Experiments in screen printing using watercolors

I heard about this really fun process and decided to try it last week!

Whenever I write about an experimental process, I always end up realizing that I am actually very bad at taking process photos. I get carried away working and forget all about using a camera! Unfortunately, I only have photos of the final images, and no documented process to help explain what I’m talking about. So please bear with me.

Basically, I used the screens from the previous screen print I had done (see previous post) and applied watercolor to the exposed areas of the screen… All the four screens were ‘painted in’ using a small paintbrush and watercolors; the nylon mesh of the screen is dense enough that the watercolors will basically sit on top until they dry.

Once the watercolor was dry, I proceeded to print the screens in their consecutive order. The way I approached this was to apply a relatively thick coat of extender base on the painted screen – spreading it on like icing – and leave it to soak for about 5 minutes. After the watercolor had been re-moistened with the base, I printed the image onto the paper underneath. As with regular screen printing, once the first ‘color’ had been printed, the prints were left to dry and the second screen was set up to print, and so on…

With this process, it is only possible to get maybe 2-3 good prints, because the watercolor fades out. I printed five, the last one is barely a whisper of the image. It’s pretty fun to see them all together, from the most saturated to the least.

There are many different ways to approach this technique, for example using only one screen, painting in all the different colors and printing the final image with one pull. Since I had four screens, it took much longer, but the overlapping watercolors do produce a beautiful layering effect that would not be possible working with just one screen.

If I were to do this again, I would definitely work with a less complicated and smaller image, with more room for experimentation. Anyway, here are the photos of the first three watercolor prints, you can see the intensity of the pigments decreasing. As usual, click for larger views.

1st watercolor print:
1st watercolor

1st watercolor print detail:
1st watercolor_detail

2nd watercolor print:
2nd watercolor

3rd watecolor print:
3rd watecolor

3rd watecolor print detail:
3rd watecolor_detail

8 thoughts on “Experiments in screen printing using watercolors

  1. Alex

    This is a beautiful screen printing effect. I always thought about it, but never tried it, but that will change ;) thanks for sharing!

  2. sanya

    Thanks very much Alex! Glad you enjoyed it! This was a while ago. I would definitely recommend working with a less complex and smaller image, perhaps even on top of (slightly textured) watercolor paper. It really does have a beautiful effect that doesn’t carry over on the monitor too well… Good luck :)

  3. Kah Yangni

    I googled this idea, because I’m new to screenprinting and already love watercolors, and your post was the first thing that came up. I can’t *wait* to try this! When I do, I’ll definitely come back and share it with you. Thank you for putting this online!

    Kah Yangni

  4. sanya Post author

    That’s great Kah! Definitely give it a try and let me know how it goes.

    Also since I’ve been teaching this method over the years, I’ve made a few changes… You can try painting all the colors on at once, on the same layer, then printing it through. Doesn’t have the same transparency layered effects but is a lot faster :)

    You can also use graphite pencils, watercolor based crayons, other soluble media to draw/paint with and see how it prints through.

    Would love to see the finished results, so please share away :)

  5. holly

    Looks great, it’s hard to find out more about this! I’ve got a few questions if you don’t mind … are you just applying one layer of watercolour or do you need to build it up and what size mesh works for this technique? Any help is much appreciated!

  6. sanya Post author

    Hi Holly,

    Thank you for inquiring! For this project, I did it in stages (apply first layer, print it, then apply second layer, print it, and so on), however you can also apply all the watercolors at the same time on the screen, then print them through in one pull. They second option is quicker, but it depends which end result you are looking for. I recommend experimenting with both and see what you prefer :)

    The watercolors don’t need to be applied too thick – you don’t want too much build-up. I would stick with less dense mesh, around 200-255, avoid going too high like 305. Although if 305 is all you have, it should still work, just let it set with the extender longer.

    Hope that helped! Let me know if you have any other questions. Good luck!


  7. Liudmila

    Hy. The prints are amazing. :)

    They are on paper right? Can you use the same technique on a t-shirt or any other fabric?

    Thanks. :)

  8. sanya Post author

    Hi Liudmila,

    Thank you! Yes, these are on paper. You are on the right track, however I wouldn’t recommend printing watercolor on fabrics, as watercolor is water-soluble and will wash out… But definitely look into printing with dyes! You can achieve soft, more delicate effects with printing dye on fabric than just silkscreen ink (which tends to stay on surface of the fabric). There are many tutorials and tips out there for dye printing.

    Hope that helps! Let me know if you find something interesting or have other q’s :)

    Good luck, thanks for writing in!

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