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Screen Printing

Author:  Kam S. Leang
Date:  June 30, 2005

Summary:  The following article describes a simple method for screen printing ski graphics. 

Description:   Graphics of a ski are just as important in construction as the wood, composites, and base material.   They make the ski come alive and allow the builder to personalize his/her ride.  Screen printing allows the transfer of images of almost any size and type onto any surface without the need for expensive equipment.  By using simple off-the-shelf items along with a lot of patience you can produce high quality graphics for relatively little cost.

Screen Printing  The following description outlines one method for screen printing.  Please be aware that I am not a screen printing expert and the following is simply a low budget way of printing. 

Step 1:  Gather the Following Materials

  • embroidery hoop

  • screen material ("prom dress" material found at any fabric store)

  • spatula/plastic scraper

  • photo emulsion (available at crafts stores such as Michael's)

  • bleach

  • 100W or 150W light bulb

Step 2:  Set Up the Screen  The screen is very easy to make and only requires the embroidery hoop and screen material.  Insert a piece of the screen material into the hoop and pull the screen near the perimeter of the hoop until it's nice and tight.   Try to get the screen as taught as possible with no wrinkles.

You can see that the screen is made from some pretty fine material.  You can also use real screen material which is most easily found online and available in different meshes.  However, I've found that using prom dress material works fine and is readily available.  

Step 2:  Clean Screen
   Before you proceed the screen needs to be cleaned of particles, oils, etc.  Mix up a solution of bleach (1 part) and water (3 parts).  Use a sponge or cloth to apply the cleaning solution to both sides of the screen and let dry.

You can simply let the screen air dry or you can speed up the process using a fan.  A box fan works well.  Use some small sticks, pencils, or anything else to elevate the screen from the fan as shown.  This prevents the screen from picking up any of the dirt or dust that may be on the fan's surface and also helps insure that the screen does not get caught in the blades.


Step 3:  Cover Screen With Emulsion   The key to making a screen is the photo emulsion.  Emulsion is a liquid substance that cures or hardens when exposed to UV light.  Kits containing emulsion along with emulsion remover (for cleaning screens) can be found at Michael's craft stores and usually costs about $25.  It may be a little expensive but the kit can make about 20-30 of the above sized screens depending on how much you apply at a time.

For this process try to work in a dimly lit area.  Remember that emulsion cures when exposed to light so try to avoid as much premature exposure as possible. 

Apply a bead of the emulsion liquid onto one side of the screen.   With the plastic scraper spread the emulsion around the screen.  I usually only spread enough just so that it covers the size of the stencil.  There's really no need to cover the entire screen unless you're stencil is that size.   Now, flip the screen over and pour some more emulsion and spread as before.   This is all the emulsion you will need.   Flip the screen over again to the original side you started with and even out the coat again with the plastic scraper while returning any excess liquid back to the bottle.   Keep trying to even out the emulsion on both sides until you have removed as much excess as possible while still providing a smooth coat.   They key is to have as little emulsion on the screen as possible.  On your final spreads there should be little to no excess emulsion liquid coming off of the screen.

Step 4:  Dry Screen  Using the same box fan setup, dry the emulsion covered screen.  Make sure to dry the screen in the darkest place available.  A bathroom or closet with no windows and the door completely shut will work fine.


When drying I like to have the screen resting with the well facing towards the fan.  Most people say to do the opposite but I find that a screen that dries this way produces cleaner prints.

Step 5:  Prepare Stencils  While the screen is drying, prepare the stencil.  If you have a laser printer you can simply draw up your stencil on the computer and print the stencil directly onto a transparency (or acetate) sheet.  However, if your printer uses regular inks then you'll need an extra step.  First print out the stencil onto regular white paper.  Then use a copy machine to transfer the image onto a transparency sheet.

This can all be understood by realizing that toner from laser printers or copy machines produces prints that are very opaque which means that it blocks light well.   However, ink from a regular printer is not opaque enough and light can pass through.   

Step 6:  Expose Screen   After the emulsion has fully dried, fix the transparency onto the screen using clear tape.  Make sure that the transparency is flush with the screen and that there are no raised spots. 

Lay your screen on top of something black with the well facing upwards.  Center your light source about 12 inches directly above the screen and expose for the indicated time according to your emulsion brand.

Step 7:  Rinse Screen   Once the screen has been exposed for the appropriate time rinse the screen using a garden hose or something similar.   Use warm water and begin rinsing very gently.  Once you start seeing parts of the screen disappearing then you can increase the water pressure until all of the stencil is gone as shown below.

Step 8:  Making Prints   Printing with the screen is very easy.  Simply place the screen onto your material.   Using the appropriate type of ink for the job (fabric paint, epoxy-based ink, etc.) pour a small bead above the stencil.  Use a smooth plastic spreader to squeegee the ink across the stencil.  It's best to use the fewest passes possible for a print to prevent blurring.  

Note that this article only described how to make a small print of one color.  It is possible to make full-sized prints by simply making a larger screen.   You'll have to make your own custom frame and expose the screen using several light bulbs instead of just one.  To make multi-color prints you'll have to make a screen for each separate color you intend to use.

Some examples of screen printed graphics can be seen on the Bird and also on the Tao.  In the Tao a total of three screens were made.  One screen had the Chinese characters on it and multiple prints were made throughout the ski.  The two other screens were used to create the Bruce Lee image.   The Bird's graphic only required one screen that contained "the Bird" stencil shown above. 

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