Screen Printing (Tutorial)

First of all, I have to give props to the amazingly talented Karen at for her super-helpful step by step instructions.

When I stopped to consider how much we were paying every year for t-shirts, and how crummy the quality was despite the price tag, my mind wandered to that familiar place, “I bet I could do a better job myself!” If I did the printing, I could play around with the design until I got it right. I could control the ink colors; even make multi-colored designs, unhampered by what a professional shop is willing to do. And the most convenient benefit would be the ability to make up a few extra shirts as needed, one short afternoon’s work, instead of feverishly estimating numbers for pricey bulk orders at a printshop.

So here I am! First I priced professional screen printing equipment. I figured, hey, it’s a good investment, since we print a lot of t-shirts each year and we always will. After more research, I discovered those big, pricey machines are only necessary if you are printing in bulk. Read: thousands. We’re not yet at that stage, so I can go with something simpler.

Further googling revealed this most amazing blog with a fabulous, detailed article on screen printing at home: Karen gave me the inspiration and the instruction I needed to feel confident about this venture.

I jammed down to Michaels and combed their shelves for all the necessary items: screen, ink, photo emulsion, photo emulsion remover, squeegee. Then swung by home depot for a 150 watt lightbulb.

speedball solution

First I wiped the screen with photo emulsion and set it to dry under my sink where it’s nice and dark.

burning the screen

After printing out my transparency, I took my screen, covered, to my light source. I set it the proper distance from the bulb, uncovered, placed the transparency, and switched on.


It took several tries to expose the screen properly. First try, my transparency wasn’t up to snuff. Scrubbing with photo emulsion remover followed. Second try, I didn’t expose the screen to the light source long enough. I had it 12″ away and left it for 45 minutes, as indicated on speedball’s website, but every print I made was really splotchy. After investigation I learned there were only a few spots where the light fully ate through the photo emulsion. I want it clean, like a stencil. This found me once again scrubbing my screen with remover.

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Third try, I left the screen for one hour as opposed to 45 minutes. This worked like a charm! I internetted a bit afterwards, learning that everyone should to do a few trials to figure out what time works best for your screen.

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Now for the actual printing. After banging out a few t-shirts on a table, it became clear I needed a more suitable surface to do the printing. Like an ironing board. (Lightbulb!) In the proceeding moments I fished a dust-covered ironing board out from under my bed, stripped it of its pad, duct-taped an old cutting board to one end, and VOILA! The perfect surface for a DIY silk-screener.

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Just as the tutorials suggested I gobbed paint on the screen, swished it all over to “flood” the screen, then pressed my squeegee along the length of the screen, making a beautiful print. But it’s messy business!


 There were a couple things I learned along the way,

  • Washing out a screen is an arduous task, so don’t compound your work by being sloppy.
  • If you want the design centered on the shirt, I recommend placing a piece of duct tape in the center of the screen frame and one in the center of your ironing/cuttingboard-printing surface, to line up.
  • To keep the design in the same place on each shirt, I lined the top of the screen up with the top of the cutting board. To have enough room on the screen for this, I burned the design low on the screen.

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These are seriously better than the ones we’ve been ordering! I can’t wait to share my t-shirts with the kids. (And print a few for myself!) And knowing me, after enough practice I’ll be churning out some really fancy stuff. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. 😉


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