A Beginner's Guide to DIY Silk Screen Printing

DIY silk screen printing is a simple printing process that you can use to create graphics on t-shirts and other types of non-textile materials. Also known as serigraphy, it starts off with a stencil made out of cloth, nylon or wire mesh to create a design. This method is also known as serigraphy that starts off by creating a screen from a fabric like nylon. Here are a few beginner's tips that will get you started and on your way to enjoying screen printing.

Silk Screen Printing Supplies
Before you begin, pick up the necessary silk screen supplies that you'll need. You'll find most of the supplies readily available in silk-screen kits at crafts stores, or you can buy them separately.

  • Water-resistant masking tape, one inch wide
  • Silk screen ink squeegees
  • Silk screen ink
  • Nylon or other fine mesh material
  • A frame large enough to cover a t-shirt
  • Laundry detergent
  • Scissors
  • Cellophane tape
  • Paper cups
  • Paper towels
  • 9x12 piece of glass, plexiglas, or lucite
  • Rubber gloves
  • Apron
  • Old newspapers
  • Sheet of cardboard

Preparing the Workspace
You'll need a large, flat surface for printing, such as a workbench or a large kitchen table. To create your design, you'll need a well-lit space with a flat table or desk. Have plenty of newspapers handy during the printing phase of this project to keep the ink from staining your work surface.

Creating a Print
The first step is to choose a design for your project. Start simple, with basic shapes that are easy to cut out. In silk screen printing, the ink will flow through a pattern, much the same as a stencil. For your first few projects, sturdy paper or oak tag can be used for the templates. Screen printing ink isn't that wet, so sturdy paper will stand up to a few prints. Cut out your design, remembering that ink will flow through the open spaces to create the image.

Next you'll need a screen printing frame. These can be bought at craft stores, or you can make your own out of pieces of wood (2x3" stock is ideal). Create a frame large enough to fit over a T-shirt, at least 8 1/2 x 11". Stretch nylon or another porous, fine-mesh cloth over the screen and staple it taut on all edges.

Put a piece of cardboard inside the shirt you'll print and lay it flat on your work surface. Next, put the screen printing frame on top of it, with the fabric side against the shirt. Place your design template on the back of the frame, then cover it with a piece of plastic or glass that has a hole cut in it to expose the template. Make sure that the outer edges of the template are completely covered by the glass or plastic so that ink doesn't run around the edge. Alternately, you can tape the design to the screen with overlapping masking tape, but you'll need to be careful not to splatter any ink while you're printing.

Drop a glob of ink on top of the template and spread it through the screen with a squeegee. Use even pressure and a back and forth motion to spread the ink evenly. Let the frame sit for a moment, then remove it from the t-shirt. You should have an even print of your design on the shirt.

Let the shirt dry overnight to set the ink, then remove the cardboard insert and wash the shirt before wearing.

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