How to Make Screen-Printed T-shirts

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At-home T-shirt making can save you money and time, and garner praise for your creative craftiness. It will take some patience, but making screen-printed T-shirts will be worth your while when you receive your first compliment: Where did you find that great shirt? Oh, I made it.

Things You'll Need

  • T-shirt
  • Black or color ink
  • Squeegee or wiper
  • Cardboard
  • Workstation table (optional)
  • Screen with frames
  • 150 watt light bulb
  • Hanging light bulb socket
  • Photo-emulsion kit
  • Lukewarm water
  • Duct tape or masking tape (optional)
  • Transparency paper
  • Hanger
  • Iron
  • Piece of white paper
  • Ironing board (optional)
  • Watering can (optional)

Pre-Screening Prep

  • Create a design-the simpler, the better. Try to come up with something with big lines and a small amount of detail. Your design should ideally be around 9 inches wide and 15 inches tall.

  • Pick an area to be your workstation. A small or medium-sized table will work well.

  • Gather your tools. The list of supplies you need will vary greatly depending on the method of screen-printing you choose to follow (see Ingredients above).

Making the Print

  • Copy your design onto transparency paper. You can purchase this yourself or go to your local copy or supply store and ask them to make you a copy on the darkest piece of transparency possible. Check your transparency copy carefully-this is what your print will look like on the T-shirt.

  • Build a screen so that you can screen-print your design. Art stores will have premade screens, or you can purchase a frame and some silk screen (based on the size of your design) and make the screen yourself. The cheaper option is to create the screen from scratch, as art stores will sell the items cheaper a la carte.

  • Stretch your screen across the frame and secure it using staples or nails. This step is only necessary if you chose to make the screen yourself. If you bought a premade screen, skip to the next step. Don't try to keep your screen in place with tape-it will not be tight enough. The method you use to secure the screen is up to you, but make sure it is as tight as possible.

  • Transfer your design onto the screen. This is the trickiest and costliest part of making screen-printed T-shirts, as you will probably need to buy a photo-emulsion kit from an art supply or craft store. (If you would rather not use photo-emulsion, try using a screen filler and drawing fluid. See Resources below.) Follow the directions in the photo-emulsion kit to burn your image on to the screen. You will have to use the heat from a hanging socket holding a light bulb of at least 150 watts to transfer your design from the transparency to the screen.

  • Wash the image out of the screen. This sounds counterintuitive, but you are only washing away the parts you don't need. The chemicals creating the design have been scorched into the screen. Use lukewarm water with low pressure: If you have a sprayer at your kitchen sink, this works well, otherwise a watering will work.

  • Place a piece of hard cardboard inside your T-shirt and arrange the screen on top of the shirt. Make sure to smooth everything out and work on a hard surface. Pour black or colored ink onto your screen on top of your T-shirt. Only pour ink on the screen! Using a wiper or squeegee (homemade or store bought), pull the ink from top to bottom over the screen, then from bottom to top. Lift the screen and you should see your image transferred on to your T-shirt.

  • Check to make sure the image has transferred, then hang the screen-printed T-shirt to dry. Allow the ink to fully dry. When dry, lay the T-shirt on an ironing board, place a clean piece of white paper over the screen print and iron for 4 to 5 minutes. This should set the ink in place on the T-shirt.

Tips & Warnings

  • There are many methods for screen printing T-shirts. If you have the budget to spend more money, many websites will screen print shirts for you. Or, you can invest in more high-tech equipment. For example, instead of a homemade screen, retailers sell screens specifically for this craft.
  • Black ink is much cheaper when creating screen-printed T-shirts. Also, buying T-shirts in bulk will get you a per-shirt price of under $2. Check thrift stores for deals, too.
  • Don't pour too much ink over your screen. Ink bleeds into the fabric of a T-shirt, especially if it's cotton.

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