Picture of Photo-emulsion Screen Printing
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.

1-40 of 146Next »
xucaen26 days ago
Every video I have seen on YouTube says it takes 10 minutes or less with an ordinary 60 watt bulb.
EllisP1 month ago

Hi. Can you help me on "Photo Emulsion for small images or letters", 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. :)

hi there I just want to double check how thick is your glass?

MileneH3 months ago

Trying to remove my image off the screen to use another design, is that possible or do I need to buy a new screen?

ShelbyA6 months ago

where did you get your lamp from ?

GaryN11 year ago

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:
i) did i coat it correctly, is the coat too thin?
ii) i didn't place a piece of glass over the screen when doing exposure, is that why it didn't work?
iii) is the piece of glass over the screen necessary when exposing and can it replace with clear acrylic?
iv) what kind of light bulb should i use if I'm creating my own homemade light box for exposure?
v) what is Sensitizer? is it required for light exposure or just the photo emulsion is fine?

i hope to get help from pros like you guys.
Thanks so much...

xanscorp GaryN19 months ago

Answers in order of how you asked:
I) It should be translucent to opaque in its coating...the more prints to be run, the more opaque.
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.
III ) No, as mentioned, the clear glass is not necessary.
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.
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.)

bec08021 year ago

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) .

bec08021 year ago

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.

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.

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.

harperrn1 year ago

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...

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.
tech15102 years ago
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.
tech15102 years ago
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)
Ruswendy2 years ago
Simple but very inspiring, so the process of screen printing can be done easily, thanks
ebrown192 years ago
Brilliant Instructable!


I have just posted an instructable on how to make your own screen printing screen cheaply and easily!


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... http://www.instructables.com/id/silkscreen-printing-easy-and-cheap/

thanks for sharing your ideas!
i want to f u and expose it on facebook and suck our cat for 20 minutes
Gonazar3 years ago
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?
vampyredh5 years ago
if I may make a few suggestions I 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
Wow, must be really cool to do this professionally!

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?
biaginn4 years ago
After I removed emulsion from the screen to expose my writing I went to transfer the text onto canvas but the ink did not come through? any suggestions?
makirro biaginn3 years ago
just use a marker pen and write directly onto the paper, its an ancient method developed in french caves about a million years ago.
makirro (the fool)
nattapon053 years ago
when you do coating do you need to do in dark room ?
not necessarily just as long as you put it on before you go out in the cold, you'll be fine.
makirro (the fool)
JHAPZ_223873 years ago
Hi there!

Some friends of mine suggested to expose dried emulsion under the sun.

Is it effective?
Anyone knows how long of exposure?

Please help!

yes but not on your body, better using a good quality heavy paper.
exposure is a little like sunbathing .. it takes a little experimentation to get just the right outcome .
makirro (the fool)
jcuizon3 years ago
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
radracer3 years ago
This has been a lot of help to me.
honeycomb6 years ago
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
coask8b6 years ago
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.

i find it easier to just use a bulb, that way i can do it any time and it's always consistent!
stepandknee4 years ago
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:

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.

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)
jakethink5 years ago
Just a hint for people who can't work out the exposure times.

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.

I hope this makes sense. and is helpful to all those having trouble


Jake 1NE. 
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..
assassinazz7 years ago
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.
1-40 of 146Next »