Screen Printing with Glass Powder

Introduction

This is a process that I’ve been putting together since early 2019 has required a lot of learning, experimentation, and iteration. I thought it might be helpful to share my knowledge and learnings with others!

I didn’t want to overload this post, so this is only about the screen printing process. If you’re interested in making your own stencils for screen printing, see my other post on cutting stencils or making stickers!

I’ve also been putting this together with some of my work doing decal prints. I’m not quite sure I’ve figured out my total aesthetic yet, but it’s getting there.

Mid-process work combining glass screen prints (black) with decal printed mountains (sepia) and a planned final layer to be screen printed in blue. Shown here is the stencil (white) on top of sheet glass (blue) to plan the colors for the final layer.

Just a note, the videos in this post were taken by my wonderful husband and talented artist Steven Ciezki 🙂

Materials

The Glass

I have found over time that screen printing on lighter colors, in particular clear, white, and light gray, tend to yield the best results. Using dense opaque glass powders is also extremely helpful. Transparents tend to lose their luster when screen printing.

If you use Spectrum96 sheet glass, you can either use spectrum, oceanside, or uroboros glass powders to do the screen printing, but I actually prefer Reichenbach or Kugler COE96 glass blowing powders. I think they come out a lot denser in color by design. And they can be cheaper per kilo depending on how much you want to use.

For Bullseye90, I just stick with Bullseye Powders. They have an awesome selection.

Other Tools / Materials

  1. A screen – For powder printing, this needs to be a 140 mesh screen (the picture has 3 but it only comes with 1!). That screen has been my workhorse for the last 8 months. It’s tried and true 🙂
    If you’re super over ambitious though, you can actually stretch your own screens over frames. This is helpful when you want to print larger images, since it gets difficult to find this odd 140 mesh in other sizes. You’ll need to order a few yards of 140 mesh and some wood frames for stretching (16×20 or 20×28). Oh, and a staple gun will probably be helpful as well. They’re surprisingly cheap now. Thanks China and Amazon 🙂
  2. Scrapers – You’ll need these to push the powder across the screen. Putty knives work well. I grabbed this set off Amazon and they were peeeeerfect. The two largest are actually the width and the length of the screen above, which is super handy for pulling across in one smooth, fluid motion.
  3. A Respirator – No joke. Glass powder is SERIOUSLY bad for your lungs! I’d rather die a million ways than die of silicosis, where little glass hooks tear your lungs apart and you struggle to breathe. Please please please get a respirator (3M makes even cheaper ones) or, in the very least, an N95 (10 pack, 20 pack, 50 pack) or other filtering mask.
  4. A Powder Rig [Optional] – You don’t need this; you can place the screen directly on top of the glass (see video below) and remove the screen once you swipe the powder across. However, if you want a much denser color, it’s best to let the glass powder fall through the screen just a little bit and build up powder in a dense layer. Basically, you need something that elevates the screen about 1/8″ above the glass. We actually built one by folding cardboard and placing cups on the folded portion at the corners of the screen, and then using 4 cups to hold the actual piece below. That way the screen is held over the glass by the difference in thickness between glass and cardboard. You can do anything that just props the screen a little bit though. You can see below for what we came up with.
  5. A Sifter [Optional] – If you’re so inclined, you can instead buy a mesh strainer and shake the powder over the stencil. It becomes difficult to remove the stencil if it’s got fine detail or is small, but if you print it larger than the glass and have steady hands its a nice way of adding more color or unevenly applying for neat effects. The smaller earrings below are examples of where I did this for color tests. Bullseye sells on here that’s reasonably priced. If you want to do larger you can buy a fine mesh strainer and if you want to just keep your powder in shakers these powder sugar shakers or makeup containers are cool too!
  6. Plastic Spoons [Optional] – This sounds stupid, but get yourself some spoons! First, I hate just pouring from the jars as it throws a whole bunch of glass dust out into the air which sucks for your lungs and for clean up. Second, it lets you choose the amount of glass powder and where it goes, which is nice. I like plastic and use a different one for each color or just throw them away after. Not good for the environment, but I don’t like mixing the colors.
Me, screen printing on our homemade rig, with tons of stencils to my right. Photo and Rig made by Steven Ciezki 🙂

Stencils

As I said before, if you want to make your own intricate stencils, you can read my post about it here.

But, to get started, you can also buy a wealth of stencils directly from Amazon to play with. These are nice because they come on heavier plastic which makes them easier to print.

  1. Geometric Shapes – 9 pack, 12 pack, 25 pack, 40 pack
  2. Cute Stencil Kits Things, Snowflakes, Mr and Mrs, Alphabet
  3. Animals and the Like – A million of these exist because, as it turns out, kids love this kind of stuff.
  4. Food, Booze, and Other Items of Interest – Artisan Bread, Pop Food, BBQ, Cocktails

If you don’t want to shell out the money, you can easily make these by hand. Head over to the free stencil gallery and download whatever you like. Print it out and then cut it by hand. Since it’s an interior cut, you have to do it with an X-acto knife or something similar. You’ll really be limited to simple cuts, but it’s doable especially for experimentation with this process at the beginning. To do it, you’ll need:

  1. Thick paper, card stock (110 lb is best), or poster board – This is harder to cut but makes it so so so much more robust as a stencil. Those are listed in order of increasing strength.
  2. A really sharp x-acto knife, razor blade, or box cutter – Should be self explanatory. If you don’t have one already, dish out the extra 12 bucks and buy an x-acto set. They’re super handy for this.
  3. A decent printer – Most are these days. You can get a pretty cheap one so long as it prints on whatever paper you buy in #1 above. We use this one. It’s wireless and cheap and prints better than we can cut.
  4. Something to cut against – I use cardboard or foam board as I think they give me a decent depth to cut into without worrying about nicking myself (if it’s in my lap) or destroying my table (if that’s underneath).

The Process

The process is pretty simple. It’s shown in the video below, but here’s the rundown.

  1. Cut your stencil.
  2. Apply double sided tape to the back of your stencil, the side that will be sticking to the mesh. I do this anywhere the stencil is flimsy (like a dangling part of the design) or where I think the stencil might sag. Don’t let it stick out past stencil borders.
  3. Stick your stencil to the mesh using the double sided tape, ensuring that the entire stencil is exposed.
  4. Tape the borders with painter’s tape or masking tape if you want it to stay taught. This is especially important if the stencil is not in direct contact with the glass, as pushing on the edges will cause it to sag.
  5. Put on your respirator or mask!
  6. Lay down your sheet glass on top of a larger piece of paper. Putting the paper underneath will catch the powder that falls down past the edges of the glass and the paper makes it easy to fold up and dump back into the powder container to minimize waste.
    Note: At this point I almost always forget to put down a second piece of paper to move the mesh and stencil to once I remove it from the glass. This leaves me calling for help in Step 9 below. DO IT NOW! You’ll thank me later.
  7. Spoon the glass powder of the desired color over the mesh and to the side of your stencil. This will keep it from dropping through when loading it, which would result in uneven color application (and thus defeat the point of the stencil). You want all the color to be disbursed when you push the powder back and forth.
  8. Grab a plastic scraper and go back and forth all the way across the stencil with the powder. A different number of passes back and forth will give you a different color density, so you can adjust this to your liking.
  9. Remove the stencil. If you were smart, you put down a second piece of paper in Step 6. Put the stencil and mesh right on this.
  10. Put the glass in the kiln.
  11. Clean up your mess! Don’t leave the glass lying around. Shake the stencil off onto a piece of paper and pour it back into your powder container. Vacuum up and then use a moist paper towel to do a final wipe down for remaining glass powder.
VIdeo showing the process. It doesn’t show me taping the stencil down, but it does show everything from there.

One AMAZING thing about this process is that it’s absolutely 0 risk. If you push the glass powder through the stencil and don’t like the way it looks, just shake it right off the glass and onto the paper, pour it back into your container, clean the sheet glass, and start over! There’s virtually no waste and no harm whatsoever.

Take your time and get it right before firing it in the kiln 🙂

Fusing

Obviously this depends on what glass you’re using. Below are the schedules for the two glass types that I’ve tried: Bullseye COE 90 and Spectrum 96 COE 96.

These are the temps required to fuse the powder into the glass such that there’s no texture left on the surface. If you wish to leave some texture on top, step the temperature back 20 degrees or more in Segment 2.

Note: Leaving some powder on the surface leaves a really cool 3D effect on the glass, but if you’re doing multiple layers it’s going to trap bubbles on the final fuse, so just be mindful.

Bullseye

SegmentRate (deg/hr)Set TempHold Time (mins)
1300122020
2600138010
3999990060
41007001
Firing Schedule Using Bullseye

Spectrum

SegmentRate (deg/hr)Set TempHold Time (mins)
1300122020
2600136010
3999996060
41007001
Firing Schedule Using Spectrum

Final Thoughts

It’s actually remarkable difficult to find information on the internet about how to do this. Most places want to charge you for a class (I can’t blame them), but it’s so hard to get to a location that has a proper one. Anywho, in learning this process I did a pretty sweeping internet search and found a few resources I thought I’d share.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *