Screen printing is an easy way to create custom logos and designs that look fun and professional. Whether you’re starting your own t shirt business or just making them for fun, you actually can screen print your own shirts at home.
Though the process may seem intimidating, it’s a totally doable DIY project. Once you have a few initial tools to get started, all you need are some designs and t shirts to get printing.
Today we’ll break down the t shirt screen printing process into simple steps so you can finally customize your shirts or open that online store you’ve been contemplating.
Silk screen (can be purchased at an art or craft store or online)
Bright light bulb
Squeegee or Durometer (like this one)
Screen printing ink
If you don’t want to buy all the pieces separately, or just want to start out printing on a smaller scale, there are also screen printing kits like this one that are available at almost any craft store.
Create your design and use your computer printer to print it on a transparent sheet. You can also have this done at your local printer or copy center. Transparent sheets can be purchased at an office supply store, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of printing with a bunch of different designs, it’s recommended that you purchase them online at a bulk discounted rate.
Prepare your screen and photo emulsion. Follow mixing directions for emulsion liquid. Pour a line of emulsion at the edge of the screen and, using your squeegee, distribute a thin, even layer of liquid to completely cover the screen. Repeat on the other side so both sides of screen are evenly covered.
Note: photo emulsion is light sensitive, so you want to work fairly quickly or in an environment that does not include direct light.
Set your screen in a completely dark room with a fan on it to speed drying. Allow to dry, approximately 3 to 4 hours.
Once your screen is dry, it’s time to transfer your image. Once again, your screen is light sensitive, so you want to work fairly quickly.
Lay your transparencies on the back of the screen. Make sure your transparencies are facing the correct way, your image should be backwards. Use scotch tape to hold your image in place. You can also place a piece of glass over the image to hold it tight against the screen if you’d like.
Place a bright lamp over your screen and let set for 30-45 minutes. You’ll know if your image has transferred because it will appear lighter than the exposed, hardened area of the screen.
Once your transfer is done, clean your screen using running water. You’ll see that your image appears lighter than the rest of the screen. Wash away all the emulsion from the image area using a soft toothbrush or sponge. Don’t scrub too hard here; you don’t want to disturb your printing area.
If there are any mistakes or parts you don’t want printed, use painters tape to cover those areas before printing.
Next, lay your shirt out flat on a hard surface. If necessary, you can slip a thin piece of cardboard between the layers of your shirt if you don’t want to chance the ink sinking through to the back.
Place the screen on your shirt with the image facing the right way (not backwards).
Spread a thick line of screen printing ink at the top of your design. Hold the screen firmly in place and, using the squeegee, drag the ink down in an even layer across your print. This may take a couple passes. Your ink layer should be thin and even.
You can scrape any excess ink off your squeegee and back into the jar for future use.
Heat set the ink to your shirt either by putting it in the dryer for a few minutes or placing a paper towel over your design and running an iron over it for a couple passes.
And that’s it! Your shirt is done and ready to wear or sell.
Screens can be reused by cleaning them with some photo emulsion remover and rinsing with water.
You can also see this whole process broken down in a helpful, step-by-step video here.
Screen printing t shirts is a really simple operation. Once you have the tools, the only problem is deciding what designs you’ll print next. There are also lots of online tutorials that will show you how to build your own printing press so you can streamline your process and expand into quicker multiple color or design printing.
Do you have questions or tips about screen printing? Share them in the Wunderlabel comments section!