Introduction: Silk Screen Right at Home!

About: I make things sometimes.
I've always liked crafts and I was introduced to silk screening years back.  I never thought of tackling it at home until recently.

I'm going to share with you step by step instructions (as best I can!) on how to do this yourself.  It's not very expensive, and you could really get into it!  Who knows, it could even come in handy someday with a bachelor party coming up or something!  

Please hang in there, as this is my first instructable, I hope you enjoy because then I'll post more projects!

If you want to get to know me more, follow my personal account on Instagram, I'd love the attention!  Just click the link or look me up, inthemattcave. Thanks!


Also, as I'm ramping up, I speak my mind on Twitter too, so feel free to follow me on there too!

K thanks, now learn some awesomeness.

Step 1: What You Need...

Screen printing hard supplies
  1. Silk screen already prepared (Or a wooden frame, screen printing silk and a staple gun) - I've used both on projects
  2. Squeegee of some sort to spread the ink (If you make a really small print, you can even use a plastic wallet loyalty card)
  3. Scoop coater (this helps huge in applying the emulsion ink)
  4. Laser Printer
  5. Transparencies
  6. An image to print
  7. Iron
  8. A shirt or something to print on

Homemade light box (This is super cheap and works great!)
  1. A box of some sort (I used a cardboard 12 bottle wine box)
  2. Non-UV filter light bulbs (I used 13w energy saver fluorescent bulbs)
  3. A power bar
  4. socket outlet plugs (They're called something like that - to plug the bulbs into the power bar)
  5. Tinfoil
  6. Clear glass ("borrow" one from a large picture frame, it's gotta cover the top of your box)

  1. Your desired fabric ink colour (This can be found at your local art store or screen printing supply shop) Speedball is a popular brand
  2. Photo emulsion ink (sold in a kit of 2 bottles to mix yourself, follow the instructions)
  3. Emulsion remover (If you want to reuse your screen for another print)

Materials that can come in handy
  1. A fan
  2. Heavy objects to use in the emulsion setting stage
  3. Sponges
  4. Newspaper
  5. A paintbrush (You might have to touch up your image if it's not perfect enough for you)
  6. Access to your shower
MANY of these materials can be found in a simple screen printing kit for cheap, so check out your local art store for what's more economical for  you.  

A kit can contain:
  • 1 screen
  • photo emulsion
  • photo emulsion remover
  • inks
  • squeegee
  • instructions
  • Touch up screen ink & filler

Step 2: Create the Image You Want to Print

Okay, you don't have to make one of yourself, but feel free to be awesome like I am.

The key here is to make your image black & white or as close as possible.  I rushed through this one and you'll see a few imperfections along the way, but the cleaner and bolder the image is, the better results you'll have later on.

So, I chose myself.  Simply put, I got a shot of myself in front of my homemade green screen ($15 worth of fabric), loaded it up, cropped it out and "stamped" it with Photoshop.  I find that stylizing with the "stamp" feature is the fastest and cleanest way to get a cool and quick black/white image, or at least close to.

Once you have your image, simply print it off on a transparency   If you don't have one, no problem, take your image to Kinko's or Staple's to do it for you.

Feel free to print it on regular paper first to make sure it fits within your screen and will look good on your shirt or whatever you are printing on.

TIP:  I recommend printing two exact copies and taping them together for a deeper black image, you'll get a cleaner image that way, but make sure you line it up properly!!

ALSO: Since my light box is shining from the bottom up, you do not need to reverse the image or lay the image in reverse later on, what you see is what you get here, so always keep it the right way.

Step 3: Prep Your Equipment and Screen

Hopefully you gathered your materials to create your light box.  

The light box is one of the most critical components to this.  The best part is, a junky job of a box like mine will work better than something you might find in a shop.  

You can spend quite a bit on a good light box, few hundred dollars for a larger one but we're doing this at home and we are on a budget folks.  Mine costs less than $20, much less if you borrow some things from around the house.

Build the box:
  1. Cut a small hole like the one in the picture, this lets you get the power bar cable through.
  2. Cover the inside walls and bottom of the box with tinfoil, this reflects and spreads the light on your image.
  3. Plug your bulbs into your power bar and sit them in the bottom of the box, have them face up or flat, not sure it matters too much because of the awesomeness of this box

Boom. Your box is done, just have these handy for later:
  • some flat, heavy objects (not heavy enough to smash through though) to cover it later
  • a blanket
  • your sheet of glass to cover the top

Build or grab your screen.
I've included pictures of what I've made screens out of:
  • Dollar store picture frames/canvases
  • Reused old wooden frames

FYI:  During this instructable, I discreetly go from one frame to another, may not notice but I ended up printing a larger design than planned and took more shots in the first go at it.  It won't affect the steps I promise.   :)

Step 4: Ink the Emulsion

You'll have to mix your photo emulsion first, so follow the instructions and then get the environment ready.

You need to:
  • Keep the lights low through these steps (This ink is light sensitive, so just do it)
  • Secure a spot you can rest your wet screen to dry where it is cool and dark

Okay.  Set up your station, I used my floor.  You really want a scoop coater.  A CLEAN dustpan might work, but I'm going to outline as if you have a scoop coater.

Fill your photo emulsion ink in the tray of the coater, and evenly coat the screen by running the ink up the screen.  You'll see I didn't do the CLEANEST job on THIS project but it worked fine.  Make the coating as smooth an make sure the ink coating covers the size of your screen. 

Once you coat the screen, stash your screen away in your dark and cool place.  I stashed a fan in mine and set it on low.  This speeds up time huge.  Give it a few hours, feel free to peak in and check its progress, it won't hurt.

In the meantime, you can put the extra photo emulsion ink sitting in your scoop coater back in the bottle...Then put the bottle in the fridge to keep it cool for next time.

Step 5: Emulsify the Image

Just a heads up, this is where I slipped up the most when I started.  The biggest reason is that I built the box myself and I had no idea what my exposure time was so I had to figure that out, good news for you, I sorted it out.

Also, sorry about the sideways pictures here, but not sorry enough to change them.

Let me explain on the light quickly.  Since your photo emulsion ink is light sensitive, you will be setting your image into your screen with your light box by using your non-UV lights to harden the photo emulsion.  

The image that you printed, well the black ink on the transparencies will block the light hence not hardening that part of the screen.  After you set the image, you will simply wash out the image outline.  

The key is to get the emulsion time just right...
  • Not enough time: Under-exposure will not catch the image and more than you want will wash off
  • Too much time: Over-exposure will risk burning through the image and it won't wash through at all
  • JUST ENOUGH TIME: Your image will wash through juust fine

IF you built the same box as me, your exposure time is only 10-12 minutes!  That means, when you get to setting your screen on your light box, it only needs to be exposed to the light for 12 minutes!  Now, if you do a super thick coat of emulsion ink, you may need longer time.

There's a good chance you mess up on this step, hang in there, you just need to get the timing right, you'll get it!
  1. Okay, turn the lights low, go get your DRY screen (few hours later I hope), and bring it to your light box.  
  2. Ensure the glass screen is on the top of the box
  3. Lay down and center your transparency
  4. Rest your screen directly over top of the transparency image, ensure dried emulsion ink covers the entire image when you lay it down
  5. Cover your screen with a dark blanket of some sort (I used a pillow case and a yoga mat)
  6. Get some weight on top (I used Mattcave wine and some motorcycle parts in a box!)
  7. Turn it on and begin the exposure (Remember, mine was 12 minutes!)

Is it ready?! GO get it.
  1. Turn off the light
  2. Pull off the stuff from the top
  3. grab your screen (you may see a light outline of the image, if you do, awesome)
  4. Bring it to the shower and use luke warm water from the shower head to wash out the image
  5. Use a sponge to gently scrub the image out, you should begin seeing the image come out

Okay, hopefully it looks awesome from here, leave it to dry, I put it back in my cabinet.  Next step goes down when it dries...

Step 6: Print Time!

Okay, now that it's dry, get all your ink out and stuff out.

BEFORE you ink, inspect your screen, use packaging tape to cover and holes that ink can get through, as well as the borders, they probably aren't perfect, so tape up the bottom to block ink from sneaking through.  

I always test with a scrap shirt first, in case the screen was sh*t, luckily it wasn't too bad this time around.

Okay, lay out your area.  Get some newspaper out there, it might get messy.

You can do this step on or off the garment...Get a blob of ink above your image on the screen, then you can just quickly pull it down when you're ready.

As you can see, I have a board underneath the shirt, this will keep your screening area easy to manage and your area FLAT.

Also, I went right from screening my test shirt to printing right on my hoody.  So you might be confused if you see me print on black and then I'm wearing a brown hoody, I printed two garments in a row.

That being said, you can print plenty of shirts in one run with the same screen, so have your way with it, just make sure you have the shirts handy.  You can also reuse your screen after you clean it later.  Awesome.  K, pay attention.

  1. Lay your screen on the garment and line up your image to exactly where you want it printed.
  2. Once it's on the garment, don't move it around (ESPECIALLY if it's not the first in the print run)
  3. Spread your ink across the top of the image (above the image, not on it).  Ensure there is enough ink to cover the entire image, as you will be pulling the ink down and you want to do this in one clean swoop (maybe two, but be quick to not mess it up!)
  4. Take your squeegee and drag the ink down the image, make sure the entire image is covered, more ink is good, you can scoop up remaining ink from the screen later)
  5. Once you screen the image, pull the screen up and boom, you should have your image printed!
  6. If you need to touch anything up, you can with a paintbrush
  7. Once it's completely dry, cover it with a towel and iron it with no steam to set the image in the garment.

Boom you're done, I bet it's awesome.  Now clean up.