Silkscreens are stencils created on a fine fabric mesh. You push paint through a silkscreen to print an image onto a material, such as fabric, plastic, polymer clay, or paper. If you’ve ever had a t-shirt with a design printed on the front, that was likely made using a silkscreen. Silkscreens can be purchased with a design already on them, or you can make your own silkscreens. While you can use silkscreens to print on many materials, we’ll focus here on how these silkscreens are useful for screen-printing on a sheet of unbaked polymer clay.
Using Silkscreens with Polymer Clay
Polymer clay is a vinyl putty that, when rolled into a sheet, makes an excellent surface onto which you can screen-print. After printing, the sheet of unbaked polymer clay can then be cut, shaped, and molded to make art pieces such as jewelry, home decor, or even book covers.
Silkscreens are often used to print the same image repeatedly, such as printing a logo onto t-shirts for a baseball team or youth group. But polymer clay artists use silkscreens to print a design onto a sheet of clay without having to paint it on. Screen-printed images on polymer clay can be a striking focal image or they can be an overall background that supports additional layers of clay or paint. Silkscreens can be used many times to print the same image over and over, and even on different materials.
As you can see in these earrings, the screen-printed image, in silver or white, is layered over a colored sheet of polymer clay. These sheets are then made into earrings or other little opulent ornaments.
Screen-printing with silkscreen is normally done with paint, but we have more possibilities when using polymer clay. You can also use powders such as pastels or mica powders. You can even layer multiple patterns over the same sheet of polymer clay with paint or powders. There are a lot of possibilities for creating interesting patterns on polymer clay using silkscreens. If you’re new to using silkscreen with polymer clay, you will enjoy reading my All About Silkscreens eBook.
You'll have endless fun with them.
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No more blurry prints, patchy designs, or ruined screens. Learn to choose the right stencils and paints for your project and explore new ways to use your screens with powders, chalks, and more.
Make Your Own Silkscreens
You can buy silkscreens with pre-made patterns on them from many sellers. You can read more about them here. Those designs are great when you’re in a hurry or if you’re not yet confident making your own silkscreen designs. But many artists aren’t comfortable with using another artist’s designs on their work. So the solution is to make your own silkscreens using your own designs.
When I took fine art classes many years ago, we used specialized stencil materials that had to be cut with an X-acto knife. I think graphic artists can still use that sort of thing. But technology is much simpler nowadays and you can take advantage of your home printer and photosensitive screen emulsion film.
It’s very simple to make your own silkscreens. Here are the basic steps:
- Print your image onto a printable transparency sheet.
- Lay your printed transparency onto photosensitive screen emulsion film.
- Expose the film with light. Your design will block the light from reaching the film.
- Soak the screen emulsion film to soften the material unexposed areas (this matches your design).
- Wash out the unexposed areas.
You don’t need to use a printed image to expose the silkscreen film. You could also draw a design on transparency film using a black paint marker. Conceivably, you could also use items to block the light, such as lace, leaves, or other materials that would create interesting patterned shadows.
SmallDogs Prints Screen Printing Kit
Trish Bordeaux from SmallDogs Prints is a new company that provides screen printing kits and silk screen photo emulsion film to people who want to make their own silkscreens. Many people have asked me about making silkscreens over the years, but I didn’t have a reliable company to refer them to. So I’m really glad that Trish contacted me. Trish sent me the Complete Silk Screen Printing Kit and some sample silkscreens. (The bee, above, is one of Trish’s samples.) I swear, I was like a kid on Christmas opening this. Color me impressed! Trish has thought of everything.
This kit enables you to make your own silkscreens for printing on polymer clay or any other substrate. The kit includes every single thing you might possibly need, from start to finish. I really am impressed with the thoroughness of this kit. Rather than repeat the list of contents, you can read it on the SmallDogs Prints website here.
The complete kit includes a light stand, bulb, safe bulb, plus the board and clear plastic to make an “exposure sandwich” that will ensure that you have a neat and precisely exposed image. In addition, there are frames to allow you to print repeatedly. This isn’t so handy for polymer clay, but would be nice if printing on t-shirts.
Inside the black box (which also serves as a dark-box for soaking the exposed print), there is an assortment of paint, squeegees, tape, a paint marker, and brushes that will make your printing experience flawless and easy.
You can buy the complete kit or you can buy just the light kit. You can also buy additional (refill) photosensitive screen emulsion films for making future silkscreens. This kit will have everything you need to make silkscreens. For polymer clay, you’ll most likely want to use different paint than is included with the kit.
Do You Need to Buy a Kit?
I’m a real DIY kind of person, so I don’t usually buy kits. I usually just make do with that I have around the house. But you know what? I think this is a really good kit. It’s not aimed at polymer clayers so there are some things you would not need. But the light stand is perfectly sized and the bulbs are just exactly the right type. I will probably use the stand for photography in my studio, too, so there is that! It’s just so darned handy having exactly what you need to make the experience as seamless as possible. Trish sent this to me to hear my thoughts, but if I were making silkscreens I’d gladly pay for the kit.
Can You Make Silkscreens to Sell?
Can you use the SmallDogs Printing Screen Printing Kit to make your own silkscreens to sell to other artists? Absolutely! The kit is good for unlimited exposures. You’ll only need to buy new transparency film for printing your designs (you only need to do that once). And you’ll need to buy new photosensitive screen emulsion film (which becomes the silkscreens) for each silkscreen you produce. SmallDogs Prints does sell these screen emulsion films in bulk and they also have a tax-free wholesale arrangement if you are a reseller who resells screens. Details are on their website.
Credits: Many thanks to Trish from SmallDogs Prints for sending me the “make your own silkscreens” kit. As usual, my opinions are my own. I really do think this is a great screen printing kit and polymer clay artists would love having it!
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