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Attempting Aloha: Dec 7, 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

READ Bag - Simply Screen custom screen-printing kit review


So remember when I did the reading nook, and I made the custom "READ" letters to mimic the look of the famous Robert Indiana LOVE sign?  Well, I really love my sign. I've done lots of crafting projects around my house, and the ones I have out, I'm okay pleased with, but there are a few that just make me smile every time I see them. And the READ sign is one of them.

My girls and I love the library, and they've each just received their own cards, so they like to check their OWN books out and carry them themselves. I decided they each need their own library bags, and the READ sign was the perfect option.

Originally I had intended to use freezer paper for the project. Print my READ sign on it, cut it out with an exacto knife, iron it to the bags, paint in the letters, and remove the freezer paper. No big deal.

But then Plaid offered to send me one of their new custom screen printing kits, and I thought it would be a great way to make my bags!

I'll give you details about my trials and errors at the end of the post, but I wanted to start with my (hopefully) clear tutorial, so you're not left totally in the dark.

The kit comes with everything you should need to create your own silk screen. Keep reading, and I'll describe it better (for you left-brained crafters out there -- I know there are a few of us).

If you're not familiar with silk screening in general, I think Plaid's video does a decent job of showing just how that part of it works. It's not like a regular stencil where it's just cut out/hollow where your design is. It's actually a SCREEN (I see the wheels turning...you now get why it's called silk screening. Clever, right?)

Aside from plain one-colored options, you can also use multiple colors at once, or use their glitter or foil that are purchased separately. You can CLICK HERE to see some of those techniques in use. Pretty cool!

Now, keep in mind that the $9.99 price she mentions is for buying a pre-made "stencil" screen. What we're talking about today is their kit that allows you to print your own designs from your computer and then burn them into your own screen. It looks like this:

You can buy it at Hobby Lobby for $39.99.

It comes in that weird trapezoid box that will actually be used as the light kit later on, so don't throw it away!

Here's my kit. It comes with the light cord, a bulb, a wash basin, sponge, 3 tubes of paint, a paint brush, the squeegee applicator, and the light-sensitive screens (housed in a black-out envelope). The screen sizes are: 1 (7.5" x 10.2"), 1 (6.7 x 9.2), 1 (6.7 x 8.4), and 1 test screen (4 x 3).

I wish the screens would have come in standard paper sizes. It was fine for me since I can cheat and change my paper sizes with InDesign, but I know the average crafter isn't going to have InDesign. You don't actually print ON the screens, but it would have still been convenient while designing.

So you take all those things out, and it will look like this:

Now flip it upside down and pop open the top. Put the light bulb housing socket in the top:

Screw in your light bulb:

And close it up. You now have a magic light box:

Now you're ready to print your own design. Unfortunately, I have no idea what weight my paper is. This is one time when being organized didn't pay off. LOL  I remove my paper from the packaging right when I get it home and throw the packaging away and put the paper in it's home. Ugh!  They recommend 10 lb. printer paper but say most copy/printer paper should work.


I had two failed attempts at this project because I didn't do a test strip to see how long to leave my screen in (since my paper was obviously different). Very sad face at losing out on two screens. :(

Once you have your design printed, remove one of your blue screens from the black-out envelope and peel off the white backing:

Now stick your artwork to that somewhat sticky side with the artwork face down:

Rub it on there a little until it's nice and smooth.

This next step isn't in the instructions that came with the kit, but Plaid mentioned it to us after a few were having a hard time getting good results (me included) by just taping it down. In order to keep the artwork right up against the screen, they suggested putting a piece of glass over it to hold it down. Brilliant!

I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that if you're reading my crafty blog then somewhere in your house you have a framed picture, right? Just borrow the glass from a pic that's close to the size of your screen (doesn't have to be exact). And if you're anything like me, you might want to wash it first (cough cough). Oops!

Then close it up.

 ((SIDE NOTE: I took these pics on the carpet, but I actually moved it up onto a flat surface to keep the screen more even.))

Then turn on the homing device, and the mother ship will come down and turn your screen into  your artwork using laser beams:

I jest.  But really, here's how the process works for those left-brained people like me who really want to know a bit about the process behind it. The screens are covered in a light-sensitive film. If you just placed it in the light box with no artwork on top and turned on that light, the entire screen would start to harden. When you print your design and place it on top of the screen, all of the blackened areas don't let much light pass through, so the white areas harden, and the blackened areas stay filmy.  When the white parts are done "baking", you simply wash off the filmy areas!

When I finally understood that process, I was much more excited about the project. My poor brain doesn't work well on projects that seem vague and mysterious.

When your time is up, remove the paper, and your screen will have a yellowish tint where it was blacked out. This pic doesn't do it justice, but it's really yellow. You can see the letters, but it's definitely still opaque.

Then you place it in the wash basin filled with warm water. The wash basin has little bumps in the bottom and was really flimsy. I wasn't super impressed with that and decided to use one of my Pyrex pans instead. I'm sure this product wasn't meant to be cleaned in food dishes, and the FDA is going to be after me now, but I was really thorough about cleaning it afterward!! ;)

I first placed it in upside down (letters still backwards). You can see the outline of the letters:

Start rubbing the letters with your sponge:

Once you get that side going, you'll be amazed at how it comes off and might think you're done:

But then if you flip it over and scrub the other side, then you'll be like, "OH!! It's CLEAR!" :)  And you'll do a happy dance that it worked! 

See the difference between the E and R? E has been scrubbed on both sides.

Let's go back to the part where I told you to do a test screen. My first try, I let it sit for 40 minutes because I didn't understand how it worked and thought, "the longer the better, right?"  WRONG! It hardened the areas even below my lettering, so I scrubbed for 40 minutes, and it was still a disaster.

Then I got the tip on how the process works, and I kept it in exactly 25 minutes. This time it came off MUCH better. But still had some uneven edges around the letters that were a little hard to scrub off:


20 minutes was ultimately what I ended up needing for my particular kind of paper. It came off like butter after that! I was sad I hadn't taken the time to use the test screen and had wasted two of my big screens. :(

Now on to the painting!  I taped my screen down onto the bag I made out of the extra length on some Ikea curtains I purchased this summer. It's a nice, sturdy canvas, and I wanted red stitching to go along with my red print.  

Their instructions don't mention taping it down, but I'm a little sloppy, so I know the project would have been a disaster without taping it. I even taped the bag to the counter (and I'm glad I did).

Confession: I watched that video above AFTER doing my bag, so I didn't use enough paint the first time I did it. See how skinny my little paint line is there? Oops.

Since I hadn't made a thick enough line, when I removed the screen the first time, it was a little faded in some areas:

No worries, I hadn't washed the screen, so I just put it right back on and did a thicker coat. Much better!

So, going back to my freezer paper comparison. Assuming I was only going to do one or two bags, and if my design was simple like this READ bag, I would say to stick with freezer paper and save yourself some $$. It will take time to cut out your letters, but $40 is a lot for a couple of bags, right?

BUT...the magic of having a silk screen is that you can wash it off and use it again and again and again. Not gonna happen with the freezer paper you've painstakenly cut out.

ALSO, you'll be limited in your design to things that are connected. Think back to the video and how you can't really have a circle within a circle unless you're prepared to also cut out the centers and iron them on in the exact location as well. Not a big deal if you're just doing one letter O, but if you want a design with any kind of detail, the screen kits are the way to go!

So I do recommend this product if you're willing to use the test screen and not waste your precious screens like I did! I'm VERY excited to do some more projects with more details now!

For washing and care instructions and other helpful tips with regards to screen printing, visit the Simply Screen FAQ page

Aloha and ho ho ho,