Bulk Stenciling Logos and QR Codes
Last week I tackled a very specific question: how many times can you reuse a silkscreen stencil using etching cream? This week I’ll be tackling the most common question I get: how many times can I reuse my silk screen stencil? Or put another way, how many prints can I get out of a single silkscreen? This Q is so common that I’ve even updated our user guide to include an extra step for those of you who want to do a bunch of prints in one go (step 4.5). This something I call “bulk stenciling”. And in this post I’ll be elaborating on this process. Ready? Okay, let’s go!
My general rule of thumb is that you should be able to get at least 10 prints out of a single stencil if you’re washing your stencil after each use following the guidelines. I’ve found that it’s not the paint, paste, or ink that wears on them most, but it’s the washing process. Therefore, if you have a bunch of items to stencil, it’s best to have them all lined up and do the stenciling in one go. This is often done when screen printing on T Shirts or hoodies for example, something I’m hoping to try soon. But in today’s example I’ll show you how I added our logo or a QR code on the packaging of our products.
30 envelopes, 2 custom silkscreen stencils
For those of you who don’t know, we ship out stencils in plain brown paper envelopes lined with bubble wrap and a piece of cardboard inside to make them a bit sturdier. Due to the bubble wrap the surface of the envelopes aren’t solid, so when I stencil on them instead of using a squeegee or brush, I opt for using my finger to apply the water-based acrylic paint. In the video I used Liquitex for the project, as it has a good consistency for stenciling. Some acrylic paints are too thin for silkscreens and will sneak in between your stencil and surface, messing up your print. Thicker paint is better in general. Side note: if you’re using chalk paint, which is prone to dry fast, you have to work fast to avoid it drying in the screen part of your stencil. It’s not ideal for bulk stenciling.
Now, bulk stenciling is not for the faint-hearted as you are more likely to get a less than perfect print from time to time. So be warned, don’t try this technique on high value items! We generally do this for putting our logo on boxes or envelopes, items we’re okay with having one or two that will get tossed (or recycled).
Having said that, here’s how I do bulk stenciling.
First off, have a plan in place:
Have your items ready to get stenciled
Have a designated stenciling space
Have your stencil and paint ready and a tool of your choice to apply the paint (squeegee, brush, finger)
Have a designated area for drying stenciled items
Have paper towels or a damp towel nearby in case you get paint on your fingers when you take the stencil off or when you’re applying the stencil onto the next item/surface
Now that you’re ready, let’s start. For the first item you’re going to stencil follow the directions as usual. Remember to write on the back of your stencil with a permanent marker if this is the first time you’re using it (so you know not to stick the stencil back onto the written side of the carrier sheet). Peel the stencil off the carrier sheet and place it onto your item. Push down on the stencil to make it adhere and to get rid of any air bubbles underneath the stencil. Apply an even layer of paint over the design. Remove the excess of paint and peel off the stencil. Keep a hold of the stencil as you put your item to the side and grab the next item. Now comes the tricky part: placing the stencil onto it. You have to be careful because there’s wet paint on the stencil. If you get it onto your other fingers you may accidentally stain your next surface when placing the stencil. Plus you only get one shot at placing the stencil because of the wet paint that’s in the screen of the stencil.
Using both hands carefully place the stencil onto the exact spot you want it to be. Before letting go, gently place your (painting) index finger on top of the stencil to hold it in place as you let go with your other hand. This ensures that the stencil stays put and not accidentally moves as you let go of it. Remember, you cannot press down on the stencil to make it stick now without creating a print! There are no second chances when placing the stencil. Once it’s touching the surface you cannot readjust it as there is already paint in the screen part and you’re already making a faint print simply by applying the stencil onto the surface. If you have some excess paint left on the stencil you can use this to make your print, otherwise grab a little bit more paint. Starting from the place you held the stencil down, apply an even thin layer of paint over the top of the design on the stencil, working from the held down place to the other end. As you’re applying the paint you’re also pressing down the stencil. It’s very important that you use small amounts of paint as you go along because the stencil isn’t fully stuck to the surface yet. Big blobs of paint are far more likely to seep under your stencil and cause bleeding (blotches of paint where they aren’t supposed to be). It’s better to apply small amounts of paint several times rather than a large amount of paint in one go. Here's a short demo video of how I do bulk stenciling:
Once you’ve applied an even layer of paint, remove the stencil and check the print. If it looks good, and there are no blotches of paint outside the lines of the design, then you can proceed to the next item and repeat the process.
If ever you notice flaws in the print, especially paint outside of the design, then check the back of the stencil. Hold it at an angle and look for wet paint on the blue part of your stencil. Sometimes I get a tiny spot, which is no big deal. But if you can see wet paint (look for shiny patches) on the back of your stencil you need to wash your stencil and wait for it to dry before you can start again. Unless you have a back-up stencil you can use in the meanwhile.
A key part of bulk stenciling, besides remembering that you cannot reposition your stencil once you’ve put it on, is to never let the paint in the screen part dry. You just keep on stenciling until A) you’re done or B) your stencil bled and you need to wash it.
Beat my record
So in my little project I had 30 envelopes and two stencils: one with our shop name and one with a QR code leading to this blog. This wasn’t my first try at bulk stenciling. I’ve done it before for customizing boxes for sandblasted mugs. From that experience my personal record for stenciled items in one go (without washing the stencil in between) was 25 prints. I’m happy to report that I beat my record, twice! First, with our shop name, I made 26 prints.
My 27th print got messed up because I thought I still had enough leftover paint on my stencil, but I was wrong. So as I tried to spread out the little paint that was there, the stencil stuck to my finger instead of the envelope. Remember, when you bulk stencil and you already have paint on your stencil from the previous print then you cannot press down the stencil as you usually would to make it adhere (stick) to the surface. So the stencil stuck to my finger instead of the paper envelope when I tried to run over it to apply the paint. The stencil essentially got rubbed out of place resulting in a messed up print and paint on the backside of my stencil, so it had to be washed before it could be used again. This was completely my fault and a good example of why you probably shouldn’t try bulk stenciling on more valuable items. I’m hardly upset about a messed up envelope, but I would be upset if it had been a hoodie for example.
I did better with the QR code stencil, though. All 30 envelopes got perfect prints in one go!
There is a tip that I learned a while back that really helped to get this result (thank you Edie from Ikonart):
Here's an example:
Slowly lift up the stencil (though not all the way) and peek to see if any detail is missing - if you are missing any then place it back down and go over the spot that’s missing paint. By just partly rolling off the stencil you can easily place it back onto the same spot to touch up the missing detail.
Finally, one last tip for stenciling onto cardboard and envelopes. Be gentle and pay attention to your surface. If there’s a fold in the cardboard or in the envelope, you can try to smooth it out, but you’ll most likely get some bleeding on that spot if you stencil it. Because the surface isn’t smooth the stencil won’t be able to adhere to it and so the paint will leak underneath. So keep that in mind, especially when stenciling in bulk!
Thank you for reading this week’s post. If you have any questions or thoughts about this week's subject, let me know in the comment section below. Also let me know if you have any subjects, projects or ideas regarding silkscreen stenciling that you’d like to see me tackle.