Screen Print Process

This is my process for screen printing, but most of this process applies to my work in general as well.

First I set out my parameters for the project:

  1. multilayer image
  2. able to do in emulsion and fit as many layers as possible on a single screen
  3. show complex illustrative skills


At the time of creating this piece I’d recently finished school and was finding creating new ideas difficult (art school end of term burnout – thankfully passed) so I went through my old files and sketchbooks to expand on previous work. I found this old sketch from 2011 and combined it with Stars and Moon by Mucha.

mucha lady inspomucha

Art Deco and Art Nouveau are two major influences on my work and are often a go to when I’m trying to build a style for either an individual illustration or ongoing project. The piece above, in particular, is a major influence on my work. She’s hung in my room for years and I’ve often wanted to create a work in homage to her.


I set up my digital file with an off-white background. I also pasted my source image in on a separate layer to keep track of rough proportions and for colour picking. I didn’t put in the piece by Mucha to avoid copying it too closely.

june 2016 screen print sketchDuring the sketch phase I’ll either do a thumb traditionally and scan it in or just go straight in with digital. Since I had a digital reference I started digitally without a pencil thumb; I’ll rough in quick flow of movement with a red 50% line (to keep sketch and final lines clearly separate). As I build I’ll erase with a 50-80% brush to keep my rough initial layout visible but not in the way. I decided that lines for this piece would 1. make it too complicated to line up during printing and 2. would take away from the flow of the form. So at this point I skipped clean lines and moved onto rough colour blocks.

june 2016 screen print colour blocksI usually like to get basic layout done in photoshop due to ease of resizing, shifting, and organization of layers. However, once I get to a certain point I tend to shift to traditional sketching and inking to refine details. This was especially important in this particular project since everything absolutely MUST line up for the print to work. I sent the right-most image to my printer and took it to my light table.


I made a cleaner version on a new sheet of paper with the digital illustration underneath. This clean pencil image became my master copy for all my following inks. Even though these are my “clean pencils” I still keep them fairly loose. I mark out major areas of interest – things like clothing, where there’s lighting, major divides – but I don’t like to get them too tight. I find if I get too tight at the pencil stage my inks loose their life.

june 2016 layers

From the digital file I had 4 layers – white, gold, black, and a shade layer – which you can see I noted on my sketch above. This meant I needed at least 4 clean ink layers that didn’t overlap. Any overlap would cause a mixture of ink colours, and would potentially distract the viewer from the overall piece.

mucha inks

I focused mainly on getting the forms as well laid out as possible. I also wanted to get important details like lighting and her clothing designs well placed. I avoided inking the background pieces since I knew they’d be easier to make in photoshop than they would by hand. I only did an outline of each area to save on ink; it would be easier to fill in digitally and would ensure that the blacks were 100% black with no lightened areas. I scanned these in and compiled them in a new photoshop file.


I used my master sketch as the basis for lining up all my layers, cleaned and filled the ink drawings as necessary, and added in gradients where needed. Since I’d be working with emulsion, which reads black/white only and no greys, I had to make halftones for any gradients I wanted, like so:

mucha blacksRather than working on a single photoshop layer for more complex areas like the one above I would create a folder of multiple layers so I could edit them if needed. The black layer of the final print was in fact 3 layers in the photoshop file – one for solid blacks, one for the gradient, and one for the whited out stars. I made a clean photoshop layer or folder for each layer of the print and then made a second copy of the file that had the planned colours.

mucha black layers


mucha colour layers

At this stage I realized that I needed to reorder the black  and gold layers otherwise the lighting wouldn’t work. Black tends to be very opaque so small details like the light reflection on her skirt and hair would be lost if it was on top. So instead of white, gold, black, shade layer, as initially planned I changed it to white, black, gold, shade layer. The gold layer changed a second time during production, not during planning, which sometimes happens. After printing the first two colours I decided that having straight gold on the geometric lines next to the woman would be too overpowering with the stark blackness next to it. I altered my colour mock up seen above and my screen midway through.



From here I begun work on the actual physical print. I don’t have photos of this part of the process due to the time sensitive nature of the medium.

I tend to use oil copies for my emulsion screen prints. For this method you print your layers on an lazer printer, cut any excess white paper away, and rub oil onto the paper with a paper towel. You need only enough oil to make the paper translucent, similar in opacity to vellum. From there I layered photo emulsion on my screen and shot my images onto it. I prepped my paper by tearing it down to size and tapping on tabs for the pins and tabs registration method.

I proceeded to print out the image according to the layer order I figured out during the planning stage. When I made changes mid-way though I taped over the gold areas of the original oil copy to block the vertical lines and had a 5th layer added for just the vertical lines. Once all layers were printed the image was finished! 5 layers and 4 colours with gradients and different opacities.

june 2016 mucha