CRAFT 101: Silk-Screening

Craft & Design

101 Silkscreen Opening

101 Silkscreenheader

Print your designs on anything you can hang, wear, or tote. A special 101 from CRAFT vol 1: CRAFT 01 (subscription information).

Silk-screening is a great way to personalize 
your gear. It’s a very basic process that has unlimited outcomes. One of the easiest ways to get a design on almost any surface is to use the photo emulsion process. Once you’ve made the screen, it’s ready to print time and time again. Follow along as I walk my colleague Sara Huston through the process of transferring our design to 
a screen, and printing it on a laptop bag.

Work up an idea for your design. On your first attempt, try a one-color design, keep it simple, and have some fun with it. Once you get it figured out, make your design digital. Sara and I created ours in Illustrator, but you can also scan a drawing. If you are really hands-on, you can draw straight onto transparency paper using India ink. You need a solid black positive to burn into the screen. I print on transparencies, using a black and white laser printer. This gives me an easy way to accurately, cheaply, and quickly create a positive.


» diazo photo emulsion made by

» 8″x10″ silk screen

» 8″x10″ piece of glass

» squeegee

» task lights (2)

» 150-watt bulbs (2)

» transparency paper for black and white copier/laser printer

» silk-screen inks (createx and speedball have worked well for me)

» lid to ikea bin for stretching shirt over, or other hard flat surface you can slip into a shirt


» fan (i use a small vornado)

» diazo photo emulsion remover (if you want to clean your screen and start over)


101 Silkscreen Design

More: Go to for more designs to print.


101 Silkscreen Start

Step 1: Prep the Screen
Mix the photo emulsion as per the directions.

Coat the screen with photo emulsion, working fairly quickly over a sink or surface you can get messy. 
It’s OK to have indoor lights on during this process, but keep out of direct sunlight. The emulsion needs to be applied evenly, so keep flipping the screen over and squeegeeing until the emulsion is even on both sides. Any globs will cause uneven exposing and will mess up your end result. The thicker the emulsion is applied, the longer the screen will have 
to be exposed.

The screen needs to be completely dry in order to expose it, and should be dried in a pitch-black room. I dry my screen by resting the wood frame on a couple of shoe boxes in the closet, so that the screen is parallel to and above the floor. This allows the air to flow above and below the screen to help it dry faster. Make sure that only the frame touches the boxes, so as not to mess up the nicely applied emulsion. You can place a fan (I use Vornado because they are compact) next to the screen. Drying it this way takes 30 minutes to an hour, depending on humidity.

Step 2: Expose the Screen
101 Silkscreen Step2

Now that it is dry, place the screen on your workspace with the bottom facing down. Put your transparency on the screen in the center and as squarely as you can, then place a piece of glass on top. This holds your transparency down so that it makes direct and even contact with the screen. If it doesn’t make direct contact, then your design will appear fuzzy around the edges.

The light source needs to be placed about 12 inches from the screen to get good results, and it needs to shine evenly across your design. I use two $10 task lights. These are great because they allow me to easily adjust my light source, and by having two, one on either side of the screen, we can make sure the entire design gets an even, direct supply of light. Follow the directions that came with the emulsion for exposing your screen. It varies with the bulb and screen size. I’ll burn our screen for about 30 minutes. You can tell when the screen is done by looking: the exposed areas turn dark green when they are baked solid by the light.

Tip: For a super-dense positive, make two transparencies with your design on them. Line them up and attach them together with double-sided tape.

Step 3: Wash and Dry Screen
101 Silkscreen Step3

Now that the screen is exposed, wash it off in the sink with hot water. It takes some force to wash the screen effectively. I’ve attached a special nozzle to my faucet that creates higher pressure. (I got a nozzle at Bed Bath & Beyond for $5. Just screw it on and it’ll toggle between high and low. Works great for dishes too; I leave it on all the time.)

Along with spraying, you can gently rub the screen with your fingers. Don’t use your fingernails. If you force the emulsion off, you run the risk of tearing 
off the hardened emulsion, putting you back to 
step 1. You want only the unexposed area to wash off. Under hot water, the emulsion will become slightly gummy. Drying the screen isn’t such a big deal this time around, now that it isn’t sensitive to light. Prop it up against the fan, or place it where it can get some air. Silk dries quickly.

Step 4: Print It
101 Silkscreen Step4

Now that the screen is exposed, washed, and dried, print it and see how it works. Try it out on paper first.

Lay the screen down flat, making sure that your surface is even and flat.

With a spoon, put a glob of paint on the screen and spread it the width of your design. Don’t get any on the design itself, just the area above it.

Now the fun part. Hold the screen down firmly 
with one hand (or have a buddy help hold it). Use a squeegee to pull the ink down to the bottom of the screen. Apply a small amount of pressure to the squeegee as you pull the ink. You will be able to see 
the paint evenly distributed across the screen.

Lift the screen and look at your beautiful print! Be very careful when you lift off the screen. Try to peel it slowly and directly up, so you don’t smudge the fresh ink. It may want to stick to the paper.

It’s as easy as that! Lay the screen down on another piece of paper and do a few more prints for fun.

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28 thoughts on “CRAFT 101: Silk-Screening

  1. brianbikes says:

    Can you print on transparency paper for inkjet printers? Where do you find this paper, at Staples and Office Max it goes for 40$! thanks a ton

  2. TheEliMonster says:

    You can also print on regular paper (use a copy machine or have it printed at Staples or Office Max-don’t use an inkjet, the ink will smear). Just take a sponge and rub veggie oil on it till it becomes transparent and then blot with some blank newsprint or those brown recycled paper towels. That’s what we did in school and they turned out beautifully.

  3. bz says:

    you dont want to wash your exposed screen with hot water. you need to use cold in order to stop the emulsion process. if you use hot, you could expose parts of your graphic that shouldnt be exposed.

  4. Enyoc says:

    Actually, the bigger risk of using hot water, in my experience is that parts you don’t want to wash off end up rubbing loose, even if burned in properly. But, it makes sense that it could help set the emulsion too, due to the heat. I think the combination of high water pressure and heat just rips it off, though.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Brianbikes – You could also print out your design on regular paper and then take it to kinkos and have them print it out on transparency there. That way you can purchase a sheet or two instead of a whole pack. :)

  6. Ayla says:

    the screen should not rest upon the paper. the ink is pulled across the design thereby filling the mesh… then…lower very very near the paper and squeegee the design onto the paper…depositing a screens thickness of ink and feeling the screen lifting away as the squeegee passes

  7. Harry says:

    We just received a silk screen where they put two images on the same screen to save cost. Unfortunately, they put them too close together.
    Is there a way to mask off one screen while I do the other? Then swap?
    Please provide as much detail as you can. We need these T-shirts for a YMCA meeting tomorrow and we’re freaking out.

  8. CRAFT 101: Silk-Screening Becky Stern says:

    @Harry you can mask one design off with blue painter’s tape and acetate, just be careful avoid squeegeeing ink near it as much as possible. Good luck!

  9. Anonymous says:

    you can have various screenprinting techniques that are less messy and simpler than this. all waterbased and all equipment can be made by D.I.Y.
    just ask me via e-mail: timothyboy at iprimus dot com dot au.
    i do workshops in screenprinting and have been editioning prints for artists, galleries and corporations.
    my workshops are in my studio in perth, western australia.
    have fun everyone,

  10. crissy_b says:

    definately dont use hot water when cleaning screens or washing off ink. if you use water based inks, or inks that air-dry, the hot water can set them into the screen and the pigments can block off the image. when you are washing out the screen, it may ruin the screen like Enyoc said…
    if you dont have a large enough sink to wash your screen out in, you can use a bath tub and a soft scrub brush. i use a very fine fingernail brush. it was less than a dollar and works fantastic!
    you can print your images onto the transparency paper for inkjet printers, but the black ink your printer uses has a red tint to it. it takes more copies this way, and your screen may not wash out clearly if the image isn’t dark enough. using a copy machine or lazer printer will give your images a darker, more solid result. toner is much better.
    you can also use tracing or onion paper to burn your screens. it takes about two sheets, but you can save money (not that copies are are that expensive) by drawing the image twice yourself. you can also buy a toner aid from any art supply store (about $15) and spray that on the paper to make it more transparent. if your using a sharpie first, make sure you treat the paper first.
    you can use hairspray in a bind, unfragranced is better!
    and like james said, it can all be done d.i.y.
    ive found that for the price of purchasing one screen already made, i can make seven of my own, same dimensions and mesh, for the same price… sometimes less! its fun and easy to do, and you can get the perfect sizes for your projects :)

  11. trent says:

    Hey i totally agree with you bz i say cold water with a little pressure and a little scrubbing makes for the best results. just by the way i love that astronaut design

  12. trent says:

    hey bz totally agree. cold water with some finger scrubbing works best for me. and that astronaut design is fantastic

  13. tanmoy chatterjee says:

    how to make pvc transfer sticker by lacquering a coat before printing in pvc sheet

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