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Intro to Screen Printing

Lesson 7 of 13

Coat the Screen with Emulsion


Intro to Screen Printing

Lesson 7 of 13

Coat the Screen with Emulsion


Lesson Info

Coat the Screen with Emulsion

The next part that we're gonna get into is a little bit more of a sensitive process. We're gonna be using a chemical that you don't wanna get on your hands, because it stains. The reason that it stains is the photosensitive chemical has a sort of yellow tinge to it that's really hard to get out of your skin or a white kind of porcelain wash basin, so you wanna be careful with this part of the process and maybe wash it out either in a aluminum sink or something that might be a little bit less susceptible to staining. We're gonna go ahead and set our screen up over here. The way that I have it rigged up against this wall, you can do this on the floor or on a table. If you wanted to do it on the floor you would just place the bottom of the screen down on the floor and you would lean it up against the wall. We have it a little bit elevated here, which would actually be great if you have any mobility issues too. Like that I have a little bit easier time with the ergonomics here. That wood b...

lock that I showed you before is just pressed right up against the wall. If you're working on the floor it would be the same setup, but here on the desk it's just pressed up against the wall. And we're gonna put the screen right about in the middle, so that that block is just giving us a little bit of a buffer between the screen and the wall. And then we tip it back. So the screen is at this nice 85, 80 degree angle, it's not flush against the wall, but it's not starting to fall forward either, so it's just a nice angle that's gonna help us in coating the screen. Our scoop coater. We talked about this material at the start of the show, but this is really a really important tool for silk screen printing and it's something that you wanna treat like gold. I love that the one that I'm using today literally looks like gold, because this is gonna help make the difference between a good screen and a really terrible screen that you're not gonna get a good result from. So you wanna treat this tool really nicely. This essentially acts as a little bit of a basin, we're gonna pour emulsion into this well here, into this reserve. The emulsion will sit at the bottom and kind of level off. And then the sharp edge of this, right here, there's sort of a big, bulky edge and then a sharper edge. The sharp edge is gonna get pressed right up against the surface of the screen and we're gonna pour the emulsion and pull up to coat the surface of the screen with this photosensitive emulsion. And essentially what we're doing is we're creating a surface that we can use to create a stencil that is suspended in the surface of the screen. So essentially what we're gonna do is we coat it with emulsion, we go ahead and let that emulsion dry, and when we expose the screen to light the emulsion hardens where it's not covered up by the imagery that we have on our transparency. And so anything that's not covered by that imagery is going to harden and not leave the screen when we wash it out. When we wash it out the imagery that was covering part of that emulsion is essentially going to fall away and leave an open area for us to pull the silk screening through when we're making our prints. So we've already premixed this emulsion. Of course, you would just wanna follow the instructions for whatever emulsion you end up purchasing. But for ours you had to mix the photosensitive chemical into the emulsion, stir it, and let it sit for a couple of hours while the bubbles settle out. And that's just to prevent any bubbling in the surface as we're coating the screen. So I'm gonna go ahead and put my gloves on. And Erin, can I ask you while you are putting the gloves on for safety there, Attempting. Exactly. If you don't have a room in your house that can be completely sealed off from the light to create your makeshift dark room, what do you suggest for that? I would suggest kind of thinking outside the box in terms of what parts of the process can be done where. The degreasing that we just did can be done essentially outside. Anytime that you're not using photosensitive chemicals you're welcome to use a hose outside. You could use a room in your house that maybe doesn't have access to running water and I'll share a couple of workarounds for what that would look like. But if you have a room, maybe a bathroom that just has a larger window, you could try covering it with those really opaque trash bags, something that doesn't let a lot of light through, you could even double them up if they're a little bit transparent, and just completely block out the light by covering a window with that material, taping it around the edge, looking for any spots where light might be coming through and just go ahead and block those out temporarily. And of course, this doesn't have to be permanent, this process is gonna take about an hour to get everything done and coated and then you let it sit for two to three hours. This also depends on the climate that you're in. The amount of time it's gonna take for your screen to dry is gonna depend on what kind of climate you live in. If you live in a really muggy, hot, kind of moist climate it's gonna take quite a while longer for your screen to completely cure and dry. Whereas if you live in California and it's dry all the time and 75 degrees then it's gonna dry really quickly in a couple of hours and you can go ahead and take down your dark room equipment after you expose the screen. So it's gonna kind of vary per user, but I think there's a lot of really creative workarounds and I'm gonna introduce you to a couple of those concepts after we coat the screen. So I'm gonna go ahead and start this process. Sometimes the emulsion is a little tricky to open up, so I'm gonna go ahead and use a little key tool here. I think you can also use a coin to pry this open. And I like to use these tighter fitting latex gloves rather than big, sort of wash up gloves that you might use to wash dishes, just because it gives me a little bit better range of movement. Okay, we're about to get a peek at that cool pink emulsion. It's actually a little bit more red, but in the dark room lights it looks very pink. And you said that the emulsion needs to sit for a few hours, Erin? Yeah, essentially between the time that you mixed the emulsion, mixed the photosensitive emulsion chemical in and stirred it up it tends to get a little bit bubbly and the reason we wanna let that settle is we don't want any bubbles to come to the surface of our screen and mess up our imagery, so we wanna just let that have some time to settle and then we can go ahead and go back in and coat our screens. So move this out of the way here. And just to reiterate, you said that this particular chemical could stain your hands or porcelain basins? Yeah, yes, exactly. So if you are working in an area maybe of your house that you don't wanna have any stains you might wanna consider laying down some newsprint, you might wanna consider putting down, if you have a tarp or maybe some of those plastic trash bags that you've used to close up those windows, lay down a few more just to protect any tile or surfaces that you don't wanna get messy. This particular chemical could stain both your hands, your clothes, and the areas around you, especially white porcelain or things like that. So we wanna be mindful of that. Okay, and this does tend to be a little bit messy, so I actually may put down some paper towels of my own, because we're gonna be using this same surface to do our exposure in just a moment. Do you need that out of the way for you? Thank you. Sure. Thanks, Rob. Okay, I can come over here. Thank you. All right, move this back (mumbling). Okay. So this part is somewhat indelicate. I think that I always end up spilling a little bit, so we're gonna wanna have a paper towel, like a wet paper towel at the ready just to clean up the inevitable spills, especially for beginners, this is just part of the process. So we just wanna pour a small amount in here, we're not trying to fill this up all the way, we wanna fill it about halfway to 2/3 of the way full, because if it's too full it's gonna spill out the edges. Okay, you can kind of go back and forth, like that. That's probably enough. Okay, I'm gonna set this aside. Go ahead and wipe off my glove here. Yeah, you can see that color is really fun. All right, and emulsion actually does come in a few different colors. You'll wanna clean up the side of your emulsion here too, you don't wanna store it like this. You wanna take really good care of it, 'cause this is another one of those chemicals that's a little more on the expensive side, so we wanna conserve as much as possible, we don't wanna pour this down the drain if we have to, we don't wanna spill more than we have to, we just wanna kind of take really good care of it and make sure that we're keeping it in as good shape as possible. Okay. Then when you're done, whoops, does not wanna stay still, we're gonna be pouring back anything that we don't use back in here, but I'm just gonna place the lid on for now. Put this out of the way. Okay, and I did actually a pretty good job of getting this into the scoop coater without too much of a mess. You can see there's a little bit here. I'm just gonna clean that up a little bit just so we have a place to hold onto and we're not gonna make a bigger mess. All right, hands are pretty clean. Now we're just about ready to coat this screen. Okay, so we wanna make sure that the screen is pretty sturdy here, leaning against the wall at that 80 to 85 degree angle. We have our little ink cleanup card at the ready. We're gonna use this in case there's any beading, a like thicker portion of emulsion that tends to happen along the outside edges or at the very top, we'll just scrape that down. You'll see me do that probably towards the end. And essentially what we're going to do is we're going to lift up the scoop coater, press it against the surface of the screen, tilt it a little bit, which is going to allow the emulsion to fall forward and bead against the surface of the screen, and then we're going to pull up with a firm, even pressure, which is going to distribute a thin layer all the way across the surface of the screen. Then we're going to rotate the screen, place it back down in the same area, and do it the same on the other side. Some people like to just coat one side and that side would be the flat printing surface side, you wanna start with that side and as an option do the second side as well. And that just gives us a little bit more surface of the emulsion that will create a thicker, slightly thicker layer to build our silk screen emulsion layer with. So we're gonna go ahead and get started, so I will demonstrate this process. Now if you don't have a block you can also use one hand to hold it against the wall and just pull it this way. I like the block, because it makes it a little bit easier and I can use two hands. This is really great for a beginner. Okay, so as I was saying before, we'll touch the, I guess I should also demonstrate, we're not gonna start down on the very bottom of the screen, we're actually gonna start around here where the edge of the frame stops and the empty screen portion starts. So we wanna make sure that we start high enough. We don't wanna get over the wooden or aluminum part of our frame. We tip this forward after we've made contact with our screen, holding it firmly against the surface of the screen. When we see that it's all piled against the side there we pull up. And then tip it back while maintaining pressure, wait for it to kind of fall back into that reserve basin, then pull away. Not bad. That's amazing. I can't believe how neat that is. I know, and I think that I, as an expert, am seeing a little bit of kind of thicker coverage here, so I'm just gonna tamp that with the cleanup card there and wipe that off. But just that the application was in such a beautiful rectangular format. Yeah, it's gorgeous. It's wonderful. It's almost like a canvas that we've just coated. Notice that a little fly or something was in the dark room that has since landed, but we'll maybe just ignore that. User error, not really, but that's okay. We're gonna flip this around. Yeah, you wanna make sure that you're in a really clean, not dusty area, because you don't wanna have dust or dirt or anything that might fly up and hit the surface of this wet emulsion, because pretty much anything will stick to it right now. So in the same way as we did before we're gonna go ahead and tip this forward to the surface of the screen, wait for it to pool in the front, and then pull up. We wanna hear that nice sound of the screen. If you don't hear that sound it means you're probably not applying enough pressure. So you can see here we've got a little bit of that beading again. And that's fine, kind of around this area, if it's along the outside, our imagery is probably gonna be contained more to the center, because you can't really get a solid print if your imagery extends that far, but if you see that line you can kind of clean it up with the cleanup card. Just get it tapped down more towards the level that the rest of the screen is. That'll also help us for the point where we're gonna be cleaning up. Some troubleshooting that tends to happen, especially for beginners is that you're not applying enough pressure and you'll see variation in tone, which means that the pressure was inconsistent. If you're seeing a really dark, opaque section that means that you weren't putting enough pressure and you would need to go back in and pull up almost like a dry run. You wouldn't let the emulsion come forward, you would just push this against the screen and pull it up sharply, so that you would be gathering up all of excess emulsion that will have pooled in those areas. If you're seeing thinner areas it maybe that you were applying too much pressure and so you could do a second or third layer. And if you are completely unsatisfied, this is looking really uneven, the great part is you don't have to do anything, you can go back, wait for that to dry, and then use our emulsion remover, go back to the sink and wash it out. You won't have to waste time exposing a screen that you think isn't gonna get you the type of impression that you're wanting. So now at this point we would store the screen somewhere in a light safe environment. So we're gonna wanna keep it in the dark room environment while it's drying. I'm gonna show you how I want you to store it while it's drying, because there's some specifics why we wanna store it facing down, we want the print side to be facing down. And this is just so that the emulsion while it's wet can settle towards the front of, towards I think the printing side of the screen. And that's gonna help us get a really consistent print when we're actually on the work table. So what I do, actually first I'm gonna go ahead and clean up a couple of things, so we'll have room to store this screen. Generally it takes about two to three hours to get a newly coated screen to dry, but I like to leave them overnight. There's no reason not to leave them for more than two or three hours. We can definitely be on the safe side here and go ahead and leave it overnight or for even a couple of days is fine. You probably don't wanna leave a coated screen like this for more than a week or so before it's probably gonna be accidentally exposed to a little bit of light and you're not gonna get the results that you want. So you see, I have two blocks here that are just gonna be about the outside, they're gonna rest the surface of the screen, or the surface of the frame, but not the actual screen. So we're just gonna balance it right along the edge there. And then we'll slide this other block out, so it's just barely resting on the edges. And it's a little bit precarious, so this should be in an area where there isn't gonna be a lot of foot traffic where people are gonna knock this over. Since it's a dark room environment I'm assuming that it's gonna be kind of somewhere in your house that's kind of more private, that there isn't gonna be a lot of people coming through, because any exposure to light from opening the door or opening a window is going to degrade the emulsion that we've just put on the screen. So we wanna keep this in the dark room environment for the next three to four hours, maybe longer if you have the time. And once it's completely dry we can move onto the exposure process. But luckily we don't have to wait that long, 'cause we've already coated a screen for you guys. I'm gonna go ahead and show you the process of cleaning this part up. Generally because this photosensitive emulsion does stain if we've spilt anything anywhere we wanna clean that up right away to prevent those stains from setting. I don't see too many spills, but I'll take a second look. So we're basically gonna pour all of this unused emulsion back into our jar of emulsion here, so we can save it for another use. A big container of emulsion like this is gonna get you through lots and lots of printing projects, so you're gonna be able to use this for lots of different imagery. And we can basically reuse this screen dozens and dozens of times, because the screen gets reclaimed and we'll be able to recoat it for each subsequent project. So being careful just to use our ink cleanup card to kind of push the emulsion down and out back into the container. There we go. Got most of that in there. Great. Yeah, and we wanna act quickly to clean up this scoop coater, because like I said, this is really a silk screen printer's prize possession in some ways. It's what facilitates the whole process and sets us up for success, so we wanna treat it really kindly and spend the time it deserves just getting it clean. Especially this sharper edge. That's the part that you really need to take the most care in cleaning up, 'cause any variation in that edge is gonna make it really hard to get a solid coating on your next screens. Okay, so that's most of it. We'll go ahead and press this back on and seal it up real tightly. We don't ever wanna expose that to natural light or UV light. And emulsion can be stored for, gosh, for I think at least a couple of months at a time. Some of them if you're storing them in a fridge can be saved for up to six months. So if you're not doing new projects all the time this should last you for quite a while. Let me go ahead and set this back here. We're gonna wash this out in our basin over here. Go ahead and keep these handy, 'cause this will be helpful as we're washing up. And generally you wouldn't wanna do your washing out right next to where you're storing a screen that's about to be drying, because you don't wanna risk splashing it or getting any water on it in this stage, so I'm actually gonna move it out of the way for this part of the process. You wanna think of a place to store your screens where it's not gonna be disturbed by other members of your household, it's not gonna get splashed with water, not gonna get exposed to light. Just treat that like it's a precious commodity and you wanna keep it safe. Okay, so we've got this in our little makeshift wash basin. You could do this in a sink, you could do this part outside. This part really doesn't need to be in a dark room just when you're washing off the tools. So keep that in mind, this part can be done pretty much anywhere. And if you have particular chemical sensitivities you may wanna consider wearing eye protection during this part. Gloves are always a good idea too. I like to use a wet paper towel, the same one that I was using to clean up before, just to make sure that we're getting all of that emulsion off of the surfaces of the scoop coater. I'll hold that up a little higher, so we can see. You can see that it's very easy for that emulsion to get stuck in the nooks and crannies. So we're just gonna take some time and really baby it. So Erin, all you're using is water for this process? Just water for this process, yeah. So no sort of detergents, nothing? No, you can use like a Simple Green or just a organic cleanser, something that you might use around the house if you wanna get it real, real clean. But water should be fine for this part of the process. Okay, I'm getting closer now. Now I'm curious to hear if any of our viewers have experience with silk screen printing or other print making processes or if they're all getting into this for the first time. Well, I have to tell you, you're getting a lot of wonderful comments and props in the chat room. Oh, fun. Hi everyone. We'll start to feed you some of those questions. Yeah, absolutely. As we get a little bit further into the process. Absolutely. And my background, in case you guys aren't familiar with Cotton & Flax, my business that I'm creating screen printed works from all the time, my background before doing that was more as a fine art print maker, so this is something that I used to create fine artworks, as well as products and things that I'm selling in my online shop that's more home goods oriented. So there's really so much that you can make with this process, it doesn't have to be fine artwork, but it can be. You can create T-shirts, you can create home decor, you can create all sorts of things that you could sell in an online shop that would feature your original designs. I think that that's a really fun way to see your artworks kind of come to life in a new way. Okay, so we've got this nice and clean. I'm gonna do one last little rinse. While you're doing that, Erin, I'll read you a couple of comments. Yeah, thanks. Daisy (mumbling) says, this is so satisfying to watch. It's fun, uh? It really is. It is. The process is amazing. And Ashley in Nashville says, can I just compliment Ms. Dollar? She is so calm and clear about everything. Oh, thanks. So well done. That's really nice. Thanks you guys. I love people who participate in the CreativeLive chats. Everyone is so creative and amazing and is contributing just this awesome stuff, so thanks you guys. All right, I'm just gonna finish washing this out. Okay. And since this garden hose has quite a bit of kickback, a lot of water pressure, I wanna be careful not to splash any of this on my face or eyes. Okay, that side looks good. Wanna get all sides, because this stuff is so messy and it just gets all of these areas that you don't even realize you've touched, but wanna get it as clean as possible. Print makers are maybe notorious for wanting things to be just so, we're very precise people, and so getting things perfectly clean or perfectly registered is really not unusual for this process. There's definitely the DIY aesthetic that runs through it too, but we're very meticulous about our tools. Okay, whoa. Okay, I think that looks pretty good. So you can see, that's all clean. I'm just gonna wipe it down with a dry paper towel. You could let that air dry too, but I just wanna make sure I haven't missed anything. Sometimes what's hard about washing things out in a dark room setting is that you don't have a great sense of, maybe there's a little bit more shadow. I can't really tell if it's perfect, but this look pretty good. Erin, let me ask you if when you go to print the next time you found that you left some of that on your tool and it's dried, is that is reparable? Can it still be cleaned? Is it gonna damage the tool? Yes, you can definitely try. I think it's important to just every single time you do this don't get lazy, because oh my god, I totally understand you're ready to get going on the printing and exposing your screen, there's other processes that you're ready to move towards, but it's important just to take the time now, because it's gonna be a headache to clean later. You can try using emulsion stripper, which is what we're gonna use to remove the emulsion from our screens at the very end of this process. You can try spraying a little bit of that onto the tool that you might have left some of this chemical on to see if that can remove it, but especially if it's big globs and not like a little thin layer it can be tricky to get off once it's dried. You can try using a little bit of extra pressure too, like if you have a garden hose like what we're using, or a power washer, you could potentially use that to try and clean it off. The area that you wanna be most careful to protect is that sharp edge of the scoop coater. Okay, we've taken really good care of our tools, so you can be proud of that.

Class Description

Screen printing is a popular, fun and creative way to apply your designs to new materials. The idea of taking on a creative outlet can be daunting for illustrators, artists and creative business owners but with Introduction to Screen Printing, Erin Dollar will walk you through the entire creative process with a DIY workflow, making it accessible and approachable for anyone.

Erin Dollar is the talented textile designer and printmaker behind Cotton & Flax. Join her for this beginning class on the art of screen printing, and you’ll learn:

  • How to create a bold design and transparency that will translate well to printing
  • What materials and tools are best for beginners
  • How to work with photosensitive materials and create a dark room in your space
  • Best practices to prepare your screens for printing on paper

Erin has applied her art to a wide variety of patterns and mediums, blending fine art and fine craft to produce fresh and vibrant designs. Learn proper printing techniques and take advantage of her streamlined process for screen printing. Empower yourself with this new skill set and bring this versatile and dynamic craft to your creative space!  



Wow, that was a great course. Erin is clear, engaging and encouraging. I would loooove to see a follow up course with her that explores some of the more advanced silk screen printing techniques that she mentions in the last segment. Great job!

Marsha Law

Erin is such an outstanding instructor. She's just so confident with her topic and with her ability to communicate. This class helped me realize that I'm not ready yet to start screen printing, which in my opinion is just as important as recognizing when you are ready to try something.


Great beginner course. Helpful terminology. Hope Erin provides a follow up for more complex printing (textiles please). Many thanks.

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