Here's a basic materials list. Most of this stuff can be substituted with other stuff that you might already have, I'll go into more detail later, so if you don't have something that's listed don't get discouraged.
- Embroidery hoop OR staple gun and empty picture frame
- Fabric for the screen
- Latex paint
- Fabric paint
- Squeegee (Doesn't need to be an actual squeegee)
- Substrate (That's whatever your printing on, like a t-shirt)
You can use almost anything for the fabric, as long as it is shear, but I did some experiments and found that stretchy fabric is far superior, because it doesn't get saggy when you get it wet. I started out using nylons, and they totally work, but they're prone to tearing, so you have to be careful when you staple them to the frame. You also want to use the thickest ones, because the thin ones tend to wrinkle up when you run your squeegee across and that can ruin your print. Also, the holes on the thick ones are easier to fill, which saves a lot of time going back and refilling after your screen dries. If you don't have the nylons already it's not worth buying them, because the good ones cost about 5 bucks a pair, and for that price you could go get a yard or more of something better. So to recap, the main properties your looking for in the fabric are stretchiness, shear enough to see through, holes still fairly small when stretched tight and it doesn't tear too easily.
|I got this stuff at the thrift store. It cost me 2 bucks for about 3 yards.|
So If you're using embroidery hoops, just stick your fabric in there and get it tight. Otherwise make sure to staple your fabric starting in the middle of one side, then stretching it to the middle of the other side, and work your way to the edges so it comes out fairly even, then do the other sides the same way. I start with a bigger piece of fabric than I need and trim it down afterward. Make it tight enough to bounce a penny on.
|A finished frame|
Next your going to need to get your design ready. You can print something off your computer, or make a drawing and trace it, make sure it will fit on the frame you made. Also, we're only working with one color here, so keep that in mind when your getting your design together. Sometimes it helps to shade in the parts you want the ink to go to, especially if your design is complex.
|The shaded parts are the positive space, where the ink will go.|
|Ready to paint|
|Still a few spots to be filled|
|No stray holes.|
The next day before you use it on a shirt you might want to test the screen on some newspaper with some cheap poster paint or something to make sure you like the way it prints and to get some experience with how much paint to add.
When you're printing on a shirt, it's important to put a sheet of cardboard or something inside of it to keep the ink from bleeding through onto the back of the shirt. Also it gives you something flat to work on, and you can stretch the shirt out a little bit to smooth out the wrinkles.
|Nice and smooth|
Get your fabric paint and squeegee ready. The paint I'm using is Speedball screenprinting ink. I really like the consistency. I used tulip dimensional fabric pain before and it works too, if you happen to have some on hand, but it tends to be a lot more stiff and it cracks easier than fabric paint which is made for screen printing, and isn't much cheaper. I have heard about using regular acrylic paint with fabric medium, but haven't tried it. I have a feeling by the time you get the acrylic and the fabric medium, you're probably approaching the cost of one of these $5 tubs of screenprinting ink, but it could be worth it if you already have the acrylics, because then you'll have more than one color.
Regarding squeegees, you could use pretty much anything that's stiff with a straight edge. Mine is half the cover of a small notebook. It's made of cardboard with a plasticy coating. I have also used an old credit card when I was doing a really small one and that worked great. If you want to go fancy you can probably get a whole selection of those plastic spackling knives for drywall, for the price of one of the professional screenprinting squeegees.
Get some paint on the screen.
|All the paint in this picture is what was stuck to the seal on my brand new tub. It goes pretty far.|
When it's all filled in, gently lift your screen off the substrate, being careful not to smudge the design.
Your finished product can then be left to dry. Most fabric paints must be heat set before you can wash them, so make sure you read the label on whatever paint you're using. Usually a quick ironing is enough to do the trick.
Don't forget to rinse the screen out when you're done. Do it immediately before the paint has time to dry in the screen. If you're doing a lot of prints in a row you might want to look into buying some retardant to keep the paint from drying out too fast.
|If the paint dries out the screen is done for, so don't wait too long.|