Introduction: Silk Screening 10 Shirts in 2-3 Places Each for a Distressed Look

About: Based in San Francisco I strive to incorporate custom lettering in the art that I design, print, and make.

In this instructable I review the steps required to practice your silkscreen printing knowledge. I review the basic process and results from printing on ten $0.99 tshirts from a San Francisco thrift store on mission and 17th ( ). When doing this project I focused on creating a distressed look which was based on using a single pass rather than a double pass to put ink onto the tshirt with the squeegee. 

TIP: A single pass with a light amount of pressure creates a lighter print that looks almost faded from the sun for Day-One Vintage.

I made it at Techshop
Submitted by SFlettering for the Instructables Sponsorship Program

Step 1: Source Tshirts for $0.99 Each

When selecting tshirts for this project I chose tshirts of a variety of colors and thicknesses to test how the final print would work out. The tshirt selection process was also based on looking for some tshirts with existing cool designs both to test printing over and to incorporate into the final tshirt. 

TIP: even in SF at walgreens you can purchase tshirts for under $3 each
TIP: When printing even on a micro thin tshirt the ink did not leak through onto the opposite layer.

Step 2: Prepare the Negative Vinyl Image With Hand Lettering / Calligraphy

Here are the stencils that I used for this project. In another instructable I review the stencil creation process when making hand cut stencils. Here you can see that I took extra care in preparing the silkscreen to make sure no areas were left uncovered and might allow ink to leak onto the final print. 

TIP: When preparing the reversed vinyl stencil a good method is to write on the backside of the vinyl and cut from the back to produce your stencil that will show up correctly on the final print.

Step 3: Choose Locations to Apply Ink With Silkscreen Printing Process

When doing this project I focused on printing in a variety of locations on the tshirt to test print quality and to see if I would create problems when printing. The process went smoothly as I moved between tshirts and printed in different areas. 

I printed with a mixture of the following locations on the tshirt. 

front side middle
back side center
back side bottom
right side chest
back side bottom middle
back side center 

Step 4: Distressed Examples of Screen Print

I enjoy learning to make different artistic effects when producing art and one is this vintage distressed look that I strive to create on multiple projects. Over time and through experience I have had great results adding "age" to some of the art that I make.

Here are the first round of prints showing a great distressed look as a result of 

1) not enough ink on silkscreen
2) not enough pressure on 4-way set-up (when using clamps I was able to use less squeegee pressure)
3) not making a second pass which when I started to make created a solid print.

Note: the distressed look is more on the stencil portion than on the SF portion which is showing better.
Also note that on the blue tshirt on the right that I doubled up the stencil to produce a distressed shadow and a more complete top layer.

Step 5: Getting Better Quality Results With Silk Screening

To get better quality results with silkscreen printing it is good to practice at least 4-5 times before making your first attempt at a great final product. Based on my maker style I enjoy working a bit more quickly and creating artistic final products rather than attempting to create a perfect print each time. The imperfections make some great quality results. 

TIP: If you want a perfect professional job each time you might need to practice 50 times before expecting good results from the print process and consistent results from lining up the image on each tshirt.

Notice how the stencil area at the right edge ".com" had a flooded space for the letter "M". The stencil placement onto the silkscreen was too close to the right edge to print properly. This print on white also shows that in the process ink from the letter "M" got on the bottom of the stencil and would have ruined a great print if I did not like the artistic integrity that it brought to the final look on such a plain white tshirt.

In this step there are 3 examples of higher quality prints from this process of 10 shirts for $10 and some $5 worth of ink.

Step 6: 10 Shirts in About 2 Hours - Including Dry Time

Here is a mashup of the tshirts showing off what I was able to create in about 2 hours time from 10 tshirts for $10. I varied the look for each tshirt a bit depending on the existing design. 

Dry Time:
I started the process with the smaller stencil which dried more quickly and then did the larger SF stencil after all tshirts had dried from the first silkscreen printing application. Without using heat to speed up the drying process the smaller print areas dried in less than the time to print the 10 tshirts. The large stencil dried within 30 minutes on all but the polo shirt shown second row 4th shirt from left.

I will post another instructable on how to heat set the tshirts - stay tuned

Some of these images are a bit blurred while other images are an accurate view of the distressed vintage look which I thinks looks best on an already worn thrift store tshirt.

Craft Contest

Participated in the
Craft Contest