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I recently got a Silhouette paper/vinyl cutter machine. I've had a lot of fun with it, but I've really wanted to try using it to make a t-shirt. I'm also concerned with the clean up and how the adhesive vinyl will hold up to being cleaned. Since it was the holiday season and an election year, I figured I'd make a nice holiday design t-shirt as a gift for a confrontational friend.

Here's the deal- I'm a Christian atheist. I like the message of Christ, I just can't get behind the spiritual side of Christianity. Jesus was a socialist, a pacifist and bad ass. Was he the son of God or just a carpenter with some good ideas? Who cares? Taking care of the less fortunate, avoiding violence and having the strength to stand up for your ideals is enough of a reason to celebrate his life and philosophy. Forget the supernatural promises of Heaven or Hell- Jesus showed us how to make life right here on Earth better for everyone. Unfortunately, too many of his followers are too preoccupied with the dessert cart to actually enjoy the main course.

Everyone has the right to believe whatever they want, as long as those beliefs don't manifest in violence or oppression. God gave us free will for a reason. Trying to legislate victimless moral issues is, in essence, second guessing his plan. Live your life, walk your walk and let your neighbor do the same. If you absolutely must vote, vote for leaders who bring us together, not ones who tear us apart.

Anyway, here's a t-shirt.

Step 1: The Design and Cutting the Vinyl

I prepared the image in Photoshop, but any graphics program will work. I transferred the image to the Silhouette's software. I traced the image and set the cutting parameters. I initially used a piece of black vinyl, but I made a mistake while weeding, so I had to cut a second piece in white.

Step 2: Weeding and Mounting the Vinyl

Weeding the vinyl is simple- I used a palette knife to remove all the unwanted parts of the image. Be careful here as smaller pieces can be pulled up if you are not careful. When all the unwanted vinyl has been removed it's time to add the transfer paper. Transfer paper is a sticky top sheet that holds the pieces of the Vinyl image in place while we stick it to the substrate, in this case the printing screen. I use clear shelf paper. It's sticky enough to hold the vinyl when I remove the backing, but not as sticky as the vinyl itself. This means that when the vinyl is smoothed down the transfer paper can be removed, leaving the cut vinyl image behind. The transfer paper needs to be perfectly smooth, so I used a gift card to sooth it out as I install it.

Step 3: Making the Screen

To transfer the vinyl to the screen I simply taped one edge of the transfer paper/vinyl/backing paper sandwich to the screen along one edge. I folded it over so the transfer paper faces down and started peeling the backing paper.I folded it back over so that the newly exposed sticky vinyl come in contact with the screen. I gently peeled the backing paper while smoothing the vinyl down with the gift card. Smaller pieces of vinyl may stay on the transfer paper. These can be gently removed with the palette knife and placed by hand.

When the vinyl was all stuck down on the screen I used masking tape to block off around the image. This will prevent the ink from marring the shirt. I taped all the exposed screen around the edges until the only place the ink can flow is through the exposed screen of the image.

Step 4: Printing the Shirt

OK this step is really high tech.

Screen printing is basically a stencil technique. While a stencil needs to be a solid piece where every image element is connected, the screen's mesh allows us to have smaller, unattached pieces and more detail. In order to transfer the image to the work piece, we need a flat surface, ink and a squeegee to push the ink through the screen. For a basic one color image any flat surface that you can stretch a t-shirt over will work. I used the flat surface of a small folding table. I aligned the shirt and then placed the prepared screen over it. I used spring clamps to hold the screen firmly in place. I mixed a bit of acrylic paint with textile medium and spread it on one side of the screen. In this case I used two colors of ink to create a fade effect. I held the squeegee firmly against the screen at a 45 degree angle and pulled it towards myself, forcing the ink through the screen and onto the shirt. I removed the screen and let the shirt dry.

Step 5: Drying and Setting

When the ink was dry on the shirt I used an iron on the cotton setting to iron the front of the shirt to set the ink. I placed a piece of paper between the iron and the inked shirt and ironed it for about 60 seconds. Now it can be washed and the ink will not wash off.

Step 6: Cleaning the Screen

Now the moment of truth- cleaning the screen. Professional screen printers use plastisol inks that will remain liquid until they are exposed to heat and UV light. The acrylic paint and textile medium mixture will dry in the air, so it's important to work quickly and keep the screen surface wet. After printing my shirt I took the screen into the bathroom and used the shower to rinse out the excess ink. The vinyl held up to the water and agitation very well. After thoroughly cleaning the screen I checked the edges of the vinyl with a magnifying glass and there was no evidence of peeling or loss of adhesion. These screens can be reused, which is very useful.

Step 7: Season's Greetings From Maker X!

So there you have it- a cool DIY t-shirt.

No matter whether you're celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid, Tet, Kwanzaa or Festivus, have an enjoyable holiday. Spend some time with your loved ones, pig out and pass out in front of the TV. It doesn't matter why we're celebrating- it's enough that we all see fit to celebrate at the same time.

Now pass me some eggnog and some of those fruit cake cookies, please!

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Bio: I make things constantly. I'm also a professional in the maker community. Sometimes I have ideas for projects that could potentially offend the tender ... More »
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