Choosing Silkscreen Designs for Polymer Clay

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Silkscreen stencils are all the rage in the polymer clay world now, and for good reason. They’re a fantastic way to add design elements to raw clay with paint, chalk, and mica powders. You can then form and shape the unbaked clay to make all kinds of things from simple flat pendants to complex rolled and shaped forms. You can even use a silkscreened image as a background for additional embellishments and design elements. Silkscreen stencils are a valuable design tool for polymer clayers. But there are some things to consider before choosing silkscreen designs. Here are some points to consider so that you choose a pattern and type of screen that will work for your intended purpose.

Choosing Scale in Silkscreen Designs

Consider scale when choosing a silkscreen design for polymer clay projects.
Silkscreens are by MOIKO Silkscreens.

Take a moment to think about the size of your finished polymer clay project. If you’re making earrings, the leaf designs on the left screen in the picture above will be larger than the polymer clay section you will use. Large designs can be very effective as a background texture, but if you want the design to be recognizable, smaller scale designs are usually better for smaller sized projects.

Positive and Negative Designs

Consider positive and negative images when choosing a silkscreen design.
This Celtic Dog silkscreen by Beadcomber has both the positive and negative versions of the same design. (Thanks to Tina Holden for this image.)

Just as rubber stamps and texture sheets can have “inny” and “outty” designs, it’s helpful to consider positive and negative designs when choosing a silkscreen design. When buying silkscreens, it’s easy to get confused about what aspect of the pattern will actually be applied to the clay. Will it be the design itself? Or does the silkscreen print the space around the design? Pay careful attention when you buy a silkscreen so you’re not surprised when you use it in your project.

Choosing a Silkscreen Design or Style

Consider the style when choosing silkscreen designs for polymer clay projects.
The silkscreen on the left is by MOIKO Silkscreens. The screen on the right is from the Sculpey Silkscreen Kit.

Consider the style or mood of your project. If you’re making a nighttime winter scene with crystalline snowflakes and an icy lake, it would look silly to add stars in the sky that have a winking smiley face on them. Consider the two silkscreens pictured above. Both designs are generally similar in they have a bird, flowers, and leaves. They’re even of a similar scale. But the mood of the MOIKO screen on the left has a very different style, mood, and feel than the Sculpey silkcreen on the right. Choose a design with a mood and style that matches your polymer clay project.

How Busy is the Silkscreen Design?

Consider the amount of coverage when choosing silkscreen designs for polymer clay projects.
The design on the left is by MOIKO Silkscreens and the one on the right is by Create Along.

Silkscreens used on fabric, paper, or other materials usually apply paint to a solid colored base. Polymer clay, on the other hand, is often colored or patterned when a silkscreen is applied. Will the silkscreen design itself let the design of the underlying polymer clay show through, or will it cover it up?

Have a look at the picture above. The orange, green, and yellow colors of the clay sheet can easily be seen through the design of the silkscreen on the left. But the design on the right is busier and has a more complex image. On the left you see a colored sheet with a design on top. On the right you see a complex motif and the colored sheet isn’t as obvious. Either way, Make sure that you consider busyness and complexity when choosing a silkscreen design. Sometimes it’s helpful to run a test print of your silkscreen onto scrap paper to see how much coverage it gives.

Motifs vs Overall Designs

Consider if a silkscreen design is a motif or is an overall design as you will use them in different ways in your polymer clay projects.
Silkscreens are by MOIKO Silkscreens.

When choosing silkscreen designs, I tend to gravitate toward patterns that I like, and that can sometimes mean they’re not as versatile. The designs on the left are perfect for applying to a bowl or around the keyhole on a box, or used as a focal design on matching earrings. But the design on the right is more versatile for more types of projects and applications because it can be used as a background and visual texture. Sometimes, as in the small leaf-textured screen at the top of this page, an overall pattern can also contain motifs. Think about how you’ll use the design in your work.

Coloring Designs

Consider suitability for coloring when choosing a silkscreen design for your polymer clay project. Is this a design or an outline of a design?
The silkscreen on the left is from Martha Stewart, and the one on the right is from the Sculpey Silkscreen Kit.

Coloring books are very popular and it’s so much fun to use a silk screen to create coloring book-styled designs on polymer clay. To do this, you’ll need a silkscreen that creates an outline of a design, rather than creating the design itself. The flower design on the left will print with outlines that you can color in. The mandala design on the right will print as the design itself. There’s no room to color it. (Of course, you can selectively color parts of the design as you print it.)

Combine techniques with silkscreens on polymer clay to get unique results.
This design was printed in black on white clay and then colored with pencils. The silkscreen is from Tonja’s Treasures.

Thread Count in Silkscreen Stencils

Consider thread count when choosing silkscreens for polymer clay projects.
Click to make bigger. Thread count matters when choosing a silkscreen design. A-Sculpey silk screen kit, B-CreateAlong, C-Tonja’s Treasures, D-MOIKO Silkscreens. Notice how screen A has more space between the threads than screen D.

We all know that thread count is an important factor in choosing sheets, but it’s also important when choosing a silkscreen. Thread count refers to how tightly woven and how fine the threads are that make the fabric of a screen. Take a look at the photo above, clicking on it to make it bigger if necessary, so that you can see the individual threads of the various brands. Sculpey’s (A) silkscreens have a low thread count with large holes between the threads. Now compare to the MOIKO Silkscreen (D). See how much finer those threads are and how much less space there is between the threads? Does that matter? Yes, it actually does. The tight fabric of the MOIKO screens gives a much crisper design with finer details. The wide spaces of the Sculpey screens allow more paint to go through and the designs can often be blurry.

A drawback to the finer screens, though, is that large flakes of mica powders (such as Pearl-Ex Sparkle Copper) can’t get through. Some kinds of metallic paint can be blocked by the tightly woven silkscreen fabric. I can’t give specific recommendations for products that work with each size of silkscreen because there is so much variation in particle size with various paint, powder, and mica brands. You’ll have to do some experimentation. But knowing to look for this issue will save you some frustration when using these materials.

A chart that illustrates silkscreen thread counts from Low to High. Low thread counts are: Larger holes
Blurrier prints
Metallic paints OK
Runny paints a problem
Thick paints best
Coarse powders OK

High thread counts are: Smaller holes
Crisper prints
Fine metallic paints OK
Runny paints OK
Thick paints a problem
Only very fine powders

Thread Count of Various Brands of Silkscreen

The manufacturers and artists who make silkscreen stencils don’t give a number for what the thread count of their silkscreen fabric is. I have compared the ones that I have here in my studio, and here’s what I have found. I’ll assign a letter to each thread count, from lowest to highest thread count:  A, B, C, and D.

Thread Count ASculpey silkscreen kit and Martha Stewart adhesive silkscreens

Thread Count BCreate Along silkscreens by Polymer Clay TV

Thread Count CTonja’s Treasures, Beadcomber, Helen Breil Designs

Thread Count DMOIKO Silkscreens

Note: Silkscreens were provided to me by MOIKO Silkscreens, Tonja’s Treasures, Polyform, and Create Along by Polymer Clay TV. Many, many thanks to these companies for sharing their products with me! As usual, my opinions are my own, whether I buy the materials myself or am gifted them!

20 thoughts on “Choosing Silkscreen Designs for Polymer Clay”

  1. Debbie Goodrow

    Ah ha! I had the sense that my different brand silkscreens were different, but didn’t nail down why. NOW I understand, and can use each one more effectively. As always, your information is invaluable. Thank you!

  2. Nika van Tilburg

    Create Along Silkscreens by Polymer Clay TV lists the thread count as 100 mesh on all the patterns I’ve looked at. EZScreenPrint — materials for making your own silkscreens — offers 2 thread counts: standard (110 mesh) and hi-def (160 mesh). I am trying the standard mesh kit to make my own silkscreens and will report back. [FYI: the links to Tonja’s Treasures and Millefiori Studio are broken.]

  3. I always appreciate the completeness of your reviews as well as the fairness you give each item. The information regarding thread count was extremely valuable to understanding the result variations that I have experienced. Thanks.

  4. Thanks once again for an informative article. As others have said I didn’t know about the thread count, it will help when I choose a design for a project , to know what I am looking at.

  5. I didn’t know that silk screens came in different thread counts! I don’t recall seeing that information given when I have looked at them online. Thanks for the comparisons, and the information. I haven’t really tried silkscreens on polymer clay yet, but I really want to. This article may push me to have a go.

  6. This makes SO much sense. I know we touched on this briefly while talking about silkscreens, but it’s really a relief to know “it’s the silkscreen, not me”! I was getting so frustrated with varying results with the same paint consistency and different silkscreens. Sometimes within the same brand too.
    I love the Moiko designs, but I still haven’t figured out how to get a perfect image. Same with the CreateAlong ones. It might be that I’m so used to silkscreens with a larger weave by now, so working with these tighter ones is more difficult for me. I will give them another go, maybe with some runnier paints 🙂

  7. Ginger, I discovered Mioko silkscreens about a year ago. To say I love them is an understatement! Malgorzata’s designs always leave me breathless. She is so a creative with so many different styles of silkscreens to choose from. Her prices and shipping are reasonable too, even when shipping to the US. Moiko silkscreens combined with your silkscreen tutorial have enabled me to silk screen polymer clay jewelry components successfully every time with amazing results!

  8. Karen Lee Price Luda

    I want to thank you for your Silk Screen e-book, which just saved me a lot of money. You recommended some paint brands that work well, and I was having trouble with some acrylics I was using. I hoped the problem was my paint brand and not the screens I had made myself. I ordered a brand you mentioned (a LOT of it) and it works beautifully! What a relief. Many other tips have been tremendously helpful, too.

  9. Thank you for this very useful information, Ginger. Now I can make an informed choice when buying a silkscreen, rather than just hoping it’ll work the way I wanted it to!

  10. As the rest have said , thank you for your helpful tips on silk screens. I always learn so much from your site. I’ve not delved into silk screens yet but have often wondered about their uses. As unusually, you’re in the know and willing to share. Keep it coming!

  11. Always so informational…Such a pleasure to read and learn….Thank for sharing your knowledge and letting the world…specially me…to pick your brain.

    1. Kathay Iskrzycki

      I have learned so much from you…you are always helpful when someone has a problem (me)…..thank you again, you’re the best…

  12. Ginger, you are a veritable fount of knowledge! Thank you once again for an excellent article. You became my “go to” source for silkscreen information after buying your ebook on the subject but if I hadn’t bought it this article would have the same result. Who knew there was so much more to learn? Perhaps one day there will be an industry standard for silkscreen makers – the Ginger Thread Count 🙂

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