Introduction: Express Yourself Through Silk-Screen Printing!

First off, thank you to the many people who started to silk-screen print before I decided to do it. Without their efforts, I would have not been able to learn as much as I have. "No one stands alone," right?

Secondly, starting something new can be overwhelming, overwhelming enough that it's easier to NOT get started with something new. PACE YOURSELF! Be patient and allow the process to unwind gradually. Set realistic expectations for yourself and KNOW that you'll run into problems. But with persistence, you will solve these problems and gain a better understanding of the process...and yourself, too!

I created a tutorial that I hope is clear and comprehensive. It strives to detail the silk-screening process from beginning to end. However, ANY process will be full of nuance that cannot be adequately explained via print or images.

The best teaching experience is getting down to it and DOING IT!

Ready to get started?

Step 1: Start With the Correct Mindset and You'll Do Fine.

The fastest way to end up NOT doing something is to RUSH into it and to not have realistic expectations for yourself. Patience is a virtue...and it will help you to absorb the LARGE amounts of information you are about to receive.

The accompanying image tries to provide practical advice for being SUCCESSFUL at...whatever it is you choose to do - not just silk-screen printing.

Here's the link to the inspirational video:

Step 2: Materials

Here's a list of things you'll need. When it comes to frames...if you're just starting out DON'T buy many frames. Just get one. The same goes for if you decide to make your own frames. Make a few to start with - see if this silk-screening thing is something you're interested in enough to justify investing time and money into creating your supplies.

Step 3: Silk-screen Printing Frames.

Like the image above says, you can buy frames or make your own.

To make a 16” x 18” frame, cut two 18” and two 13” pieces. The reason for these dimensions is that the 18" pieces make up two sides of your frame. The 13" piece mounts against the 18" piece (and the wood is 1.5" wide) so 13"+1.5"+1.5" =16". Drill pilot holes where you will be screwing the wood together. Screw together with drywall screws.


Here's a link to a video about assembling frames:

Step 4: Silk-screen Printing Frames (continued).

When the frame is assembled, you'll stretch and staple mesh over the frame. Here is a link to a video that demonstrates this:

Step 5: The Light Box.

I'm a home DIYer so there was no need for me to spend several hundred dollars on a light box. It was very easy to make one and the image shows how to do it. Just make sure that your light box is several inches larger than your silk-screen frames.

Step 6: Create Your Design.

Be aware of the details you include in your design as well as the font choices. Too fine detail will not show up well on your silk-screen frame.

Step 7: Print Your Transparency.

Not all transparencies work in laser printers so be sure to have the correct kinds.

Step 8: Activate Your Photo Emulsion.

The activator bottle seems like it's empty but it's not. Store your emulsion in a closed container inside your refrigerator.

Step 9: Preparing Your Screen.

Here's a link to a video that shows how to spread emulsion:

Step 10: Burning Your Image Onto Your Silk-screen Frame.

11 minutes with a light box.

1+ hours withOUT a light box.

I know which method I prefer.

Step 11: Wash Out Your Screen.

This step depends on the silk-screen frame being dried thoroughly when you first spread emulsion on it. In the past, I've not let the emulsion dry enough and when I went to wash the screen out, emulsion on the edges of my design got washed out. Printing with such a frame will result in an unclear graphic on the fabric.

Also, if your emulsion gets too old you will experience problems creating a clear silk-screen frame.

Step 12: Silk-screen Printing.

The X-Y grid was made on a 24" x 36" piece of construction paper, in gradations of inches. It is extremely useful with getting the shirt and frame all lined up.

Plus...MOVEMENT is the enemy of clear silk-screen prints! To get clear prints, especially with finer details in your design, you have to eliminate movement of the fabric and the silk-screen frame.

A tacky fabric adhesive works wonders with keeping your fabric in one place. It can be used for many shirts and is very cost-effective. Spread a small amount on your poster board, line up your shirt and press it flat onto the tacky surface. Don't worry, it won't ruin the fabric.

To keep your screen from moving while you print, clamp it down to the table you are using.

When you eliminate movement of the fabric or the frame you will get the best results!

Step 13: Silk-screen Printing (continued).

Here is a link to a video that shows how to spread ink and then print:

Step 14: Wash Out Your Screen.

Inspect your screen carefully. Any ink that is allowed to dry on the screen will render that part of the screen (or all of the screen) unusable. How do I know this?

I've come to learn that cleaning and prepping your screen for reuse is very important. Screens that are dirty or have oil residue on them will cause your photo emulsion to NOT stick. When you wash out your screens after you burn your image into the emulsion, you'll find that some of the emulsion you DON'T want washing out...will wash out! It's a pain in the neck!

You have to make sure that your screen is dust and oil free before you apply a coat of emulsion to it. Is haze remover and screen degreaser necessary? I cannot say definitively. Some folks have used dish detergent in place of these items and claim to get good results in doing so. You'll have to experiment a bit.

Step 15: Dry and Heat-cure Your Prints.

It's VERY important that the ink on the fabric be allowed to dry THOROUGHLY so that it can be made permanent through heat-curing - especially if you have used several layers of ink on a print design. I let the ink dry for two days or longer before I heat-cure it.

I have rushed it before and tried to heat-cure a design before it was 100% dry. It SEEMED dry, but when it came out of the washing machine, the ink faded and washed out. This was definitely a learning experience for me.

Step 16: And That's How It's Done!

Remember, be patient, educate yourself and set aside enough time so that you can do a better-than-average job. If you'd like to see this presentation via Google Slides, you can use this link:

I think one of the most fascinating things about silk-screen printing is that the design that ends up on your one time it only existed in your mind. Through your efforts, you can make the thoughts that you have into concrete reality. I like that.

Best of luck with your journey into silk-screen printing!