Burning a Screen

Your next step is to prepare a silkscreen.

A silkscreen is polyester mesh that is stretched very tight and glued to either a wooden or metal frame. This silkscreen is 19" x 21" and is made of wood (available for under $20.00 most anywhere in the country). The life of a screen depends on the care given. You can coat the wood with water protective material when you get them and they will last for well over 5,000 prints (your cost becomes less than 1 cent per print). Once you are done with an image you can remove it and place a new one on the same screen. The mesh that is used comes in different mesh sizes i.e. 110 mesh count is 110 holes per square inch and 300 mesh count is 300 holes per square inch.  The more holes, the finer the detail your print can be and the less holes, the more coarse the print must be.

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You must coat the screen with photo sensitive emulsion. I am using a pre-mixed emulsion (available for around $25.00 per quart). I am applying it  with a tool called a screen coater (troth like tool with a handle). You pour the emulsion in to the screen coater and spread it evenly onto both sides of the screen. With the same tool, scrape all excess emulsion off the screen. Emulsion is sensitive to ultraviolet rays, so when using it, you must NOT have sunlight, florescent, or halogen lighting turn on in the room where you are working. You can have a bug light (yellow) or even a regular incandescent light bulb on while you are working with it.

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To dry the emulsion on the screen you can take a house hold fan and place it with the screen in a dark area and let sit for about 45 minutes to an hour. The above pictures are lit up so we could video the scene. Most people build a box to hold about 10 screens with a small fan that attaches to the outside of the box blowing air through the inside and drying the screens.

Once the screen is dry you can now burn the image onto a silkscreen.

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You place your film positive face down on the back of the screen. When doing a multi-color print you must have a screen for each color you are printing. In this photo I am doing a three-color print. To make sure the design lines up, I measured the same distance from the top of the screen to the targets provided (6") on all three screens. You then burn the image into one screen at a time so make sure the other screens are not in the same room while you are exposing one to the halogen light. You can just cover them with a black cloth.

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In the following photos I will take you through the steps of burning a one color print (you would do the same for a multi-color print and measure the positives just like the photo at the top of this page to ensure that the print could be registered). In this photo you see a light attached to the wall; this is a  500 watt halogen light. It is 12" from the light to the black box right under it. Also in this photo is a screen ready to burn an image into it.

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You place the screen under the light and over a black surface (it is very important that it is black). The box I made fits inside the screen and the mesh rest on it. This can be foam or wood with black cloth so the light does not reflect up from the bottom.

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Place the film positive over the screen (center is fine) face down, but when you are doing multi-color, use targets to measure from to ensure proper registration of all the colors. Note the positive is reversed because this is the back of the silkscreen. When you print the image will read correctly.

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Then you lay a piece of heavy glass over the positive (I use 1/4" commercial glass approximately $10.00). The better the positive is held tight against the screen the better the image. The edges are crisp and clear and the image washes out easier.

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Turn the halogen light on for 5 minutes then turn off the light. Make sure there is no other ultraviolet light in the same room, or any other screens that have emulsion on that is ready to be exposed. After you wash the image out you can bring the screen out into the light and it will not matter.

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Remove glass and positive.

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Now you are ready to wash out the image by running water over it until you see the image clearly.

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Washing the screen out takes about 5 minutes. First get both sides wet and then just let the water run over the image until it starts falling through were the image is. It will look white. Again, do not do this in the sunlight or under ANY ultraviolet light. Only when the image is clearly washed out can you bring it into the sunlight.

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When the image is clear you can now take it out in the day light and let dry.

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Thoroughly tape all the inside edges of the silkscreen with tape. You can even tape the top part of the wood. You will see later that this will make cleaning up very easy.

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The last step in preparing the silkscreen to print is to use screen block and a small paint brush to touch up any holes or blemishes in the screen that may have washed out that will ruin the actual design.

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