I've always enjoyed taking a design or picture of mine and printing it on a shirt, but small-run custom designed shirts are costly, and the results are always hard to predict. This Instructable will walk you through how to take a custom design and silk screen it onto a shirt. The process is very enjoyable and the results are on par with what you would order online or even buy in a store (assuming the same method is used). This instructable encompasses two project done simultaneously using the same methods. The first project was a run of 25 monogrammed napkins and the second was a set of custom t-shirts.  

Full Discloser: I made it at Techshop and I highly recommend anyone near one to check them out.

Materials List:

Silk Screening Ink: I used Jacquard Professional Screen Printing ink, which you can find here 
~ 2 feet of vinyl suitable for a CNC vinyl cutter: I've always bought all my vinyl from a Techshop, and they typically have a lot (and colors are not important for this instructable since it will be disposable)
Material with with to silk screen: Shirts, napkins, burlap, anything that will be compatible with the ink and method used. Definitely bring some scrap material with you as well.
1 Silk Screen: I used the Techshop's silkscreen, but it was very similar to this one
1 Silk Screen squeegee: The Techshop typically has some around, but this is what they look like. 
1 Hot air gun: To help dry the ink post-screening
1 Iron: To set the ink into the material
Vector Editing Software: I interchange between Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw regularly, but the files I used here are in Illustrator

Techshop Classes Needed:

CNC102: CNC Vinyl Cutter SBU
ART103: Silkscreen Printing SBU

Step 1: Design and Print on Vinyl Cutter

  1. Work out design in Illustrator or Corel Draw
  2. Import design into FlexStarter (the program the CNC vinyl cutter uses)
  3. Align design with the lower left corner of the canvas
  4. Take a scrap piece of vinyl and set it up in the vinyl cutter
  5. Setup your print settings (this will at least involve mirroring your piece)
  6. Cut your design out on the vinyl cutter
  7. Hit "Reset" on the Vinyl Cutter (the one at the SF Techshop required this step, which is why I include it here)
  8. Adjust pressure and speed settings and test print again to get desired cutting depth and speed
  9. Cut final piece
  • Remember that you want the cutting needle to cut through the first layer (the vinyl), but not the second layer (the backing)
  • The vinyl piece will need to be mirrored in order to come out right on the fabric
  • For one color designs, black is where ink will be coming through. Keep this in mind as you design
I've attached an Illustrator filed of the "M" I used in the following pictures for convenience. Feel free to use it!

Very cute! I haven't done silk screening in a long time! I'll have to try it out at Techshop too!
You should enter this into the <a href="http://www.instructables.com/contest/holidaygifts2012">Holiday Gifts Contest</a>!
I've gone ahead and entered it into the Holiday Gifts Contest. Thank you for the suggestion!

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