How Screen Printing is done – by Eliza Southwood

Eliza Southwood is one of our favourite print artists here on Stolen Goat. She produces some fantastic Limited Edition hand pulled, silkscreen art prints, most of which are cycling specific. She recently gave us exclusive rights to sell her limited edition run of her wonderful Cime de la Bonette prints, and I suddenly realised that I had no idea how this is done, especially with 6 colours! So I asked here for a few words on the matter, here’s what she came back with…

“Screen printing is enjoying something of a renaissance recently – possibly as a backlash against so much art and graphic work being digitally produced. Essentially it’s a hand made method of printing which has been around for centuries, and involves forcing ink through a fine mesh or screen which is stretched over a frame.

To get the ink onto the right place, you need to use a stencil or ‘positive’. This can be an image cut out of paper, which blocks the screen where you don’t want ink, or a black and white drawing. The black areas are going to be the areas where the ink comes through, once the screen has been covered with photosensitive coating and exposed to UV light.

I use the latter method, which involves the photosensitive coating. First thing I do when I get to the print studio is coat a screen with the gloopy green stuff. It reacts to light, so has to be done in a slightly dark place. Once it’s dry, I get my positive, which depicts the areas I want to have as one colour.

For instance, if I were to print a design, say, of a brown dog with a red ribbon round its neck, it would be a two colour print. I would take just the red ribbon part of my drawing and photocopy it onto oiled paper, film or tracing paper. This is my positive. Then I place it onto the surface of the exposure unit (a large UV light machine), place my screen on top, and close the lid of the machine. The screen will be blasted with light, and it effectively ‘burns’ away the black areas by hardening and waterproofing the green photosensitive coating around it.

The screen then gets washed down, and the screen will still be mostly green, except for the area where the ribbon part of the drawing was. That will be a ‘hole’ in the coating, where the coating has washed away, and it’s through this that I pull the ink.

The next step is to clamp the screen to a hinged frame over a print bed. Print beds have little holes in them that suck air through them when they’re switched on. This helps to keep the paper (that you’re printing on) in place. You dump some ink onto the screen and pull it across with a squeegee, which is a sort of flat scraping device. Then you lift the clamped screen to place another piece of paper down.

So now red ink is coming through where the red ribbon area should be. You can print onto several pieces of paper in this way – this is your print run. Once they’re all done, you have your first layer – now you have to repeat the whole process again for the dog part of your drawing, which is a different colour.

This is after a whole lot of washing down and drying which I won’t go into.

The more layers you have, the more time consuming the print is to make. Also, it’s very common to not have the lines match up where they’re supposed to – adding the ink in successive layers is judged by eye. Although I think that a bit of colour overlap adds to the charm of the print – it is after all, a handmade thing.”

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