Screen printing – using photo sensitive screens

I am doing a 12 week course in screen printing at the Mary Ward Centre. In the first few weeks we tried monoprinting, and then we created silhouettes which we turned into paper stencils. These were used to get familiar with the screen printing process.

We moved on to spray paint, stencilling and sponging freezer paper shapes. Now are learning to use photographic stencils. I got to mix the photosensitive coating with Nina.

screen printing students
Students mixing photosensitive material

Once the two liquids are mixed, turning from blue to green, we were ready to coat the screens. Zoe demonstrated how this was done with a squeegee.

Silk screen is coated with photosensitive material
Silk screen is coated with photosensitive material

The screens were left to dry while we transferred our designs onto acetate. The screens are placed on a white board, the acetate print is covered with a sheet of heavy glass, and strong light is shone through the acetate. We found that this worked best when exposed for about four minutes.

exposing the photosensitive material screen printing
exposing the photosensitive material

The areas of blackness on the photograph resist the light, and remain soluble in water when they are hosed down, leaving very accurate shapes, ready for printing. The white areas of the photograph or drawing harden in the light and prevent the printer ink penetrating the mesh of the silk screen.

Stencil being washed to reveal the pattern.
Washing off the photosensitive material

I used a photograph of beetles, which when printed in navy blue looked like a tea towel. The effect is quite good for a first attempt, but I was hoping that there would be more detail and “shades of grey” in the pattern. Nevertheless I will have some fun experimenting with this silk screen.

Navy blue bugs on cotton
Printed in navy on cotton

I also used bright white ink on a sample piece.

white beetles on white fabric
Ghostly insects

I will be developing this idea over the next five weeks, perhaps using white lawn as I did for the Christening gown, in order to produce a fabric for my second SWAP blouse. I am keen to experiment with different colours, flocks and iridescent foils, perhaps using beetley greens and blues. I get such a kick out of printing and painting on fabric – it’s such a messy, hands on craft – somehow a good anecdote to the rather precise dressmaking and  tailoring construction I am doing at the moment. This weekend I have been busy with the family, but I hope to get my SWAP trouser toile made and written up soon.

3 Responses

  1. Stephanie

    I would love to do this course…envy. The beetles are great, Kate. I can definitely see them in blues and greens and/or with iridescence and on a different ground. I used to have boxes of mounted insects because of my uncle being an entomologist. Their shapes and colours are exquisite and worthy of display.

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