Sometimes you need to your message out quickly and cheaply. How do you print a ton of t-shirts and patches fast? Here's how I did it.

This Instructable covers the standard photo-emulsion screen printing process, which is great for printing text or images with fine detail...and at the end, you have your own personally-designed entirely unique prints on fabric, clothing, paper, or whatever else you can get under your screen.

The general idea: After stretching fine-mesh cloth over a wooden frame, you spread a thin layer of photosensitive emulsion on the screen and let it dry. You then take a black image on transparent or translucent surface, place it against the screen, and then expose the screen to light. The light causes the emulsion to harden and bind to the fabric. Where the light strikes the screen, the emulsion will bind, making a solid layer. Where the light is blocked (ie where your black image is placed) the emulsion remains water-soluble. After exposing the screen, you spray down the screen with water, washing off the emulsion only where your image was placed; this clear area is where ink will be pressed through the screen when you print. Finally, you lay the screen on your t-shirt, other fabric, or paper, spread ink on the inside of the screen, and press the ink through the screen. If you use textile ink, you can heat-set the ink after it dries, and it'll be permanent and washable.

There are some great Instructables up on the site already for screen printing methods, but there's always room for more. For this project, I went with a ready-made screen and images printed in black on transparencies.

Check out Screen Printing: Cheap, Dirty, and At Home for info on making your own screens and using the sun to expose your photo-emulsion.

Threadbanger has an excellent D.I.Y Screen Printing Instructable which covers making screens using old embroidery hoops and using Mod Podge to put your image on the screen.

How to Silk Screen has a good overview of the photo-emulsion process.

Step 1: Gather your materials!

What you need:
@ a screen
While I used a ready-made Speedball frame for this project, making your own screens is cheaper, and not hard to do. Take a look here and here for great tips on making screens.
@ a printing squeegee or piece of cardboard with a smooth, straight edge

@ photo emulsion and sensitizer
I used Speedball diazo photo emulsion and diazo sensitizer; the exposure times I list later in this Instructable are for this formula. If you use another type of photo emulsion, be sure to read the directions and test to make sure you have the correct exposure times.
@ screen filler fluid (again, I'm using the standard Speedball stuff)
@ photo emulsion remover (for taking the emulsion off the screen so it can be reused)
@ screen printing ink for fabric

@ a light table
@ light bulb (at least 150W, clear incandescent), light bulb socket with reflector, clamp, and cord

Miscellaneous useful things:
@ pushpins (at least 4 per screen)
@ chopsticks, popsicle sticks, plastic spoons -- for mixing and putting emulsion & ink on the screen
@ small paint-safe cups
@ masking tape (water-resistant tape is best)
@ regular transparent tape
@ lots of newspapers (to keep everything else clean!)
@ a book or piece of thick cardboard that's slightly smaller than your screen
@ sheet of cardboard that fits inside your t-shirts (if you're printing shirts)
Every video I have seen on YouTube says it takes 10 minutes or less with an ordinary 60 watt bulb.
<p>I screen print and make screens for other people regularly. I recommend a 500W Halogen lamp, centered at 12&quot; above the screen. The exposure time is 5 minutes For a 16&quot; x 20&quot; screen (may vary with a larger screen)... <br><br>Make sure to cover teh screen and transparency with a sheet of tempered glass while exposing. This will keep the design flat and also deflect a lot of the lamp;s heat. This method works perfect for me every time and I get exceptionally crisp lines.</p><p>*side-note: very important that your transparency is printed with heavy black to block out the UV while exposing the emulsion and ensure that the screen washes out easily</p>
Hi Kevin! <br><br>I have a 400w halogen bulb, I am exposing a1 size screens. How far away should I have the light and how much time should I expose it for? Thanks in advance<br><br>Voltron
<p>This helped a lot, Thank you, can't seem to get the speedball emulsion right, i have a 500 watt bulb, gonna try this tomorrow</p>
<p>hey kevin! just a newbie at this printing business. i would like to know how long should i dry an emulsion before i put my design. w/o any heater or any fan.. just a dark room. thanks! =) need to know more about this. i've been struggling in this step. i waited for 8hrs to dry the emulsion, and put a design on it for 10-15mins. iv'e rinsed it for almost 30mins. yet some part of my design didn't come out.</p>
<p>It's likely that your either your emulsion is bad or the screens were somehow exposed already before you tried to burn your image onto them. Also consider that different emulsions have different specifications. I use water-based inks for my prints, so I only use Ryonet WBP Dual Cure Water Based Plastisol Hybrid Emulsion (<a href="http://www.screenprinting.com/cci-waterbase-and-plastisol-hybrid-emulsion-pint?s=1&gclid=CMrb3vfY3M0CFQUmhgodyuwIyg">http://www.screenprinting.com/cci-waterbase-and-pl...</a>). </p><p>I usually dry it in a dark room with a small fan blowing away from the screens. I creates a gentle airflow but won't blow debris/ link onto the screens as they dry. Ryonet WBP Emulsion has a dry time of 3 hours after you apply it to the screen. I usually use 16&quot; x 20&quot; screens, so I expose them with a 500-Watt Halogen Work Light, mounted (centered) 12 inches above the screen surface. </p><p>I use foam under the screen and place a heavy piece of glass on top of the transparency below the light source (recommend: tempered glass). The exposure time is about 5 minutes. The emulsion package comes with instructions for exposure times for situations with different screen sizes and bulb wattage.</p><p>Make sure when you keep the screen AWAY FROM UV LIGHT UNTIL AFTER you wash it out. If use a high pressure spray nozzle (like you'd use to wash a car), that has different settings so I can adjust the strength of the water flow.</p><p>I hope this helps!</p>
<p>It shouldn't take a lot of scrubbing your screen to get it clean. Just make sure that you put the emulsion remover on when the screen is dry, let it set for 2 mins. then spray with water, the emulsion will come off easily like magic. If you have spread your emulsion thick and there are dried drips on the screen, you may have to do these steps a couple of times, but you still shouldn't need to scrub. Take care of your screens and they can be used for years.</p>
<p>Scrub your screen with comet ajax ete. Gives it some tooth. Rinse degrease with the best degreaser on the planet. Original DAWN dishwahing liquid. Dry apply photo resist</p>
<p>hi there I just want to double check how thick is your glass?</p>
<p>Does not really matter. I used regular window glass.</p>
<p>Trying to remove my image off the screen to use another design, is that possible or do I need to buy a new screen?</p>
<p>Use clorox bleach.</p>
<p>Once the screen has been developed aka exposed to light it is locked in and a new sheet must be used for each new design</p>
<p>Excellent 'ible with clear images and write up! I wonder about the spectral response of the sensitized Diazo - most photosensitive materials respond preferentially to certain wavelengths (colors) of light. If you can find out which, you could possibly build two illuminators - one of a color that will not affect the film while setting up, and another of a different color for the exposure. These could be built from readily available LED strips. Another advantage would be that LEDs generate a minimum of heat. You could possibly use a control circuit that can switch between LED colors using tri-color LEDs. BTW, you can trust this suggestion though I am &gt; 25 years old (about 3X) :)</p>
<p>where did you get your lamp from ?</p>
<p>You can use a construction style lamp with a metal shade that can be bought at any local home improvement store</p>
<p>Hi. Can you help me on &quot;Photo Emulsion for small images or letters&quot;, I find it quite complicated to print tiny image and letters. Please I really need to learn how to do it and I beleive that you can help me on it. Thank you so much! God bless. :)</p>
<p>Hello people, I'm new to silkscreen printing and I'm trying my first time out. i got the screen and i coat it with photo emulsion, printed my negative and then i expose it under the sun. however, after 40 mins, it doesn't seem to work. I'm not too sure where went wrong. these are the questions bothering me: <br>i) did i coat it correctly, is the coat too thin? <br>ii) i didn't place a piece of glass over the screen when doing exposure, is that why it didn't work? <br>iii) is the piece of glass over the screen necessary when exposing and can it replace with clear acrylic? <br>iv) what kind of light bulb should i use if I'm creating my own homemade light box for exposure? <br>v) what is Sensitizer? is it required for light exposure or just the photo emulsion is fine?<br><br>i hope to get help from pros like you guys.<br>Thanks so much...</p>
<p>Answers in order of how you asked:<br>I) It should be translucent to opaque in its coating...the more prints to be run, the more opaque. <br>II) The glass is only recommended for when exposing in order to burn the image to the screen in order to keep it as flat as possible. Clear tape can be just as effective depending on your set-up. <br>III ) No, as mentioned, the clear glass is not necessary.<br>IV) Depending on your lightbox set-up, for a small lamp/light-source (about 12 inches from the screen) a 150-watt incandescent bult or a BBA-1 bulb are the recommended. I personally use a small lamp with a 150 watt bulb. <br>V) Sensitizer is what is added to the photo emulsion to make it light sensitive to burn the image to the screen. And yes, it is required to make the emulsion light-sensitive so that the emulsion only under what was blocked washes out. Be forewarned though, once the sensitized emulsion is coated onto a screen, avoid allowing it to be in any light until you are ready to burn the image (which should be done under the exposure instructions.)</p>
<p>When I used cardboard in between the shirt front and back, I got ink smudged on the inside of the shirt. I have a tip: Since I am doing more than one T-shirt, I am using a glass cutting board sprayed with Elmers spray adhesive (to hold the shirt in place, since I am printing alone) in between the front and back of each T-shirt. I have had a lot of luck with this method (probably because the cardboard absorbed the ink through the t shirt layer, and the glass didn't) . </p>
<p>Just a note on the emulsion: I coat mine, making the last sweep outside, then let dry with outside down(on the pushpins), which usually lets the emulsion heave down as it dries (gravity), that way you are creating the thicker layer directly in contact with your film. </p><p>In your process , the thicker layer is on the inside, furthest away from the film during exposure, which may not resolve as much detail when needed. </p>
<p>Thanks for all the pics and great descriptions, really helped out in getting started. I was just wondering where you got the emulsion exposer chart as it caused me to mess up quite a few screens before figuring out the chart is wrong....in fact its REALLY far off :). diazos chart for a reflector set up should be set 18in (not 12) from the image and should be exposed for ONLY 7 minutes (not 45!!!!) after trying it with these numbers I get great results, trying it for 45 mins left me with an over exposed screen that was VERY hard to scrub clean. here is diazos chart for future reference...<br>http://www.speedballart.com/faq.php?cat=136</p>
thank you so much! im using the speedball system and ive never tried the photo emulsion process before. the insturctions they gave are confusing, but this cleared it up!
I couldn't believe how unclear the Speedball instructions were! Thanks for writing this.
I work for a screen printing company. You don't really need to use a flood stroke unless you are working with light colored inks, as they are thicker.
I work for a screen printing company. For a makeshift darkroom, find a room without windows, and replace the lightbulbs with bug lights. Bug lights do not emit UV light, UV is what exposes the emulsion. So you could have the room as bright as you want and not have to worry about exposing the screen. (I would still try to keep the light indirect)
Simple but very inspiring, so the process of screen printing can be done easily, thanks <br>http://www.belajarsablon.com
Holla,<br> Brilliant Instructable!<br> <br> <a href="https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Silk-Screen-Printing-Screen-Upcycling-Recy/" rel="nofollow">https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Silk-Screen-Printing-Screen-Upcycling-Recy/</a><br> <br> I have just posted an instructable on how to make your own screen printing screen cheaply and easily!<br> <br> :)<br> <br> -Emily
hi! i just wanted to let you know that because i like this instructable so much, i have added it to my silkscreen guide... <a href="https://www.instructables.com/id/silkscreen-printing-easy-and-cheap/" rel="nofollow">https://www.instructables.com/id/silkscreen-printing-easy-and-cheap/</a><br> <br> thanks for sharing your ideas!
How far does the ink stretch? How many shirts can I print with 16 oz of ink and a medium sized design? (roughly)
Could I print up a design like this on a t-shirt using this method?
if I&nbsp;may make a few suggestions I&nbsp;am a screen printer by trade and in order to save yourself lots of money on transparencies buy a can of dollar clear spray paint and do a light coat over your velum or tansparency let it completely dry the spray paint causes the black it to get solid and dark<br />
Wow, must be really cool to do this professionally!<br><br>Maybe you could answer this for me; I'm doing a screen print in my art class, but our classes are cut down to 20 minutes this week, so I can't burn my screen AND rinse off the screen in one class period. Could I burn my screen, then come back in 20-30 minutes to rinse the screen?
Hi there!<br><br>Some friends of mine suggested to expose dried emulsion under the sun. <br><br>Is it effective?<br>Anyone knows how long of exposure?<br><br>Please help!<br><br>Thanks!..:-)
yes but not on your body, better using a good quality heavy paper.<br>exposure is a little like sunbathing .. it takes a little experimentation to get just the right outcome .<br>makirro (the fool)
guys can you help me how to clean my screen...and whats the problem of my work every time i exposed my design..my design destroy pls help me......i'm using 4pcs 10WHATS lamp..thank you!pls help me<br>
This has been a lot of help to me.
when you do coating do you need to do in dark room ?
Can you use this method to print designs which are very colorful? or will the designs made with this method always be one solid color?
you can overlay a print of one color with another, or you can just cover some areas with masking tape and print with one color, and then vice versa and print with another color
is it possible to expose the screen outside on a sunny day, instead of using a light rig, like in a similar instructable?
yeah, definitely possible, but it's very dicey. there are a lot of factors that play into exposing a screen with sunlight--weather conditions, if it's cloudy or windy.<br><br>i find it easier to just use a bulb, that way i can do it any time and it's always consistent!
if you have a design that's bigger than 8.5x11, or you don't want to go through the hassle of getting something copied onto a transparency, it works just all well to do this:<br><br>take a copy of the image and cut off some of the extra white paper around it. paint the piece of paper with baby oil. let that sink in and then dab off the excess oil with a paper towel. this makes the paper translucent, which works just as well as something transparent.<br><br>you might have to bump up the exposure time a tiny bit, but not too much. (i couldn't tell you HOW much because i've never actually used transparencies when screenprinting)
Just a hint for people who can't work out the exposure times. <br /> <br /> You can put a strip of emulsion on a screen and test like you test in darkroom photography. Block most of the strip with something light proof (a bit of cardboard) but leave a couple of c.m. hanging out. Start exposing. After a couple of minutes move the cardboard back so another couple of centimeters is showing. keep doing this every minute or so, until the max time is reached. Then wash out as usual. this way you can see which time works best and you don't have to test on like twenty screens.<br /> <br /> I hope this makes sense. and is helpful to all those having trouble<br /> <br /> Peace <br /> <br /> Jake 1NE.&nbsp; <br />
ugh, i wish i would've done this before doing emulsion FOUR TIMES on a 20x24 screen until it worked.. this would've been so much simpler..
I used to work at a screen printing shop and we didn't use liquid photo emulsion, we had big rolls of emulsion sheets that were stuck onto the screens with water and left to dry in a dark cupboard. I would cut the huge sheets into 12" x 14" squares which would be put in a drawer away from light, while the huge sheets were essentially a roll stuck in a big black tube (to block the light). The emulsion sheets were pretty much just a plastic sheet with emulsion on it that would stick to the screens with water and when the emulsion dried you would peel off the plastic sheet before "burning" the logo on the screen. When the "burning" was done (on a vacuum sealed light table with timer) I would "blow out" the design with a pressure sprayer, then dry the screen, tape the edges and fill any defective holes with liquid emulsion.
In junior high my shop class did silk screen printing with that kind of emulsion on plastic - only we would put our piece of emulsion plastic-side down and cut and remove the emulsion with an exacto knife. When the cutting was done we would attach the emulsion to the screen with water, let it dry over night with pressure on the screen, peel off the plastic and then print. The teacher had basically been printing that way for 25 years, with very good results.
you did silk screening in JUNIOR HIGH!? i'm jealous!
I see. Well yes I did cut the emulsion while it was still on the plastic, its the same as you have done here but we did not put pressure on it during drying off. The shop i worked at was run by an old couple in their 70's who've been doing it for nearly 40 years. I'm still really proud of that job. How many people get to say "I was a graphic designer at my first job when I was 15." lol
Neat, I'd love to have the chance to play with that kind of equipment sometime. And I'd imagine that the sheets are a whole lot easier to work with (and less hugely messy) than the liquid emulsion. Envy!

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