How to print on canvas

Updated March 23, 2017

The best way to print on canvas at home is with screen printing, often called printing with silkscreen. A screen print on canvas can make a good design look sharp. Many artists also use the screen printing process to create and outline of their image on canvas before and/or after applying paint.

Assemble your materials. A well-stocked art supply store can sell you all the basic screen print materials required for a simple home workshop. Be sure to comparison shop, as the prices may vary dramatically. Also check with your local industrial screen print supplier, listed under screen printing supplies in the phone book or online.

Clean your stretched frame with mild soap, rinse and let it dry for at least an hour. Coat the screen with light-sensitive emulsion. Consult the light emulsion solution for the prime light conditions appropriate to your emulsion. Let the coated screen thoroughly dry overnight.

Put your art or design on a transparency. Either draw with India ink on translucent vellum, or print the design on vellum or other heavy transparent paper on a laser printer. Inkjet printers often do not create an opaque enough image for burning a screen. Take care when using a laser printer. Some laser printers are too hot, and will melt vellum. If you draw on vellum with India ink, go over your lines or brushstrokes twice to ensure opacity.

Place your foam rubber on the floor or a table. Put your coated screen frame over it on the inside side of the frame, leaving the flat top pointing up. Put your transparency upside down on top of the screen. Put your piece of glass over the transparency down, and weight it at the edges with books or some other heavy objects. If you have ink cans, they will do fine because they are heavy. Hang your light source about 18 inches above your screen and turn it on for recommended exposure time. Develop with warm water. If your screen doesn't develop, use more water pressure. If your emulsion comes off too easily, increase your exposure time.

Let the screen dry. Put it over the canvas and add ink to one side of the screen, creating an “ink reservoir." Holding the screen frame down firmly, pull two or three strokes and lift to check your print. Clean the screen immediately when finished. You can do multiple prints. If your print smudges, try a finer screen mesh. If insufficient ink gets on the canvas, use thinner ink or a more open screen mesh.


Build your wooden frames yourself and buy screen mesh fabric in quantity to save on the labour of making screen frames. The screen fabrics should be taut on the frame, working from all sides of the frame in turn until you can bounce a coin on it.


The first print is the most costly. The good news is that you can make multiple prints.

Things You'll Need

  • Frame stretched with screen mesh
  • Foam rubber to fit inside frame for exposure process
  • Screenprinting ink
  • Squeegee
  • Light-sensitive emulsion
  • Light source
  • Glass and weights to hold the glass down
  • Design on transparency
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About the Author

Nina Makofsky has been a professional writer for more than 20 years. She specializes in art, pop culture, education, travel and theater. She currently serves as a Mexican correspondent for "Aishti Magazine," covering everything from folk art to urban trends. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mills College.