Friday, December 17, 2010

First Screen Print Test, Disaster

The last time I did any silk screening was back in Jr. High. It was one of those arts and crafts class. You know, they had the section where you could make a chess board or a jewelry box, then there was another section where you could make a candlestick or a napkin holder, then another section where you did silk screening.

I don't know if it was just that technology was a little more primitive back then, or maybe my school just sucked, but they didn't have the UV dissolving emulsion that is used today to get really stunning results that are crisp and beautiful. We had to cut into a sheet of emulsion with an exacto to make our design, then you would burn that emulsion onto a screen. Hopefully, the error prone process would go smoothly and your screen would turn out good.

I earned my A by doing a copy of the inside artwork to a Hanoi Rocks album cover. I tried to find the original artwork I used online, but no luck. Use your imagination.

Anyway, flash forward more than 25 years, and here I am trying to silk screen some diamonds on a pair of briefs for my superman costume. My, how things have changed.

In previous posts, I showed the screen that I purchased from a company online, and how awesome it was. Very happy with the screen. I'm just brand new to the materials and techniques. Cue the "pending disaster" music now, if you please.

A couple of things to note about the inks and fabric I am using. First of all, milliskin is a synthetic fabric. No cotton. No organic stuff in it. All man made. This means that if you iron it at high temperatures, it will melt. Like plastic. Cuz it pretty much is plastic.

Second, the ink I'm using requires high temperatures in order to cure it.

See where I'm going with this?

The product sheet for this ink tells me that you have to heat cure it at 300 degrees for 3 minutes. Or something like that. In a professional environment, you have a conveyer belt oven thingie that takes the fabric in, and gently rolls it under the heat lamps for the prescribed amount of time.

These units cost a few grand each, and are no fun.

I read online that a "poor mans" method is to buy a heat gun, and just go to town with it.

Exhibit A. Heat gun.

That's pretty much the definition of problem number 1. Problem number 2 is one of technique. Turns out, it's actually NOT super easy to get ink to flow smoothly through the screen. You need to flood the screen, then run your squeegee over it at a certain angle with a certain amount of pressure. Too many variables, thankyouverymuch!!! Not being one to think ahead, I decided to do my first test on a big area of fabric. I couldn't find my red fabric, so I just plunked down some blue fabric. Truth be told, this is the shade of blue that I'm not going to use in the final suit, so it's really no loss to use it for testing out the screen printing.

here's the results of my first test.

It may not actually look TOO terribly bad, but it is. The ink went on VERY unevenly, with some of the little diamonds recieving too little ink, and others getting too much. Some were perfect, but not a lot.

Then it was time to heat gun the bad boy. Lets just say, that too is a very error prone process. It's really hard to figure out which parts have been "baked" properly, which parts need more, and which parts have been over cooked. Total pain in the rear, to be clear about it. So after waving the heat gun over the thing for about 20 minutes, I realized how bored and I was, and how impossible it would be to do large chunks of fabric in this method.

Even worse, once the fabric was all cooked, it was only then that I learned the ink is not going to work very well with the stretchy stuff. If you stretch the fabric out more than just a little bit, the ink cracks and pops off. No good.

So in essence, a total failure.

To make matters EVEN worse, when cleaning off the screen, I did not realize that you're not supposed to scrub the downward facing side. Damage was done.

Tragedy indeed, but fear not. Since I'm writing this blog post a few weeks after the event in question, I have learned that the screen I had made is the wrong size anyway. So this is a great learning experience for me, and a way for my silk screen supplier to get even more money out of me.

Everybody wins.

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