Ever wanted to design your own cool t-shirt, or maybe wanted to put your awesome doodle on a bunch of different stuff like birthday cards, jackets or your backpack? Today we’ll show you how you can do all of that with super simple screen printing! Let’s go!

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For this screentastic build, we’ll need:

  • A wooden frame (from scratch, or from a photo frame)
  • Sheer fabric or screen printing fabric (or buy a screen and frame pre-made from the art store)
  • Fabric or regular screen printing ink
  • A strong rubber squeegee (it will get messy!)
  • Removable paint on screen filler (or permanent mod podge)
  • a cool design you want to put on stuff
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • and finally, some stuff to put your design on!

So, what’s all the fuss about anyways? Screen printing (or serigraphy) is all about getting your design onto something in ink or paint, using a piece of fabric stretched tight across a frame. It’s used for all sorts of things, from posters to t-shirts to remote controls and circuit boards! The drawing is first transferred to the fabric using an kind of glue that dries and blocks up the tiny holes in the fabric only where your design isn’t, allowing the ink to seep through the holes only where it’s needed, reproducing your design wherever you want, again and again!

If you don’t have a pre-made screen, it’s time to make one! First think about what you’ll be printing on: If it’s a shirt you’ll need a bigger screen than if you’ll be printing on postcards. You can make your frame freestyle from wood like me, or you can use an old picture frame. To correctly mount your fabric, tack one corner down, pull tight on the opposite corner and tack that down. Then staple along this side and repeat around the edge, constantly pulling and tightening. Hammering in your staples and the end will help make it extra tight. The tighter it is, the easier it will be to work with. Once your fabric is nice and tight, seal up the corners, edges and bottom with waterproof tape, and you should be ready for the next step!

Now to pick out what you want to print. Small text and thin lines are hard to get right, so make your design simple and bold. If it’s for a t-shirt you’ll want people to see it, so go big! But remember this has to fit inside your screen. Cut your design out of a piece of paper and lay it over the bottom of the screen, flipped around so that it’s mirrored. Once your design is in place and how you want it, carefully paint around all the edges with screen filler, using your design as a negative stencil! Just be sure you don’t stick the paper to the screen!

mini e06 screen printing4 Sylvia's Maker Show: Super simple screenprinting

Do note: Specialized screen fillers have solvents you can use to remove the design from the screen if you want to do something else on it, but if you’re using mod podge for filler, it’s not going to come off, so make sure it’s exactly how you want it. Let this dry for a bit, do a spot check for holes by looking through the screen at a light (add a second coat if need be), if everything checks out, you should be ready!

This will get messy, so make sure and put down some paper. Take your item to be printed and secure it flat against your workspace. If it’s a shirt, make sure it’s wrinkle free and that you have some paper or cardboard between the front and back of the shirt in case it bleeds through. Now carefully place the screen on your item, making sure to put it right where you want your image to go.

When you’re ready, put a big line of ink along the top or side of the screen. Using your squeegee, gently drag some ink across the screen to “flood” it, then bring the squeegee back to the start and drag it firmly across in one smooth stroke to push the ink through evenly. This is kinda tricky and will take some practice, but when you get it, you’ll be so proud! Practice, practice, practice!

Make sure you have a good place to set your ink covered squeegee and wet freshly printed item, as you’ll need to move on to your next item quickly as it’s super important to keep the screen wet with ink during the whole process. If you let the ink dry on the screen it will act just like screen filler and your design will be ruined! So print up everything you need quickly, and wash out your screen as soon as you’re done.

There’s lots more you can do, like high quality graphics using light sensitive emulsions (Like my buddy Bre did), two or more colors using registration matched screens, or even pop up secret ninja faces inside your shirt!

That’s it for today’s show. Remember to express yourself, don’t be afraid to try new things, and get out there and make something!

becky stern headshot Sylvia's Maker Show: Super simple screenprinting

Becky Stern

Becky Stern is director of wearable electronics at Adafruit Industries. Her personal site: sternlab.org


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