Introduction: Build Your Own T-shirt Printing Press
Have a great idea for a t-shirt? Interested in customizing clothing or making your own prints? Here's how to make a press for making shirts similar to rubber stamping.
Any mention of this project or our high roller 1d20 shirt design must provide a link to www.betaart.com with credit to Kevin Dean and a link to www.zieak.com with credit to Ryan McFarland.
There are many other options for making shirts with great tutorials on this site about how to silk screen or make stencils. This stamping method has the benefit of being able to make more than one (a limitation of some stencil techniques). Also this style allows the use of multiple colors without waiting for a color to dry. You can have free-floating content (like the inside of an "O") which is difficult with some stencil techniques - and if you're just doing lettering the letters can be reused for another shirt design or another project entirely.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
Table or flat surface you can bolt into
LCD desk mount arm
Scrap wood or counter top
Double stick foam tape
Scrap booking letters
Silk screening ink or specialized paint
Drill and bits
Square, level, tape measure
Wood, acrylic, aluminum or cardboard to put inside the shirt
Cloth to print on
Step 2: Prepare the Table
This would best be done with a table that you don't really want to use for anything other than crafts or projects. You'll want to mount the LCD arm as low and far back as possible (most should have a variety of settings). You see that we put our arm on the corner so that the press can reach near or far depending on the thickness of the media pressed on the thickness of the object.
The LCD mount is great to use because it articulates but retains the orientation of the head so you can move the arm toward and away from the shirt while keeping the press parallel. You also can swivel the head to add ink or paint.
We bolted clear through the arm so that it is sturdy but if you wanted to be able to remove it you could use a threaded rod with a lag head with a wing nut so all you would have is the threaded rod emerging from the tabletop. Or you could mount the arm on a wall above a table or workbench.
Step 3: Build the Platform
The LCD arm will probably not press all the way to the desktop so you may need to make a platform to raise the working area. If you have ever put in a counter for a bathroom or kitchen you might have a nice piece of laminate kicking around that will work well. Scrap wood will work well too - you just need to lift the shirt (and the piece of cardboard, acrylic, aluminum, or whatever you put in the shirt to keep the ink from bleeding through to the back) enough to make full contact with the press.
Step 4: Make Your Design
If you just want to have text then one of the simplest ways is to use wooden letters instead of making your own. Since Michaels was a kind contributor to a prior contest we recommend their wooden letter sets. On the other hand, if you want to make a design or image then there is a lot more work (unless of course, you own a laser cutter) to cut out a design. We decided to try an image of a 20 sided die along with the text "High Roller" (Copyright Kevin Dean and Ryan McFarland!) We experimented with materials that we had around the workshop. Red cedar smells good when the Dremel is put to it but the wood soaked up the paint. Laminate counter top was tough to shape and showed the blotting pattern because it was too smooth. Finally we tried using some foam from a set of alphabet foam letters that are used for a child's play mat. This was easy to cut with a hobby knife and took the paint well. It also was forgiving when pressed against the cloth.
Step 5: Ink and Press
Use double stick foam pads to place your letters onto a board which is screwed to the LCD arm mount. We found that putting the letters on pieces for the foam allowed us to remove the entire word to position it or so you can ink different colors. You should be able to remove a cowling from the last hinge on the arm (closest to the print) and loosen a screw or nut to allow that hinge to move more freely. Now you can easily flip the press into position for inking and then rotate it back to parallel the shirt.
Use rags or old shirts for a few tries before putting your favorite shirt under the press. You'll get a feel for how hard to press, how much paint or ink to use, and how to apply the paint to the press. We tried using paper towels and brushes to dip into the paint and then apply to the "stamp" but we found that a sponge cut into smaller pieces worked very well - both for application and to mop up excess paint that may collect in the negative areas of the stamp.
Photography and image touch-up by Kevin Dean. Shirt concept and design by Ryan McFarland. Shirt press concept and construction by both of us. What better way to spend the holidays than with family making stuff that makes stuff?