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
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
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 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?
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
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 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.)
Thread Count in Silkscreen Stencils
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.
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 B – Create Along silkscreens by Polymer Clay TV
Thread Count D – MOIKO 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!