Thursday, June 11, 2009

Screen Printing 101

The schedule was clear this week, creating the perfect opportunity to really get into a few projects I've been hoping to explore this summer. When I was a student at the Art Academy of Cincinnati back in the day, I majored in graphic design and printmaking. My real love then was silkscreening. It always seemed like a magical process to me. There were no color printers on everyone's desktop or color copy machines. It was one of the few ways to create quick multiple editions of art. Screening ink always produced a solid, matte finish print, a visual quality that I also prized. I produced about a half dozen prints that semester, many of which sold through local galleries and art fairs. 

Later in life, I acquired a Gocco printer, the small Japanese screen printer that exposed screens with photo flashbulbs. The manufacturer discontinued this item a few years back, and supplies are becoming more scarce, plus the Gocco had a limited image size (roughly 4 x 6 inches). It was a real workhorse, however; for one Art Continuum project, I pulled 900 prints of a program cover from one screen! (The usual life expectancy for a screen was about 125 prints.)

I always meant to return to silkscreening, but life and work intervened. By taking some time off from teaching this summer, I finally have time to explore some of these past obsessions. It is amazing how today's equipment for screening hasn't changed too much, except the manufacturers have figured out how to take some of the mess out of the process. Last winter, I got a Yudu screen printer, an all-in-one unit that exposes and dries the screens and provides the print bed. This week, I finally got to try it out. It took nearly all day to produce a good first screen: some of it the time between steps to allow for drying, and some of it due to very poor instructions provided with the unit. But, when I finally got an acceptable screen, the printing process itself was just as easy and magical as I remembered.

Some of the paper ephemera I acquired in my recent trip to Paris served as my graphics. I enlarged some of the handwritten letters, cleaned them up, scanned them, printed them out on transparency material, and then created my screen. I chose a variety of materials to print--fabric, boards, text weight papers, canvas, vellum-- to get some preliminary experience with how the ink and the process would work on the materials I am most likely to use in making books. Just about everything I tried produced good results. Some of the more textured surfaces printed fuzzier than the smooth ones; that was to be expected. I experimented with pulling ink several times over the same surface to deliberately get a more muted, blurred effect. Above are some photos that are representative of the day's explorations.  

I'll be testing the use of these printed materials in my next several projects so I can see how they glue, fold, and otherwise survive the bookmaking process. Stay tuned!


  1. Love your experiments Pam!! The one of floral fabric is really beautiful. :D

    I've been Yuduing too & have had many happy results too.

  2. I love my Gocco printer but rarely use it because I only have about 5 bulbs left and am afraid I'll never be able to find them again! I think most supplies now have to be ordered from Japan!

  3. Love this!! This would be a great class for your St. Louis fans, hint, hint (tee, hee).

  4. I got a yudu for my birthday, and am itching to try it out. Have you found a good and inexpensive source for additional screens, since the unit only comes with one? Your results look great, and thanks for the tips.