Behind the Screens Series 1



When people talk to us about screen printing they usually ask two questions: “Do you screen print t-shirts?” and “How hard is screen printing?”

The answer to the first question is no. T-shirt printing requires a different setup, equipment and type of ink. I’ve done it in the past and I do not enjoy it the way I like printing on paper. The second question is a bit more difficult to answer because there can be so many variables to each person’s set up and each project has it’s own set of challenges.

“Behind the Screens” is our ongoing attempt to address the second question in more detail, as well as give some insight to our screen printing process.

After people find out all that is involved in the screen-printing process the next question is usually: “Why do you do it?”  To be honest, there are many days I wonder that myself but the truth of the matter is that I am addicted to it. I love the moment when you hit the poster with the final color and lift the screen up for the first time to reveal the finished work. I love the unexpected results such as the color when it dries or the slight misregistration that just looks cool.  I love going to my day job with ink still stuck under my fingernails.

The bottom line is I love to screen print BECAUSE of the challenges. The failures are frustrating but the successes are spectacular.

Each step of the screen printing process has numerous milestones that offer the potential for trouble. A good example of this would be when we  burn a screen. The success of this task can often rely on many different factors:

STENCILS- Was the black opaque enough?  Was there heat shrinkage?- which can cause registration problems. Did the stencil tear?
EXPOSURE- Are the bulbs burning out? Was the light output dispersed evenly? Was the unit clean?
EMULSION- Was the emulsion too old? Was the coverage even? Was the coverage too thick?
SCREENS- Was the screen properly cleaned? Was the screen burned too long? Was the screen burned not long enough? Did all the detail come out?

That is a lot of potential trouble spots and that is even before you even pull any ink. What is even more frustrating is when something does go wrong, it usually could be a number of different issues that must be addressed through trail and error and rework. This requires both time and money. Basically, if you are running a DIY screen printing studio, unless you are extremely lucky-do not expect to make a living pulling ink. After people find out all that is involved in the screen printing process the next question is usually, “Why do you do it then?”

DIY screen-printing a poster is the complete opposite of designing a poster digitally. If you design something using a program like Photoshop, it requires you to know what and how to use specific tools but once you have mastered the tools they will always perform the same way. If you run into a problem, you can simply use Google and usually find the answer easily. This is not the case with screen-printing. While you might be able to find general answers online, most of the time problems are specific to the individual, project and set up.


An example of success and failure, “Adventures in Outer Space” comes from my love of classic sci-fi films and the illustration style and color schemes from 1960′s text books. I wanted to create a poster that had that loose playful feel that used a bold, simple graphic with a color palette to match. I purposely offset and over printed some of the color to try and achieve the often-loose registration of that time period. We also choose to print this poster because we were coming off about a month lay off from printing and needed to test some new equipment and inks.


After the aforementioned problems with the ‘Another Day’ poster, we decided to try and streamline our process a bit more. Jenn and I have a good routine when pulling ink where she is responsible for mixing the ink, adding it to the screen “well” area and keeping the ink from drying on the screen. Unfortunately, the art of back to back flooding (which is used to keep the ink from drying on the screen) is a bit awkward, especially in the rare times when I have to print a poster solo. To aide in this part of the process, we purchased a frame kickstand, which holds the screen in the up position in between pulls.



Recently we had a special order print in which we rocked out 150 posters which was a huge run for us since 50 was our biggest run so far. During that run, I began to experience shooting pain in my wrists. I made various adjustments to my technique but nothing really helped. I did some research (thank you, Google) and purchase a set of wrist guards to help keep my wrist locked during printing.



We only use water based inks and have remained loyal to one brand, Jacquard but the price of their inks are a little high and have had some issues with ink consistency when mixed with various mediums such as retarders and extenders. For this poster we decided to try a more generic, less expensive ink as a replacement. This decision meant there were new variables involved to achieve a successful print. The first thing was to determine how it would mix, especially with another brand’s extender / retarder. Jenn mixed up a batch of the first color which was supposed to be a vintage looking mint / mid green.


The color looked great in the mixing container and on the screen. The consistency and volume was solid – it pulled without any bleeding problems or drying on the screen. The only issue was the color after it dried became a little darker than expected. While it did not match our digital comp or even the color when wet, the end result was still strong and usable. When using these inks in the future, we will do a test print and let it dry thoroughly and make adjustments as needed.


Instead of using a straight black as the final [trapping] color, I wanted a hint of vintage with a faded “feel” by using a dark gray. To do this properly, we would take white and add a bit of black (as well as thinner since white ink is normally a bit thicker than the other inks). Unfortunately we ran out of white, so we decided mix what we had and use various mediums to adjust the opacity and achieve the desired gray. Again the gray looked perfect in the container, on the screen and it pulled like a champ.



We discovered a few issues with the print once the run was complete:

- The gray ink was the opposite of what happened with the first color; instead of drying darker, the gray ink not only dried a bit lighter but also did not dry in a flat consistency in a few areas. We are pretty sure this is a direct result of how the ink reacted to the thinner agents we added and the lack of  the proper amount of a white ink base. One additional cause could be the use of the kickstand, since I noticed that these effect on happens on the same side as the kickstand. This will be something we will have to keep an eye out in the future.

- Something that was due to my error, but easily fixed: during the run, we had to make a slight adjustment to the gray ink and it was necessary for me to remove the ink that was on the screen. I cleaned off the screen using a damp cloth and in doing so, I accidentally removed the tape that was covering up the corner registration mark which then became printed.  That is the kind of thing we try to avoid but sometimes it just happens.



In the end, I do not feel that these two issues detract from the print but I do feel that they are enough to keep us from charging full price for the poster. We will categorize this print as a “test print” since it does not meet all of our quality control standards. Although we might revisit this print in the future-so stay tuned!

Hopefully you enjoyed our first “Behind the Screens” blog article. If you did, please help spread the word online via your favorite social media channels. Make sure to “Like” our Facebook page for the latest news about We Are Amerikan Made.

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  1. Tess
    April 3, 2012

    Love it! Test print or not this one is a keeper. Just ordered one for my spacey hubby. :)

  2. Keith Bowman
    April 3, 2012

    Coolio! I am sure you will dig it. It definitely has it’s own charm. Thanks for your support and buying Amerikan.


  3. Danita Reynolds - Creative Brain Extraordinaire
    April 4, 2012

    Great Poster! Very informative blog post. I ordered one but forgot to add in the notes area that I’d love to have you guys sign the poster.

    • Keith Bowman
      April 4, 2012

      Danita- no problem! We sign and number all prints even test prints! Thanks for the support!


  4. Amerikan Made » Behind The Screens Series 1.2
    May 1, 2012

    [...] If you missed our first article you can read it here. [...]

  5. Loren
    January 5, 2013

    Hi my name is Loren Grosvenor, I’m currently studying graphic design in York, England. I am in my third year an am currently researching and writing my dissertation.
    the question I am trying to answer is “Is there a future for screen printing in the digital era?”
    I just want to ask your views on this question.

    I also want to ask, why do you use screen printing when you could just digitally print, which is easier and more time efficient?

    If you could answer these questions I will be very grateful.

    Thank you


    • Keith Bowman
      January 7, 2013

      Thanks for your questions, I have emailed you directly with my response. I hope it helps you out.



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