Category Archives: screen printing

This work examines screen printing as a new material for tangible interaction and soft electronics

Screenprinting and DIY fabrication of smart materials

Screenprinting is one of the most popular DIY printing methods, which has been, for many years, used to produce static visual representations in various scales and forms.


Part of our work at SANDS explores screenprinting as a DIY fabrication process that can be used to embed interactive properties into a range of substrates including paper, fabric, vinyl, wood, or acrylic. This project is aligned with recent trends in “smart” materials, whereby instead of using external components, responsive behavior and/or visualization is incorporated into the material itself.

Using off-the-shelf materials, we developed low-cost light-sensitive, temperature-responsive, and conductive screenprinting inks. We applied these inks in manual screenprinting to consistently reproduce photochromic, thermochromic and conducive properties across different substrates. To explore possible application areas, we held a workshop with local artists who experimented with our screenprinting methods and applied them to their practice. The workshop resulted in two interactive pieces showcased at a local gallery.


This summer, we set out to explore the opportunities for applying DIY smart material fabrication in youth STEAM (STEM + the arts) domains. We developed a week-long summer camp module for junior high school youths as part of a Digital Culture outreach program at our university.


During the first day, students explored photochromism by mixing UV-responsive pigments with screenprinting inks and exploring the colors with a UV light and sun exposure. Students also worked in groups to set up screens from pre-cut vinyl stencils and make their first prints using the photochromic inks they created.

Days 2 and 3 introduced basic electronic concepts and students worked on designing their own stencils in Adobe Fireworks and screenprinting a folding switch circuit. This project also taught students the concept of “registering” or aligning multiple printed layers on the same material. The final project included a conductive strip that served as part of a folding switch, an LED and coin cell battery that completed the circuit, and a thermochromic image that was printed to decorate the switch.

Days 4 and 5 were used to create a screen-printed storyboard that illustrated a narrative created by the entire class. The inks and concepts learned in the class served as prompts for each frame of the storyboard and served as action points in the story (the final story consisted of four frames which used regular, photochromic, thermochromic, and conductive elements).

Key Takeaways

We see screenprinting as parallel to many existing, successful initiatives that incorporate tangible media into art and science curriculums. In our work, screenprinting combines elements from the fine arts, including one of the oldest forms of printmaking, with modern technologies such as vinyl cutting, and advancements in material science.


A particularly unique feature of screenprinting is that it naturally supports collaborative making. The physical aspects of the printing process and the reproducibility of the prints enables individuals to make and keep a copy of the group project. This makes screenprinting an exciting platform for STEAM, as collaborative exploration is a key tenet of informal learning.


Our STEAM course shows the potential of manual screenprinting as a DIY fabrication technique for youth makers. Our overall findings demonstrate several unique features of screenprinting: a low barrier to entry for smart material fabrication, a collaborative maker practice, and a creative integration of STEAM concepts.

Antibiotic-responsive bioart art class for junior and high school students

DSC_0813.JPGAs part of the Digital Culture Summer Institute, the SANDS lab organized a bioart module for junior and high school students. Working with Cassandra Barrett and Kat Fowler, we developed a week-long summer camp course that invites students to create petri dish art using bacteria and antibiotic substances. 

Our design studio was recently approved for BSL-1 (biosafety level 1) clearance, which means we can now (officially) work with minimally risky bacteria and procedures. Fun fact: we might be the first design lab to get this clearance through the ‘proper’ layers of paperwork and inspections at our University!

Our work embraces the DIYbio movement, which aims to make biology accessible outside of professional laboratories. So during the first day of camp, we showed the students how to sterilize lab equipment with a pressure cooker. According to the CDC guidelines, this means the materials must be kept at 121°C and 15psi for 30 minutes. It’s usually a pretty exciting 30 minutes to be watching the pressure cooker.

The next few days of the camp were spent practicing aseptic (sterile) lab technique to streak plates with different pigmented bacteria. We used our trusty old DIY incubator that we made in-house to culture our art at 26C.


We used several regular antibiotics (Ampicillin and Streptomycin) as well as antibiotic items the students brought from home to shape the growth of the bacteria. Essentially, we did the Kirby–Bauer diffusion test for antibiotic sensitivity, whereby growth is hindered around the effective antibiotics.

Our students brought an impressive and very creative range of substances to test for antibiotic properties, including handsoap, pennies, dog antibiotics, neosporin (very effective), tylenol, and toothpaste (not very effective at killing bacteria it turns out!).

We also added food coloring to our media to add a background color to the petri dish art.

For the final project, we asked the students first to sketch out the layout for their bacteria art piece, including what bacteria, background color, and antibiotic substances they wanted to use on their petri dishes. Can we say we did rapid lo-fi prototyping for biology 🙂 ?


The resulting bacteria images inspired us to write bioart haikus, and some of these were pretty deep.

 Finally, the students used a graphic design program to convert their favorite petri dish images into stencils for vinyl cutting and screenprinting. The last day day of screenprinting was chaotic and messy, but order emerged just like the haiku said 😉

Huge thanks to everyone who helped run this awesome class, and to the creative and thoughtful students who are now excited to take a bio course at their schools even if they don’t get a printed T-shirt out of it next time.


Fluid Sound Interfaces

Fluid Sound Interfaces explore new interactions to generate sound. In this specific project, we examine how screen printing can be used as a low-cost and versatile method to help with sound sculpting through designing malleable, reproducible musical instruments.

The HCI community has seen an evolution of printing mechanisms beyond producing static visual components to create interactive artifacts such as paper circuits, printable touch sensors, and printed thin-film displays.

We focus on screen printing as a DIY fabrication process that uniquely complements existing processes for creating low-cost and easily replicable interactive systems. As part of this process, low-cost conductive screen printing inks are applied to a range of substrate materials and combined with an Arduino-based circuit and music processing software to support new interactions and performance scenarios in the domain of music making.

What is more, research into haptic and tangible musical interfaces has explored methods for transducing gestural information into the sonic realm through force feedback controllers, as well as malleable interfaces. These approaches imagine interaction with physical materials as a means to ‘sculpt’ digital sound. Furthermore, we propose that the very nature of the substrate materials—which could be folded, bent, stretched, or even cut or torn during performance—offer a rich set of affordances for manipulating sonic material.

Our research themes will be situated at the intersection of various interdisciplinary research fields involving design, human-computer interaction, and tangible media. Beyond the above-mentioned application in music and sound, we are also thinking about the wider application of screen printing with different material and sensor techniques for more user groups.

Screen Printing with Thermal Inks

DSC01130Hello! I am Emily E. Ritter, one of the member of SANDS as well as a current MFA student in printmaking at the ASU Herberger School of Art. My research is to explore thermal, conductive, and solar screen printing inks. I will be explaining the print I made with thermal ink.

Screen printing is a printmaking process in which a mesh is used to transfer ink onto a surface, except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil. This stencil can be cut vinyl or contact paper, drawing fluid and screen filler, or photosensitive emulsion (the most common type). A squeegee is then moved across the screen to fill the open mesh with ink, while pressure is applied so that the ink can be transferred to the material that is being printed on. This is a basic explanation of the process.

I have created an ink that reacts to heat by either changing to clear or another color. This thermal ink was created by adding SolarDust’s thermochromatic dust to a screen printing transparent base. Thermal screen printing ink allows for the creation of many different interactive works of art that are responsive to heat. This thermal ink can also be utilized as a basic outdoor temperature monitor. An example would be a sticker that changes from a cool color to a warmer color when a metal handle or a public slide becomes hot.

I am interested in the interactive quality of this ink and creating works of art that engage the viewer. I have produced a piece that will create a conversation about how humans affect the environment. More specifically, how our synthesized plastics affect the environment. The top layer of the print is a flat of the thermal ink, which the viewer is invited to touch to see the affects of human activity and question their involvement in the issue. When the thermal ink comes into contact with body heat from the viewer, it goes clear revealing the images underneath. The image revealed in my piece is of a marine habitat that is affected by the presence of plastic. In addition to the body heat from the viewer, muscle wire connected to electronics heat up periodically creating lines that hint to the image that is hidden. My hope is that this will create a conversation about the implications of human consumption and waste. I also look forward to experimenting more with these interactive inks.

Screenprinting workshop, Wednesday, December 9, 2.30pm-5pm

One of our projects is examining screenprinting as a prototyping material for tangible interaction.

This semester, Emilly Ritter has been experimenting with a range of materials and techniques to develop new conductive, solar-sensitive, and thermochromic inks. These can be used with conventional silkscreen printing methods to embed interactive behavior into almost anything (paper, fabric, wood, vinyl—basically anything that can be printed on).

Moving forward, we want to gather some ideas and feedback on how these interactive inks might be used by artists in their practice. We are organizing a workshop as a part of a research study to understand the types of projects that could take advantage of interactive screenprinting. The workshop will cover an overview of our inks and methods. You will then be invited to experiment with basic designs and create a few prints. The workshop will conclude with a discussion and brainstorming around future uses of these materials.

The workshop will last for up to 3 hours and you will be compensated $15/hr for each hour of your time. You must be familiar with basic screenprinting and be 18 years or older to participate.

The workshops will be audio-recorded and photographed, and all data will be anonymized. If you are interested in participating, please contact Stacey Kuznetsov ( to determine eligibility.

Screenprinting for tangible interaction

Most of our work at SANDS looks at bottom-up participation in conventional science fields (e.g., biology, environmental science, food science). In parallel, I recently started a new project that focuses on creative practice as a space for public techno-scientific literacy. I am interested in screen printing as a new material for tangible interaction and soft electronics.

DSC_0784 DSC_0787
Our current set-up uses the vinyl cutter for stencils (though our photo-emulsion unit is coming soon!)

I want to create conductive, magnetic, and thermochromatic inks and methods for screenprinting. I am envisioning some pretty exciting outcomes: scaleable (stencil-based) and novice-friendly methods for interaction design and soft electronic fabrication.

To be honest, my only background in screenprinting comes from an overview course at Techshop, and some basic internet research. Even with this limited knowledge, I am psyched about screenprinting because it is flexible (there are so many ways of making stencils), versatile (you can print on almost any material), and also accessible to beginners for pretty cheap. I also love how it’s been around for centuries: some sources claim there’s evidence of stencil-based printing in Ancient Egyptian tombs!

Luckily, I have amazing screenprinting experts to collaborate with here at ASU. Working with Mary Hood (Associate Professor, School of Art) and Emily Ritter (MFA student in Studio Arts), I am experimenting with conductive powders, photochromic and thermal pigments, and magnetic powders to create interactive prints.

Althea’s early work on this project was really helpful in eliminating several approaches. For instance, contrary to what I would think, mixing metallic powders with ink does not work too well.

DSC_0724 DSC_0723
Althea’s early attempts at making conductive ink with copper powder.

Recently, I started working graphite powder, which seems to be fine enough to press through regular meshcount screens (around 110) and works super well with low mesh counts (e.g., 38 or 60 for glitter ink printing).

DSC_0800 DSC_0791
Graphite-based ink basically looks like graphite, no matter what color you start with.

DSC_0804 DSC_0806

I’ve been playing a lot with different amounts of ink, gel medium, water and graphite, and making these ‘conductivity contact sheets’ to figure out ideal ratios.


Since I also know nothing about music, the other night I made a music-based demo using a really simple stencil, graphite-based ink, and capacitive sensing.

We hope to pilot the materials and techniques we develop in workshops with artists, activists, and hobbyists. This would allow basically anyone to embed interactive behaviors into a variety of materials such as textiles, wood, metals, plastics, etc.

What makes this project truly bold and exciting is that the outcomes are unknown. While making screen printing inks that change color in response to heat or UV radiation, conduct electricity, or have magnetic properties is certainly possible and we have already had some success, how these would be used in creative practice remains to be seen.

This project is also productively challenging us to negotiate complementary disciplinary commitments, audiences, and purposes across our research: I hope learn more about screenprinting while my collaborators turn to me for insights into electronics and circuit design. With this blend of expertise, the work has the potential to advance multi-disciplinary research methods and nurture collaborations between AME and the School of Art.

screen print hello world

Apparently nobody wanted to go home after today’s Ikea marathon, so we set up some additional lighting in the lab. For example, thanks to Gino and Corey, this is no longer an ordinary Ikea shelf thing:


We (mostly Althea) also put together the screen press, and of course we could not go home without trying it out! The vinyl cutter is still in the box, so we did our stencils by hand.

silk1 silk6silk2 silk4silk5 lab8 sandwichespipettesand2 sand

Also, this is maybe slightly creepy, but the space looks pretty good from the outside.


Did I mention we are located at possibly the busiest intersection on campus? 🙂