Learn screen printing: step-by-step techniques for beginners

Screen printing is a versatile and exciting art form that allows for creativity and individual expression. Used for custom apparel, artwork, posters, and many other items, this technique has gained popularity due to its engaging process and satisfying results. This article offers a step-by-step breakdown to help beginners navigate and master the ins and outs of screen printing.

Understanding the basics of screen printing

Before diving into the actual process, it is essential to grasp what screen printing involves. Screen printing is a printing technique whereby a mesh is used to transfer ink onto a substrate, except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil. One color is printed at a time, so several screens can be used to produce a multi-colored image or design.

Gathering the necessary materials

Supplies needed:

  • Screen and Frame: Usually made of silk or synthetic materials, the screen is stretched over a frame.
  • Photo Emulsion and Sensitizer: These chemicals will be used to create the stencil on the screen.
  • Ink: Screen printing inks, also known as plastisol, are thicker than other types.
  • Squeegee: This tool is used to push the ink through the screen and onto the printing surface.
  • Substrates: The items you will print on, like T-shirts, paper, or any other suitable materials.
  • Transparency paper: To print your design before transferring it to the screen.
  • Lamp or bright light source: For exposing the screen.

Creating your design

The first active step in screen printing is creating the design you wish to print. Simple designs with fewer colors are recommended for beginners.

Reflect on simplicity and colors:

Being new to the technique, starting with simple designs will make the process more manageable. Each color in your design will require a separate screen, making the number of colors directly proportional to the complexity of the printing process.

Computer software:

Programs like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop can be used to create the design. Ensure your design is solid black and is printed onto transparency paper, as the black areas will block out light during the screen exposure process.

Preparing your screen

Before you can print, the screen must be prepped to act as a stencil for your design. This involves coating the screen with photo emulsion and letting it dry in a dark room.

Mix and apply the photo emulsion:

Carefully mix the photo emulsion and sensitizer according to the instructions provided. Apply a thin, even layer on both sides of the screen and let it dry completely in a dark room or space.

Exposing the design onto the screen

Once the emulsion-coated screen is dry, it’s time to transfer your design from the transparency onto the screen using a light exposure process.

Position the transparency:

Place the transparency with your design on the screen where you would like it to print. Ensure exact placement, as this will determine where the design will appear on your printed substrate.

Expose the screen:

Expose the screen to a lamp or bright light source for the recommended time, which will harden the emulsion not covered by the black design on your transparency. The areas under the black design will remain uncured.

Washing out your screen

After exposing the screen to light, wash out the uncured emulsion with water. The design areas will wash away, revealing your stencil.

Gentle pressure:

Use a gentle spray of water over the entire screen, focusing on the areas where your design is placed. The stencil design should start to appear as uncured emulsion is washed away.

Preparing to print

Preparing to print

With the screen ready, set up your work area. Ensure your substrates are lined up and set up a drying rack for your finished prints. Secure the screen to avoid movement during printing.


If you are using multiple colors, align your screens (registration) to ensure each color prints in the correct position. Test your registration on a sample print before starting your production run.

Printing your design

Now, position your substrate (like a T-shirt or poster paper) under the screen.

Applying ink:

Pour a line of ink across the top of the screen. Using your squeegee, hold it at a 45-degree angle and evenly push the ink across the screen, pressing firmly to ensure ink goes through the mesh onto your substrate.

Clear print:

After one swipe, check to make sure the ink has been transferred clearly. If needed, do one more pull of ink. Then carefully lift the screen away from the substrate to view your printed design.

Curing the print

To ensure the longevity of your print, it needs to be cured. Curing means setting the ink so it becomes durable and wash-resistant.

Heat curing:

You can use a heat press, conveyor dryer, or a flash dryer. If using a heat press, follow the ink manufacturer’s instructions carefully to avoid overheating or under-curing.

Cleaning up

Cleaning up

After you have printed your designs, clean the screen immediately. This process requires removing all uncured ink from the screen and squeegee.

Proper cleaning:

Use a washout booth or a sink with a spray hose to remove the ink. Be mindful of the environmental impact and disposal requirements for the ink and cleaning chemicals used.

Mastering techniques over time

With the basics covered, beginners can start experimenting with different designs, inks, and substrates. Screen printing is not only about following steps but also about developing a feel for the ink consistency, screen tension, and pressure of the squeegee.

Each iteration and project provides invaluable experience. Mistakes are often our greatest teachers, leading to a deeper understanding and mastery of the screen-printing craft. With practice, patience, and passion, you can refine your technique to produce high-quality, impressive screen-printed items.

Continuous learning and improvement

Above all, always seek to learn more. Engage with online tutorials, community workshops, and other printmakers. Embrace the learning curve, and enjoy the creative journey of screen printing. The possibilities and opportunities to express creativity through this medium are nearly limitless, making every print not just an image but a reflection of the artist’s dedication and skill.

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