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Learning to print on fabric for the first time

Last weekend I headed to Leeds Print Workshop to try out printing on fabric for the first time. It’s quite different from printing on paper and I wanted to share a few lessons I learnt along the way! This is designed as a completely new to printing on fabric blog and is just what I’ve picked up along the way but I hope it can be of help if you're thinking if printing on fabric for the first time too! This blog assumes you’ve done a bit of screen printing before - if you’re totally new to screen printing I’m always happy to give tips!

Learning one: I needed a different screen

I’ve experimented with using screens for paper before to print on fabric and it just doesn't have the same finish as a fabric screen (it looks much more grainy!). Fabric screens have a much less dense mesh and offer a really nice finish. I bought mine from Hand Printed (who I really rate for their aluminum screens) and I started out with an A3 size screen.

Learning two: I needed different ink

When I’ve printed at home on fabric I’ve used System 3 fabric medium to mix with every day acrylic paint. This has worked fine before and has stood the test of time being printed onto a tote bag that has been used a lot! This time round I was advised to use pigment inks (which you only need a really small amount of) - the pigment inks come in these brilliant bright colours... I went for blue (as always!) as it’s one of my favourite colours. The quality of the ink was great and a step up from the system 3 mix, but if you’re printing at home and don’t want to invest in a lot of pigment inks I would say that the system 3 mix works well too.

Learning three: I needed a big space and a big padded board

I’d headed to the studio thinking I would be using my usual set up on a vacuum bed, but was advised to spread out my fabric on a huge padded board and use this to print on. The padding meant the fabric and screen were more likely to be in contact and gave a better finish. This was great to be able to lay out all the fabric at once. I would definitely advise having a big space for repeat fabric patterns! Especially with an A3 screen.

Learning four: measurements are everything

As I was experimenting I just started printing and didn’t think about the measurements needed to make the repeat pattern look seamless. This didn’t matter so much this time but I’d definitely recommend being prepared by measuring where the pattern needs to match up.

Learning five: flooding the screen is harder!

Flooding the screen (aka when the ink is first put in to the stencil) is a lot harder when you don’t have any clamps to hold the screen down. Next time I think I’d try using a smaller screen - just until I’m used to flooding in mid air! If any experienced fabric printers have any tips on this I’d love to hear them!

Learning six: Use less ink on the screen

I piled my ink on as per usual, but found that it was very prone to flying all over the place and left some big splodges on my fabric. Next time I'll definitely be using less ink when printing to make sure it stays nice and neat.

That's all my learnings and tips for now - I hope you found it useful! If you have any extra tips please leave them in the comments section below - I'd love to hear them!

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