Exploring screen printing, Stage 3 – Screen printing

23 January 2016

When I looked at the course notes I did not really understand the distinction between this stage and the previous one. I can only assume that it is intended to be a more in depth look at screen printing techniques, including some consideration of design aspects.

The course instructions are quite prescriptive too. The first page is about designs with acrylic paint and suggests applying the paint in different ways such as doodling, dripping, stamping. As I had already done some direct painting and spray painting in stage 2, I decided to start with painting the acrylic onto plastic to take a mono-print.

1. Mono-print using acrylic paint and Selectacine print medium

I painted acrylic onto a sheet of acetate and made some marks using a plastic credit card. Around the edge I dabbed with a sponge (below). I hoped to recreate some of the textures of concrete in the image of the University of Brasilia (page 24 of my sketchbook).

Despite applying plenty of paint, I could see when I held the screen up to the, light that a lot of the mesh was not blocked. Unfortunately, it was not the type of pattern that I could ‘go over’ again with a brush, so I had to accept it was it was. I took a couple of prints anyway (below)

SAMPLE 13: As I expected, I was very disappointed that none of the delicate marks has transferred onto the print. On the plus side I found that when I scrubbed the screen, the acrylic paint came off completely, so I was able to reuse it without re-meshing.


2. Mono-print using Speedball ‘filler’ and Selectacine print medium

I repeated the previous experiment using Speedball screen print filler.  

I made the screen with two separate designs. The top half is a loose design based on the filler being pulled across the acetate with a squeegee and gaps left, and in the bottom half, swirls have been marked in the filler with a credit card after it had been spread on the acetate. A single mono-printing was taken.

SAMPLE 14 (two prints): I got some very pleasing results with a single colour (left) and two colours simultaneously on the screen (right).

I decided that I liked the images so much that I would keep the screen for future use.


3. Spray painting with acrylic webbing spray and Selectacine print medium

The notes suggested that I either spray webbing spray directly onto a screen or use it with stencils to create a screen with areas of resist. I decided that it would be more versatile to spray the whole screen with the webbing spray, then various non-permanent paper or sticky-backed plastic stencils could be used as a when required.

A search of the Internet to find “webbing spray” revealed just one type, manufactured Krylon. I soon found out that it had been discontinued and was unavailable to purchase in the UK. Luckily my friend had just completed this module and leant me her screen.


SAMPLE 15: I produced a lovely image on linen cloth (see below)


4. Spray painting with “cobweb spray”, Selectaine print medium

When thinking about alternatives for webbing spray, I came across “cobweb spray”. Described a “artificial cobwebs” and containing solvent, resin and propellant, I thought it might be suitable.

I stretched my own screen using an old canvass frame and 43T polyester mesh (which is suitable for use with Selectacine). I sprayed the cobweb spray less densely than the webbing spray example above. I found it made a robust and interesting screen.

SAMPLE 16 (two prints): I made a really nice test print. Left is using a single colour of Selectacine. For the print on the right, I put the same blue print medium alongside scarlet in the well and allowed the colours to spread and mix on the squeegee.

5. Screen printing with stencils, Selectacine print medium

As I had previously used newsprint and brown paper stencils, I decided to try two different approaches – sticky-backed plastic and freezer paper. I used a design derived from Oscar Niemeyer’s school building, Belo Horizonte (page 7 of my sketchbook).


On the left is the freezer paper stencil, attached by gentle ironing it to the back of the screen. To the right in the negative image (and not visible, because the stencil is clear) is the sticky-backed plastic.

SAMPLE 17 (two prints): I made a simple print using a single colour. Both stencils gave good, crisp results.

Both stencils were robust. In general I found the sticky-backed plastic more difficult to handle. Positioning was especially tricky because it is clear. As it seems to offer little advantage over freezer paper, I would tend to use freezer paper in preference in future.

6. Screen printing with Vilene stencils and dye paste thickened with Manutex

I had already made a Vilene stencil with a cut-out and incorporating a single motif hand-painted acrylic mask, so I decided to extend the painting with acrylic to make an all-over texture.


SAMPLE 18 (series of 6 prints): I painted a pattern on the Vilene using black acrylic paint and the edge of a credit card. When dry, I taped it to a screen and used thickened Procion dye-paste to make a series of prints, during which I changed the paste colours.

The photo shows the prints just complete and still wet on the print table. Unfortunately, when they were dried, rinsed and set by ironing they appeared washed-out in appearance, which was rather disappointing (see below)


The photo below is a key to the series of individual prints and the order in which they were taken:

7. Colour removal – Jacquard discharge paste and with Procion printed and commercially dyed fabric

I started by colouring a fabric by using a blank the screen to print overlapping rectangles of thickened dye paste. I used 100% plain weave cotton fabric which had been pre-soaked in soda ash solution and dried.

SAMPLE 19: The cloth shown here is still wet just after printing and looks bold, dark and vibrant. Unfortunately, when was dried and rinsed (first in cold water, then a solution of Colsperse), it looked washed out and rather pale (see below). 

I had intended to keep this as a piece of non-discharges cloth for reference. However there seems to have been some contamination of discharge paste! (from the ironing board cloth?). Something to guard against of in future.

I then made a screen masked into a lattice-shape using torn pieces of masking tape (see below). This design was inspired by the bell-tower at the Church is Assisi, Pampulha (see page 27 of my sketchbook)

Wearing a respirator, I spread 50:50 discharge paste soured with water through the screen with a squeegee. I also used this paste and screen on some black commercially dyed fabric and with my Speedball filler mono printing screen (see item 2. of this post). On the Procion dyed cloth only, I additionally made some informal “squiggles” using neat print paste and a cocktail stick, grouting tools and the edge of a credit card.

When almost dry, I ironed the cloth using a steam iron to activate the discharge paste. Once this stage was complete, I rinsed the cloth with warm water and “Colsperse” to remove any excess discharge medium.

The results for the commercially-dyed cloth were very disappointing (see below, SAMPLE 20: left: lattice, SAMPLE 21: right mono printing using Speedball filler)


I remembered that I had not laundered the cloth before use, so this was probably a factor. In addition, the fabric is slightly stretchy, so probably contains Lycra and maybe in addition some polyester, making it less suitable for discharging than a pure natural fibre.


SAMPLE 22: The results of discharging the Procion-dyed fabric were mixed. The fabric did discharge, but the finished result was rather underwhelming. The “squiggles” which were made using neat discharge paste were bolder, so I would be inclined to use it neat in future. The photo below is a key for the designs on this cloth:


8. Extension activity – breakdown printing using Procion dye paste thickened with Manutex

I decided that I would like to have a go at breakdown printing, using the techniques described at reference 1. With this method, a design is painted onto the back of a screen using thickened dye paste and left to dry. Later, the screen is printed several times using either thickened dye paste or clear print paste. With each print taken, the painted on dried design starts to dissolve and breakdown, partly transferring to the cloth.

Unfortunately I was limited in the fabric which I had available which had been pre-soared in soda ash solution. I used some 100% cotton twill weave. From experience with direct Procion dyeing I know that this cloth does not take up the dye as well as plain weave and tends to bleed colours producing soft edged and a paler dyed cloth.

Below is a photo of the painted screen. It is an adaption of the ‘window’ design from the school building in Belo Horizonte (see sketchbook, page 2).

I chose a yellow dye paste for over-printing so that it would give a high contrast. Immediately after printing, whilst the dye paste was still wet, results were stunning. Here are some photos of the prints in the order in which they were taken.

……. and the whole cloth

SAMPLE 23: Unfortunately, as in items 6. And 7. of this blog post, the dried, rinsed cloth was much paler and rather disappointing (see below)

9. Investigation into poor results with dye paste

Common reasons cited for pale washed out results when using dye paste are:

  1. Wrong fibre and/or dye (ruled out – identical fibre and dye used previously with great results for direct dyeing)
  2. Dye powders old (ruled out – only purchased about 6 months ago and used for direct dying in the summer – gave very strong bold colours).
  3. Cloth not properly soaked in soda ash solution (ruled out – this was the same batch of cloth that I soaked with the same solution and used with success for direct dying experiments in the summer
  4. Water too hard (ruled out – I added Calgon to my dye paste as directed)
  5. Inadequate time/temperature (ruled out – dyed cloth left wet (wrapped in plastic) and stored in the airing cupboard overnight to cure before rinsing).
The only option this left me was to re-examine the constituents of my chemicals and dye-pastes.
I had used the soda ash solution and chemical water which I had prepared for direct dyeing using reference 2 (Issett)., but the quantity of Procion dye powder to print paste in reference 1 (Benn & Morgan). 
In reference 2., Ruth Issett uses the identical chemicals for making her thickened dye paste as she uses for direct dyeing, so it should have been alright. I compared the ratios of Manutex: chemical water and dye powder: print paste from the two books.

Manutex: chemical water
Benn & Morgan – For ~ 1 litre of print paste they use 45ml of Manutex powder
Issett – For ~900ml of print paste she suggests either 4tsp (~20ml), if the Manutex is type “RS” (more widely available), but 9tsp (~45ml) if the Manutex is type “F700”.
So one possibility could be that I have not been using the correct quantity of print paste for the type of Manutex that I have (I used 45ml). However, the consistency of my print paste was good for screen printing, so I think that this is unlikely. Nonetheless, I have written to my Manutex supplier asking which type they stock (I have yet to receive a reply). 
Dye powder: print paste
Benn & Morgan – Add 2 plump tsp Procion dye powder to a little warm water and top it up to a volume of 250ml with print paste

Issett – Mix 2 tsp Procion dye powder with 125ml of print paste

From the above, it can be seen that the concentration of dye powder is approximately double in Ruth Issett’s recipe compared with Benn and Morgan. I decided to try making my dye paste more concentrated. Because my jars of paste were half used and in different containers, it was difficult to estimate the amount of paste left. I just tried adding a further heaped half tsp of dye powder (dissolved in a little water) to each jar and repeated the Procion-printed cloth that I had made at 7.

SAMPLE 24: I am pleased to say that the resulting cloth was much darker and more vibrant (see below)

I think that it could possibly be further improved by adding more yet more dye powder. Next time I will measure quantities carefully in accordance to Ruth Issett’s instructions at reference 2.


  1. Benn, C and Morgan, L. (2009) Screen printing: Layering textiles with colour, texture and imagery. Committed to Cloth. 4 Print Ltd. Nottingham.
  2. Issett, R. (2009) Colour on cloth: create stunning effects with dye on fabric  cloth. Batsford. London. 







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