Above Yeti Mount Fuji by Phil Ashcroft. Below Han Double by Ryca.
Like graffiti, screen-prints benefit from clear strokes and a strong colour palette; many artists also have success making use of negative space or blank backgrounds, a la Banksy.
“Technically it’s possible to achieve a photographic quality, but you’d have to work with a dozen colours and it gets very expensive very quickly,” says Seb Lester. “You need to think in terms of supplying the printer with artwork in separate layers for each colour so he can prepare screens that can easily be aligned when he comes to print the job.”
limited editions, mass appeal
Screen-prints – particularly posters – are cult products for consumers too. It’s not hard to see why. Limited-edition, screen-printed posters offer design and illustration fans an affordable but pleasingly exclusive way to resist the IKEAfication of home decoration: with prices as low as £30 (although upwards of £60 is more normal) and small print runs, you’re unlikely to see your chosen print anywhere else.
“There’s still a feel that you’re buying something that the artist has had a hand in producing,” explains Ric Blackshaw.
And with many leading illustrators taking up the squeegee (or getting others to wield it for them), it’s an easy, affordable way for fans to own a piece by their heroes. Even for creatives who haven’t reached Jon Burgerman levels of renown, some good prints in short runs, sold through local boutiques, can be a way to spin income and get your name out there – but they do have to be very good.
Sebastian Lester cautions that screen-printing is unlike digital printing: typically you print your whole batch at once, rather than being able to print as many as you need, when you need. This means that the more you print (and sell) the more affordable it becomes: “You have to take a financial risk and hope you sell a significant number of the edition just to break even.”
The versatility of screen-printing – and the ability it gives you to produce professional but hand-crafted artworks – make it a great tool for digital illustrators and artists to have in their creative toolbox. If you’re good enough, it offers a potential source of income and then opportunity to create something lovely.
“Screen-printing lies somewhere between mechanical production and a hand-made artefact,” says Ric Blackshaw. “So for the artist it offers flexibility and the chance to experiment.”
Where to screenprint
Screen-printing studios are the place to head: these range from commercial T-shirt printers to high-end craft studios. Bear in mind that the more posters, T-shirts or other products you order, the cheaper they become – so a run of 10 T-shirts in a single-colour screen-print could cost £10 each, but if you order 50 they’ll cost £3-4 each. For posters, you might pay £6 per poster for 10 A2 two-colour prints, or £4 each for 50. Then, of course, you have to shift them.
If you want to step away from the computer, roll your sleeves up and have a go, plenty of studios and art colleges run workshops and courses covering the basics. Many also rent out time slots on their equipment to more experienced printmakers – although you often have to pay a monthly fee for this.
A list of studios and workshops for commissioning prints, learning to screen-print or doing your own is at tinyurl.com/DAscreen-printing.