One-Color Screen Burning Overview

by Chris Wilde March 29, 2017


One-Color Screen Burning Overview

The foundation of every good screen print is the screen itself. After a design is created, it has to be translated into a stencil on a screen. This process is called burning, or exposing, the screen. In this article, we’ll give you a quick overview of how the burning process works, and get you ready to make your first one-color screen.

In most cases, a stencil is made by placing a film printed with your design in black on the screen and then exposing light-sensitive emulsion with ultraviolet light. When the light hits the emulsion, it hardens. The black parts of the film block the light from hitting the emulsion, so the areas underneath the design remain soft and water-soluble. When you wash out the soft areas, you leave open mesh that ink can be pushed through.

The process of making your stencils works a little differently on Merchmakr than it does on a traditional screen printing machine, so even if you have experience screen printing, you’ll want to change your process a bit. The Merchmakr exposure process makes setup much easier, and eliminates the need for complicated hardware.

Note: This overview assumes you already have your film and a coated screen ready to go! Remember, before your screen has been exposed, you’ll want to use the safe light built into your Merchmakr exposure unit to avoid hardening the emulsion before you’re ready!

Screen Loaded in the Merchmakr

Load Your Screen

Make sure the platen is clean and free of debris. Put your coated screen into Merchmakr’s HotSwap clamp, face down. Make sure that the back of the screen is flat against the back of the clamp and the tab is properly seated.

Hot Swap Tabs

Lower Off-Contact

When you’re printing, it’s usually a good idea to have about 1/8" of space between the screen and the platen. Screen printers call this off-contact. For the burning process, it’s best for the screen to be flat against the platen. You can control the off-contact using the elevator bolt located just behind the platen to raise and lower the screen.

Elevator Bolt

Place Film

Put the transparency film with your design on it in the screen. Line it up straight and center. A T-square will help a lot, if you have one. Once the film is where you want it, tape it to the screen using clear Scotch tape.

Placing your Film

Load Exposure Unit

Take your Merchmakr Exposure Unit and flip it over so that the clear pane of acrylic faces down. Set the exposure unit into the screen. It should fit perfectly inside the frame of the screen. Once the exposure unit is in the screen, you can use regular lights for the rest of the process without an issue. Use the included bungee cord to strap the exposure unit down to minimize the amount of light that can work its way around your film and affect the design.

Merchmakr Exposure unit loaded on the screen

Set the Timer

The Merchmakr Dual Cure Graphic emulsion that comes with the kit will expose most designs at 3 minutes. Merchmakr Tenacious E exposes at about 2 minutes.

Remove Exposure Unit and Film

When the timer runs out, remove the bungee, take out the exposure unit, and take the film off the screen. You might be able to see a faint version of your design on the emulsion already!

Removing the film

Before washout, the image should be slightly visible.

Wash Out Screen

Take your screen out of the HotSwap clamp and move to the sink. Wash out the image area with lightly pressurized water. When you get the screen wet, you’ll see your design start to take shape. When the image is fully washed out and your design is completely clear of emulsion, you’ll have your stencil. Let it dry, and you’re ready to go!

If you have any trouble, make sure to check out Screen Exposure Problems and Solutions.

Rinsing the image should make the design more apparent.

Rinse with a light pressure spray for best results.

Remember to rinse both sides of the screen!

Rinse until the image is completely clear.


It’s a good idea to make sure the emulsion is as durable as possible, especially when you’re printing with water-based inks. A good way to do that is to set your screen outside in the sun, and let the rays of the sun continue the exposure process on the emulsion that remains. You can use this to help dry the screen and kill two birds with one stone.

Now you’re ready to start printing!

Chris Wilde
Chris Wilde

3 Responses


April 26, 2018

Hi Patrick, you can burn larger screens, but you’d need to either work out a way to expose the screen in smaller increments, or do some experimenting with affixing the exposure unit farther away from the screen and increasing the time. We haven’t tested that process, so I can’t really recommend a specific distance or time. Keep in mind that larger screens won’t have the hotswap tab built-in, so you’ll have to find some way to ensure that the screen gets into the right position when you load it.

Patrick Price
Patrick Price

April 26, 2018

Is it possible to burn a larger screen than 17×17? How so?

Rafael Burgos
Rafael Burgos

July 16, 2017

Thank you so much for this….

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in LEARN

Color Mixing Series: Adjusting Green
Color Mixing Series: Adjusting Green

by Gary Jurman March 13, 2018

We show different ways to adjust the green (Green Day) screen printing ink included in the Merchmakr™ Plastisol Ink Starter Kit Deluxe.
Read More
Color Mixing: Getting Started with the Color Wheel
Color Mixing: Getting Started with the Color Wheel

by Chris Wilde January 11, 2018

Before you can adjust a color to get just the right shade, you need to understand how colors work with one another. Chris is here to give you a quick overview of the color wheel.
Read More
Color Mixing Series: Adjusting Purple (plastisol ink)
Color Mixing Series: Adjusting Purple (plastisol ink)

by Gary Jurman December 27, 2017

Merchmakr™ Plastisol Ink Starter Kit Deluxe has a variety of colors that can be blended together to create a huge array of colors. Color mixing demonstrated.
Read More