DIY Screen Printing

Screen printing is a printing technique in which stencils and ink are used to create designs on fabric. This is done by placing the stencil on the fabric and using a squeegee to fill the stencil holes with ink. When the stencil is lifted, there is a design left on the shirt. If you're a creative person this is a great hobby that can be turned into a small business bringing in a great income. How can you get started in screen printing? First you'll need to gather everything on your supply list.

What You Need

Prior to starting a screen printing project, you will need plain paper, masking tape, a craft knife, and a piece of fabric or a jersey t-shirt made of basic cotton. You will need ink that has been ready mixed and one that will create a washable design. You will need a screen as well. These can be purchased ready-made or by purchasing items such as mesh and a frame made for canvas stretching, you can make your own screen. Simply staple the edges evenly, pulling the mesh taut. For printing in general, 43T mesh tends to work best. Lastly you’ll need a squeegee which can be bought from stores specializing in craft or screen printing supplies. A square-edge or D-Cut blade work wonders but you can also use a card that is very stiff and thick or sturdy, hard plastic will work as well as long as the edges are firm and very straight.

If you do an online search you may find companies that make kits readily available which will include everything you need to get started. Depending on your preference you can find these kits from $149 for beginners up to $999 for professionals. Of course, the cost will vary but by making your own screen using a picture frame, you can save yourself some money.

Screen Printing Steps

The first step in screen printing is to choose a design. You should draw a design which can be cut from the paper using a craft knife. Using basic shapes randomly scattered will prove to be effective. Once you are happy with the design, cut it out. Tape the underside edges of the screen down so when the stencil design is laid on top, there will be no mesh visible. This is so no paint comes through the stencil’s edges. Make sure your stencil is not taped to the mesh. Lay the fabric flat and place the stencil where the design will be. Center the screen on top taking extreme care to keep the paper in place. Use a tablespoon of the ink and blob a line on the edge at the top of the screen.

While you firmly hold the screen down using one hand, use the other hand to place the squeegee above the ready-made ink. Then, while applying pressure, pull the squeegee down, across the screen, pulling the ink along with it. For a square blade you should pull at an angle of 45 degrees and if using a D-Cut blade you should pull upright. Repeat the process then put the squeegee aside taking care not to drip any extra ink. Use one hand to hold down the fabric and use the other hand to grab the bottom edge to lift the screen up and away from the fabric. You may notice that while using a paper stencil that it tends to stick to the screen along with the ink. This is why you should be sure to make the following prints quickly. If the ink seems drier then it is important to immediately wash the screen because it can seem impossible to get out ink of a water base. When you are finished, throw the stencil away and use cold water to wash your screen. Use a nylon brush or a sponge and be sure to remove all the ink. Before printing again, make sure the screen has been air-dried.

Additional Tips

The following resources will provide you with more information on-screen printing. You’ll also find how to tutorials and learn how you can make your own printing screen inexpensively.

  • Why Screen Print? – This is a quick and simple “how to” on screen printing.
  • Printing Industry: Screen Printing – Learn about the principles of screen printing, prepress, press, ink, post press, equipment and process modifications, and screen disposal.
  • Screen Printing – Here you can learn about the process of screen printing from choosing a design to cleaning and reclaiming.
  • Screen Printing Supplies – Here you can read about what supplies are needed in screen printing.
  • Substrates: The Base of Printing – This is a great website for learning about various materials used in screen printing.
  • The Process of Screen Printing – This article goes more in-depth in discussing the screen printing process.
  • Specialty Printing Methods – Learn about the specialty printing method, serigraphy, from the history and method to benefits and problems of the process.
  • How To Screen Print – This is a how to screen print tutorial which provides a list of what you’ll need and uses images so you can see the process.
  • Preparation and Cleaning – Once you’re done with your screen printing project, this article will be beneficial in helping keep your tools clean and in good working order for future projects.
  • Silk-Screen Printer – This will give you step-by-step instructions on how to make your own silk-screen printer.
  • Screen Printing: Cheap, Dirty, and at Home – This tutorial will teach you how you can print screen almost anything right from the comfort of your own home.
  • Screen Printing for Fun – Learn how to build a basic exposure unit and how you can start screen printing at home as a hobby.
  • American Screen Printing Association – This is the website for the American Screen Printing Association where you can find how to articles, tips and tricks, information on home-based printing and anything else you need to know.
  • Screen Printing How-To – This website is everything screen printing and will teach you everything from preparing artwork to cleaning up.
  • A Guide to Screen Printing – This article will teach you how to do a screen printing project without needed expensive equipment.
  • D.I.Y. Screen Printing – Using chairs you can create this screen printing set up.
  • Printing Processes – Here you can read about the various printing processes from letter-press and screen printing to engraving and digital printing.