T-Shirt Screen Printing: What It Is and How to Use It

Screen printing for many is truly an art form. The ability to produce superior quality products in a manner of minutes is not only impressive, but the attention to design details this process can do is incredible. That is why so many people tend to shy away from screen printing t-shirts because they believe it is an exceptionally difficult process that is best left to the experts. But what if we told you are wrong. What if you could create your own gorgeous t-shirt designs in the comfort of your own home.

What is Screen Printing?

Screen printing, also referred to as Silk Screening, is a method of printing designs or graphics on a t-shirt. Screen printing uses thick inks that lay on top of the shirt rather than having the shirt soak them in. Typically, screen printing is used on paper or fabric, but with some specialized inks, it is also possible to print on metal, plastic, glass, and even wood.

How Does a Screen Printing Machine Work?

The basic screen printing method involves creating a stencil on a fine mesh screen and then pushing the paint or ink through to create an imprint of your design on the shirt beneath.

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Typically, one screen is used for each color that needs to be printed. Before printing, the screens need to be registered to ensure that all the colors line up correctly. When printing starts, the ink is pushed through the screen one color at a time onto the fabric or surface. Once complete, each piece is put through a large dryer to cure all the inks.

How to Screen Print T-Shirts at Home

Many individuals wrongly assume that screen printing involves expensive materials and a challenging process that makes it impossible to do as a DIY activity. However, in truth, it is not as complex as you may think.

Supplies Needed

  • A screen and a frame, which can be purchased from a local art store
  • Photo Emulsion and Sensitizer
  • Gloves
  • A 150-watt bulb
  • T-shirts
  • Squeegees
  • Silk Screen Fabric Ink
  • Cardboard to fit inside the shirt
  • Design Software
  • Piece of glass
  • Dark Room

The Process

  1. First, you need to decide on an image. Using quality design software such as CorelDRAW can help you create the perfect picture, slogan, or idea you want to transfer over to your shirt.
  2. Print the image, shape, or letters on a regular piece of paper and carefully cut it out.
  3. Grab your completed frame and coat it with Photo Emulsion. Make sure you do this part in a dark room, as the material reacts to light. This photo emulsion is applied with a squeegee, and instructions on the bottle need to be followed.
  4. Once the screen is dried, it is time to transfer your image to the screen and place a clean glass over the image to hold it down. Next, you will need to use a 150-watt light bulb to expose your image. Typically, your photo emulsion instructions will tell you how long this exposure will last, depending on your screen size. It will also indicate how far away your light source should be from your screen.
  5. When the time is up, remove the glass and your paper cutout. You will be able to see a faint image of the picture.
  6. Wash the screen with high-pressure lukewarm tap water, either from a garden hose or a shower head. Make sure you focus on the image area. Eventually, the image will appear more vibrant, and the rest of the emulsion will wash away.
  7. Lay your tee-shirt out and make sure it is smooth.
  8. Put the newly created silkscreen over the shirt so that the recessed side of the screen is facing up.
  9. Run paint across the top of your screen.
  10. Drag the paint over the image with a squeegee but do not apply any pressure.
  11. Carefully remove the screen from the shirt by lifting it slowly.
  12. Hang your shirt to dry and wash the screen right away with cool water.
  13. When the ink feels dry on your shirt, place a dry iron on the image to make sure it sets.

Screen Printing - Making it Perfect

Screen printing is great for company logos, team names, or creating that unique t-shirt you cannot find in the stores. Better yet, with the right materials, making professional-looking clothing can not only be inexpensive but an activity you can return to time and time again.

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