The Craft of Print: Step by Step Through an Art Print Process

The Craft of Print: Step by Step Through an Art Print Process

Chris Perez
Apr 9, 2012

Ever wonder how those hip prints you see on t-shirts or posters get made? Wonder no more as we take a behind-the-scenes look at Nakatomi Inc in Austin. See how graphic art goes from concept to a printed media we can touch, wear, and hang on the walls of our homes.

Nakatomi Inc is headed by Tim Doyle1/2 the best artist in Austin. You may have even heard his name dropped on Conan O'Brien during a promo for the comic drama, The Intergalactic Nemesis, which features his artwork.

This year Tim moved his print shop out of his garage and into a full-fledged space in an Austin warehouse. Tim prefers to draw his artwork on paper, mentioning that he couldn't quite get the precision he wanted out of a Wacom digital tablet. Once the black & white line art is drawn, he digitizes it into a editor such as Photoshop or Illustrator. This is where he colors the piece with individual, distinct layers for printing. Each layer in the digital editor will be transferred to a specific screen during the printing phase.

The screen in screen-printing is a porous film or mesh that allows paint to flow through it. Tim uses custom ordered screens with aluminum frames for durability, just in case he needs to do another run down the line.

A light sensitive paint is applied to the screen and allowed to dry in a dark room. Once the drying process is done, a transparency with a print of the artwork is overlaid onto the screen and exposed. Tim's workshop has machines with bright light to expose things quickly and effectively.

After the screen is exposed for a precise amount of time, the screen is taken to a wash room — where the screen undergoes a high-pressure wash.

The paint applied to the screen is light sensitive — sections of the screen exposed to light are hardened and will withstand the wash. The unexposed areas masked by the printed transparency, however, will wash away. A positive of the image is left open on the screen, so paint can flow freely through it.

That screen is then taken to the print room, where it will be used by his press to make actual prints on media. A poster is being made in the shop today, so a sheet of white poster paper is put underneath the bed of the press and aligned. Colors are mixed by hand and eye by one of the print specialists, and then poured onto the screen.

The squeegee arm of the press pushes the paint through the screen and onto the poster paper. The bed is then lifted, and the print is filed onto a rack where it will dry. This process is repeated for however many prints they plan on doing that day.