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Screen Printing onto Mirrors - Process & Mishaps

Updated: May 14, 2022

After going through the whole process of printing onto mirrors, I feel I was a little overambitious thinking back on it. I didn’t assume that printing onto mirrors would be much more difficult than printing onto any other raised surface material, but I was wrong. I encountered so many issues that I wasn’t really prepared for if I’m honest.

It’s not exactly easy printing onto reflective surfaces. Especially not when you need to print in multiple layers as I was printing in CMYK. In order for the print to turn out realistic, these layers need to be registered perfectly. I’m really precise with my work and I usually like to take my time with it as well so I figured I wouldn’t have that many issues with registration, as long as I had enough time to do it properly.

Before printing onto my final pieces, I started by printing one of my designs onto paper. I made sure my paint was mixed and measured correctly, so the ratio between the medium and paint was the same for all four colours, my registration was always exactly on point, and I would wait long enough for the paint to dry in between printing the layers.

Printing onto the paper was pretty simple and straight forward. The colours came out well and I didn’t have any issues. I tested printing them perfectly aligned over one another, and also off centre - so I could see the layers individually but also overlapping.

Testing on paper

I had some spare smaller mirrors that I used as a sample tester. These also turned out alright, but upon reviewing it now, the magenta should have been stronger.

Testing onto spare mirrors

Then I started my final pieces. One design, the long panel, covered the entire height of the mirror. I used more of my spare mirrors as registration, but also to avoid bleeding at the bottom where the squeegee runs off. I grouped my positives so that I’d have each colour on separate screens, rather than all colours of one design together in one screen (eg. All yellow positives from all three different designs were on one screen). I did this because I knew I’d have to wait a while for each colour to dry, so to try and avoid waiting around too long, I could print all of the same colour in one go, wait, and then carry on with the next colour.

Registration & first layer of magenta onto the mirrors

I started off with magenta, because if you print yellow first, it’s hard to get the registration right through the screen as the colour is fairly light. Both layers of magenta and yellow went well, until it came to the large mirror. Because it was a much bigger design, I struggled putting enough weight on the squeegee and I didn’t manage to reach all corners of the print. I tried to save this mistake by printing another layer, but this caused more damage because the screen stuck to the mirror and removed some of my print, as seen in the pictures. I decided to wipe away both layers and start again from scratch.

Print with magenta & yellow

Yellow layer gone wrong

On the smaller mirrors, I decided to only print three layers. I did this to try and achieve a sense of nostalgia and a feeling of thinking back on old memories, due to the print not having all realistic colours in it. I’d tested the colours in photoshop first, as seen on my blog titled ‘Trial Colour Combinations’. The long panel design I only printed in magenta, yellow, and black. And the shadow reflection design I printed in magenta, yellow, and cyan. When I printed the cyan on the mirror is when I noticed there wasn’t something right with the colours. The result turned out incredibly blue and it looked like I’d only printed cyan and yellow. I thought maybe it would be because I printed magenta as my first layer, so it absorbed into the mirror and made the other layers over it more visible. So I printed another layer of magenta over it, but it hardly made a difference at all. I went back to my photoshop references to see what it should look like, and realised that the long panel design should also have more magenta visible in it. Although the print turned out well, it also looked like I had only printed yellow and black. To avoid having to get rid of all layers and staring again from scratch I tried mixing more magenta into the paint to see if this would solve my problem. I also went to check my positives to see whether the colour is strong enough compared to the other two.

Prints before adding an extra layer of magenta

Checking my positives and adding more magenta to my paint to see if it makes a difference in colour

Adding another stronger layer of magenta onto both prints helped in evening the colours out and the prints were successful.

The problem with printing onto mirrors is that there isn’t a way for the colour to stay on the mirror permanently. This means that the colour on the prints is so delicate and you need to be incredibly careful not to get anything near it, especially water, as this could damage the print. As my prints were drying I had them in the studio which was fairly busy. I left my printing table to wash my squeegee and came back to someone else having sprayed water near my prints. Some of the water landed right on top of my prints and you could see water marks on them. I was incredibly upset to have come back to my print with water damages on it. Mainly because I’d been so incredibly careful throughout this entire process and the prints had turned out perfectly, just for someone else to carelessly spray water near them and ruin my piece. We’ve already been really restricted with time for our final major project and I was feeling stressed about getting everything done in time so for someone else to have messed up my print left me with no choice but to start again from scratch even though I felt like I was already running low on time.


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