Who doesn’t love a fun DIY project! Printed t-shirts sold online and in stores can be costly and generic. This project will help you screen print your own unique t-shirts without having to break the bank. The process is straightforward and in just a few steps you’ll soon be wearing your own stylish designs.
For starters, you will need an image to print onto your t-shirts. Look for a design that is simple but has visual impact. If you are printing on t-shirts of various sizes make sure to tailor the size of the design to fit each t-shirt so that they can all have the same dimensions. Another DIY t-shirt project you should consider is a t-shirt heat press with heat press machines designed especially for beginners. But for now, let’ take a look at how to screen print.
Step 1: Build the Frame
The first step will be to create the frames to be used for the printing screens. The frames should be the size of the design with a few additional inches for buffer space. If you are working with t-shirts of different sizes you will need more than one frame. Glue or nail the pieces of scrap wood together to create the frame. The wood should be of good quality so that you can have a sturdy frame that will keep the ink from spilling over to the rest of the t-shirt during printing.
Step 2: Add the Screen
After the frame is complete you can now attach the screen. Mesh fabric is a great choice for the screen. Measure the fabric to fit the frame and include a little overhang material to glue or staple around the frames. The fabric should be attached tautly to the frames so ask for help from someone to ensure it is attached tightly.
Step 3: Coat the Screen in Photo Emulsion
Photo emulsion comes with instructions for preparation and usually involves mixing with other chemicals in order to activate it. Be sure to wear protective gear as the chemicals involved can be dangerous. As soon as the mixture is ready for use, apply it onto both the inside and outside of the frame using a squeegee. Ensure you apply a thin and even coat of photo emulsion. Once the screen is coated leave it to dry in a dark room.
Step 4: Create Transparency Mask
Print out your image onto transparency paper using a laser printer. This is what you will use to transfer the image to the screen. Make sure the image on your transparency mask is very opaque.
Step 5: Expose Screen to Light
After the screen is dry it is time to expose the image onto it. This should be done in the same dark room the screen was drying in. Start by laying down a black cloth or board known as an exposure rig. Lay the frame on top of it with the screen side facing down. Place the transparency mask on top of the frame and make sure to align it so that the image is centered. Tape it down. Now expose the screen to a bright light. A desk lamp is perfect for this and it should be the only light in the room. Curing time may vary depending on the intensity and distance of the light.
Step 6: Clean Screen
Once you are satisfied with the transfer of the image onto the screen it is time to clean it off. Use a hose or a spray nozzle to splash water on the screen and wash off the areas outside of the image. When properly cleaned, your screen should look exactly like your transparency mask when held up to the light. Tape up the frame and any areas around your image to prevent ink from seeping onto the material when printing. Leave to dry.
Step 7: Print onto a T-shirt
Your screen is now ready for printing. Start by laying out your t-shirt on a flat surface and inserting a board inside it under the area you intend to print on. Place the screen onto the t-shirt and make sure it is aligned. Pour some ink into the frame and use your squeegee to move the ink across the screen in one smooth movement. Apply more strokes across the screen in all directions to ensure the ink is properly pushed through onto the t-shirt. Slowly lift up the screen and set aside the t-shirt to dry.
Screen printing can take a little time to master but once you do you’ll find that the results are very rewarding. Once you get the hang of it you’ll be able to print more complex designs in various colors. The materials used to go a long way and the screen is reusable making this DIY project very cost-effective. All you’ll need to keep purchasing are plain t-shirts to create your unique designs at home.