Picture of $20 Portable Silkscreen Kit
No more excuses!  For $20 you can make a dozen screens, each with the ability to ink many times.

This instructable seeks to significantly reduce the cost of silkscreening small numbers of shirts.  For years I'd wanted to try it, but I couldn't justify the cost.  Even the $100 screenprint "systems" seemed too expensive;  what if I didn't like it? what if the quality was crap?

As far as DIY methods I found, nothing quite scratched my itch.  Because I didn't know if this is something I would even like, I didn't want to have big picture frames or emulsion chemicals lying around.  I wanted something I could neatly stow away and play with when I felt like it.

This is the instructable I wish I had found many years ago.  The goal here is that you can walk into a fabric/craft store, spend about $20, and walk out with everything you need to make some decent-quality prints.

This procedure is basically a mashup of two other Instructables.   The fabric-hoop idea I got from here, and the adhesive vinyl idea I got from here.  I added a few tweaks, and the rest is history.
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Step 1: Required Materials

Picture of Required Materials
Here's what you will need:

Printout - An image of what you want to silkscreen, mirrored from how you want it on the shirt.
Adhesive Vinyl - You can probably get this cheaper online, but I wanted to use something that I could buy locally.  I used this stuff, designed for the Cricut vinyl cutter. (~$10)
X-Acto Knife - If you have a vinyl cutter, by all means use it.  I don't have one however, so I used an x-acto knife (~$2.50) to cut my pattern into the vinyl.
Sheer Fabric - I used an old window-curtain, but you can buy this stuff at any fabric store for $5 a yard.  You're looking for a mesh that's open enough to allow the ink to go through, but tight enough for the vinyl to adhere. (I think this would work)
8" Fabric Hoop - This will  hold the fabric taut.  I got mine for $1.29
Scissors - For cutting the fabric and vinyl roll.  you don't need anything fancy.  I'm not adding this to the cost because if you don't have scissors, you should probably buy a pair to have anyway.
Masking Tape - Used for transferring the vinyl to the fabric, and for masking-off unused areas of screen. (~$2)
Pencil & Pen - These are for transferring our image to the vinyl.
Silkscreen Ink -This is probably the biggest variable in the kit.  I was able to spend $4 on a 2oz bottle of ink.  Depending on the selection at your craft store, you may need to spend more on a larger amount. 
Scrap piece of cardboard - Used during the inking process as both a backing and a squeegee.

And that's it.  Cheap!  Some of this stuff you may already have.  The rest you should be able to source locally.  I'll be inking one item for this Instructable, but there is enough stuff here to make many more screens without needing to buy anything else.

Step 2: Transfer Pattern to the Vinyl

Picture of Transfer Pattern to the Vinyl
If you have a vinyl cutter, getting your image into the vinyl is a simple matter.  For the rest of us however, it's a bit of work.

The first thing to be done is to get your image transferred on to the vinyl.  For this I used a technique I learned in elementary school.  It's a carbon transfer of sorts:

1.  Use the pencil and draw fat lines behind your image.
2. Tape the paper to the vinyl, lead side down
3. With firm pressure, use the pen to trace your image.  The pressure will push through the paper and transfer pencil to the vinyl wherever you draw.

NOTE:  It's important to transfer the ENTIRE image.  Writing this Instructable I realized that I forgot to copy the elements from robot's chest!

Step 3: Remove Areas to be Inked

Picture of Remove Areas to be Inked
With our design transferred to the vinyl, we can now remove the sections where we want ink to flow through.  Use your x-acto knife to cut along the lines.  You only need to cut through the vinyl, not all the way though the backing.

Depending on the complexity of your design, this can be a tricky process.  The wheels and hands of the robot gave me particular grief.  Little bits kept pulling off, but I was able to stick them back in place after I had removed the unwanted vinyl.

Step 4: Prepare Fabric Screen

Picture of Prepare Fabric Screen
With our vinyl stencil ready to go, now we need a place to put it.  

1. Put the fabric into the hoop and trim with scissors.  Leave an inch or two of excess sticking out of the ring.
2. Adjust the ring tension so that it is snug, but not totally locked down.
3. Tug on the excess fabric wherever necessary to smooth out the fabric in the ring.  Use your index fingers to stabilize the inner ring so it doesn't pull out.
4. Tighten down the hoop, and the fabric is ready.

Step 5: Transfer Vinyl to Fabric

Picture of Transfer Vinyl to Fabric
We'll be doing stuff on both sides of the fabric during this step, so just so we're clear:
when I say "the squeegee side" of the fabric, I'm talking about the side inside the ring (the one pictured in the previous step.)  When I say "the shirt side" of the fabric, I'm talking about the other side.  This is the side of the fabric that can be pressed onto the shirt without the ring getting into the way.  
Got it?  good.  Let's get the vinyl onto the screen.

1. After cutting your vinyl pattern off of the roll, cover it in masking tape.  This will keep the floating sections of vinyl in place during transfer.
2.Peel the adhesive backing off of of the vinyl, and LIGHTLY apply it to the shirt side of the fabric. The goal of this step is just to evenly apply the stencil, not to get good adhesion.  That's what the next step is for.
3. Flip the ring so that the vinyl is on a hard surface.  From the squeegee side, force the fabric into the vinyl.  I used mainly the edge of my thumbnail with a lot of force.  Pay extra attention to the small pieces of vinyl.  We need them to want to stay on this fabric!
4. Back on the shirt side, slowly peel off the masking tape.  If the vinyl starts to pull up in spots, try pulling the tape at a different angle or from a different direction.  you can also get in there with the x-acto knife to keep the vinyl from sticking to the tape.
5. Just in case any vinyl was disturbed during tape removal, repeat #3 to get that vinyl nice and stuck to the fabric.
6. Lastly, use masking tape (on the shirt side) to cover up any remaining sections of fabric that you don't want ink going through.

Step 6: Ink

Picture of Ink
And now the moment we've been waiting for!

1. Put a piece of cardboard inside the shirt behind the area to be inked
2. Apply the screen, and put some ink in it.
3. Use a small piece of cardboard as a squeegee, getting ink through all the openings.  Use your other hand to keep the stencil from moving during this process.
4. Using a hand on either side, slowly lift the stencil off the shirt.

Step 7: Cleanup

Picture of Cleanup
If rinsed under running water, the stencil may be used again at a later date.  Apply the water mainly on the squeegee size, rubbing with your hand.  Rubbing on the shirt side might disturb the stencil, so use only water on that side.

Step 8: And That's It!

Picture of And That's It!
So there you go. This kit is compact, it's cheap, and it produces good prints!  It also includes enough raw material that you can make tons of mistakes without fear of running out.

Go for it! If you left for the store now, in a few hours you could be looking at a freshly-inked shirt.  That YOU made.
mikegoring1 month ago

A good way to chop your cutting time down is to use the vinyl cutter the vinyl was made for. I'm not suggesting you run out and buy a cutting machine (200$+), I'm suggesting you check your town/city for resources. Some schools with an art program have them for use by students, and a lot of larger libraries have them now. I know the one in Kitchener, where i live, has one anyone can use.

CamPaq3 months ago

How many t-shirts does 1 set make

Tzologeist10 months ago

Thanks for posting this. I think this is exactly the small and cheap way I need to go to try out a project I have been meaning to do.

Ascedumonky10 months ago

thx bro u just solved a very big problem to me and i'll try it asap w8 4 results :D

salazam1 year ago
Awesome instructable!
apettway2 years ago
Loved the way you explained this. I can't wait to give this a try!
razorwinged2 years ago
hi! i just wanted to let you know that because i like this instructable so much, i have added it to my silkscreen guide...

thanks for sharing your ideas!
dchall82 years ago
If you search more of the silk screen -ibles, you'll save a few more bucks on paint. Acrylic wall paint from the hardware store works great and can be mixed to match any color. Once it dries it is as permanent as the Speedball inks.
br3ttb (author)  dchall82 years ago
I'll have to look again. for some reason I remember those acrylics being mixed with another chemical to make them work well. with this instructable I was trying to simultaneously reduce the cost and complexity of screening to the point where I would want to try it. while more expensive, I felt that ready-made inks' simplicity more than made up for the cost difference.

I may have mis-read though. do you have an instructable you could point me to?
dchall8 br3ttb2 years ago
At the risk of over thinking this...You can mix textile medium a la these Instructables

I remember reading somewhere that the fabric medium was glycerine.  Glycerine has been used in ink since ink was invented.  It makes ink flow and prolongs the drying time.  It does the same in acrylic paint. 

Here are a few which suggest acrylic paint.

I believe these are suggesting the use of artist acrylic paints from a hobby store.  I'm suggesting it is much less expensive to get a quart of interior house paint from a hardware store.  If you get white, you can mix the primary colors from the hobby store acrylics as you need it. 

If you have ever painted a room and accidentally splattered latex (acrylic) paint on clothing, it NEVER comes out.  If you get a big glob, it might crack later.  If you get it on your clothes and try to wipe it off, it does not crack.  That would tell me that if you don't go too thick with the paint from a screen print, it should not crack. 
jcksparr0w2 years ago
Oh My Flippin Gosh. THANK YOU FOR AN AMAZING SOLUTION TO AN EXPENSIVE KIT! great job. Jo-anns, here i come!
timm.tanner2 years ago
I have had the same problem with silk-screening. I've just felt that the entry cost was too high for something I may do once or twice and that I'm not sure I'll like. This is fantastic!
Nick705872 years ago
This is fantastic. You have solved the problem I always have with the floating sections of my stencils. It never ever occured to me to transfer it like that. Thank you for your ible.

br3ttb (author)  Nick705872 years ago
Glad I could get that information to you. I'd feel guilty if you thought I'd invented the concept of transfer tape though. it's even on the instructions that came with my vinyl!
heathbar642 years ago
Great job! even though you kept it simple, even crude, the print came out nice and sharp. I've been meaning to try silk screening for a long time, maybe I'll actually do it now.
br3ttb (author)  heathbar642 years ago
I attribute the sharpness to putting the vinyl on the shirt side of the fabric. this was a key deviation from vinyl instructable I referenced.
Browncoat2 years ago
I had just gotten the idea of using a hoop for this & gotten one. Beat me to the punch on the 'ible. Good job!
useraaaaa2 years ago
you forgot 35hours of time which you spend cutting vinyl with X-Acto Knife
(main reason why i stay away from all these screen printing guides...)
br3ttb (author)  useraaaaa2 years ago
haha nowhere did I say that this method was quick! but it really isn't that bad.

the time it takes really depends on the complexity of the design and your skill with the knife. I'm not awesome or anything, and this robot design took about 2 hours. well inside the "few hours" I mentioned.
Awesome! I've been wanting to make some of my embroidery designs into silkscreens - this seems nice and easy. :)