For many bands and businesses, screen printing is essential to their marketing. But what is screen printing, anyway? And how does it relate to the world of DIY? I talked to 24-year-old screen printer Taylor Yackulics about how the process works, and how he’s reinvented the art.
When someone needs a customized t-shirt for their family trip to Disney, or a tote bag with their pet’s face on it, they rely on screen printers. For convenience, many people turn to mass-producing screen printing websites. Though these online resources are great for simple designs in large quantities, they don’t offer the same level of precision and customization as independent screen printers.
The process of independent screen printing starts with a design. Once a screen printing business receives an idea from a client, the design department uses a computer to perfect the image and make it printable. Most of the designs Taylor works with are made to be printed onto t-shirts. After the digital image is confirmed, the rest of the process is meticulous and entirely hands-on.
"After the digital image is confirmed, the rest of the process is meticulous
Taylor works from 7 p.m. until 3 a.m. in a messy art studio scattered with buckets, wires, and scrunched rugs. He also has a day job so his printing mostly happens at night. His companion throughout the night is a screen made of mesh that has been stretched over a metal frame. Nearby, there are containers of light-sensitive liquid that he will soon use to coat the screen. After the coated screen sits for 24 hours, the design is carefully placed on the t-shirt and blasted with light from an exposure machine. This step occurs in a dark room, and is similar to how a photo is processed. Taylor executes each step of the lengthy, hands-on process. What’s more DIY than that?
The process of screen printing is not just complex; it’s also dangerous. Taylor told me about times he had to step outside for fresh air after experiencing bouts of dizziness and confusion following hours of inhaling toxic fumes from cleaning products. This reaction was caused by mineral spirits, which are liquid chemicals used to thin paint and degrease. The U.S. National Library of Medicine labels this product under the category “poisonous ingredient.” Their online reference site states, “The poisonous ingredients in mineral spirits are hydrocarbons, which are substances that contain only hydrogen and carbon. Examples are benzene and methane. Mineral spirits poisoning occurs when someone swallows or breathes in (inhales) the fumes from mineral spirits.” Additionally, Taylor told me about the weeks of pain and healing he dealt with after sustaining chemical burns. Despite these hazards, Taylor continues to screen print simply for the love of the process. He told me that early on in his career, whenever he finished a commission, he found himself playing with the leftover materials.
One day, while “messing around with colors,” Taylor discovered a way to create a marbled effect. A common technique in screen printing is called “split fountain.” The Ephemera Society of America explains, “Split fountain printing is a time-honored technique for printing in two or several colors in one pass.” Using this method mixed with his own ingenuity, Taylor placed red ink on one side, blue ink on the other, and pushed them through the screen at the same time. He then cleaned the screen, and pushed upward over and over again. He found that the more this technique was repeated, the more the design became faded and mixed which gave the effect of marble. He experimented with this idea, and advanced to using multiple colors at one time.
MARBLE ON PAPER
SPLIT FOUNTAIN METHOD
“If you do it too many times it looks really weird,” Taylor told me. “You’re treating the ink in the screen specifically how you’re not supposed to.” The most difficult part of commissioned jobs is lining up designs precisely. Taylor said that his creativity peaked once he abandoned the restraints of creating the perfect print.
When he eventually became bored with split fountain marbling, Taylor searched for alternative ways to reinvent screen printing. He hunted the racks of Goodwill for inspiration. Taylor found that he was drawn to old tees with faded logos. He collected these tees and began printing contrasting logos and patterns over them. He was especially fond of taking old band logos and modernizing them. To further blend the past with the modern, Taylor would wash the tee, print on it, send it through the dryer, and repeat until the desired blend was achieved. Though this technique requires less precision than traditional methods of screen printing, Taylor said that when printing over logos, he has to be “conscious of how the prints will interact.”
REPRINTED GOODWILL TEES
Taylor enjoys how his techniques contrast traditional expectations of screen printing. “When you’re doing shirts for a customer you’re on the clock. You have to make sure you’re setting the shirt on the palette in the exact same way with efficient speed. When I’m creating for myself, I’m only worried about it looking interesting to me.” Taylor also told me that he prefers to search for the unattractive. “I love making weird combinations,” he said. “Like light blue on camo.”
When making products for himself and his friends, Taylor appreciates the freedom that comes from experimentation. He said sometimes his goal is to “purposely make things look ugly.” After talking to Taylor, I understood that this unorthodox goal is a way to ensure complete creative freedom. The traditional world of screen printing is restrictive, and there is no room for error. When Taylor uses new techniques to make personal designs, he says there is “no way it’s going to be the same every time and that’s the point.” To him, this is the best way to escape the creative limitations he encounters when mass-producing.