Sunday, August 30, 2009

Making Multicolored Prints with a Thermofax Screen

One of the most interesting ways that I've found to use a thermofax screen is to make multicolored images using water-soluble crayons, such as Caran D'Ache. I find these colorful one-of-a-kind prints both versatile and appealing, whether used on their own or in combination with other screen-printed fabrics. The pomegranate above is a simple example of the technique -- with both the red fruit and the green leaves printed at the same time.

The process depends on using a polymer based medium to carry the water-soluble pigment onto the fabric and, in drying, to bind the image to the cloth surface -- after appropriate heat- or time-setting. I've used various kinds of polymer media with the process -- transparent fabric screen ink "extender," Golden® or other brands of gel medium, both glossy and matt, and the newer Golden® open medium, which does not dry as quickly in the screen as the straight acrylic mediums do.

Essentially, one colors the open areas of the thermofax (this works with traditional screens, as well) with the water soluble crayons, coat the screen with a generous portion of medium, letting it sit a SHORT time, then screen-printing as usual (a plastic scraper works better, I think, than a foam roller). The first print is often partial or broken in line, since the crayon can act as a partial resist in the screen, the second and third are usually quite interesting; the color starts to fade and blend with the subsequent prints. I often recolor the screen without cleaning it, working quickly to beat the drying process, and that can lead to interesting results, as well.

Because you are using a relatively heavy medium, this process is best for substantial fabrics and for usages where some change of hand won't be disturbing or distracting to your end result. It doesn't work well on silk scarves for example, but is great for art quilt and mixed media work.

Coming up this fall, I'll be teaching a full-day workshop on this technique at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Thursday, Oct. 15 in the Mixed Media classroom and I'll be demonstrating the process at one of the Mixed Media Miscellany samplers, Saturday, 10-noon. There will be lots of different polymer media to try out, some different kinds of crayons to test, hints for the best designs and lots of demo and hands-on explorations. For more information, see


  1. This sounds so much like a technique learned from Fran Skiles in which we used black Neocolor II crayons to take rubbings using Stitch n Tear by Pellon. We then 'printed" these designs using gloss medium onto China papers and a credit card or small squeege as the tool to pull the medium across the image. Strong multiple images were achieved easily. I am excited to contemplate using my new set of Neocolor II to make multi colored designs on my collage fabrics and papers.

  2. That sounds like a really interesting technique. Basically, all these are cool ways to combine water soluble pigment and a polymer medium that dries permanent. This use of stitch and tear sounds really amazing and I can't wait to try it out. I also have posted a bunch of new photos of this thermofax technique on my blog at

  3. I love this! I've used broad tip fabric die pens with thermal screens in a similar way, onto the canvas, cotton and silk . I didn't use a medium with them, just colored the areas to transfer the image directly.
    There's a colorless blender in the series and you can get amazing watercolor effects though the bleed is more difficlt to control, for better or worse :~D
    I will post some of the images on a new page at northwoodstudios, along with a brief description. Please feel free to email us with any questions *JudyFunk*