HOW TO SILKSCREEN!
   
Yeah! I've been meaning to draw up a quick little mini-comic detailing my process, just because it is pretty easy and cheap, but also messy and lo-fi. You should know from the get-go that you probably won't be super-happy with your initial results... your linework will get fuzzy and you'll probably lose some detail and there will be ink smudges all over. But eventually you'll figure out what kind of art works best, your squeegee technique will get better, etc. It's worth the effort I think!

1)
THE SCREEN ITSELF
: this is the wooden (or in hi-tech cases, lightweight metal) frame. My dad used to build these for me out of scrap wood, sometimes I've even used cheap picture frames. As long as it's flat (i.e. it lays flat on the table), and you can stretch silk on it, you can use it. Now, I build my own frames out of 1"x1"s from Home Depot. This is definitely the cheapest way to do it if you have access to a workshop, or at least a tablesaw. This is also nice cuz you can build frames to any size or shape you want. Here's what it looks like (FIG. A).

I buy the 'silk' (it's not really silk, it's a synthetic polyfiliament mesh) by the yard. You can get it at nicer art stores or online (I use dickblick.com; they have a pretty nice supply of all kinds of screenprinting supplies at reasonable prices). I cut a piece a little larger than my screen size. Then I fasten the silk to the frame. I do this buy cutting a 1/4" groove into the 1x1's (again with the table saw), then use some thin rope to pinch and tighten up the silk (FIG. B & C)

You can also just use staples to hold the silk to the frame, sort of like upholstery. Just make sure the silk is tight and even tightened across the frame. The downside of this is that it's harder to remove the silk from the frame later, if you need to. OKAY, having said all that, I would probably recommend just buying a PRE-FAB frame+silk combo to start out. You can basically just go into the art store and buy a readymade screen, in one of a few popular sizes. This is pretty much the way to go for a starter, especially if you don't have access to a workshop. Depending on the size (the bigger the prefab screen, the more expensive), it will cost between $15 and $25 bucks. Keep in mind that you can re-use this screen forever, but will probably only be able to use the silk maybe 3 or 4 times tops. In order to be able to re-use the screen, you'll need a bottle of chemicals called "Stencil Remover", which will clean out the silk later. A bottle of this stuff probably cost $10.

Total cost for step 1: $30

FIG. A

FIG. B

FIG. C

2) COATING/DRYING THE SCREEN: Before doing anything, you need to give your screen a quick rinsing/cleaning with just some household dishsoap or liquid soap (FIG. D)

Okay, let that dry, and now you're ready to "goop" the screen with emulsion. Emulsion is the green stuff that you will cover the screen in, and then let dry overnight. Emulsion is a photo-sensitive goo made up of two components: emulsion and sensitizer. When you buy it from the art store (or online) it comes in two bottles, that you mix together right when you're ready to coat the screen. When you add the sensitizer, it becomes light-sensitive, so you'll want to work quickly and in low light. I use the Speedball brand "Diazo" kit, which is inexpensive, easy to use, and lasts for a while. A combo kit of this stuff (including both components) costs about $18. (FIG. E)

Pour a bead of combined goop along one edge of the screen. You'll want to use a stiff piece of cardboard, illustration board, or a squeegee to push the goop across the screen. Keep doing it, flipping the screen back and forth, coating both sides, until the whole screen is covered in a thin, even coating of green goo (FIG. F)

Don't admire your handiwork for too long, cuz you need to get that sucker in your darkroom/drying chamber. You need to let this coated screen completely dry in a completely dark place. If your screen is small enough, you can use a drawer, or underneath a cardboard box. My screens are usually kind of big though, so I use the only room I can completely seal off from light, my bathroom (FIG. G)

As you can see in the pic, this also allows me to put a fan in there to speed up the drying process (it'll take 3 hours rather than overnight). It needs to be totally dark in there, so I cover the small shower window with a towel and stuff a towel in the crack under the door.

Total cost for step 2: $18

FIG. D

FIG. E

FIG. F
FIG. G

3) PREPARING YOUR ART While the screen is drying, this would be a good time to finalize your artwork. I'd keep the artwork sort of chunky, graphic and simple (no fine, feathered lines or crosshatching). If there's text in there, I wouldn't go below 14 pt. (FIG. H)

Okay, once you've got your art all ready, you need to transfer it to clear acetate. I do this by scanning my art (I do my color sep's in Adobe Illustrator anyway, so my art is already in digital form) and just feeding a sheet (or sheets) of acetate through my laserjet printer. Alternately, you could just go to Kinko's and have them copy your art to acetate. Even if you're gonna end up printing silver or orange ink or whatever, just have your art 'positive' printed in BLACK. If your doing mutiple colors, you'll need to have separate sheets of acetate (and eventually separate screens entirely), each of them with a different black positive (FIG. I).

Total cost for step 3: $2 ?
FIG. H

FIG. I
4) EXPOSING THE SCREEN This is where you're gonna remove your coated, dry screen from the drying chamber and 'burn' your artwork stencil on to it. It helps to understand the science of this part. Even though the screen is dry, the green goop on there is still malleable, and able to be rinsed out, if you were to put it under your shower. That is, until light hardens it. Every photon that hits the light-sensitive goo will harden it and make it water-proof, which is basically what you're gonna do. Except your gonna put your sheet of acetate between the light and screen, protecting the goop beneath the black areas of your artwork. Here's what my light 'exposure station' looks like (FIG. J)

The only real specialty item in this step is the 250w photoflood lightbulb, which you can get from some hardware or art stores. You can definitely get them from dickblick.com. The cost is only $4 or $5. It is important to have that because it will only take 10 or 15 minutes to expose rather than an hour and a half with a regular bulb. The black paper beneath the screen helps absorb the stray light, and the glass holds your artwork flat to the screen (to eradicate little shadows beneath your art). It's nice to have that sheet of glass fit into the frame (smaller than the frame, but larger than your artwork), but if you don't have it, you can just use little pieces of clear tape to hold the acetate down. Okay, so what's happening here is this: the focused cone of light is hardening all the goo on the screen, except for the goo hidden beneath the opaque black areas of your artwork. The Speedball emulsion kit comes with a little chart telling you how long to expose your screen, and how high away from the screen the bulb should be.

Total cost for step 4: $10
FIG. J
5) RINSING THE SCREEN Okay, this is the fun part. This is also the part where you can really mess it up! As soon as you've finished exposing the screen for the specified amount of time, remove the glass and acetate and take your screen into the bathroom, laundry sink, or outside to those garden hose. You're gonna need a fairly powerful stream of water to rinse the still malleable goo (the areas that had been hidden under your black artwork) out of the screen. I have one of those 'massager attachments' on my shower and it's perfect for this application. As you start moving the stream of water over the screen, you'll see your image slowly start to emerge on the silk (FIG. K).

As you rinse, occasionally hold your screen up to the light, to see how well the goop is rinsing out. It's a delicate process; if you rinse for too long, you'll start to obliterate areas you don't want too. If you don't rinse long enough (or if you over-exposed your screen in step 4), the finer areas of your artwork won't become fully stencilled and won't show up on your prints. If some areas are particularly stubborn and won't rinse out, you can use your finger or a soft brush to sort of gently massage or loosen it up (FIG. L).

This part can be tricky, so don't be discouraged if have to mess up and do it over. Just use the stencil remover chemical to wash out all the emulsion, let the screen dry, and start over tomorrow!

Total cost for step 5: $0
FIG. K
FIG. L
6) MAKING PRINTS!!! Actually, this is the fun part. Here is where your screen is fully prepared and you can actually start printing. Your screen should be totally dry, and you can use tape (masking, duct, anything) to help seal off the edge of your screen (FIG. M).

This will just make things easier when you print (i.e. ink won't be collecting under the wood pieces etc.) and will also cover up pinholes and other unwanted holes in the emulsion. If you see little see-through areas that aren't supposed to be see-through, you can use little pieces of tape to cover those up too. Okay, now you're ready to print. You'll need to buy a squeegee ($8 - $15) and whatever color of inks you want ($6 - $8 a jar). And of course the paper you want to print on. It's pretty easy to figure out from here: You position your paper beneath your screen—use marks on the table, or pieces of tape so that you're printing at the same place on each sheet of paper. In this pic I taped the acetate to my paper to give me a better idea of exactly where I wanted the screen to go on top of it (FIG. N).

You may want to set up kind of a 'hinge' system for your screen, so that you can raise and lower it to the exact same place everytime. I have actual metal hinges, but I used to just put a few strips of duct tape along the back part of the frame for sort of a 'poor-man's' hinge system (FIG. O).

Okay, once you've got your registration figured out, it's ready to squeegee. Dallop a bead of ink along an edge of your artwork (FIG. P).

And then drag the squeegee along the artwork (FIG. Q):

There are differing opinions on squeegee technique; you really just have to figure out what works best for you. I usually do a couple of swipes, just to make sure I get all the areas heavily inked. But they're pretty quick swipes, as to not gunk too much ink on the paper. Lift up the screen, pull your print out, align a fresh sheet underneath of there, and do it again! I use the Speedball inks (everything I describe in this process is water-based for easy clean-up), which take 15 or 20 minutes to dry. I end up laying prints all around my apartment while they're drying (FIG. R):

If you're doing multi-color prints, do it all over again! Clean everything up, and start over. Warning: registration will be even more important this time! Final print is (FIG. S).

Total cost for step 6: $25


Sorry for the rambling. I hope some of this helps! It looks like the total cost comes out to $80 - $100, but a lot of this stuff lasts for a really long time, especially the screen, lightbulb, and squeegee. You'll eventually run out of the chemicals and inks, but you'll be able to do several editions of prints out of them. It will take some time and effort but hopefully will be rewarding.
FIG. M

FIG. N

FIG. O

FIG. P

FIG. Q

FIG. R

FIG. S