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Learning Screen Printing - The Photolith

by Ronny Garcia on June 26, 2013

What is a photolith?

The photolith It is one of the fundamental pieces of the screen printing process. If the photolith is poorly printed then the final finish and the detail will not be what we want.

The photolith is a clear plastic folio, usually made of polyester, where the design that we want to print is printed. It is always printed in black. It is similar to the slide that is reflected in the projectors, or like the photographic film that goes inside the reel and then with the light it is transferred to what is the photo.

And can I make photos at home?
Many will tell you no, but in 90% of cases, depending on your design, you can make the impression at your home or at any copy shop.
To do screen printing, it is enough that the black color of the photolith does not let the light pass through or lets it pass very little. It doesn't have to be 100% black when printed.
If our design is VERY complicated and with A LOT of detail, I would recommend that you go to a professional site to do the printing. For example if you want to make a silkscreen with very small font, of the number 5 in word for example, very very fine lines or if you have to make prints of 2 or more colors in detail and you need everything to fit perfectly.

To make the photoliths, just print on our home printer on acetate paper. You can buy it at any stationery store. A packet of about 15 acetates does not cost more than a couple of coffees.
I usually print them in a copy shop near the workshop since they have printers that take din-A3 acetates without problems. It costs around € 1.20 at the copy shop where I go. It depends on the design I take it to print in specialized sites ($$$$).
Another option, if you don't like acetate paper, is to print your photos on onion paper or tracing paper, it is semitransparent and allows light to pass through when sunning. I really like this option since it allows you to draw directly on the paper and gives another texture.

A trick to make our homemade photoliths even blacker is to use a toner opaque spray. They are great! I hope to have it soon in the online store :).

Remember that in the photolith we have to print in black the part of the design where we want the ink to go.


Photolith printed on polyester sheet to make electrical circuits. Forum photoVirtual model plane.

Photolith made with onion paper and by hand. Also called vegetable or tracing paper. Photo from the blog of Misaoshi's paranoias.

The photolith is still used to make different types of screen printing.

Another option to MacGyver is to print your design on a normal white sheet of all life and dip it in oil with the help of a sponge, let it dry until we see that the paper becomes transparent and does not stain. I recommend you go over the printed drawing once it is dry.

How do you usually print your photos?

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