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Screenprinting and art: can you apply the ink with a brush?

applying ink with a brush in screen printing

Those producing artistic prints often need to apply screen printing inks with a brush. It can be done and here we explain how to get the best results.

  • In this article:
  • The first step when cleaning the screen printing screen: remove the ink as follows
  • Cleaning solvent-based inks from the screen printing screen
  • Cleaning Plastisol inks from the screen printing screen
  • How to clean the screen printing screen if you’re using water-based inks.
  • Now the screen printing screen is clean: do you also want to get rid of the emulsion?

Artistic screen printing is an area that sees lots of experimentation from countless screen printers and screen printing enthusiasts.

Artistic screen printing requires particular tools and equipment, but there’s no single way that these tools and inks have to be used: screen printing allows for (and sometimes requires) lots of trial and error, and this is very much part of its appeal.

However, when you’re looking to market and sell your work, you need to be able to employ methods that enable you to optimize your working time whilst simultaneously producing a high quality final product – in this case a work of art – that remains in good condition for a long time.

One question we often get asked here at CPL Fabbrika is how to apply screen printing ink with a brush: so we’ll answer this for you in this article.

When should I use brushes in screen printing?

  • Generally speaking, there are two reasons why you’d use a brush to apply screen printing ink:
  • To create free-hand designs on T-shirts, bags or paper without using a screen printing screen
  • You’ve already screen printed the design onto the item and you want to use a brush to customize the design and make it unique

Artistic screen printing: the question is whether to wash or not

Are you painting on paper (non-washable) or on fabric (washable)?

This is the first question you need to ask yourself, but it’s not so much the item type that’s going to be the determining factor, it’s whether that item will end up being washed or not.

So, fabric T-shirts or shopping bags call for one procedure, while posters, postcards, or other materials that certainly aren’t going to be washed, may require another.

If you’re hand painting on fabric, you’ll need to take steps to make the ink wash-resistant, while if you’re painting on an item that you won’t be washing, you don’t need to worry.

Read on to find out about the techniques you can use to get better screen printing results.

Printing on washable fabric using a brush

Technically speaking, this is doable.

You just need to get a screen printing ink that’s specifically for fabrics – preferably water-based, like Texprint Mono – and dilute it with water until it’s just the right consistency for brushing.

Water-based ink lasts well on fabric and it has the advantage of being able to dry at room temperature, although we always recommend using an iron or, better still, a heat press, in order to speed up the drying process and ensure the print lasts a long time.

We don’t recommend using Plastisol inks for two reasons: diluting them is more complicated (Additive 86 is required) and they’re fairly difficult to apply (they are quite rubbery). Furthermore, Plastisols polymerise at 160°C, so you need a heat press or an oven, equipment that only a more extensive workshop tends to have.

Painting on an existing screen print

It’s also possible to paint on a print that’s already on a T-shirt or shopping bag.

If you have printed using a water-based ink, like this, then you’ll have no problems, you can paint over the dry ink and then allow what you’ve painted to dry.

If, on the other hand, Plastisol ink was used for the print, you can’t then apply water-based ink with a brush, they aren’t compatible. But you can paint alongside the print, directly onto the fabric, and then leave it to dry.

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Brush screen printing on paper or non-washable items

It’s possible to use Texprint water-based inks on paper, but we recommend using the water-based inks from the Biobase line (watch this video to discover their advantages and how to use them).

They are still water-based inks, but they are eco-friendly and are made in a way that ensures they aren’t harmful to the environment or to people’s health. They do have the disadvantage of not being washable, but for artistic prints on paper, cardboard or wood this isn’t a problem.

Actually, for painting on paper you can also use solvent-based inks, but we don’t recommend doing this because they have a strong smell and dry very quickly.

Why don’t we recommend solvent-based inks?

  • Theoretically, it’s possible to apply solvent-based inks with a brush, but there are good reasons not to do so:
  • they have a very strong smell, so it can be unpleasant using them in small, enclosed spaces
  • when painting, you usually want to apply a fairly thick layer of ink (or paint), and solvent-based ink isn’t suitable for being used in this way as it can end up “cracking”.

Brush screen printing: how to modify or create colours

Water-based inks can all be mixed with each other, so it’s very easy, through trial and error, to create new colours and shades.
Colours that have been mixed can lose purity and brilliance, so we recommend only mixing them to slightly adjust a colour tone, not to create a new colour.

  • To summarise:
  • it’s possible to apply screen printing inks using a brush
  • use water-based inks, it’s easier and there are less limitations
  • when deciding which procedure to adopt, the key question is: will the item or material I’m painting on need to be washed?
  • you can mix screenprinting inks, but only to alter the tones, don’t try to create new colours, otherwise there will be a loss of quality in the final result.

Check out our website to discover the Biobase line of inks

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