Everything You Need to Know about Making a Darkroom in a Closet, Bathroom, and Garage

To get the best screen possible, you need the best darkroom setup. If your print shop is in your home, you might have to get creative with your darkroom. Setting up an effective darkroom can be challenging, but Darkroom expert Colin Huggins has you covered. In this post, he shares tips and nuances for constructing home darkrooms in a closet, a bathroom, and a garage.

A man inspecting a screen in a darkroom

Photo by Golden Press Studio

GETTING STARTED

No matter how much space you have, you’ll need to plan for the same basic parameters. The darkroom needs air circulation, humidity control, a place to store screens, and yellow light bulbs. It doesn’t have to be a fancy setup. All you need is a dehumidifier, a screen rack (homemade or purpose built), fans, and a hygrometer. You can create a functional darkroom in any space. 

Each setup is a little different and requires a bit of creativity. Let’s see what you can do to ensure you make the most optimal darkroom in the space you have.

THE CLOSET DARKROOM

When setting up a darkroom in a closet, the most important thing to do is save as much space as possible. Try building a wall-mounted screen rack using 2x2’s secured on the wall. This way, you can store your screens without taking up extra space. Next, you’ll need some type of air circulation. You could use 20” box fans, blowing across the surface of the screens. You can also use a standing fan if it fits your space better. Don’t forget a dehumidifier to reduce the humidity in the closet. You’ll also need a hygrometer to measure the humidity and temperature. You want a warm, dry climate in a darkroom. The heat from the dehumidifier should give off enough warmth in the closet. 

If your closet has a door, you’re set up for success. Since it’s a dark, enclosed space, the white (UV) light filtering into the space will already be minimal. You still want to make sure as much light as possible is blocked from the darkroom.

But what about the exposure unit? A closet is great for drying screens, but the rest of the darkroom can’t fit there. If you’re using a closet as a dry box, you can put an exposure unit wherever you want, as long as it’s in a light-safe area. Block out windows and other sources of natural light. You’ll also need a light-safe bulb that won’t react with the emulsion. For rinsing and reclaiming your screens, there’s a couple different options if you don’t have a washout booth. We’ll cover that a bit later.

THE BATHROOM DARKROOM 

The closet darkroom probably isn’t large enough to fit an exposure unit and other equipment you’d use in a darkroom. If you need more space, a darkroom in your bathroom or a spare room will work. Make sure you use light-safe bulbs whenever you’re exposing screens in your bathroom. 

If you don’t have a screen rack, you can always create your own rack like in the closet darkroom. You can also build a screen rack, or use a baking rack. You can buy tents that fit over baking racks to keep out humidity. Set up the air circulation and dehumidifier inside the tent, like the closet darkroom. As long as you have air circulation and humidity control, your screens will be just fine. 

Humidity can be an issue if you’re drying screens in the bathroom. Every time you turn on the shower, you’re introducing humidity into the space. If your drying rack system isn’t optimal, you’ll have trouble drying the screens properly. Always make sure you have plenty of air flow over the screens. 

RELATED: WHAT A SCREEN DRYING CABINET DOES FOR YOUR DARKROOM

THE GARAGE DARKROOM

If you have the space to create a darkroom in your garage, do it! You’ll need the same supplies as the previous setups, but you have more space and more control. Make sure to block out all natural light. If you’re parking your car in the garage, make sure your screens are safe (in an enclosed drying cabinet or box) so the light from outside does not hit them when the garage door opens. 

Garage darkrooms are great for space. You can fit your exposure unit and screen drying rack in the same room. You might have room for a washout booth, too. Make sure that your garage is as clean as possible, so dust and dirt don’t get on the screens. Every space should be mopped and swept weekly to keep dust and lint to a minimum. 

A screen printing setup in a garage

Photo by Symmetree

BEST PRACTICES

No matter where your darkroom is set up, you’ll need to follow the same steps to make sure your darkroom does the most for you. Here are some best practices for keeping your darkroom process efficient and screen-safe.

LIGHT SOURCE

Make sure to block out or turn off all white light, as it can damage the emulsion. If you’re worried about potential light leakage, consider Baselayr Long Lasting emulsion. It’s designed for less-optimal darkrooms, and is more forgiving. Make sure to coordinate lighting between your darkroom and drying cabinet/box so you don’t expose your screen to white light.

RELATED: WHICH BASELAYR EMULSION IS RIGHT FOR ME?

RINSING SCREENS

If you don’t have a washout booth, rinsing out screens can be a challenge. There’s a couple of ways you can rinse out a screen without using a washout booth.

BATHTUB OR SINK

If your darkroom is already set up in the bathroom, rinsing out your screens in the bathtub makes total sense. If you decide to go this route, make sure to get a filter for the drain. A filter will prevent some emulsion from ruining your pipes, especially during the reclaim process. Over time, emulsion will settle in the pipe system. In the short term, it won’t be an issue. After a long time, your pipes are going to get clogged, and you’ll need to completely replace them. Avoid washing emulsion directly down the drain if you can.

RELATED: THE DARKROOM PROCESS: FILM, EMULSION DENSITY, EXPOSING, AND WASHOUT

OUTSIDE 

Rinsing an exposed screen outside is tricky. The light from the sun will cure the emulsion. You will lose details in the design. You can implement a process to hopefully avoid the sun. Use a spray bottle to soak the exposed emulsion with water. You can also use a shallow tray big enough for the screen to lay in flat. Fill the tray with water and let the screen soak for 20-30 seconds. Place the screen in a black plastic bag. 

Next, take the bag with the screen outside and blast it with water as quickly as you can. Depending on the detail in your design, the image will rinse off well. Rinsing needs to be as quick as possible to avoid white light exposure. Designs with lots of detail take longer to wash out, and might cause some issues. As always, try to avoid direct light as much as possible, even if you’re using a forgiving emulsion like Baselayr Long Lasting.

A man wearing a respirator holding a screen

Photo by Lee Stuart

Every darkroom is different. Whether your darkroom is a garage, bathroom, or closet, the goal is always the same. You want to create the best possible stencil the first time. Dialing in your darkroom takes time and effort. No matter where yours is, following these tips will help you nail it every time.

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