Why You Shouldn't Use Mod Podge for DIY Screen Printing

Embroidery Hoop Screen Print

For a recent book project, I wandered back into the world of screen printing. My family used to own a screen printing company (I had the honored position of shirt folder. Yay.), I did screen print shirts in high school, and I've dabbled in embroidery hoop screen print in recent years. Since I am familiar in the medium, I had some extra time during this project to correct something that has been bothering me for a long time about embroidery hoop printing: Mod Podge.

Let's back up a bit. Commercial print supplies can include the frames, silk, emulsifier, and sometimes a set of special lights and timers. While embroidery hoop screen printing may not be any less time consuming, it certainly does have an appeal for those new to screen printing or low on craft funds. The process involves an inexpensive wooden hoop, curtain fabric (something sheer and synthetic with a high thread count), and a filler that is hand painted over all of the areas of the image that you do not want to print. Typically, the recommended filler is Mod Podge, a water-soluble decoupage glue.

So if you are going to devote a lot of time to hand painting all of that non-print area, it would be nice if the screen could last as long as possible. With my past screen printing projects, I've always heard of Mod Podge to be the medium of choice to fill the negative space in the screen. In practice, I have found that screens painted with Mod Podge work fine during the printing, but when it is time to wash off the ink, the dried Mod Podge turns white and tacky again under even a cold rinse.

With Mod Podge, there are signs that the screen is:

  • Losing tiny specs of glue with each rinse and will need to be repainted before the next print.
  • Stretching as the glue softens, which isn't good news for a screen that needs to be taut.
  • As the glue softens, it will actually absorb some of the ink color, which might get onto your next print project (this is the red tint on the screen pictured).

Our first contestant is Liquid Stitch. This is a glue used to create hems without sewing, or stop fraying edges. It is supposed to be machine washable, so I figured maybe this is going to be a waterproof Mod Podge. Liquid Stitch applied and printed well. In the sink, the Liquid Stitch didn't show signs of absorbing the printing ink, but the glue turned white and the screen became limp. I honestly thought this Liquid Stitch would be a good replacement for Mod Podge. So much for that, back to the craft store.

From here, I wasn't sure where to go. I knew acrylic paint to hold up to water, so I decided to give this one a go. Again, the application on the sheer fabric worked well, and the print looked good. During the rinse, the paint did not appear to return to a tacky state, and the screen stayed tight. 'This is it!' She thought as she rubbed the screen, only to find a smudge of black paint on her finger. Yeah, it appears to resist the water, but just a bit of rubbing will draw pigment from the screen, which isn't good if you are about to lay this screen on top of a white t-shirt.

I knew I was close. Paint had to be a good solution for water-tight screens, but could it be applied without chipping, etc? In the discount isle of Walmart I picked up a cheap tub of mis-tinted outdoor latex paint. This is the paint that they didn't quite mix right, so it can't be given a cute paint name like 'Cuddleberry' anymore. I think it was all of five bucks for half a gallon.

After I applied the latex paint, I noticed that it needed more pinhole painting than the other mediums. This is where the paint on your hoop has been given a chance to dry, and you hold the hoop up to a light to look for pinholes where the paint missed a gap in the sheer fabric, or actually wandered from a gap as it tightened during dry time. I took my time dotting the pinholes, let dry, then got a lovely print off of the latex paint hoop. The rinse went beautifully, with no smudges or any changes really apparent in the screen, even under warm water.

I tried the latex paint on a larger hoop with a detailed design, printing 9 shirts and 20 paper prints. With each print and rinse, the screen stayed the same. I noticed that it needed tightening after about 10 rinses, but other than that, I can see this screen lasting hundreds of more prints. The prints were crisp, not rough like a lot of the embroidery hoop prints I've made in the past. The paint did a great job of filling in the screen without globbing as Mod Podge can, allowing for precise detail if you have a steady painting hand.

Considering this research, I will be updating my article about screen printing at home to reflect this better method of creating screens. Besides the time it takes to paint the screen, I can not see a disadvantage to this kind of screen assembly. They are cheap, easy to make, easy to use, and can last forever if you use latex paint.

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