Removing Photo Emulsion in Silk Screening and Printing

For silk screen projects, nothing beats photo emulsion to create durable stencils. This material is transparent, easy to cut and hardens in sunlight to create a semipermanent image. As a rule of thumb, photo emulsion should only be used for stencils that you want to keep, or that will see a lot of heavy use.

Occasionally, you may want to remove a photo emulsion stencil while preserving the screen material beneath it. This takes a bit of work, but it can be done. Arm yourself with an apron, safety goggles and some rubber gloves before you begin.

Materials Needed

  • Water
  • Soft scrub brush
  • Liquid bleach
  • Rubber gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Old newspapers
  • Apron

The Process
Spread old newspapers over your work surface before you begin to keep things neat. The first step is to remove the ink from the screen. Water should do the trick, but you may need to use a pressure washer on a low setting to clean off dried ink.

Next, mix a solution of one part water to one part liquid bleach. Pour some of this onto the screen and scrub the emulsion lightly with a soft scrubbing brush. Don't scrub too hard or you'll tear the screen, and save your rigorous scrubbing for the top of the frame, so that the screen is flat against your work table. You will need to scrub both sides to remove all of the emulsion.

If you aren't certain that you completely eliminated the photo emulsion, take the screen and put it up against a window. You'll be better able to evaluate which areas you might've missed. Continue scrubbing until it's crystal clear. There are many products available at stores and online that are solely made for removing photo emulsion. If you're looking to cut costs, stick with the bleach and water, which should do the trick. 

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