SCREEN PRINTING 101
Updated: Mar 12
This is an article “Screen Printing 101” by Marc Primo Warren
Have you ever seen a unique shirt design that you think is rare and very much handmade? One of the most enduring fashion trends around is the ever-comfortable T-shirt, and if you have a catchy statement in mind like “I’m with stupid” or “When Life Gives You Lemonade, Add Vodka”, it can also be one of the best canvases to let everyone know what’s really on your mind. Statement shirts can be easily done through the magic of screen printing, and it doesn’t even have to cost much to make DIY shirts in your garage.
Even if you don’t know the first thing about screen printing, a simple step-by-step guide like this can easily let you in on what you should and shouldn’t do when making your own shirts. From choosing a visual design on paper and transferring its colors onto cloth, we’ve got you covered.
Where should you start
First of all, find a suitable location wherein you can freely work around with paint and simulate darkness. Like mentioned above, the garage is one of the best places at home to create DIY shirts.
Next, gather the materials you’ll need for the screen printing process which, for basics, will usually consist of a screen with the right mesh (around 160-180 is perfect for a simple three-color print), a dual-cure, photo-polymer stencil that corresponds to your screen size, a squeegee, your choice of silkscreen paint, and a shirt board.
How to screen print
For your first try, you may want to take a light-colored shirt on which you’ll apply a three-color print. The order by which you’re going to apply the colors should be either from lightest to darkest, or smallest print area to largest. This is so you can displace paint off your stencil properly and without covering your initial paint prints with the wrong layer of paint.
Align your screen on the shirt board by using a printed outline of your design and adjust your off-contact distance. This means that you must position your screen in a way that it slightly sits on the shirt board by shimming a thin piece of cardboard underneath the frame’s edges by about ⅙ inch off the shirt, allowing you to thinly stroke paint on it using a squeegee.
If you choose to use Plastisol ink, make sure you stir it thoroughly first because you wouldn’t want the ink to have a thicker consistency than it should. Use thinner as necessary to gain the proper viscosity, which should be creamy like peanut butter.
Lastly, use a triple durometer squeegee that can give you just the right amount of control to make a print. The sharper its edges, the better, because it will neatly sheer off the paint with every stroke.
Screen printing techniques
When handling a squeegee, you can either do the more common two-handed top grip or the side grip. Arguably, more experienced printers prefer the latter because stroking via the top grip method can give you wrist injuries or even Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. But side grips require skill so try to learn how you can maneuver your squeegee in a way that the strain is not at the center of your wrists.
Another big question most newbie screen printers usually ask is if strokes should be on a push or pull manner. Pulling the squeegee from top to bottom of the screen may be the most preferred method, but doing the opposite is really much easier because you use more body weight rather than just your arm muscles. However, pushing may only work best for thinner inks, although it gets more of the job done once you master the technique.
Now that you’ve got a good idea on how the basics of screen printing work, try it out on a plain white tee as a starting project and see what adjustments you have to improve on. Soon, you’ll be producing your own rare and vintage shirts in no time and, if you want, earn from them as well!
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