Introduction: Using a Vinyl Stencil to Silk Screen a T-Shirt

The step by step process for preparing a vinyl stencil and transferring it onto a screen to use for silk screening. I learned how to do this at Techshop.  The instructor was very patient me as a choose a very difficult design to do the first time. I decided to do this instructable on just the vinyl part of the project - as that is the trickiest step if you ask me. The silk screening part was easy.

You will need:
An image 
Access to a vinyl cutter
Craft knife
Sticky paper
Silk screen frame

Step 1: Your Image

Choose an image that you want to place on your shirt. For your first time, choose a simple image - similar than the one I choose if possible.  What makes an image simple? The vinyl bits that you are going to remove and those you are going to leave behind should be thick. For example, the letters on my design were pretty easy to remove, but the picture had too many little spots and lines that were very thin. Even the circle around the image was difficult.

Get the image on to the computer somehow - take a picture of it, scan it etc. This instructable assumes you know how to get that image onto vinyl. If you don't, find someone to do it for you. Remember to reverse the image.  You can see the before and after photos here.

You should now have a piece of vinyl that has your design cut into it and is attached to the backing. It is your vinyl stencil.

Step 2: Peel Off the Vinyl

You are ready to peel the vinyl away from the paper backing. It took me at almost 2 hours to do this - really.  
My first time - once I got going on the letters it went faster
It was hard to tell what parts of the tree image stayed and which ones were to go
The image had many small parts and many thin parts

Next time I would remove the largest areas of the image first, so that I could more easily see the image "appear". Notice that your eye makes a tree look like a tree in this design, but the trunk is actually just a series of vertical lines. Really think about the negative space.

Once all of the vinyl is removed from your negative space, protect it with a piece of sticky paper. 

Step 3: Peel Off Backing

Place your vinyl on the silk screen. Make sure it is square on the frame. Peel off one corner, stick it down firmly and slowly peel the paper out from underneath the vinyl. You can see in the second photo that I used a plastic spatula to push the vinyl firmly onto the screen.

Once the paper backing is off, then you need to remove the protective sticky paper. If you did not push the stencil firmly enough onto the silk screen, bits of the vinyl will stay on that paper and mess up your design. That is another reason to use a simple image, there are fewer little bits to attach.

When some bits of vinyl stay behind, pull them off with your tweezers and stick them down on to the silk screen. Amazingly this technique worked and you cannot tell on the final t-shirt where I did this. (Actually, my instructor did this. Did I mention she was very patient?) 

Some of the vinyl tore when removing the sticky backing. We were able to stick it back down, and you can't see that mistake either. 

Step 4: Final Silk Screened T-Shirts

Once your stencil is secured to the silk screen, you are ready to apply the ink and silk screen your project. When you compare the final product and the original image you can see the details that did not get applied. For example, the little spots in the tree. That is because most of the tree was removed (the vinyl was removed to let the ink flow through.) To get those little spots to show up, they have to stay on the backing. Those that did show up I had to press back on manually.

The good news is everyone loves the shirts and you wouldn't know it doesn't match the original image unless you look at the side by side.

I made it at TechShop!