DIY Silkscreen Press

Hi, hello!

It’s been a minute since the last post here, and things have certainly changed a lot. I had stopped most of my printing business in order to transition into the wild world of toy design, working as product developer for a Brooklyn-based novelty company, which specialized in a wide range of items from baby stuff, to political action figures, to glittery goo cosmetics. This led me down a lot of interesting projects, such as learning FDA regulations and visiting factories in China. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be forever, as I have moved to Dallas, where I am back to freelancing and consulting, though now with a new industry under my belt.

Here in Dallas, there isn’t anything quite like the Bushwick Print Lab or similar community print spaces. The closest one is leaving town in a few months and though I can find a few maker spaces with a t-shirt press here and there, I still have a number of fine art prints I want to get back into. So today, I shall show you the super simple method for building your own press at home. It’s inexpensive and compact enough to slide under a bed or mostly behind a bookcase when not in use.

Checking online, you can find a number of companies selling hinge clamps for screenprinting. I got mine from Victory Factory, where I also ordered my screens for an upcoming project, plus a squeegee. 

I originally planned on just going to a reclamation yard out here and finding an old laminated MDF tabletop, like the sorts you’ll find from Ikea and similar flatpack furniture companies. These are fairly lightweight and cheap. The laminated surface is also good because:

a) It likely will be smoother than having to sand and prime an actual piece of wood

b) It’s scratch resistant 

c) It’s gonna be real easy to scrape off ink and spray glue after each print run.

However, when I had access to my truck, the reclamation shop had already closed, so it was off to Home Depot for a piece of melamine wood. This is another laminated wood product that comes in big sheets, but is still fairly inexpensive. For this, I ended up purchasing their $30 4’x8′ sheet, which allowed me to cut out 4 boards of the same size for my 21×24″ screens, plus one larger 48″x30″ panel that can be used if I decide I need to print some 19×24″ posters. Your panel should be significantly larger than your screen – you don’t want your screen edges to go over the sides, or else you risk damaging your screen.

Most all Home Depots have a vertical cutter, which is like a giant mat cutter, but with a power saw to slice cleanly through wood. I got my pieces chopped up in minutes – it was beautiful.

If you want to be super anal about having the prettiest press, I would recommend sanding the edges down – they’re sharp and could cut you or your screen if you’re not careful – and using a sealant to avoid water seeping in and warping your board. I will either sand mine down when I have access to an electric sander, or will be cheap and just cover the edges in tape.

(you can see that this could have been trimmed 3-4″ shorter to be lighter & more compact)

Once home, I set up my table that will be my base, to make sure that everything felt comfortable together. Looking at the base desk, it’s pretty obvious I could’ve just screwed my clamps in there and called it a day – but I didn’t want to have to live with the clamps always hanging out there. And if I ever wanted to remove them, then I’d have some gaping holes in the desk. And, I wouldn’t have a fun tutorial to write for you if that’s all there was to it!

One concern with these kinds of mobile presses – they will be at risk for sliding around the desk you put them on. Two slick surfaces rubbing against each other could cause movement, especially as you’re really getting into printing or have issues with ink drying or whathaveyou. If that sounds like a pain, find a rubber mat to go underneath and help it stay in place. My cutting mat worked nicely as I set everything up, plus gave me some peace of mind in case I somehow managed to drill the screws down into the table underneath (this was logically impossible because I checked the length of the screws, but I’m also of the belief that I can electrocute myself working on a lamp that’s unplugged).

Use your screen to find a comfortable spot for your hinges. I’m a little precious about my stuff, so I measured things out super fine – about 5.5″ from the edge to the hole of the first screw. You want to make sure that your clamps aren’t gripping the corners of your screens over the welds or seams, but instead are grabbing the smooth interior. This way they will have the strongest grasp on your screen, and nothing will wiggle around. I also wanted to make sure they would be usable with slightly smaller screens, not just these standard ones.

Measure, mark, then screw in your screws. Try to keep things as straight as possible – while being off by a few millimeters is OK, if your hinges don’t have a solid grip, or your screen is crooked on the surface, it’s all going to make keeping registration that much more difficult in the future. Make life easier on futureself by doing it right!

And that’s it, really! Throw the screen into your hinges, register your paper, whip out some ink and go to town. When you’re all done, you want to leave the clamps screwed in, so wherever you stash it, make sure it has enough clearance, or that you don’t mind having a little bit sticking out.


As a fun final thing, I started a new mailing list with weekly updates on what I’m up to. You can sign up here.

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