How To Screen Print T-Shirts

How To Screen Print T-Shirts

Not long ago, T-shirts were thought of as merely undergarments. That time is long past as printed T-shirts have become an art form and a very popular form of casual dress. You, too, can screen print your own T-shirts - if you are serious enough to shell out about $2000 for the materials and press. The folks at Detroit Sprinkles will show you how to do it.

Step 1: You will need:

  • T-shirt
  • Original artwork
  • Photo transparency stock
  • Silk screens
  • Frame
  • Emulsion fluid
  • Emulsion scoop coater
  • Photographic-safe light
  • Glass cover
  • Halogen light
  • Spray bottle
  • Shirt press
  • Acrylic fabric paint (plastisol)

Step 2: Print The Design

Artwork should be scanned into a digital file, and processed through PhotoShop. From there, the design can be printed on a transparency using an inkjet printer. Set the saturation levels high, or use a "film" or "transfer" setting if available. Make sure it's a good print. It takes practice. Once you've got a good print, set it aside.

Step 3: Apply The Emulsion

This part of the process should be done in a dark room, or in photograph-safe light. Emulsion fluid is used to coat both sides of the silk screen. Though they're still called silk screens, these screens are actually made of nylon or polyester these days. They should be inserted into a frame, and held taught. Coat both sides of the screen with emulsion fluid, using the scoop coater. Make sure it's even, and let it dry 30 to 40 minutes.

Step 4: Create The Stencil

The stencil is a pattern with cutouts through which ink or paint can pass, creating a design. To create it, place the print on top of the emulsion-covered screen. Cover with a thin piece of glass. The glass should be big enough to cover your entire design. If you use a halogen light (often provided in a basic screen printing kit) 12 minutes should be enough to burn the design into a stencil. Sunlight or a simple bright light will also work, but those methods take longer. Next, fill a spray bottle with tap water. Spray your stencil thoroughly, on both sides, to wash out residue and sharpen the image. Now let the stencil dry for about 15 to 20 minutes in front of a fan.

Step 5: Print The Shirt

You'll need a shirt press and an acrylic-based fabric paint called plastisol for this step. Place your screen/stencil in the press, leaving a little space between the screen/stencil and the platform. That space is where the shirt goes. Lower the screen on top of the shirt. Next, add dollops of paint at the top of the screen, then spread them using a squeegee held at a 45 degree angle. Lift the screen. Finally, use a heater (usually provided in a basic screen printing kit) to cure the design for about :25 seconds. Now, the shirt is ready to be worn.