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Posted on: 09/25/18

How To Make Stencils For Screen Printing

For the best looking screen prints, we always advise that you print your design, in black ink, on transparency paper, and use photo-emulsion or light sensitive emulsion. However, this is only one way that you can create an effective stencil for use in silk screen printing. Effectively, the stencil determines exactly where ink should get through the mesh, and where no ink should pass. It is this stencil that enables you to create your own custom design on whatever item or product you are currently customising.

The Emulsion Free Technique

When you first experiment with silk screen printing, you can try using paper stencils. Draw your design on a piece of grease proof paper. Ensure that you are drawing on the rougher surface of the paper to ensure that you can see the lines once finished.

Cut It Out

Use a craft knife to cut out the holes. The holes are the areas where ink will be allowed to get through, and so this is the design that will ultimately make it onto your t shirt, tote bag, or other product. Ensure that the edges are cut cleanly, because dangling threads and small slithers of paper will cause the ink to gather and bleed, ruining your design in no time.

Line It Up

Place the wax paper over the item you want to print onto, ensuring that it is waxy face down. Line up the design so that it will appear exactly where you want it and you’re ready to print using your paper stencil.

With this technique, you will only get a single use from your stencil, and will need to make a new one each time you print, but using waxy greaseproof paper should eliminate most bleeding and other ink problems.

The Emulsion Method

Paper stencils can give good results. They are also inexpensive and they do not require the use of emulsion, which also negates the need for lightboxes and dark rooms. However, the stencil cannot be reused and there is greater danger of ink bleeding through and under the stencil. Most people that start with paper stencils find that they move on to using emulsion and transparency paper because of the improved results that this technique offers.

Apply Emulsion

To use emulsion, first create your screen, covered with mesh. Apply the emulsion to both sides of the screen, using the squeegee to push the emulsion from top to bottom and side to side. You should apply the emulsion in a darkened room to prevent it from activating during the process.

Dry The Screen

After coating the screen, you should place it in a dark room or a darkened area. The drying process can take a long time, anywhere from several hours to even as long as 2 days, depending on the size of the screen and the amount of emulsion that has been used.

Create The Transparent Stencil

Print your chosen design onto transparency paper. Alternatively, you can use an office supply centre and pay to have your design printed for you. Most printers will work with transparency paper, but you may need to alter the settings to accommodate the thickness of the paper.

Attach The Stencil

Attach the transparency to the flat side of the screen. Fix it using a strong tape and ensuring that there are no gaps. Alternatively, you can place a piece of glass over the transparency to keep it in position.

Expose The Screen

Leave the stencil and screen under a light for around two to three hours so that the visible emulsion sets. Check the instructions on your chosen emulsion. Some will require stronger light to activate than others, and you can base the choice of light bulb on the amount of power that is required. The exposure time, which is how long the screen is left under the light, needs to be as exact as possible. Over- and under-exposure can ruin the design and the finish of your shirt design.

Final Steps

Once the emulsion has been exposed, carefully clean the screen using cold water. This will wash away the emulsion that was under the transparency stencil, but leave emulsion everywhere else. Make sure you get rid of any flakes and any other bits of paint that might be left and would ruin the finish.

Buy Screen Printing Materials From Screenstretch

You are now ready to use your emulsion screen to print your chosen design on any flat surface, from t shirt or tote bag to skateboard or canvas. If you have any questions about screen printing or the items you need, call Screenstretch on 01942 888747 and speak to one of the team. Alternatively, email us at and we will be happy to help you choose the right products and answer any queries you have about this unique and high quality printing process.


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