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How to Silkscreen a Poster

Ever wanted to silkscreen your own poster? Urban Inks shows you how.

Sarah Mead and Reed Burgoyne of Urban Inks create unique concert posters, reminiscent of 1960s and '70s San Francisco. They've silkscreened for groups like Von Iva, Magnolia Electric Company, Tussle, and Les Savy Fav. Mead and Burgoyne put together this step-by-step guide for aspiring screen printers. For more how-to photos, click on each image.

1. Come up with an image or design.
Print out your image on a transparency or hand-draw designs on transparencies using Rubylithe pens; they're available at art stores for about $5.


2. Create a background and fill colors.
You will need a roll of Rubylithe paper (about $50 a roll). It blocks UV lights and will protect the part of the poster you want to fill in with color later. Once the image is exposed you can't go back. Use an X-acto knife to cut out the parts you do not want to be exposed on the screen. Think in layers (for color). You will need a new screen for every layer of color you apply to the poster, so cut the images accordingly. 


3. Coat your screen.
For posters, the recommended mesh count for the silk screen is around 137. Always clean the mesh with water, cleaning solution, and a scrub brush before using. After it dries, coat the mesh in a photo-sensitive emulsion. Spread it thinly and evenly with a squeegee or plastic spreader. Keep the screen away from direct light and let the emulsion dry.


4. Burn your image.
Once the emulsion dries, place your film positive on the screen. It will depend on which way your light source is coming from (above or below), but it always goes in this order: light source > film positive > silkscreen frame. Tape down your image on the silk screen on all four corners. To expose the image (without a fancy exposure unit) you can fit a piece of glass on top of the screen, secure it, and hang uncoated UV bulbs over the image. Make sure the screen is not touching anything. When the time is up, spray off the emulsion with water. Then let it dry completely. The image should harden to the screen if you timed it right. If all the emulsion washes off, you didn't burn it long enough. If you can't get the emulsion out, you burned it too long. Practice makes perfect.


5. Print the screen.
Clamp the screen frame to a flat surface. Use tabs to make sure the image remains in the same place for different colors of ink. Lock up the frame in the hinges and use tape to cover parts of the screen that aren't covered in emulsion. Take the paper you will print on and tape down the image positive to it. Slide the paper underneath the screen and line it up underneath the screen where you want the color to be. Once aligned, tape down tabs to ensure accurate placement. Remove the image positive from the poster and re-insert the blank paper underneath the screen, add colored ink to the top of the screen, and squeegee it across the screen. Let the ink dry. Change screens and repeat this process for each color.



The stages of a four-color silkscreened poster.






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