Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Simple Screen Printing DIY

Today I am really excited to have Amanda from Dragonflight Dreams with a simple screen printing tutorial.  I cannot wait to try this out - thanks Amanda!

Hi everyone! I'm Amanda from Dragonflight Dreams.  This is the method that I personally use to make all of the items in my shop. It is not, by any means, the only method, but it is very good for beginners and costs less than investing in a big press. 

That said it does still cost a bit of money to get started, and is a fairly big time investment. But it's also loads of fun and you can wear your projects after!

What You'll Need:

Step 1: Create the screen (or buy a pre-made one)

You can buy a new, ready-made screen from your local art supply store for every design you want to do, or you can make your own screen. I like to make my own, as it tends to be more economical in the long run if you're doing lots of designs - you just need one hoop, and can swap out as many screens as you desire. 

For this, I just use a basic plastic embroidery hoop in whatever size I need for the design, and stretch some gauzy white material through it until it's taut like a drum. I got both the hoops and my screen fabric at JoAnn's. 

You can also buy rolls of actual screenprinting fabric (like this), but I didn't know that when I first started. I line the inside edge (where the hoop meets the screen) with blue painters tape, so that my filler paint and fabric inks don't get the hoop itself all messy.

Step 2: Create the design

I draw my design by hand, or if I made it on the computer, I print it out. Then I trace it onto the screen lightly in pencil with the screen laying flat on the paper.

Step 3: Fill the screen

Fill out the screen - in other words, block out all the negative space that won't be printed, leaving only the design unpainted

I use latex paint for this, since it's pretty durable (won't wash off in water when you wash off the fabric ink) and also cheaper than the commercial screen filler. 

I just went to Home Depot and grabbed a small can of the mis-tinted paint, which is hugely discounted. This is by far the step that takes the most amount of time, particularly if it's a design with lots of small details. I also usually do two coats, and check the screen by holding it up to the light to make sure there are no tiny holes I've missed. Let the screen dry overnight before doing any printing with it.

Step 4: Print!

Once I've got the screen done, I decide which piece of clothing I'm going to print on, mix up the color ink I want with my Speedball fabric inks, and print. 

The screen goes face-down on the area of the clothing I want to print, and I use a layer of cardboard inside the piece of clothing so that if the ink leaks through it doesn't spread to the back of the shirt or whatnot. 

I also just use a sponge brush to apply the ink, pressing very firmly. If you have a small enough squeegee to fit into your hoop size, that is also a good method. But either way you need to make sure your pressure is mostly downwards, not sideways, so the ink gets pressed through the screen and not just moved around on top. Once ink is applied, I lift the screen off the fabric, and immediately wash it and the brush (Speedball fabric inks are water-soluble... until they dry. If the ink is left to dry in the screen, it becomes unusable again). 

I get my inks from a local art supply store (Jerry's Artarama), and my blank clothing from different places - ShirtSupplier.com, Target, my closet, etc. If needed, you can touch up areas of the print with a small paintbrush. If you are going to do multiple colors/layers of prints on the same shirt (like this), do all of one color at once, and let that dry (both the ink on the shirt, and the screen you washed out) before doing the next layer/color. Don't proceed to Step 5 until all printing on your shirt is done.

Step 5: Heat-set the ink

This might be the most important step. Once the design is on the shirt and looking great, and the ink has dried, I grab my trusty iron and a spare piece of cotton fabric for an interface, and iron BOTH sides of the design on medium-high heat. 

So, once with the shirt right side out, and once with the shirt inside out. Each side gets this treatment for 3-5 minutes. This binds the ink to the fabric, and makes it so it won't come out when you wash it (remember how they're water-soluble? Not so, after this step). It's important to use a cloth interface when ironing on the ink, because otherwise you will end up with a sticky mess of melted ink on your iron.

Step 6: Sport new duds proudly

The new piece of clothing with a custom design is ready to be worn!



  1. Very clear directions! Thank you, I know I'll use this!

  2. I have itsy bitsy print design and I don't know how to transfer it into the cloth perfectly, HELP!

  3. Thank you for the tutorial. Awesome!!! I can't wait to try it.

  4. Thank you for sharing with us,I too always learn something new from your post.we provide.Uniforms That Glow Luminous Printing's Signature Touch.T Shirt Printing Singapore


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