Introduction: DIY Screen Printing: Easy, Detailed & Inexpensive!

Picture of DIY Screen Printing: Easy, Detailed & Inexpensive!

You can make your own unique, detailed, screen-printed shirt at home with a few simple materials! This method uses Drawing Fluid and Screen Filler to easily create your detailed design on a screen. There are other cheap methods you can use for screen-printing, however I really like this method because it allows you to create more detailed designs than you would using Mod Podge to paint on a screen and it's much easier than using an exacto knife to cut out fine details from contact paper. Also, it's less expensive than purchasing screen-printing frames from art stores, which are usually $15 & up.

If you'd like to see some finished products or view my other tutorials, check out my etsy shop blog , or follow me on twitter ! Also, your constructive feedback on this tutorial is greatly appreciated!  Thanks for looking and message me with any questions!

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

You need a few inexpensive materials which can be found at art stores & most craft stores.

- embroidery hoop (only about $2 for a basic hoop, available at craft stores)
- mesh material (nylon, polyester, silk - something with tiny holes that can serve as a fine screen)
- Drawing Fluid (I use Speedball, available at most art stores)
- small paintbrush
- newspaper
- Screen Filler (I use Speedball, available at most art stores)
- plastic spoon
- screenprinting ink
- squeegie
- shirt or bag to print on

Step 2: Assemble Your Screen

Picture of Assemble Your Screen

Take your mesh material and place inside embroidery hoop. Tighten hoop. Stretch material evenly across hoop and tighten hoop again. Should be tight or your material will shift and you won't have a clear print.

Step 3: Draw Your Design!

Picture of Draw Your Design!

This is the fun part! Flip hoop over so that the screen is facing up. Shake your Drawing Fluid bottle. Using your paintbrush and drawing fluid, draw a design onto screen. (This Drawing Fluid will be washed out later after the Screen Filler is applied.) Make sure your brush strokes aren't TOO thin or the design will not be clear. Allow to dry fully (about an hour, or if you're impatient, speed the process along w/ your hairdryer)
*If you would like to be more careful when drawing your design onto the screen, you can draw your design onto paper using a marker first, then tape drawing to underside of screen and trace the design with drawing fluid.

Step 4: Apply Screen Filler

Picture of Apply Screen Filler

Place newspaper under screen to avoid making a mess. Shake your Screen Filler bottle. Spoon a couple tablespoons of Screen Filler onto top of screen (same side as the Drawing Fluid). Using squeegie, drag Screen Filler at a 45 degree angle from top to bottom of screen. Repeat a few times (2-4x) until you cover the whole screen. Do NOT do this more than a few times because it will become difficult to wash out the Drawing Fluid. (This Screen Filler will remain on the screen, and the Drawing Fluid will later be washed out.)  Check the underside of the screen to make sure the Screen Filler isn't seeping through. If it is, don't worry, just use your squeegie to scrape off excess Screen Filler. (And next time, use a finer mesh material with smaller holes). 

Allow to dry fully for a few hours or overnight (again, impatient folks can bust out the hairdryer). Should be completely dry to touch.

Step 5: Rinse Out Drawing Fluid

Picture of Rinse Out Drawing Fluid

When screen is dry, rinse screen w/ water (use shower head if possible) to remove drawing fluid from screen. (This is where the ink will pass through the screen to create your image on your shirt or bag.) The Screen Filler should remain on the screen. It will block ink from passing through the areas that are not part of your drawing/design. Allow to fully dry again!

Step 6: Test Your Screenprint

Picture of Test Your Screenprint

Place your screen onto test paper/material and place a few spoonfuls of screen-printing ink onto the top of your screen. Hold screen down firmly in place with one hand.  Using pressure with the other hand, drag squeegie at a 45 degree angle across screen to distribute the ink. Flip squeegie over and drag squeegie upwards. Do this about 3 times. Once you have made a satisfactory test print...

Step 7: Screenprint!

Picture of Screenprint!

Print on a t-shirt, tote bag, pillow case, cardstock..anywhere! Have fun with different ink colors, too! You can print for around 15-20 minutes at a time, making sure the ink doesn't dry in the screen by "flooding" the screen between prints. To flood the screen, drag ink across screen using your squeegie WITHOUT applying pressure. This will distribute ink into the screen holes so the ink doesn't dry up too quickly.To clean up, simply scrape excess ink off screen with squeegie and rinse screen. Let screen dry and reuse later! You may have to stretch and tighten screen across embroidery hoop before your next printing session. 

Let me know if you have any questions or comments.  If you'd like to check out my etsy store or blog, please do... I love visitors!


kingsophie (author)2015-05-10

This looks like a great idea! I was wondering if it is possible to remove the mesh from the hoop, after the screen filler has been applied, but before printing the design? I'm hoping to do this activity with a number of students and we would need to share the hoops - would the image be damaged if it was switched between hoops over a couple of days before finishing printing?

EricX1 (author)2014-10-30

Very easy to understand, this is awesome.Good work.

ezvee (author)2012-08-21

What do you recommend for cleaning the screen after? I know for a fact that Screen filler is really hard to clean out....

StaceyH1 (author)ezvee2014-09-09

Since I spent 3 hours lettering and the screen filler just washed 1/4 of it away, I would like to know this answer as well.

nfarrow (author)2014-07-29

Five Important Notes for printing with fabric inks:

  1. The screen frame is usually detached from the base and used alone. Usually two (2) people should work on the printing process – one holding the screen frame tightly against the fabric, and the other doing the printing.
  2. On articles like T-shirts, a piece of foamboard, cardboard or paper must be put inside each garment to act as a barrier.
  3. To improve the lubricity (slipperiness) of the ink, you may add the Transparent Base. To slow drying or to prevent screen clogging, add the Retarder Base (1-2 tbs. to 8 oz. of ink).
  4. Wash-up of screens and tools must be done immediately after use. If they are allowed to dry on your screen or tools, they are difficult or impossible to remove.
  5. After the fabric ink dries on the fabric, set a household iron at the highest dry heat (no steam) that will not scorch the fabric and with a cloth or paper between the iron and printed material, iron on each side for 3 – 5 minutes. This will make the ink withstand repeated washings.
Gumbyaok (author)2014-07-14

FletchINKy (author)2013-10-04

Very clever reversing the process!

bgemmell (author)2013-04-07

This is fabulous! Very clear and easy to understand - thank you!

razorwinged (author)2012-12-26

hi! i just wanted to let you know that because i like this instructable so much, i have added it to my silkscreen guide...

thanks for sharing your ideas!

ahughes16 (author)2012-04-26

Very helpful! and easy to understand, thanks a lot ! :)

AdamVanMeter (author)2011-11-17

I had no idea it could be THAT easy! Screen printing has always seemed like some mystical and expensive process.

I've got a kit. I'm giving it a shot.

calcitrix (author)2011-06-26

I left a comment about a year ago that I was going to try this with summer camp kids...I did, and they loved it! They drew their designs on the screen fabric (some traced computer-printed stencils) and painted the drawing fluid by themselves, and even put the screen filler over it without help. We used small hard plastic cards (like credit card slugs) to put the screenprinting ink on, which worked beautifully. I'm doing it again this summer--we have lots of materials left over.

Plus I got to make myself some shirts with the kids' designs, which were very cute and funny! Thanks again for the instructable.

emilyhell (author)2011-05-18

You can make a DIY rectangular screen too. go to Ross or Ikea and buy the cheapest wood rectangular photo frame that has no embelishments on the front. remove the glass and backing. stretch the screen/mesh fabric over the bare rectangular screen and use a staple gun to secure in place on the edges of the frame (do not staple on the side that will lay flat when you screen print). cover with duct tape before beginning the drawing fluid step.

HazelMcL (author)2011-02-25

I want to screen print a pair of tights. Is this possible with this method?

rubberducky47 (author)HazelMcL2011-03-18

Indeed it is! They just need to be stretched out to the full extent while you're printing.

phatfrog (author)2010-11-30

hi, i am just getting into this, so you are using a smaller squeegie than you print, which i guess means you have to pull ink a few times... so how do you stop it from bleeding.
i have had results bleed or some areas not have ink even with a squeegie that is bigger than my printing area??
also i have a screen but there seems to be a lot of instructions that say i have to tape the edges?? can i skip that? it looks like you get around it.
can't wait for the reply, i have been put off trying again as my first to printing attempts have not worked (one invovling cleaning filler out, so i am going to read over your steps for that too)

anotherway (author)phatfrog2010-12-06

hi! since the frame is round, i use a smaller squeegie to make it easier. i usually only pull ink 3-4 times and if the screen is tight, and the ink is not runny, it shouldn't bleed.

also, since the screen is round, i didn't tape it. i do tape screens when i buy rectangular screens. if you have the $, i'd buy a screen from the store since they are stronger and tighter; if not, then this is a good cheap alternative.

anotherway (author)2010-10-25

Yes, you have to use 'screenprinting' ink. Other inks may dry in the screen holes or ruin your screen! Have fun!

jolene_ (author)2010-10-16

Thank you so much, this is exactly what I need! Looks to be so much easier than I thought it was going to be!

Just one question as this will be my first attempt doing this myself, what kind of paint do you use? Does it have to say specifically "Screen Printing Ink", or will any kind of fabric type paint work? Basically I'm looking for what would be the most inexpensive paint but that would still wash and wear well. I see only one store listed in my city on Speedball's website, so I'm hoping I have more options than them LOL.

Another question, and I completely understand if you are not wanting to share, but I was wondering if you have a preference as to where you get good quality shirts and other things to print on, but at a good price? I've been on the search for a while but feel overwhelmed by the choices and not knowing who is really good with supplying these things.

BATKENYAN (author)2010-10-06

wow this is probably the most helpful one ive seen thanks alot :D

farmer moss (author)2010-07-12

thanks for this really simple, easy to understand and low-budget oriented tutorial :) i am organizing a community art & diversity event and it just got a lot simpler!

odie reyes (author)2010-07-03

basic. nice. educational.excellent result. and can be profitable. two thumbs up for the instructional guidelines and a big kiss for the model.

calcitrix (author)2010-06-30

I've read all the different versions on easy screen printing--this seems the best of them to try with older kids (no cutting, no chemicals)! Thanks so much; have ordered the materials and I know we'll have a blast.

92033 (author)2010-06-05

Another great one on Silk Screen Printing. Good job on this one too like your previous Instructable. SILK Screening uses just that: SILK. Yes, more expensive but lasts through hundreds of prints. Washes out perfectly to create new designs. In the Long Run...cheaper in cost than rayon or nylon which will not hold up for quality work for long. Avoid the eventual hair-tearing frustration. A YARD of Screen Printing SILK could last the casual user a lifetime. I still have some frames over 60 years old. :-) Don't cut corners if you're serious about Silk Screen Printing. Take it from this ole retired Pro silk screen printer.

Mekasia (author)2010-04-30

Guess I'm gonna have to order some drawing fluid. When I asked the lady at Michael's here for Speedball screen printing ink, she looked at me like I was asking to buy drugs. So I have been using the Mod Podge method, which can get VERY tedious when painting around small or fine details. Overall, great instructable!

anotherway (author)Mekasia2010-05-02

the drawing fluid & screen filler will be easier to find at an art store like Blicks or Flax (call ahead of time to make sure they have it!!).  Michael's has a Speedball Screen Printing kit with all the material you need (atleast the one near my house does, i saw it in the art section the other day); however, they don't actually sell the kit items separately, which is kinda funny.  so the workers there may not be familiar with the product (or the Micheal's where you live may not carry it)..

SpiderSpartan (author)2010-04-25

Any recommendations on where to get  this mesh material or what to use?  Could you use another T-shirt?

simplebeep (author)SpiderSpartan2010-04-30

 @anotherway is right.

The screen needs to have some important properties:
- It must have holes that are big enough to allow ink to pass through easily,
   but small enough to allow the stencil to properly adhere.
- It needs to be rather stiff with only a small amount of give, so that it returns
   to its original position instantly.
- It shouldn't be made of an overly-fibrous organic material (cotton, wool, etc),
   as the fibers tend to soak up and hold in the ink,
   and can degrade the quality of the print.
   Silk or nylon ought to work, as those materials don't "shed" fibers.

The right screen material is key. The reason professional ones are called "silk screens" is because silk is the best material to use (it's fine, strong, doesn't shed, and keeps a good amount of elasticity, as well as re-use longevity). My advice is to try something out; start cheap, give it your best guess, and you'll quickly learn what makes a good fabric while not wasting money!

anotherway (author)SpiderSpartan2010-04-28

Hi Spider!

The mesh material I used is nylon from Jo-Ann fabrics. I looked for a material with tiny holes that looked like fine mesh. I'm not sure another t-shirt would work too well b/c the fabric may be woven too tight, and the cotton may absorb the ink instead of letting it pass through.  You can also look for polyester or silk fabric with small holes. If you have an art store near you, stop in and check out the screen printing frames that they have, so you have an idea of what the mesh material looks like.  Also, make sure the material isn't too stretchy (ie nylon stockings) b/c the material will move around during printing.

rogeromc (author)2010-04-28

I went to look around in the city near by where I live, and look for any fabric store, and I asked for silk, they told me silk is very pricy, so I looked around and they have a grat variaty of the fabric that can work for screenprinting. If any body needs some I can ship it for you, its lite so I dont think it will be expensive to mail.

dkynha (author)2010-04-26

 Thank you Thank you!
Congratz for the awesome tutorial.
love it  ^^

GraduallyGreener (author)2010-04-20

 I have tried normal screen printing before and . . .

A. had a hard time getting the drawing ink to wash out
B. was suposed to keep the liquid used to fill the screen under a light for several hours

Do you ever have issues with this?

Thoth (author)GraduallyGreener2010-04-26

Like banansaur said you used an emulsion system.

Unfortunately you probably over exposed the screen or the image negative was not as opaque as you thought. Which would at best washing out the screen difficult at worst the screen its ruined and you either need to strip the emulsion and restart from the beginning or if really bad toss out the the screen (though keep the frame).

Usually using a soft tooth brush or scrub brush will help clear out those stubborn areas.

The type of screen printing method you were using was probably emulsion based, which involves dark room preparation and usually a trasparency or darkened image for burning. The drawing fluid method doesn't need to be exposed. With either, if you're having trouble removing all of the non-filled areas, try using a high pressure spray of cold water and then follow it with warm water. 

Thanks everyone!

A. When applying the screen filler, how many times did you drag the squeegie across the screen? I try to do it as little as possible so that the screen filler doesn't start to fill in where the drawing fluid is, maybe 2-3 times across the design. You also may want to draw thicker lines with your drawing fluid, sometimes fine lines get filled in with the screen filler. Also, if you have trouble washing the drawing fluid out, I like to take a toothbrush and scrub the areas that aren't washing out (gently at first, then gradually applying more pressure as necessary). This always helps me..
B. I'm not sure what kind of screen filler you used. With Speedball screen filler, you don't have to expose to light...

Hope that helps! Let me know if you have more questions!

marcintosh (author)2010-04-26

 BRILLIANT !  just the kind of screen printing I've been looking for 

Thanks lots

landru (author)2010-04-26

Thank you for this well done, clear instructable. I hope to try it soon.

jessifromdenver (author)2010-04-25

 Thank you, thank you, thank you!  What a great idea!  I will be using this right away to make T-Shirts for my business!

artbycleatress (author)2010-04-25

Thank you so much! I really needed something simple. Those hoops can be purchased in all sizes.

hogtowner (author)2010-04-25

I like this economical idea!  I dislike having to use iron on designs printed with my printer due to cost, plus having to wash the items without softener.  Makes for wasted money washing a few items in a washer.

You are the queen of this topic!  Very helpful for making T-shirts for my groups at an economical price.  Thanks bunches.

dchall8 (author)2010-04-14

That is nice, especially if you are an artist.  For those of us who are not, do you have a quick or easy way to transfer images from the computer to the screen? 

Kiteman (author)dchall82010-04-25

Put your image into the editor of your choice, and flip it left-for-right.

Print it out.

Put the printout behind the mesh for step 3.

anotherway (author)dchall82010-04-14

Hi! You can transfer a computer image to a screen using Photo Emulsion. Below is a great instructable for using this method. It's not SUPER fast to do, but it's a great way to transfer a detailed image.
Another method you can use (that doesn't include screen-printing) is using iron-on transfer paper. You print your image onto the paper and then iron the paper onto your fabric, transferring the image. Check this out:
If anyone else has another method, please share!

Whales (author)2010-04-21

 Does this hold up well to washing, just curious, I figure it does well, but can never be too careful i guess. And hopefully i will be able to do this asap.

anotherway (author)Whales2010-04-21

hi Whales!

are you referring to the screen or the shirt? because they both hold up well to washing!

screen: can be used over & over, so long as you are using a fine material with very small holes. if the holes are too big, the screen filler will start to wash out after a couple of uses..
shirt: after you print your shirt, allow it to dry for a day or 2, then heat set the fabric by doing one of the following:

1) ironing on both sides of shirt for 3-5 min with a piece of fabric between iron & shirt (different ink brands may have different instructions)
2) throwing shirt into the dryer on high heat for atleast 10 min (I prefer this method, especially if you are making multiple shirts; ironing is very time consuming!)
3) adding a small amount of "fixative" to your ink (1-3% fixative) and you won't have to heat set your ink! i've never used this myself, but i've heard of this and am planning on trying it soon. Versatex makes this product:

Whales (author)anotherway2010-04-22

 Thank you. That is exactly what i was wanting to know. My friend is sorta an artist and she signs everything with one of her mistapes so i planned to steal it off a drawing and make a few shirts with it. I'll be sure to post a pic when/if i get it done

solo.card (author)2010-04-22

 Very nice! Looks like an easier way to do screen printing than other instructables!

paintphone (author)2010-04-22

 I like how you showed what products you were useing ! very hepfull when your going to the store to buy it depending on where you are . 

Kryptonite (author)2010-04-20

I love the result! Nice idea, keep up the good work!

mbudde (author)2010-04-20

This is great! Now I actually understand how to do this. Thanks. :)

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