PART 2: How Joe and I made the screen printed posters for the show at Furey’s

In case you missed part one, here it is: Part 1: How Joe and I made the screen printed posters for the show at Furey’s

Okay, so I left off with the black and white drawing being completed, Joe’s spray paint writing was on it, and we were ready for color. Here’s that drawing again:

Black layer, no color


So, now, I needed to make color separations.

I went back into the PSD file and tried to organize the layers by what colors I thought they would be. One thing to keep in mind for color choice, beyond just what colors look cool, is also value (how light or dark it is). Like, imagine you take a color print and then convert it to black and white: a blue or red is going to be a darker shade of grey than a yellow would turn into, unless you’ve got an insanely light blue or pink, and even those might still be slightly darker.

I was thinking we could use the colors to actually get some more shading out of this than just what the ink drawing had. Also, I figured we could use the color to make some things fade into the background while other things popped out more. Here’s a shot of how the layers were organized by what colors I thought we’d be using.

Color seps in photoshop

So there's the top bunch, which are the final sorted color seps (took a while), and then the little folder icons are grouped by "character" ie josh, james, matt, the bar, etc.

First thing to explain here:  See that blue layer is dark, so having Matt and the other characters with no blue on them makes them really stand out against the darker background. On Matt, since he’s the star of the show more or less, I also knocked out some of the yellow. The whole poster has a yellow underprint except for the highlights on Matt, so he should have higher contrast and seem more up front than anything else. Not having any blue on the bottom makes the smaller writing a little easier to read. It didn’t matter much to me and Joe about how dark the blue was up top because those band names are such heavy shapes, we assumed they’d show up no problem. I’m happy to say, I think we were right.

Now, I’ve got the seps on top, and those are all really just copied layers from the character layers. Even though the ink part is done, I still didn’t want to lose the ability to change what colors individual aspects were, and once all the stuff that’s red, from every different red layer, gets flattened into one layer, unless you get really creative about it, you’re pretty stuck. Your other option would be to try to find an old file and start the seps over from scratch.

NOTE: Regarding starting over from scratch, I was also prepared to do that if need be. I’ve got about 6 or 7 different PSD files saved for this one, all from different stages. The one that this is a screenshot of isn’t actually the final PSD file, it just illustrates the point about keeping things editable. The final color seps one wasn’t used until the day before we exposed the screens.

Just to give a timeframe real quick on all this junk:

  • Sorting out photos with Joe was about an hour to and hour and a half for me, took him a little longer to go through them all (he’s got a ton of photos and was home before I was, by the time I got here he’d already sorted through a pretty large external hard drive full of stuff).
  • Setting up the first draft of the tracing source PSD was two or three hours for me, with about a half hour to an hour’s worth of tweaking after getting Joe’s input.
  • Drawing, as usual, was about two and a half hours.
  • Trying to redo Matt’s face was another hour (I ended up drawing just his face another 6 times, picking the best one and ‘shopping it back into the black ink layer).
  • Sorting out color seps took another hour and a half I’d guess (setting up an open-ended PSD file, while giving you unlimited editability, also leaves you with a LOT of layers to sort through…and I’ve got a bad habit of not labeling my layers, so it take longer for me to figure out what I’m doing)

and now we’re up to speed. So Joe’s added Tini’s band, I’ve set up the color seps more or less, and the final part of THIS stage in setup was getting registration marks on them and printing them out.

Knowing we were only doing four colors, and initially thinking we’d be using excess paint from the museum, we figured the colors would be black, red, green, and yellow, so that’s how the seps were designed initially. We ended up buying our own paint and mixing on the fly, with a much better color scheme of black, orange, blue-green, and yellow. Here are the seps:

Color seps

In order, from the first thing you print to the last thing you print, it goes yellow, orange, blue, black. You want to go light-to-dark.

So each of these has little crosses on the corners so we can line them up when printing. Also, each of these is made up of 100% black or 100% white with no shades of grey. That’s for exposing the screens. Greys are really unpredictable, and in any case, with screens whatever is black on your printout is going to be printable…but whatever is grey will either print 100% or not at all in spots…so there’s no reason to ever set it up with shading like that UNLESS you set them up in halftone screens (the little dots of white on the blue sep, that kind of sunset looking fading circle above the bar, that’s a halftone screen made up of dots of 100% black ink at varying sizes to give the illusion of a gradient).

OMG I TOTALLY FORGOT TO MENTION THIS IN PART 1: To create a halftone screen like that, one that you can use in color seps like this, you want to go to Filter/Pixelate/Color Halftone in Photoshop, but you want it to be in a file that’s set to Grayscale as the color mode. So if I was working in full color and wanted the dots to just be one color instead of four jumbled up colors, I needed to do the following:

  1. I made a circle gradient in the color file at the location I wanted it
  2. I copied that layer to a new GRAYSCALE file and applied the filter
  3. Copied it back into the color file
  4. Made it 100% black
  5. Select/Color Range selected the white to delete it
  6. Changed what was left to the color I wanted.

Okay, so we’ve got our printouts, and what we do here is tape them to the bottom of a coated screen printing screen. By bottom, I mean the completely flat side that is on the front of the frame. Then it gets exposed by whatever means you or your screen printer friend or whoever uses…everybody seems to have a completely different way of doing things than the next guy, but if they’ve done it enough, the end result is always fine.

Fresh screens

Yay, only 6 more hours to go before we've got posters!

So we’re looking at the bottom  of the screens right now. This is the side that will actually touch the paper or shirt you’re printing on. The one at the top left is the black screen. When you’re printing, if you’re using that screen, you’ll see it from this angle:

Black screen

It's not backwards!

Not sure how to explain the whole setup thing in terms of “the paper you tape to it needs to be backwards relative to the front/bottom of the screen, but when you look at while printing it, the thing will totally NOT be backwards” any clearer, so if you try this out, just pay close attention before you expose them?

We actually didn’t expose the screens ourselves. Joe has a friend who does this stuff at home and she said the exposure unit in-house was kind of lousy. Joe was the first to admit he didn’t know anything about exposure units other than the one at the museum, so I didn’t really know what was up until I saw the thing, and when I did I was glad he had a connection who could hook us up. I’d never seen a setup like that before, so I would have been lost on it as well. Joe’s friend, whose name I don’t remember and I’m real sorry about that, was pretty particular about wanting these on clear plastic or acetate instead of paper, but she decided to douse the printed seps in olive oil to make them more transparent. I’d never heard of that before, but like I said, everybody who does this stuff seems to do it differently. So far, I haven’t seen a single method that’s been crappy, they’re all just different. When I did commercial screen printing, we’d just expose it longer if it was a paper one instead of clear acetate, but then we had basically an airtight blacklight exposure unit the size of a dining room table, so that’s probably a whole different budget than the DIYers out there.

Next step was mounting the screens and trying to set up registration on a test print. This whole registration thing got scrapped because the ink was drying too fast and was clogging up the screens. We used acrylic paint for budget reasons (budget schmudget, even doing this on the cheap cost about$70 for supplies… which doesn’t seem like much until you drop that cash), and acrylic paint tends to dry pretty quick once you spread it out.

Printing the registration test poster

Printing the registration test poster

There’s me (eww) printing the registration test. If you look close, you’ll see I’m trying to flood the screen with ink using my right hand, I’m pretty much just trying not to drop the squeegee on the floor with my left hand. To flood it, you fill the screen with ink, not pushing down hard enough to print. Then you pull down from top to bottom, pushing into the screen to get the ink or paint through it.

Here’s that whole flooding thing:


The screen is partially flooded now. All the ink on it is laid on evenly, but not quite thick enough here, so there are some fresh gobs of ink on the top and bottom of the image. Once those get spread around, you're good to go. Next thing you do is pull that squeegee down at an angle to push the yellow through the screen.

Here’s that yellow layer printed out:

And here’s how the registration test came out:

Registration test

Joe and I both wanted this one, so we flipped a coin to decide who got to keep it. It was me. And that's AWESOME.

Ideally, I’d be printing one completed poster at a time, but we just couldn’t manage it. The ink was drying too fast on the screens, but it was drying too slow on the paper. If we’d done it the way you’re supposed to, we’d have a bunch of brown splotchy awful peices of paper floating around. What we did instead was print all the papers with yellow ink, wait for it to dry, then eyeballed registration for the orange and printed, then all the blue, then all the black. Since we had to register is by eye through the screen, things didn’t always line up.

It ended up looking pretty cool with all those mistakes though.

So, just to sort of recap and let you know what we were thinking, here’s the digital seps again:

Color seps

In order, from the first thing you print to the last thing you print, it goes yellow, orange, blue, black. You want to go light-to-dark.

Here are those screens exposed:

Fresh screens

And here’s part of our sample of what the screens printed one at a time:

Printed color seps

So the idea is that when you print on one sheet in order from left to right, you're supposed to get our poster. We more or less did it right?


Here’s a shot of everything drying during the yellow layer:

All the posters 1/4 of the way completed

All the posters 1/4 of the way completed with a very handsome man bringing sexy back without even trying

Next step was getting the orange on there. We mixed our own color for the other layers, figuring we’d have more control over the tone of everything if we just started with primary colors and worked our way toward what we wanted.

Orange by itself

Orange by itself

There are some knocked-out white blotches next to Matt’s face there. The idea was that those areas would look pretty cool if the shapes didn’t have this mid-tone of orange. It goes back to that whole light-dark value idea: yellow is light, but still darker than just white, the orange is like 40% darker than white, the blue layer is more like an 80% darker thing, and then black was 100%…in my head anyway. Thankfully, everything was probably closer to 20% lighter than I had initially thought, so the blue didn’t completely darken everything up. It gave the black some real pop once it all came together, having those other colors be lighter.

Here’s a nifty shot of the orange on the yellow:

Oooooh, aaahhhh

Oooooh, aaahhhh

Again, we had to eyeball the registration because the paint dried so fast. It was easy enough to get it almost right on this layer, but it’s still off. The white highlights on Matt are off by about a quarter of an inch. It didn’t matter too too much because the yellow is so light, Joe and I were both saying “well, as long as the dark inks come out right on point, we’ll be fine.”

They didn’t really all come out on point. But that’s why we made 35 of them and then picked only 21 to sell.

Next was the blue/green layer. Joe decided this was a good layer to get some weird blending going on with the paint so we got all sorts of nutty when flooding the screens. Some pretty great results with that.

Joe printing the blue layer. You can see some streaking in the screen from tossing dollops of white and other colors.

Joe printing the blue layer. You can see some streaking in the screen from tossing dollops of white and other colors.

And here’s a good example of how those turned out:

Blue layer added, color streaks in sky area.

See the color variation in the sky part of the drawing? That's Joe's idea, came out pretty rad. His hippie friends love that shit.

You can also see what I was saying about the light-dark balance of the individual colors. Matt’s head, with his horns and everything, is jumping right out next to the darker blue area. Very high contrast on that. Zombie-Moxie has a decent amount of contrast, while James eating the bar is a little less in-your-face. That halftone screen to sort of mimic a sunset there makes the contrast around James and Moxie a little lower, but the flat block of blue-green around Matt’s head creates some really strong tonal differences that make Matt an even more defined focal point.

And that’s art school. I’m paying upwards of $500 a month in student loans to two schools to be able to write that paragraph. And nobody else I know ever talks that way, especially art people, so I don’t know why a person pays so much to have to write essays in a way nobody can understand. Maybe if it was science or something…

Anyway, here’s an army of posters about to get totally ruined:

Almost done...

Almost done...

Okay, so now we add the final layer.

I stepped out for a cigarette and let Joe take the first shift on the black layer. This happened:

registration mistake

"I just got so excited I forgot to line it up!" -Joe

It came out pretty cool though. We didn’t sell that one, but we liked it a lot just the same.

joe cleaning a screen

If you've seen the posters and are wondering why some of them came out the way they did, look at the foreground of this photo and you have your answer.

By this point, we were a little buzzed and the posters were still drying from that blue layer. The yellow layer took the longest to wait for, the orange layer dried quick because it wasn’t quite as drenched in paint, and the blue one took the second-longest to dry. We had to check for a mostly-dry one before printing the next, so the order got a little weird. We numbered them based on…a completely arbitrary system actually.

Handsome (hand-suhm) adj. having an attractive, well-proportioned, and imposing appearance suggestive of health and strength; good-looking.


And then in the end we had these:

They all came out a little different, some completely messed up, so we printed 35 and narrowed it down to 21 for sale.

And that’s that. If anybody out there has any tips for screen printing posters (aside from registration, we know allll about how we messed that up), feel free to comment suggestions. We really want to do something like this again awe want it to be better each time.


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