Silk screen printing is a popular printing technique used to create stunning designs on t-shirts, posters, and other materials. The process involves using a stencil and a mesh screen to transfer the image onto the item that you want to screen print. If you are a DIY enthusiast or an artist, this technique might be perfect for you to try at home. The best part is that it does not require much expensive equipment to start enjoying the art of screen printing as a hobby. In this blog post, we will guide you on how to DIY silk screen printing at home.
What You’ll Need
To silk screen at home, you’ll need some basic supplies:
Mesh screen (120 to 230 mesh count)
Fabric or paper to print on
You can find most of these items at any craft store or online.
How to make a screen printing frame
To begin, I recommend that you procure a screen printing frame but you can also DIY your own. This frame is composed of wood or metal, and boasts a layer of "silk mesh" which is actually constructed from polyester. While I recommend purchasing a pre-made screen and frame, it is indeed possible to make your own by securing "110" polyester mesh to a square wooden frame using staples. You can easily obtain 110 polyester mesh online or your nearby craft or art supply store.
To create your very own screen printing frame, securely attach 2x2's together to form a sturdy and level frame. While perfection isn't necessary, ensure it is solid and flat. Use this opportunity to avoid using warped wood.
Next, tightly secure the "silk" to it using a staple gun.
To affix the silk, simply employ a standard staple gun. Ensure ample tension, but exercise caution to prevent the silk from tearing through the staples. Additionally, folding the silk underneath diminishes the likelihood of rips.
Pro tip: Ensure that your staples are firmly pressed in to ensure a flat screen when flipping it over. If the staples aren't properly pushed in, the screen may wobble.
After securing your screen with staples, proceed to carefully trim the edges for a polished finish.
Apply painter's tape to both the outside and inside of the silk to prevent paint from dripping through. Painter's tape is the ideal choice for this task. Unfortunately, I was out of painters tape one time and had to resort to using duct tape as an alternative, which is not optimal.
Select and Print an Image
Decide on an image you want to print. To start, something like a basic flower would be perfect. For your first screen printing subject try something that's just a silhouette and that does not require multiple colours. More ideas would be things like a sun, smiley face or simple lettering is perfect too.
Print your desired shape or letters onto a standard piece of paper. Alternatively, if you're working with more intricate images, consider using transparency paper. Once printed, meticulously cut out the image using an Exacto knife.
Pro Tip: When working with intricate images, consider investing in transparency paper available online or at a retailer like Staples. Ensure that the printed image is opaque to effectively block any light transmission.
If you're uncertain about the darkness level, hold your image up to the light. If light passes through, it means it's not sufficiently dark. You can try either printing an additional copy and placing it on top of the original, or using a black marker to color the paper.
Prepare Your Screen
Preparing and burning your screen is a 4 step process:
Prepare your screen, grab a squeegee, and mix the photo emulsion as per the instructions on the package. (Photoulsion is supplied in two parts: a bottle of emulsion and another of activator.)
In a dimly lit room/ as dark as possible, carefully apply a bead of emulsion along the top of your screen.
Using your squeegee, gently pull the emulsion down across the entire screen on both sides, aiming for a thin coat. Ensure an even application but be swift in your movements. Begin with one side, then progress to the other, immediately moving the screen to a dark area for prompt drying.
If you're in a well-lit area, work swiftly to prevent the emulsion from curing. Once you've covered the screen, promptly transfer it to a dark room for drying.
ATTENTION:To ensure optimal drying of your screen, it is crucial to have a completely dark room. Something like using a windowless closet, where you might want to hang a towel on the door to prevent any light from seeping through the cracks.
Lay the frame flat in a pitch-black room for drying, ensuring a horizontal position. The drying time will vary (1-3 hours) depending on the thickness of your emulsion layer.
Expose Your Screen
After allowing the screen to dry, you can proceed with transferring your desired image for screen printing. Many tutorials suggest the use of a lightbox at this stage, but it's not a necessary step.
If you're new to this, the simplest way to expose the screen is by utilizing a 150 watt lightbulb. It could be a regular incandescent bulb with such wattage or an equivalent 20 watt LED bulb.
To achieve optimal results, refer to the instructions provided on your photo emulsion jar. These guidelines will indicate the appropriate exposure time based on the dimensions of your screen, as well as the recommended distance between your light source and the screen.
You can repurposed something like a photography light to serve as the light source. Its reflector helps focus the light precisely onto the frame, preventing unnecessary spillage to the sides.
If a reflector is unavailable, you have two options. You can either ingeniously fashion one using a tin pie plate like a true MacGyver, or compensate for the lack of a reflector by extending the exposure time.
To create a suitable surface to expose your screen, opt for something matte black. An old chalkboard or a piece of black cardboard or bristol board would serve the purpose well.
Position a light source, such as a 150-watt incandescent lightbulb or a 20-watt LED bulb, above the black matte surface. Bristol board is a great option for this purpose.
Safely carry your prepared screen to the designated light area, ensuring that it remains covered with a towel until you're ready to expose it.
Carefully place the prepared screen on the black matte background, with the non-recessed part facing upwards.
Take your cut-out or transferred image and position it on the screen, making sure it's in reverse orientation.
Pro Tip: Take the image and hold it in your hand, positioning it exactly as you'd like to see it on your tee shirt. Then, flip it over and carefully position it on the screen.
Next, place a clean piece of glass over the image to securely hold it against the screen.
Don't forget to turn on the light and expose it for the necessary amount of time.
Take a moment to observe your image—notice how it appears white, a result of flipping it over so that the dark portion now touches the screen.
Considering the size of your screen, your exposure may look something like 35 minutes of exposure using a 150 watt lightbulb positioned 18 inches away. Keep in mind that all setup may differ, but if your screen and image are not too massive, this exposure time and distance should be effective.
Set your timer and refrain from disturbing your image. Simply leave it be and distract yourself.
Once the time is up, remove the glass and paper cutout (or transparency, if applicable). You'll immediately notice a faint image.
At this point, the emulsion surrounding your image should be fully hardened, except for the area covered by your image, which remains uncured and can be washed away.
Final step! Clean your screen using a high-pressure tap like your shower head or outdoor garden hose. Gently spray lukewarm water on the screen, with a focus on the image area. Remember, not too hot, not too cold. As you keep spraying, you'll observe the image gradually revealing itself as the emulsion washes away. Congratulations! You have successfully created your first silkscreen. Your talent is remarkable. Treat yourself to a cookie as a reward.
The Best Part, Printing the Design onto Fabric
To print the design onto fabric, lay the fabric flat and carefully place the silk screen fabric on top. Then, use a squeegee to press the ink onto the fabric. Move the squeegee across the fabric in even, consistent strokes to ensure the print is even and clean.
Allow the ink to dry, then remove the silk screen fabric and admire your work!
Creating custom designs at home is easy and fun with silk screen printing. With just a few simple supplies, you can create beautiful, intricate designs on to almost any fabric. Follow this guide to learn the basics of silk screen printing and get started on your own unique designs.