I have been pondering buying screen printing supplies for several months and have wanted to try it for literally years; like since my Sophomore year of college. So on Tuesday, fed up with my boredom, I decided it would be a good idea to go out and piss away $80 on screen printing supplies. I took a trip into Boston to visit the Blick art store where I had priced out supplies before. I bought what I needed, and the next day -Wednesday- where I had that day off too, I made my first attempt.
I went through all the steps of the SP process (which I’ll get to in the next part) only to realize upon re-reading the bottle that I had used the wrong liquid; screen filler instead of photo emulsion. On top of that, I had accidentally poured on WAY too much filler, making cleaning the screen a bitch. Not only did cleaning the screen take a fuckload of time and effort, it also caused me to waste a lot of water and materials (such as paper towels, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser’s (miracle workers), and cleaning pads) in the process. It took me, no exaggeration, about 4 hours to clean the screen, and even when I was done there was still some filler leftover on the edges.
Buying the screen filler was not only a waste of money but it also meant that I now had to go out and buy the correct liquid, photo emulsion. This time I went to Michaels (craft store) where my only option was to buy a two-pack which included both the emulsion and the emulsion remover. The shitty thing about this was that a) I had already bought emulsion remover, and b) the two-pack cost $30. Hopefully I’ll be able to return the emulsion remover I’d bought at Blick and maybe they’ll be nice and let me return the filler too, even though it’s been used. I’ll even settle for a store credit.
—Thursday, my second attempt
Things that you don’t realize about screen printing upon going into it:
1) How time consuming it is. This first print took me from when I started at around 4:30pm, a little after I got home from work, until when I finished my first shitty print, at around 11pm. This first print involved several steps:
-Prepping the emulsion -which I did wrong and thus fucked up making it too water-ey.
-Prepping the screen -which in itself isn’t hard, you pour on some emulsion and spread it with the squeegee. It typically takes around 2 hours (What! That alone is a long fucking time.) to dry, however, since my emulsion was so water-ey it took closer to 3 hours; 5:30pm to 8:30pm.
-Then, I had to lay down my transparency with my design on it and expose it to light so it could “burn” into the emulsion. Again, not that hard (although I did manage to accidentally touch the ink on my transparency thus smudging the design) but time consuming. The internet suggested exposing using a 150 watt lightbulb 18 inches away from the screen. Since the only light in my house that uses a 150 watt bulb is the lamp in my living room, I had to unplug it and bring it down to the basement. And, since I can’t adjust the height, it was more than 18 inches away from the screen. So, rather than use the suggested exposure time of 30 minutes, I waited closer to 45 minutes; 8:30pm to 9:15 pm.
-Next I had to wash the screen to get rid of the excess emulsion leaving behind my design. Once it was thoroughly washed, 20 mins to half an hour (with procrastination), I had to let it dry; 9:15pm to 10pm.
-Once it was dry enough, it was finally time to print. Unfortunately, the vat of ink I bought was difficult to pour and thus made a mess. The ink got everywhere and after making a sloppy print onto some scrap wood, I had to figure out how to clean it all up and then organize my supplies a little better. This somehow took an hour; 10:00pm – 11:00pm with procrastination injected in the middle.
2) How hard/labor intensive it is. You need only to read point #1 to realize this. However, once I finally understood the process (after watching a several tutorials) I thought it looked pretty easy and that I’d get the hang of it no problem. As it turns out I suck at it. I realize it was only my first time and that I’ll probably get better, but I thought I’d be good right away. Not to mention the fact that I’m doing it in the boiler room (Freddy Krueger’s lair) of my basement which is fucking freezing and means I am constantly running up and down stairs.
3) How messy it is. The tutorial I watched suggested wearing gloves. When I saw that I was like “Pshh, I don’t need that shit. Gloves are for pussies who are too afraid to get their hands dirty.” Not to mention the fact that I didn’t want to spend any more money. However, after taking a few passes at SP, I think I’m going to get one of those outfits Patrick Bateman wears when he kills Paul Allen in American Psycho. Additionally, I feel as though I need to put plastic down everywhere as though I’m about to remove someone’s kidney to sell on the black market. I don’t know if I’m doing it wrong (probably) or, if between the emulsion and the paint, it is just that messy. Although apart from my fingers I have magically not yet gotten any on my clothes.
and 4) How much water it wastes. Between cleaning the screen (especially on Wednesday), cleaning the squeegee, and washing my hands a million times, I feel like I shouldn’t take a shower for a few days in order to counterbalance my environmental impact.
On the one hand it is easier than spray painting; the old way I used to make t-shirt designs. You don’t have to work or think in stencils. This means not having to cut them out and not having to think about whether or not a piece of the design needs an extra part that connects it to the rest of the paper (ie. the center of “O”s. However it gets more complicated when you are working on something other than text ie. an image). For another you aren’t working with paper which can bleed through occasionally and is pretty much a one-time-use thing. Screen printing makes design repeatability much easier. But, spray painting a shirt design, though less professional and less permanent, is much quicker. It’s a trade off.
I thought SP would be a fun way to spend my time productively. Instead it is a source of frustration that forces me to spend just as much time sitting around doing nothing as I would normally do, except that in the background I’m doing work. Work that I am shitty at, requires semi-constant attention, and that I have yet to enjoy.