Smells like dubstep

Smells Like Dubstep

Yeah, so there is this music that sounds something like a mix between an elephant farting into a tuba and a elementary school playground getting demolished by candy…its called dubstep and honestly it makes my ear holes happy. So what better thing to do than celebrate it by make a t-shirt.

A little backstory – Many of my friends like electronic dance music (also known as EDM). Something about our brainwave patterns matching the 4×4 beat of most EDM. Or maybe its the fact that we all have attention deficit disorder and this keeps our attention the longest. Who knows, either way we dig. One of the many nights out drinking, partying, dancing and whatever else happens a joke came out talking about how people look and smell from a long night of EDM. Ergo, the title of this post and a design for the shirt.

I have about 6 t-shirt designs in the works and have no means of actually getting them made other than sending them off to some company and printing a bunch of them. I have also considered sending them off to threadless, but kind of want to keep these in house for the time being. This is actually the first to be printed the rest are still illustrations in the works and have been pushed back in the queue for a good while. Lets see if this will create a little more movement.

Enough chit chat – On to screen printing.

Screen printing isn’t as hard as its made out to be. Thats if its made out to be hard. There are tons of tutorials, howto’s, videos, etc all over the rest of the interwebs that can tell you everything you need to know about the materials and process. I hate to reinvent the wheel, but I can’t not write about what it is and how to do it. So please, just bear with me.

What you need

A screen (whether you buy one, borrow it or make it – you have to have one)
A squeegee (anything to pull ink, really)
Ink (umm…yeah)
Masking tape (helpful but not necessary if you done mind the mess)
Stencil design (a stencil of your design to put over the screen)

DISCLAIMER – I dont know much about how to do this. I am very new to screen printing in general so I am not going to pretend like I know everything. If I state something that could be better stated or simply just wrong, please let me know.

Get Started

So I had a design in mind already and all i needed was to get it basically from my head onto paper. But with a level of accuracy and cleanliness that my hand couldn’t deliver. Meaning my computer is super helpful for this. I used a program called Illustrator by Adobe. There are a number of applications you can use to make your design digitally but this is my preference.

I didn’t do anything special other than add a little color. The type is called Evolution, a free font straight from the web. I only stuck to type because I can only do one color. I do have a schematic to make a DIY 4 color screen printer that I may make in the next couple of weeks.

Anyways from here you basically need to get your design printed out but usable. A friend gave me some Frisket paper for christmas a while ago which is perfect for something like this. This stuff is basically a very thin sheet of polyethylene (most common type of plastic) with a tacky surface. Kind of like a reusable sticker, but with limited uses after you ink.

The frisket has a paper backing that you can print on. Once printed basically get a good exacto knife out and start carving. But make sure to keep track of the parts that need to be kept. For me it was the counters of the D, P and the little E.

Once everything is cut out, peel off the paper backing and apply the sheet to the screen. Or straight to the shirt if you want, but with delicate lines like what I have wont work that way. You need a medium at which to apply it.

I also cheated a little bit. This stuff is laser cuttable. So if you have a complicated design and dont have steady hands. GET IT LASER CUT! It’s cheap and you can have your design cut out in a matter of minutes as opposed to hours. I went to my favorite createspace Metrix here in Seattle. They have everything anyone needs for DIY tech creative projects.

From here I wanted to prep my screen. I dont want waste ink, or get it in places that are hard to clean either. My friend informed me the ink dries fairly rapidly and I dont want to deal with it dried into the screen. So cleanliness is next to godliness here.

So I taped off the rest of the screen I didn’t use and covered it with plastic wrap.

This is great. My screen is large enought to do two different prints with the same ink. Before switching to the second side, I just covered the first print side with aluminum foil, to avoid getting unwanted ink on the shirt.

Since I did this by myself I didn’t have an extra hand to take pictures while I pulled the ink. It also seems to dry quite quick and didn’t want anything to dry into the screen. Apparently thats a bad thing. I will be trying out another method called photo emulsion sometime in the weekend to come. I will have help and should be able to better photos then.

Below are the first test prints for my design.


I actually really like the back piece. It came out very clean.

Well. Something to fill the time. I start a new contract this week and will be quite busy. I hope to get some time to get back and work on my initial project that started this blog. THE HELMET! In the mean time – please leave feedback, comment, questions, snide remarks, whatever.

UPDATE — JUNE 25th 2012

So, an update on this project. After testing with a stencil, I wanted to try my hand at the photo emulsion and see how that works. It was a major pain in the ass! If you want to try it, allow me to give you a word of advice – be ready with the proper tools and time required to make it work right! I will share with you my experiences below to hopefully help anyone else avoid similar concerns I had. There are TONS of blogs, forums, etc. all over the web that discuss all the different methods and means of going about doing photo emulsion. It is actually a fairly easy process. `Doesn’t take much effort, but is SUPER specific on certain parts. I aim to help out where I could find my answers easily.

What you need
In addition to the typical screen printing equipment like squeegee and screen, you need:
Emulsion (you can get these in a kit with the remover and sensitizer)
Sensitizer (the stuff that sets the emulsion)
Emulsion remover (will get into this!)
Transparency (of design to print)
TIME! (patience)
A piece of glass (to cover the front, helps keep the transparencies flat)
A black sheet, blanket or cloth (to prevent backlight)

How this crap works

Let me explain what photo emulsion is in the first place. This was my first question. Emulsion is a chemical base you apply into the screen. It is set by UV and requires a chemical to remove it. It is NOT water soluble (on purpose). The reason for this is simple; most of the in home paint you can get at the art store IS water soluble. Meaning you can wash it over and over and reuse the screen over time without having to worry about it degrading for up to 90 days or something like that. If you have a screen you can change out, this is very hand, allowing you to do a number of stencils at one time with one frame.

First and foremost – tape a frame around the edges of the screen to avoid getting any emulsion or paint into the corners. Trust me, this was something I am very happy I did. If you buy your emulsion in a kit (I recommend doing this since it’s cheap to get everything and test it all out) you will get the emulsion, the sensitizer and the emulsion remover.

The emulsion is the gooey stuff you really end up working with. The sensitizer is the chemical you add to the goo to make it work with light. The remover…well, it removes the goo.

The sensitizer comes in a little tiny bottle that ends up being practically nothing. Add the 1/2 ounce of liquid to the emulsion and stir it up until it is completely blended in. This stuff will sit for a good amount of time mixed, like 6 months or something. So don’t worry about not using all of it at this moment.

Now your ready to apply emulsion to your screen. Apply it to your screen like you would jam or butter to toast. Pretty much cover the entire thing, but you dont want to get too excessive. Something I learned from doing this over and over again just to get it right to use is that you DON’T want it on too thick.

Put on a little and spread it till it can’t be spread any more. Sorry for the fuzzy imagery, my friend was taking the pictures.

Keep applying a little at a time until its completely covered. Flip it over and spread the other side. you may need to add some to this side as well depending how much you apply. I have read some people only applying to one side, but for management purposes its easy to just do both sides.

You may be able to see where it is starting to wanting to drip. I would scrape this with the squeegee and pull the excess off and put it back into the bottle. One nice aspect of this; its reusable like that. I would flip it over and over again until I was happy with a clean covered surface. So now you have a completely covered screen with emulsion all in it. Time to hide it into a clean, dry, dark place. It needs to dry in a dark place so it dries but does NOT set.

If this is not clear – try this. It dries, but is not completely ready to start working with until you put it under a light source of some type. The UV in the light sets the chemical. Before it sets your able to wash it clean, but after, it requires a chemical to break it up. Let it sit in the dark for as long as it takes to completely dry. This can take up to 24 hours, depending on where you live and the typical weather. I live in Seattle and it is usually cloudy, overcast and wet. My screen was always dry under 14 hours.

Light. This is where I got super frustrated. So the way this works is simple. Light sets any of the emulsion that isn’t blocked. Everything else stays the same. Meaning you can still wash it out with water. Here is a visual analogy. Stand in front of a window with the sun behind you. Frame yourself in the middle and look at your shadow. Now picture this. Everywhere outside of your shadow would get set by the sun, but everywhere that is blocked by your body(shadow) won’t. This allows you to clean the emulsion out of the shadowed area and print through it.

Another frustrating aspect. Get very good quality BLACK transparencies. Anything that is not done black will come out grey scale and not block the sun properly. This means even in the computer with what ever program you use make sure it’s black! I also doubled the transparencies up to make sure it blocked as much as possible and it still wasn’t enough. The original transparencies I purchased looked like good quality ones until I went back and got another run done.I had to do this 4 times to get it right and it wasn’t the light times that was the problem. It was the F’ing transparency.

This is a comparison of the two transparencies. The original on the right and the new one on the left. They both only have 2 copies taped together. This really pissed me off. So look out for something like this.

So lets say you have your transparencies and your screen ready to go. Put your design on the screen and cover it with the piece of glass. The glass helps keep the design from rising off the surface. This will help keep the edges sharp and clean. On the backside of the screen either hold, tape or lay down the black cloth to help prevent any back light setting the backside of the design.

Now your ready to set. All of the forums I ready talked about people using different light bulbs, wattages, equipment, specific time settings and BLAH BLAH BLAH. If you get the kit, it will include a very brief and unuseful time chart that seems to be originally written in chinese and translated into english by a 10 year old from Egypt. No offense to those 10 year olds from egypt, my point is, their instructions suck.

This I believe was the second time I tried exposing inside on a cloudy day. See the design with the glass over top. I believe i used a 400 watt bulb at about 19 inches on top for about 22 minutes.

You can go by what they say, it works fine, but what took me some time to find, was what everyone seems to be over looking, our best light source known to man. The F’ing sun. It actually irritates me how hard it was to find someone even mention the sun.

The time settings for using a lamp at a few hundred watts can take up to 40 minutes. Depending on the wattage, it could take longer or shorter. Finding the right times can be a pain to get right. It’s helpful to get accurate, but I say just use the damn sun. Here is a  step wedge time calculator thingy for screen printing. If the sky is clear and the sun is out holding the screen perpendicular to the sun takes about 90 seconds to 2 minutes. I left it out originally for 8 minutes and I was still able to get some of the emulsion out from behind the bad transparency. If you feel like you need to, it can sit out a little longer but remember, the longer it sits, the longer UV is exposed to the screen. It will eventually start setting even the emulsion under your transparency.

Pull it out of the sunlight and remove the glass, cloth and transparency. Now its time to wash the emulsion that was blocked by your design out of the screen. This was also another huge pain the butt. Some of the screen printing forums I read say you can use the faucet or sink to clean it out. This is bollocks! You need a good back pressure of water to get the emulsion out. I took mine outside and took the garden hose to the screen.

Even this was barely enough to get the stuff out.

This image is of the emulsion that has set because the transparency wasn’t blocking the sun entirely. You can see the splatter image I wanted to use looks like clumps of stuff. Thats the emulsion that set and didn’t wash out.

This image was of the emulsion I didn’t set and is breaking away even where it was exposed openly because I hadn’t found out what the true problem was and didn’t let it sit long enough in the sun.

Eventually after 4 attempts of applying, drying exposing, and cleaning, I FINALLY got it to work after I got the new transparencies.

Applying the Ink to the screen and squeegeeing it through is basically the same. The only benefit was you can wash the ink out after a few tries and do it again without having  to throw away the stencil because it gets ruined in the cleaning process. One problem with cleaning over and over again is you HAVE to dab clean the surface, otherwise the cloth can start to rub away the clean edges of your stencil in the screen.

This is one of the good reasons to apply the emulsion to BOTH sides of the screen. Just in case you do end up wiping off some of the edges of your design and squeegee ink through, the other side will still help block.

Below are some shots of the final prints. Since the screen I used was 24×20 I was able to put 2 designs on it and everything in one day.

I ended up doing this on a number of different colored shirts. It turned out really good. Last minute I decided to do the girls shirts a little different and put another design on theirs. This was the final print design for their shirts.

I really like how this turned out. Clean, simple and beautiful type.

So now that it is all said and done, its time to clean the screen. UGH! This is where the diazo emulsion remover is supposed to work. They say ONLY let the remover sit for 1.5 minutes otherwise it can harden the emulsion. Which honestly to me that sounds like a massive fail of a product if thats the case. You can barely get the entire screen covered in 1.5 minutes.

Any ways I didn’t take any pictures of this cause I was too busy trying to get the crap out of the screen. If it doesn’t work the first time they suggest trying again. I have barely used half of my emulsion and I think all of my remover for about 4 screens worth.

Some people suggest using bleach. 1:1 ratio of bleach and water and letting it set for about 5 minutes the spraying it off. Other suggest trying Acetone since it basically eats anything away. The only problem is it may eat your screen too, so proceed with caution if you do that. I have not tried it yet. I have tried paint remover, HCL acid, the remover, soup, hot water, and of course the pressure hose. It is a massive pain in the ass and there seems to be no easy way of getting this shit out of the screen. One thing I have read over and over again is, once you get the screen wet, make sure it does NOT dry again until you are satisfied the screen is clean enough to use again. Good luck with that.

I am at the point to invest in a frame I can remove the screens from and just buy screens by the bolt and cut my own down each time. Instead of dealing with cleaning them.

Anyways I hope this helps some of you. Again if you have questions, please dont hesitate to ask. I will share what ever I can.


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