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Screen Printing: Cheap, Dirty, and At Home

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Step 1: Gather up Your Materials

Materials you will need include:

  • The image you want to use. The best is to have your image photocopied onto a transparency at maximum darkness. You can also paint or draw with white out on transparent plastic (cellophane wrap or clear packaging from toys work). Another option is to make a cut-out with dark-colored construction paper or to lay some flat object (pieces of lace are nice) on the screen. Objects that aren't flat (skeleton keys, for example) can also work, but you have to move the screen around in that case to avoid a shadow.

You want your image on the transparency to be super dark because the image won't transfer to the screen if light gets through. If you want subtlety and shading you can do it with dots, like a newspaper image. In this instructable we're keeping it simple and only printing one color. Very fine lines are not recommended with this technique. Start out with something big and bold and then start experimenting.

  • Wooden picture frames which are completely flat on the front surface. You can find these in all kinds of sizes at the Goodwill or Salvation Army or at garage sales for about a dollar each. You will also be using the pieces of glass that come in the frames. You will need a piece of glass from a frame smaller than the frame you use to make your screen.
  • An old, gauzy curtain. Color doesn't matter, but it does need to be in reasonably good condition. It can't have too many holes. The more tightly woven the curtain, the more fine your print can be, but you can get pretty nice results with any gauzy old thing. I keep my eye open for these at thrift stores and yard sales.
  • A piece of black or dark-colored fabric big enough to put the frame on.
  • A staple gun and staples. Don't get staples that are too long or they'll poke out through the frame. Even that isn't such a big deal, but it's preferable to not have sharp little metal points sticking out along the inside of your screen.
  • Photosensitive goo and activator. Speedball is the most common brand you will find for this at the art store. You need the emulsion and the activator and they come in two different bottles which you have to mix together. Don't bother with the screen cleaner. If you want to reunse the same screen for other designs, you can get screen cleaner.
  • I recommend buying an art squeegie specially for screen printing. You can get along without one, but it's a lot easier to print with this tool than to do it with a hunk of cardboard. But in a pinch, the hunk of cardboard will work, too. The lip of a box works best because it has a good straight edge and is rigid yet flexible.
  • Sceen Printing ink. You can get this at the art supplies store. I have also printed on wood with acrylic paint and gotten good results.
  • Masking tape
  • Old cereal boxes or similar kinds of cardboard scrap. You'll want to have a little supply of pieces of thin cardboard around. They are super useful for all kinds of things, like scraping ink off sreens and putting it back in the jar.
  • Old newspaper to protect the surfaces you're working on
  • If you are printing t-shirts you'll need paper to put inside the shirt when you print so that the ink doesn't bleed through the side you're printing on all the way through to the other side. I use regular printer paper for this, but old newspaper would work fine.
  • A garden hose. It's best to have an attachment on the hose that shoots the water out with some pressure, but you can get away with not having one. I have used the scratchy side of a kitchen sponge to help me get the emulsion off while spraying the screen with the hose. It damages the screen a little, but it works. Just rubbing with your hand even helps.
  • An old rag for spills
  • Clothes you don't care about. You're going to mess up your clothes.
  • A garden hose, the more pressure the better, but you can by without an attachment if you have to.

 
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Lzyjo4 years ago
Wonderful instructable! I've just gotten all the things I need, I made my screens and the ink and chemicals just arrived in the mail. I've been doing some searches but I can't seem to find a consistant exposure time for direct sunlight I've seen things say from 1 minutes to 20 minutes. Doesn't anyone have any experience? I've also read that the goo changes color once it has been reacted, is that an accurate way to tell if the screen is exposed?! Thanks in advance! I hope someone can help me!
Abashi5 years ago
To do muti-color screen print do you just repeat the process and do you repeat it before or after it dries?
Quest19 Abashi5 years ago
If you're going to do multiple prints of the same image, you print one color across all images then move one. Once you've printed the first color, you need to reclaim the screen, which means removing any dried ink, photo emulsion or screen filler from your screen. Photo emulsion is very stubborn to remove, so you should look for special cleaning supplies for removing this. As far as any ink or screen filler, I use Greased Lightning and Simple Green. Once you've done that, you create another transparency of the next color you want to print, then using photo emulsion burn it onto your screen. Then you're ready to print the next color. I highly recommend lookely up registration methods for screen printing, which are just different ways to make sure that everything is aligned and prints the same across all prints.
Abashi Quest195 years ago
Thanks so much that helps a lot! !
pinkpicnic5 years ago
The activator is not so cheap and dirty -- hobby lobby lists it at 29.99. Is there something I'm missing?
Unfortunately these supplies aren't that cheap. Look for screen printing photo emulsion fluid. Speedball products are most common in places like Hobby Lobby, but they're generally considered cheap, which isn't a problem depending on what you're doing. I recommend shopping around at dickblick.com which is a site for art supplies, and generally have pretty good prices.
Jesus! What is that a GALLON of sensitizor?! You must be looking at industrial quantities.

Here are a couple links for you.
sensitizer
http://www.dharmatrading.com/html/eng/1940327-AA.shtml
photo emulsion
http://www.dharmatrading.com/html/eng/1940956-AA.shtml

I'm sure you can find other places to buy from, these were just the first links I found.
Unfortunately, the only place I could get it in town was Hobby Lobby, and they only sold a $30 kit with emulsifier and cleaner.
seungri_xo5 years ago
can i use fabric paint instead? or does only ink work?
daveaspi7 years ago
hi de hi, i live in bolton, sunshine is scarce around here, could i use alternative methods to burn my screen? a sunbed maybe?
tracy_the_astonishing (author)  daveaspi7 years ago
Just use a light bulb! Stronger light burns the screen faster, but if you're not in a hurry, any light will do the trick.
Biznasco7 years ago
Anyone interested in this should check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ee_8IMx0uMo The guys from make magazine made a tutorial on screen printing and this instructable is nice, but it's also nice to see a video of it.
tracy_the_astonishing (author)  Biznasco7 years ago
The video is pretty good, but one thing: You do not have to put your image backwards on your screen if you burn it from the top. That is completely wrong. You lay the image down just like you want it to be on the t-shirt. If you burn it backwards you're gonna have a backwards print. Surprising mistake. BUT--the glowing eyes and howling sound effects!! Those guys are too cool for their shirts.
jnollsch7 years ago
I started shopping around for supplies today. Is sensitizer the same thing as the activator you talk about? It's all I could find on Dick Blick's website.
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