, and for relatively cheap. Also I don’t know many people that would be willing to pay £100 for an oil painting (especially during these bleak times of recession etc etc), but I reckon I know a lot more people that would consider buying a print for 15 or 20 quid, especially if they were only limited runs of 10 or 20 editions, or even artists originals.

Another good reason to get into screen printing is that it may come in very handy with music related projects, so I will be able to print really nice runs of gig posters, band artwork and t-shirts to sell at gigs, whether for my own band (www.myspace.com/polkatulkk) or for other people I know (especially check out Boanthrope, Barberos and We Came Out Like Tigers).

SO, I’ve ordered a few things from Wicked Printing Stuff…. I know the name is lame, but they sell screen printing materials for really cheap (especially compared to art shops). I’ve heard people complaining about them before due to waiting for ages for things to get shipped, damaged goods, poor customer communication etc, but they seem alright so far, and despatched my shit within a day or two. I guess we’ll see how good their materials are when they arrive.

Screen printing can seem complex and expensive, but it’s basically just a way of making a fancy stencil and then dragging ink over it onto a bit of paper/fabric. I’m going to try and make my own screen printing set up, very DIY style…. obviously the results are probably not gonna be as good as with all the proper equipment, but I’m confident that for under £100 I’m gonna be set up and getting some quality prints out.

I’ll be stretching my own screens and making my own base board and cutting costs in various other ways, so hopefully this might be useful to any other financially challenged artists or hobbyists out there. There must be a load of information out there on how to do this stuff, but it’s often quite hard to find, or requires signing up to something or paying just to download a pdf  (this pisses me off).  Also most of the information I’ve been able to find on screen printing is based around printing on fabric, for t-shirts, which is definitely the most common use for screen printing, whereas I will be using mine primarily for art prints, which are in some ways much simpler than fabric based prints, which require slightly more specialised  equipment, inks and drying processes.

There’s a really good forum for t-shirt screen printing here, and a lot of the techniques and information is the same whether you’re printing on t-shirts or not.  One of the other problems I find about finding information is that often it is written by real hardcore enthusiasts, or people who own a print shop or t-shirt printing business, and often the information is either really specific and technical, or you tend to end up buying really expensive equipment because these guys are usualy real sticklers for correct technique.  My advice is that if you’re looking to get a really professional set-up, just buy your equipment pre-made from industry suppliers, but if you’re not doing this as a business thing, ignore most of the stuff you read about quality of materials and just work within whatever budget you can stretch to. There’s always ways you can work around things, and in doing it, you’re probably gonna learn more, save money, have more fun and maybe even end up with a more individualised style or discover different techniques.

There are however some things you just have to buy especially for the job. When I get my package in the post, I’m gonna go through what bare essentials are needed. Pretty excited to get going>>>>

Currently listening to:  Melvins – Nude With Boots