Introduction: Hand Cut Vinyl Stencil Production and Modification for Silkscreen Printing

About: Based in San Francisco I strive to incorporate custom lettering in the art that I design, print, and make.
A hand cut vinyl stencil cut out as a negative print is required for this silkscreen printing project. In this instructable I am highlighting the steps required for getting a good print from your stencil when printing, how to modify your stencil, and how to get consistent results.

When working on this project I chose to use a hand cut vinyl stencil of my calligraphy. (it says in black letter)

Submitted by SFlettering for the Instructables Sponsorship Program

Step 1: Place Stencil Onto Silkscreen and Cover All Areas With Vinyl or Blue Painters Tape

When preparing to print with a silkscreen it is best to prepare the entire silkscreen with a surface that will not allow the ink through - I used a combination of vinyl and of blue painters tape. It is important to "tape off" all the way to the edges and to make sure to squeegee the extra vinyl and painters tape into position.

TIP: when positioning you stencil onto the screen do not let it get to close to your final edge or your ink will pool and flood the stencil

I made it at Techshop

Step 2: Purchase Silk Screening Acrylic - Water Soluble Option Chosen

In this step I am showing off the ink that I selected for making the stencil. Even the blick water soluble ink chosen ($7 small ink in orange) was enough for at least 12 of these prints and some additional practice. The ink selected was mixed before use in a plastic cup and the spoon was used to carefully place a large amount of ink on the inside of the silkscreen to prepare for printing.

TIP: Use a spoon to place the ink onto the silkscreen rather than pouring it onto the silkscreen and possibly flooding the screen by getting ink onto the area for printing.

Step 3: Test Prints and Screen Flooding on Scrap T-Shirts

Here are several test prints of various quality that I produced while fixing an issue where I flooded my screen with too much ink actually on the stencil area and needed to do multiple prints to get extra ink off of the silkscreen. Notice that the tshirts used here were from the scrap bin and have stencils other people have tested. 

When printing multiple times with the same stencil I found that my quality improved over time and that with silkscreen printing you get better at it by your 6th print and will see more consistent results by your 20th print. 

Step 4: Good Silkscreen Print on White T-Shirt

Here is the result of the process from making the stencil, transferring the stencil to the silkscreen, preparing the print, making 5 test prints and then this final print. For the final print I made 2 passes with a lot of ink on the silkscreen and paused for a count of 3 seconds between the 2 passes with the squeegee. 

TIP: The quality of the print is a result of a bit of practice and mostly the results from solid planning during stencil production and stencil placement onto the silkscreen.

Step 5: More Testing of New Stencil

To show an example of a screen that is not flooding because it was just put into the clamp while preparing for use you can see in the stencil that I designed  that there is no pooling ink on the bottom of the silkscreen.

TIP: do not position your stencil too close to the edge as with the .com part of the stencil as the ink will pool in that area and although it will be a well printed part of the stencil it will look more like an error than a well done print due to inconsistent ink levels.

For the distressed vintage look when silkscreen printing simply use less pressure and less ink to get a day 1 faded look to your print as you can see in image 2 where I am test printing.

Step 6: Re-using a Portion of the Stencil: Stencil Modification

Even once the silkscreen stencil is in place you can still leverage your work and find multiple uses for a single stencil. Here I put tape over the "" part of the stencil and ended up with a great "SF" stencil to use for the chest area and arms of the tshirts.

TIP: Here I simply added painters tape to cover part of the stencil and through a simple stencil modification I was able to print as though I had 3 stencils.