Lesson Plan: Silk Screen Printing for Elementary

Silk Screen Printing

Submitted by: Kathy Douglas, Central School, East Bridgewater, Massachusetts (Now retired)
UNIT: Printmaking - Silk Screen printing - Non-Objective Art - Paper stencils
Grade level: Elementary (third grade and up)


Note from Kathy Douglas - A TAB Choice Art Teacher:

"Silkscreen printing needs a lot of plain old management, and traffic direction, to have it as one of our choices. Here is how I have done this for a long while with third grade students: I use the silk screens in a way which lets lots of students have a chance to use them; however I usually have fewer than 16 try it the first week due to other center choices."


Objectives: Students will

  • Explore materials - experiment with stencil process

  • Gain an understanding of positive/negative shape

  • Experiment with color planning and learn what happens when colors overlap

  • Work with personal symbols and/or non-objective shapes

  • Make at least one quality print - experiment by manipulating prints to create new art


Up to six screens for student use, one squeegee. for each screen. 70 to 90 mesh Monofilament Polyester Screen Fabric. (or organdy will work). See note below. Minimum of six colors of Block Printing Inks. (Washable Fingerpaint. works. Can also use Screen Printing Ink.), Wooden spoons. (one for each ink - Kathy use wood sticks), Sponges. - water buckets - paper towels - sink, Masking Tape. - Scissors., junk paper for stencils (Wax Paper. works too), 12" x 18" (30.5 x 46 cm) Printmaking Paper. (light colors plus white), paint shirts or aprons - lots of newspapers, Drying Rack., Construction Paper.

2 3

This example has some newspaper collage - Click images to see larger views.


4 I have one table set up with 6 screens (screen can range from opening of 9" x 12" to 12" x 18" (23 x 30.5 to 30.5 x 46 cm) depending on your budget or workspace), three on each side of the table. Table is covered with newspapers. Next to each screen is a container of finger paint with a wooden ruler stuck in it (to get the paint) I start with red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. One squeegee on each screen.

Second table is set up with piles of 12x18 (30.5 x 46 cm) paper, light colored construction as well as white. Also on the table a cup of pencils. Student select paper and put name on paper. Third table has some ugly color of leftover construction paper (photo copy paper can be recycled or wax paper can be used. Wax paper makes a good stencil material). Does not matter what color. Also scissors. Smocks and/or aprons are available.



  1. Choose four pieces of paper from second table, write name and room number in pencil lower front corner.

  2. Proceed to third table and cut 3-5 med sized shapes from construction paper. Do not expect any "intelligent" cutting right away. Students can't plan this till they have tried it a few times.

  3. Put on smock/apron and push up sleeves.

  4. Check with teacher to make certain all these steps have been followed

  5. Go to screen table, pick first color. Select a color that will look good with paper color.

  6. Lift screen, place four papers on table, arrange construction paper shapes (or wax paper shapes) on paper, top with screen.

  7. Place some finger paint on screen along top edge (it is a good idea to have screens wrapped with masking tape and an ink well area taped) and squeegee over all - making sure to get ink spread evenly.

  8. Lift screen: paper stencils will now be attached to screen and first paper will be printed.

  9. Remove top paper to drying rack (it is a good idea to have a helper), replace screen and repeat squeegee-ing - apply more ink as needed.

  10. Each child makes four copies of the same color. Colors will vary, due to the colors of the paper chosen (sometimes one of each color)

  11. If a lot of children wish to print and there is a back up, the student who is waiting for the green finger-paint screen stands behind the printer and assists, lifting the screen, carrying the wet print to the drying area.

  12. As soon as the four copies are complete, the printing student peels the stencils off the screen and throws them away. Next student uses screen.

  13. Student washes hands - Our classes are only 40 minutes. Usually the first day students only print one color.


Week two:

Each set of four prints is put in a pile on the table. Other tables set up as previous week. All students must print a second color. (teacher demos) Students follow previous steps, except for choosing and signing their papers. With their four prints on the table students arrange new stencils to create some overlap when the second color is printed. New shapes are created, new colors are made. Registration is not a problem for me: these are abstract shapes for the most part; if the registration is slightly off some very great looking edges are created.

It is at this point that students seem to start understanding the process and the manipulation of positive and negative space. Some of them move to a third color, but without stacking the damp prints of course.

Week three they evaluate their four prints; some add more colors, some paint or draw into them, some cut them up and collage them.

These are very loose and colorful art works. There is nothing rigid or planned about them. Children who continue with silkscreen printing gain a lot of control over what happens on their paper but that control is NOT the first step. You may see examples of grade three screen prints in our online art show: http://ebps.net/centralschool/artshow.html (Archive - many images aren't archived but you can view some of them)


This lesson can be adapted to middle school students as an introduction to silk screen printing. You may be able to get a parent to build the screens for you or the Industrial Technology students.


Silk Screen Printing Summary
Silk screen printing involves "pushing" ink through a screen over a stencil.

This is a simplified description. Silk screens were originally made, as the name suggests, from silk cloth. By and large, they are now made from synthetic materials (polyester); however, the process remains the same.

The cloth or mesh is stretched over and fixed to a frame (usually wood, sometimes they are plastic or aluminum). This forms what is known as the screen.

Ink is dragged across the screen with a stiff piece of rubber known as a squeegee. As the ink is dragged across the screen, it is deposited through the holes between the strands that make up the warp and weft of the screen and onto the surface below. The amount of ink deposited on the surface will be determined predominantly by the mesh size of the screen (the mesh size refers to the size of the holes or, more precisely, how many holes per square inch).

A stencil is used to block out areas where the color is not wanted. This stencil can be as simple as a piece of paper or plastic with a design cut out of it or, if longer print runs are required (paper stencils are generally only good for a few prints), block out solutions are used. "Blockouts" come in several different forms. Some are cut out of a special type of plastic and require solvents to "melt" this to the screen. Some are brushed directly on to the areas to be blocked out. Some systems of "blockout" are photosensitive and can be developed under sunlight using positive transparencies, while some are developed not unlike photographs. Each form of "stencil" has its merits and limits. Some systems are water-soluble which means using acrylics (water based inks)  may destroy them. (This information comes from Matisse Colours Screen inks)


Note on Silk Screens:

Silk screen frames can be made very economically from 1" x 2" wood. Frames can be stretched with inexpensive organdy fabric (or polyester 70 to 90 mesh) and hinged to plywood backing boards. Backing boards should be at least two inches longer than the frame. A 1" x 2" is nailed or screwed to the back board at the top to hinge frame to board. Be sure to get hinges with pins that can be removed (for ease in washing screens - and stretching silk). Detailed instructions to come.


How to Build a Silk Screen Frame


Silk Screen Printing on a Budget

Making Homemade ink: Experiment with amount of powdered tempera. If using liquid tempera - reduce the amount of water. I would recommend making a small batch first of one color to test for coverage and opacity. I made several colors of ink for screen printing and stored in butter dishes for student use. Adding some white to colors will help ink show up on colored papers.

ΒΌ cup cornstarch
2 cups water
dry tempera paint

1. Put all ingredients into a saucepan and stir until mixed well.
2. Boil until mixture thickens.
3. Allow paint/ink to cool, then pour in a sealable container

Suggestion from Lois Mead, Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School, Moraga, Calif.

An even less expensive silk screen I have used is plastic embroidery hoops stretched with cotton organdy. Squeegee with out of date credit cards (cut in half). I remember some trouble with construction paper not sticking to screen due to its thickness and using Newsprint. instead (photocopy paper works too). This was a very good stencil. To change to new student, new piece of organdy can be stretched with old piece being put in bowl of water until someone is available to wash it out. Easier to wash up if ink doesn't dry in screen. An interim method until real screens can fit into your budget.



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