Introduction: Build Your Own T-shirt Printing Press

Picture of 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 with credit to Kevin Dean and a link to 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

Picture of 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
Hobby knife
Sharpie marker
Square, level, tape measure
Wood, acrylic, aluminum or cardboard to put inside the shirt
Cloth to print on

Step 2: Prepare the Table

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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?


northcuttronnie (author)2016-03-31

Wow, that's pretty impressive. The other option though is just to use a design tool like this one from BlueCotton:

Street-Wise Irish (author)2015-12-05

Can you please tell me where to get the LCD desk mount arm

AkeveD (author)2014-08-24

Hello zieak,

Here I have seen your ideas for making own T-shirt printing press and that is amazing, I like it. Here given tips I will definitely use for T-shirt printing time.

White lynx (author)2013-12-22

does the print remain after a wash

zieak (author)White lynx2013-12-22

Using enamel paint - it sure does!

stereosmiles (author)2013-01-16

I like this idea a lot - I made my own screen print to do a one-colour design, but apart from the satisfaction of building it, it was probably not worth it overall, whereas THIS makes it an absolute doddle, or doozy as them Yanks say. You have cheered me up, and for that, the t-shirt buying fans of my band salute you :)

callmeshane (author)2008-01-05

I just had a thort... a very productive thort..... In Straya, they have what is called the $2 shop - or the Reject shop... and they sell them rolls of camping mattress - made of the same foam.... usually about 1.8 meters by 0.6 meters... it's crap to sleep on.. but that's another story... There is a type of printing press that has a "rolling flat bed" and it goes under a rotating drum... The diameter of the drum and the surface speed of it, is linked on a 1:1 basis with the bed.... They are a manually operated device.... well the one I am thinking of is.... Thinking of a WWII soviet vintage kind of thing.... Anyway... stick foam on drum, paint, run T shirt through, recoat, run another shirt back through the other way....... etc. Or run roller across T shirt...????

Please explain what a "thort" is

fretted (author)awesomecreations2013-01-13

"Thort" = Short Thought ? lol

aristide202 (author)callmeshane2012-09-06

Would you please tell us where Straya is, somewhere in eastern Europe , is it ?

jeffconnelly (author)aristide2022012-10-27

It's a term for Australia, because of the distinctive accent.

Fire Brick (author)callmeshane2011-12-20

perhaps you are thinking of a mimeograph machine...

zieak (author)callmeshane2008-01-05

Nice idea - i may just have to give that a try. I was thinking of trying the camping mattress foam but all i have kicking around are the Therm-a-rest style.

aristide202 (author)2012-09-06


Unmortal (author)2010-12-19

its a nice idee maybe this wil be my new building idea ^_^
gone print my own dragons on t-shirt maybe =)
thx for this posted instructabal its brings idea's

INVADER SCOOGE (author)2008-09-15

What are some silk screening inks?

zieak (author)INVADER SCOOGE2008-09-17

Speedball is a very common one.

INVADER SCOOGE (author)zieak2008-09-17

Thanks and cool shirt. Is there any cheap foam easily available, and durable a 13 year could buy?

Burn (author)INVADER SCOOGE2010-07-06

Foamboard should work. If not then you can buy huge pink sheets of foam at home depot/lowes/ace/any hardware construction store.

static (author)INVADER SCOOGE2009-03-19

Googling eva foam that Eric mentioned, it turns out the foam exercise mats walmart, and others sell are made from that material. Garage and yard sale season is nearly here, so you should find something affordable. Use your local free cucle, craigslist or other free venues to find some.

static (author)INVADER SCOOGE2009-03-19

A young lady created an instructable about, how she made an instructables robot doll. I doubt if the instructables management thought there was a copyright issue, they wouldn't have made her instructable available. I'm not an attorney, but I believe the problems would start, if you started making money from printing copyrighted material.

zieak (author)INVADER SCOOGE2008-09-19

Check your local thrift stores. I find this stuff at my local Salvation Army often.

DarienJ (author)2009-01-05

where do you get silk screening ink?

cbray2010 (author)DarienJ2009-10-12

zieak (author)DarienJ2009-01-05

Look in your yellow pages under "art supplies." That's the best place to start.

beckybr00talx (author)2009-04-03

if i wanted to build this without the lcd arm what else could i use and how would i attach it/them?

GorillazMiko (author)2008-01-02

Cool idea, I would do the Instructables Robot but that's copyright or whatever.. great job!

1up (author)GorillazMiko2008-01-03

You can still do it, just be sure to put a copyright symbol somewhere.

NuclearDog (author)1up2008-10-16

Uh, no you can't. Not legally anyways. The whole point behind copyright is that you can't copy something without the creator's permission. You're effectively saying "It's okay to copy that movie, just put a copyright symbol on it." or "It's okay to photocopy that painting, just put a copyright symbol on it." And it doesn't matter if you don't plan on selling it, that only comes into play when determining damages or fair use, and this is likely not fair use. With that in mind, if you got permission from Instructables, you could print yourself the shirt legally. Or, if it's just for yourself, go ahead and do it anyways. I doubt anyone will notice or care.

Lance Mt. (author)NuclearDog2009-02-20

Yes. I understand that it is illegal but people won't care... Buuut What about the hundreds of thousands of instructable robot "instructables" Showing not only what you have done but how to do it So clearly if they don't care about them, go ahead, just show the finished product PLEASE

I've always been of the opinion that the morality of the action should take precedence over its legality, and in this case I can't see that there would be anything wrong with it. You are promoting the site, after all--creating a net gain on their part, theoretically. True, it would be better for the site if you paid for one of their shirts, but since the whole philosophy of the site is doing things yourself to save money and they promote creative commons licenses, I think it's morally acceptable

mg0930mg (author)NuclearDog2008-11-25

THey can, as long as they don't sell it for monetary gain...

Lance Mt. (author)2009-02-20

Love it! But instead of a LCD screen holder i'll use this meathod.!/

But instead of gluing on to the wood i'll just glue onto a piece that i can slot in.

ewilhelm (author)2008-01-05

Nice tip on using EVA foam as a stamp.

GorillazMiko (author)ewilhelm2008-06-01

Is this how you guys make your shirts?

zieak (author)GorillazMiko2008-09-17

No way - their shirts are made far better than this. This is a step below stenciling. I like some really primitive technologies though.

zieak (author)ewilhelm2008-01-11

I knew that stuff had a better name.

zstarski (author)2008-05-19

Great instructable. Really helped me out. Thanks.

rasta_bhoy (author)2008-03-06

nice. but i tried something similar to this on illustration board and it works like a charm. plus you get both the positives and negatives of the image.

SuperCoPilot (author)2008-02-10

i think the white on blue looks good kinda distresed you know? though i got to be careful when cutting last time i did it i ended up bleeding all over my school

zieak (author)SuperCoPilot2008-02-11

I just did one that is all white on a dark blue. It required a lot more paint but i really like the faded look that it has. You're right - it looks pre-distressed.

cubemonkey (author)2008-02-07

I'm am all about this instructable, I was looking for an easier way to print my own shirts, thank you so much!!!!!!

harrelphillips (author)2008-01-18

What is an LCD desk mount arm and where do I find one?

zieak (author)harrelphillips2008-01-21

It literally is an arm that mounts to a desk that you can attach an LCD monitor to. That frees up space on the desk and the monitor can be positioned to better accommodate the user (height and distance from face). I bought mine at a thrift store not knowing what i would use it for. I looked on eBay for some and they are relatively cheap there. You certainly don't need this piece. We experimented with door hinges at first. We wanted to be able to open it and reapply the paint without moving the shirt or to change colors without waiting for it to dry. You could do the same thing by attaching your different design elements to pieces of plywood that you press down on the shirt.

darkmuskrat (author)2008-01-10

You have gave man the power to make Chuck Norris t-shirts from home... With great power comes great responsibility :P

DOaks (author)2008-01-07

Very cool- My wife and I run a screen print shop and I've been doing it for a long time(and I still don't know what I'm doing half the time) I really like seeing 'alternative' processes This is pretty similar to pad printing- the method used for printing pens, lighters, etc

gannon (author)2008-01-06

Thanks for the plans--I'm going to try this next weekend.

Spl1nt3rC3ll (author)2008-01-04

My aunt and uncle own a custom t-shirt printing business. I should show them this. I have seen them use theirs (they have two, one small (1 shirt), one large(8 shirts)). They are machines though. They look really fascinating, complicated, and cool in use. I think they use multi-layer stencils.

zieak (author)Spl1nt3rC3ll2008-01-05

...and another thought... we were able to do the two colors within just a few minutes of each other because the stamp only touched the shirt where contact was desired. No waiting for one color to dry! I should add that perk to the description.

zieak (author)Spl1nt3rC3ll2008-01-05

I'm sure their shop is a pretty slick operation - this was really a down and dirty job. Not as nice of a product as silk screening but will work pretty well in a pinch!

About This Instructable




Bio: I like making things out of items that would have otherwise been discarded. Check out my other projects!
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