How to Screen Print on Skateboards

By Melissa J. Bell

Creating your own skateboard graphics can be a rewarding alternative to buying digitally-printed decks or paying an artist to paint for you. Board art can be done in a variety of techniques like hand painting, airbrushing, and spraypainting in addition to the more modern processes of heat transfer and digital image printing. For those that prefer the traditional methods, consider screen printing, which produces a neat, crisp graphic result, though it can also be a fairly tricky process. Since current skateboards are not completely flat, adjust the flat printing method to meet your needs.

Preparation

Draw your screen printing design to scale. Be sure that you can duplicate this size on a screen, and that the design fits on your skateboard.

Decide on what colors you will use. For a multiple color design, use either more than one screen or clean the stencils off a single screen each time you want to print in a new color. Separate the design into same-color groups, and trace each color group onto separate sheets of paper so that the design comes together when they overlap.

Choose a mesh screen that is the proper size for your design and project. You will want a screen that is adjusted to be slightly loose, so that you can print on the concave and convex parts of a skateboard.

Transfer your first color design to the screen. You can do this in four ways: the paper stencil method, the direct-blockout screen filler method, the drawing fluid method and the photo emulsion method.

Prepare your screen and squeegee for printing. Tape off the frame where it meets the screen edge so that you do not spill ink all over the wood, and tape the wooden handle of the squeegee. This will prevent color mixing at a later stage.

Set up your printing area. You will need a table that keeps your skateboard securely in place. You can rig your own table to hold a skateboard by attaching some short mounting hardware to a piece of wood. At the bottom of the board, attach a small piece of wood that is level with the height of your skateboard. Fit this piece of wood with a set of hinge clamps, and clamp them to the bottom of your screen frame so that the screen is able to swing down onto the surface of the skateboard.

Printing

Start from the back of the screen, away from your body. Pour a cup of ink in front of your squeegee and pull the squeegee toward yourself across the screen in a smooth downward motion. Cover the whole design. Apply some pressure to the screen to get it to conform to the shape of the skateboard.

Make a second, lighter stroke in the opposite direction, leaving a very thin layer of ink that does not penetrate the mesh screen.

Lift the screen carefully. If your design has not printed darkly enough or if the ink has missed some spots, lower the screen back into place and repeat Steps 2 and 3. You may have to start over with a clean board if there are too many mistakes.

Clean all ink from the screen with water or an ink solvent, depending on the type of ink you are using. Clean the squeegee and let the skateboard dry completely.

Repeat the instructions from the beginning for additional color layers. Let the board dry between each application of color.

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