Ever since 15-year-old me fell for Warhol's Silver Factory, I've loved screen printing — or at least the idea of it. Despite my desire to embody Andy's cool, I didn't get to try my hand in the process until I was a freshman in college. Quite a long wait, but a logical one. How many teenagers have resources or willpower to create a darkroom environment, deal with emulsion, printing film, power washing screens and all the other joys that come along with the process?
In my first post-college apartment, I was determined to build my own screen-printing setup. It took time, power tools, and a whole lot of covering cracks of light in basement storage room with duct tape, but I did it (thanks, Dad!) Still, the process was tedious, not to mention pricey, especially for the small runs I planned for most projects. Although some claim to have luck with craft store screen-printing machines, the investment has never seemed worth the risk. I feel as though I've heard nothing but negative things about them from people who create their own set-up. Two different apartments and no dark room later and I still haven't figured it out.
Enter Inkodye. Lumi's Photo Printing kit utilizes Inkodye, film and the sun to create images not unlike the the cyanotype kit I had as a kid (thanks, Mom!) If you weren't lucky enough to have one of those kits as a child, I'll brief you on the process: Get the sun-sensitive paper wet, create a design using objects or film, secure with plexiglass so the objects don't blow away, and set it in the sun.
The process of printing a t-shirt using Lumi's products is a touch more complicated than that, but worlds away from the complexity of screen-printing — especially if you want to create a very small number of prints. The set-up cost is also comparatively minimal, and you're likely to own a lot of the supplies already.
- Lumi Inkofilm
- White or light-colored t-shirt
- Foamcore or Lumi "project board"
- Painters tape
- Paper towels
- A photo or illustration you'd like to print
If you buy Lumi's Photo Printing kit, you'll have access to a video tutorial on Creative Bug that explains the process in detail. I highly recommend taking this route. The following steps will walk you through my experience of the process, but it won't match the level of detail and expertise in the Lumi tutorial.
Step one: Preparing your image
You'll need to do some prep work using either Photoshop or Lumi's online editor before you're ready to print your film. The basic idea is to create a black-and-white high contrast negative version of whatever you intend to print.
Step two: Printing your film
If you're using Lumi's inkjet printer film, they recommend doubling up your film for a richer black. I printed my image onto two pieces of Inkofilm and secured the edges with scotch tape. You can see below how much better the image on the right with two layers of film blocks the light.
Step three: Preparing your shirt
This step is easy: If you'd like rough edges around your print, you can simply insert the project board or foam core and move on to step four. If you'd like clean edges or no edges, you'll need to tape off the area you in which you'd like the image contained using blue painters tape.
Step four: Adding ink & securing your film
Spread your inkodye onto the area you'd like to print in a dark room — if sunlight hits the ink, it can start to develop color. I used a magenta Inkodye snap pack, which is pops open in the back when you bend it in half. You can also use the packaging to spread the ink, which I found super helpful. Once the fabric is saturated, blot the excess with a paper towel (you don't want and globs of ink or an uneven surface). Then press your film onto the surface, making sure it makes firm contact. You can see a slight blur on the left edge of my design where the film didn't make complete contact with the fabric. Secure with push pins into the project board.
Step five: Bring on the sun!
Now it's time for the fun part: Bring your project out into the sun! The time and cloudiness of the day will affect the amount of time it takes for your ink to develop. I set my project out at around 2 p.m. on a sunny day and left it sit for around 20 minutes to vibrant pink I wanted. I recommend peeking under the film to double-check once you think you're done.
Step six: Inkowash
After you have achieved the level of color you'd like, bring your shirt inside and remove the push pins, tape and film in a dark room. The Inkodye can continue to develop at this point, so be careful not to expose it to additional sun once you've removed your film. Then, wash your shirt with Inkowash detergent to stop the development process. Lumi recommends you do this process twice to maintain maximum vibrancy, but I only completed the process once because I liked the washed-out vintage-y look this printmaking process created.
Although I'm pretty happy with how my t-shirt turned out, I don't think Inkodye is a replacement for screen printing for me. Even though I used the recommended two layers of film, light was still able to get through the black and expose the ink ever-so-slightly around my design. For photographs or certain illustrations, I think this could be a real benefit. But I wasn't able to create the crisp, perfect poppy feel of a screen print using this method. The process is also rather time-and-labor intensive to create a single shirt.
But the benefits are many: It's easy, relatively cheap and most importantly, achievable. For the at-home printmaker, Inkodye is a great alternative for printing textiles on a micro scale.
Photos and text © Theresa Berens