How many of you have tried your hand at screenprinting before? I honestly didn’t know much about it until I designed a top for my now-defunct RIVETED clothing line back in 2007. I wanted the top to have a pretty chandelier screenprint on it, and I would decorate it with crystals. Screenprinting, no problem! I thought. Boy was I wrong.
Then I had planned on doing it all myself to save money, but found out that I had no way of accurately exposing the screen to create the chandelier image. I designed the artwork on my computer, but had no foolproof way (like a well-lit deck or light rig) to expose the screen properly. Plus I didn’t really know what I was doing.
So I finally started calling up screenprinting companies – who quoted me a $30+ setup fee for the screen, and then a minimum # of shirts for an order. 88, if I remember correctly, priced at $2 or so a shirt. “But I just want one,” I said. “Can’t you just make the screen for me?” NO was the answer I got repeatedly. Finally I found a small place, a Mom n Pop printers, that agreed to make me a screen for $35, if I just sent them the artwork. When I got my screen in the mail it was perfect! But $35 was pretty steep, and I was sure there must be a way to DIY it without a lot of hassle.
Fast forward a couple years to early this month, when Plaid contacted me about a Screenprinting Kit they had developed – that actually allowed you to use ANY black-and-white high-contrast artwork, and make a screen from it with the kit…easily, safely, and in your own home. Boy, was I excited!
I decided that I wanted to do something kind of above and beyond what the average screenprinting project might be. As you guys know I always love taking DIY to the next level!! Could I create something all my own, but finished-looking? Could I create a beautiful textile with a kit designed for hobbyists and home crafters? So I challenged myself to come up with this project..
*Plaid Simply Screen Custom Silk Screen Kit
*8.5″ x 11″ transparency sheet
*cotton item to apply the print to (I’m using lightweight cotton stretch suiting; the less-textured your item is, the better!)
*extra tube (full-size) of Plaid Simply Screen Screenprinting Paint (in Black)
*photo (150 dpi+ at a minimum; 72 dpi stuff downloaded from the web may create a very fuzzy-looking screen)
*printer that can print transparencies
*piece of glass from a photo frame that’s roughly the same size as the screen
*tape (I used blue painter’s tape, but you can use any tape that peels up cleanly and leaves no residue
*fine brush (preferably with stiff bristles)
*something to protect your work surface
*iron & ironing board
*graphics editing program like Photoshop (optional)
So first things first: the artwork to be printed. I’ve always been an artist so this is a part that I love! I wanted something stark, linear, and interesting – but organic. I thought a tree – now bare of its leaves in my part of the country – would be a great pattern. I could design it from scratch, but for it’s true organic nature I thought a photograph would be better. And the great thing about this kit is that you can use ANY photograph or piece of artwork – ANYTHING, as long as it is pure black-and-white. So here’s how:
1. Take a photo of something that has a neutral background, paying attention to the lights and darks in your photo. You don’t want to be taking a photo of something white-on-white, or with no shadows to define it. Anything will work – even a person’s face! (And of course you could always use artwork, typography, or graphic elements instead…) If your photo is high-contrast enough (like you have a filter or a setting on your camera that will do black-and-white (no shades of gray)…then you’re done and you can print it out. But if you don’t have these automatic settings and you want to tweak things….
——>Photoshop Black-and-White Photo Editing Tutorial Interlude<——
(skip if digital graphics editing isn’t your thing)
(The reason why my photo looks strange is because I had to take 3 photos to fit all of the tree branches and then merge them together in Photoshop. Painful.)
2. Open your photo up in the graphics editing program of your choice. (Now, I’m not familiar enough with Gimp or Picnik or other programs to give you a step-by-step in them, but the process will be similar to Photoshop, which is what I’ll be using here.) Duplicate your layer and turn off the Background visibility. First turn your photo black & white by creating a Black & White Adjustment Layer (by clicking on that little yin-yang shaped circle at the bottom of the Layers Palette). You can mess around with the saturation of reds, greens, etc, to make certain parts of the photo more vividly black or white. Hit OK and now your photo appears black and white, though you can always turn off the adjustment layer and your original photo is unharmed beneath.
3. Then create another Adjustment Layer, this time using Threshold to create high contrast areas of black and white. Tweak the setting so you get as few areas of pixellated messiness as possible.
4. Fill your Background layer with white and turn on the visibility. Once your photo is as high-contrasty as you can get it without losing quality, add a Mask to the layer (Layer 1) that has your photo in it (click on the rectangle with the circle cut out of it at the bottom of the Layers Palette). Paint with your brush tool (make sure you’re painting in black) over the pixels you don’t want, and they will disappear, leaving only the white. Conversely, anything you paint with white will appear black in your artwork. Pretty neat, huh? (Think of a mask as a black piece of construction paper with a white hole punched in it. Everything that’s black will cover everything underneath; the white is the “hole” in the paper.) ALSO: make sure your photo will fit on one of the screen sizes included in the kit. For the largest screen, that’s 7.5″ x 10.2″, and you need 0.5″ all the way around the photo as a safety margin.
5. Now print out your photo on an 8.5″ x 11″ transparency. (Or take it to a copy center and have it printed for you.) Here’s where my instructions differ from the instructions in the kit. Their instructions say
“print on plain 10 lb. printer paper.”
Which I immediately had an issue with as standard printer paper is 20 lb. Meaning standard printer paper is slightly thicker than the paper they’re recommending, which means the light in the light box won’t shine through the paper effectively to create a crisp screen (at least not in the 25 minutes the instructions call for. Which means you have to go to the stationery store and buy non-standard 10 lb paper to use for this kit. Which seems silly when I can just get Staples to print a single transparency sheet for me for 99 cents, and use that and get a crisp, beautiful screen in a fraction of the time it takes when using paper. Plus my artwork is extremely detailed – and it may not even work using that 10 lb paper. So transparencies all the way!
6. Set up the light box as per the instructions, in a darkened room with no direct sunlight.
7. Definitely do a test screen (cut the small test screen they include into halves or thirds to get more out of it) and place it over the most detailed part of your artwork to see how it will transfer. Here are the steps for that:
——–>Making the Screen<——–
8. Remove the screen from the black envelope, remove the sticky white backing, and stick the sticky side onto the artwork. Sticky.
9. Tape it down on a few of its sides to the transparency, flip it over so that the artwork is on top, and place a piece of glass over the artwork.
10. Slide your glass-artwork-screen sandwich into the bottom of the box (for goodness’ sakes take the plastic tray out from the bottom so that you’re laying everything straight onto the bottom of the cardboard light box housing!! It took me awhile to figure that out, since the plastic tray looked like it was supposed to stay in there.).
11. Using a transparency your “burn time” (i.e., time you expose the screen to the light) will be 2-3 MINUTES. You may have to experiment to find the ideal time. Mine I think I did for about 2 min 15 seconds and that might have been a little long – as some of the areas around my tree looked “cloudy” on the screen.
12. Once the time’s up turn the light off, pull the screen out and off your artwork, and immerse into that plastic tray, filled about 1/3 of the way with tepid water. Soak for 30 minutes.
13. Once the time’s up, use the included sponge from the kit to wash the screen, rubbing it in circular motions to remove the emulsion from where the black parts of your artwork were. Hold it up to the light periodically to check if you can see through those parts yet. (Hint: anything that looks translucent white will not allow paint transfer!! You must be able to completely see through that screen in any parts that aren’t blue.) Allow the screen to dry on a paper towel.
——–>Printing Your Piece<——-
14. Use something that you’ve run through the laundry first, and that is dry to print. Work on a protected, hard surface, and tape the edges of your screen onto your piece of clothing. Make sure the clothing is completely flat – no bubbles or wrinkles. (Since I’m making my piece from scratch, I figured it would be best to print my cut-out pattern pieces before actually sewing them together.)
15. Apply a thick line of paint at the top of your screen (in the blue area), using more than you think you need. Scrape the squeegee down the screen, holding at a 45 degree-to-almost-vertical angle. You want to feel the paint falling into the holes in the screen if that makes any sense. (For an intricate design like this one, I had to make a few passes: one from top to bottom, one from left to right, and one at a diagonal to get all those tiny twigs to fill with paint.) Make sure your screen isn’t moving around while you’re pulling paint over it.
16. Peel screen off, discard tape, and wash it. If you’re happy with your test (and that will help you get comfortable with how much paint you need and the angle you need to pull the paint at), then follow the same steps to produce your masterpiece. (Don’t forget to dry your screen between each use!)
17. After you’re done printing, allow to dry 24 hours. (I first went back with a tiny paintbrush and filled in areas in my design that weren’t dark enough, which took forever.)
18. Finally use an iron to heat-set your design as per the instructions.
Since I wanted to go beyond just printing fabric, I went ahead and made a skirt out of what I printed. I’m using Burdastyle Pattern #125 “Skirt with Bow”, that I’ve altered slightly (and as is oft the case with Burdastyle downloadable patterns, it had no seam allowances, missing instructions, no labels on the pattern pieces, and no sizes indicated. Really, Burdastyle!! >:(
So back to the screenprinting kit. Here is my rundown:
*Easy to Use
*Quick Burn Time with Transparencies
*Results comparable to industrial screenprinting
*Affordable ($39.99 for the starter kit; Refill Pack of 3 sheets for $19.99)
*Ink is non-toxic (unlike industrial screenprinting inks)
*Instructions not specific or instructional enough. Misspellings and grammar mistakes. Rather than both French and Spanish instructions also included on the same sheet, I would have much preferred more in-depth instructions, FAQs, and tips in English. Though you can find out more info at their website or calling one of Plaid’s helpful reps, it would have been more encouraging to have that included in the kit from the outset.
*Not enough paint in the starter kit to do multiple screens. The tubes that come in the kit are very small, and once I had tested 3 different (tiny) test screens and did one full-size screen, I was almost out and had to pull out one of the full-sized paint tubes I also received. I honestly believe they could just include 2 colors in the kit, but make the tubes larger.
*Light Box size limits the size of the screen you can make. Since the largest screen is 7.5″ x 10.2″ I was a little disappointed as that is the cap on size. I would love it if there were a larger-sized version to do larger designs or patterns!
*Screen starts to fall apart with repeat use. From around the edges all these little strings start coming out – thus the need for a frame like the industrial screens have. I’m not sure if this would really hold up to using it 50 times…even just with 12 times I was seeing some wear heading into my design.
However, despite its drawbacks I think this is a great kit and am already imagining all the possibilities playing around with it! If you’re thinking of trying your hand at silkscreening/screenprinting, you can get this kit at Hobby Lobby (or online here). You can also learn more about the process of screenprinting with this kit, and check out ideas, tutorials, and an FAQ here. I had a lot of fun with it and can’t wait to use it again!
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I was paid for my review, and gifted the Simply Screen kit, inks, and refill screens by Plaid. The opinions expressed are my own, honest opinions regarding this product. To see my Disclosure Policy, click here.