4-Color Screen Printing for Under $50




Screen printers are expensive.
But they don't have to be.
Here's how we made a 4-color screen printing press for next to nothing.

Special thanks to HackBerry Lab!
( www.hackberrylab.com )

Step 1: Tools and Materials

-The Press-
X Plywood
1 Wheel Bearing (from skate wheel)
2 Bolts
2 Shurite lift-off hinges

3 Screws for hinges (per hinge)
1 Power Drill
1 ___ drill bit
1 ___ drill bit
1 Screwdriver but for hinge screws
X Brad nails
1 Brad nailer
1 (Optional) laser cutter

-The Screens-
X Plywood
X Chiffon fabric
X Sogn/sticker Vinyl
X Mod Podge

1 Staple gun and staples
1 Paintbrush
1 Vinyl Cutter

X Shirts (or whatever)
X Screen printing ink
1 Spoon
1 12" wide squeegee
X Painters tape

Step 2: Cut Wood

Refer to the photos above to see how we cut our wood. All pieces were cut out of 3/4" plywood.

We then drilled holes where marked to attach the skate bearing.

We used a laser cutter to etch a logo to an additional decorative piece of wood and attached it to the top.

Step 3: Nail Together

We attached piece A and piece B using a brad nailer. Then attached pieces C and D using the brad nailer.

Board D can be mounted to a table with wood screws or nails to keep it from falling off the table when you put pressure on the overhanging screens.

We also laser etched a decorative design on another square board and put it on the flip side of the square with the larger hole. We attached this using a brad nailer (noticing a theme here?)

Step 4: Add Skate Bearing

We joined the two halves of our project with the skate bearing to hold it together while allowing smooth rotation of the top half. We simply pushed it into place to do this. The holes were drilled to perfectly fit the bearing.

Step 5: Drill Holes for Locking Pins

The bearing allows for rotation so that the press easily swings around to switch between screens/colors, and the pins lock it into place to keep it from rotating while pressing.

We drilled holes through each corner of the large pieces of wood slightly larger than our bolts so that the bolts could drop in or lift out easily.

Step 6: Build a Screen

We built our frame out of 3/4" thickness plywood. We cut them into stops that were 13 1/2" long and 1 1/4" wide. We then cut the corners at 45 degree angles. After that we lined up our wood to create a box shape and stapled the corners. This is how we created our basic frame.

For the screen, we stretched out fabric over the frame and stapled one side at a time, making sure to keep the fabric tight as we worked out way around. We also stapled down the excess fabric around the sides that was left after we cut the fabric.

Step 7: Add Design to Screen

We looked at a lot of techniques for putting designs on the screens and decided to try a spin of our own.

First we cut our design out of sign (sticker) vinyl. We attached the sticker to the inside of the screen with transfer paper. We used a plastic spludger to make sure it was applied evenly. A credit card works for this as well.

We applied a thin layer of Mod Podge to the screen. The Mod Podge fills in the fabric everywhere except where the sticker is so that ink can only go through the areas where the design/sticker is placed. Too thick and the Mod Podge will seep through the screen and run into the areas covered by the sticker. It's better to be safe and apply several thin layers, as we discovered with test screens.

We applied two layers and as you can see in some photos later on, this was not enough in some areas. In the future we will do three or more coats of Mod Podge. For better screens don't rush this process.

When the Mod Podge was completely dry, we removed the vinyl. We could see a clear difference in the screens where there was and wasn't Mod Podge.

Step 8: Attach Hinges

Use a hand drill and screws to attach lift off hinges to your screen and press. The hinges make it easier to keep your screen in place while using it for printing, and make it a simple process to attach different screens.

We built this press and the screen in four hours, so we didn't have time to make additional screens, but three more could be added to the press at a time for multi color prints. They can be easily removed and new ones can be added.

Step 9: Print Stuff

Here's our process for screen printing a shirt. It is FAR from perfected, but it worked decently in our test run.
1. Cover the edges of the screen in painters tape. Try to avoid getting ink on the wood part of your screens because it is harder to wash off.
2. Add some ink to the screen. Look up some YouTube videos for an idea of how much to use.
3. Flood the screen with ink. Keep the screen lifted slightly off your print surface while you do this.
4. Press the screen onto the shirt. Scrape squeegee back and forth in long strokes across the design. This presses ink through the holes in the design onto the shirt.
5. Lift screen and carefully remove the shirt.
6 lightly blast shirt with a hear gun or hairdryer to set the ink faster.

Repeat until done

Rinse off screens ink the sink or with a hose when you are done. Remove the painters tape first to save a lot of work. High water pressure helps.



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    13 Discussions


    1 year ago



    2 years ago

    An excellent instructable! Very easy to follow directions. Thank you.
    As a side note, did anyone write an Instructable on how to build those rolling dry erase boards that are in the background of one of the photos? If not, please do!

    3 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks Nicolas! I appreciate it. I want to make a few of those for my local hackerspace, Arch Reactor, in St. Louis, Missouri.


    2 years ago

    Looks nice! I might just build one when I start multi doing color.

    I want to recommend skipping the mod podge and just buy real emulsion. It's fairly cheap and much easier. (and better results) I messed around with homemade emulsion for a while and while it worked, it wasn't high quality. I spent $30 for a quart of good emulsion and it was well worth the money and enough to do MANY screens.

    2 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks for the tip. We definitely plan to use emulsion in the future. The goal of this first attempt was more of a proof of concept. We only had four hours to construct the press and screen and make a shirt. This ruled out photo-emulsion, as (in my understanding) it takes some time. But it would definitely yield much higher-quality results! - Nicolas (the guy in the video and co-conspirator on this project)


    Reply 2 years ago

    I did printmaking as my major in art school. We used oil based inks to print (so not the same as tshirts) and gum acacia as the masking fluid (as it is water soluble).

    To make your image you simply drew or painted directly on the screen with an oil based medium (pastels, thinned bitumen, etc.), let it dry if required, screened the gum acacia on with a squeegie (no painting and so much quicker) and let that dry, then wash your design out with turps (it helped that we had a turps room with turps plumbing). Do your printing, clean your screen with turps, then clean the masking off with hot water.

    Also, it looks like your screen's taping is adhesive tape. Our screens were cloth taped and then shellacked from memory (shellac is alcohol soluble but not turps soluble). We could clean the screens with water or turps without having to deal with retaping every time.


    Reply 2 years ago

    If there's anything i've learned from CS and Creative Technologies classes at Berry College it's that you gotta "Hello World" your projects--even in non-coding scenarios! - Nicolas (the guy in the video and co-conspirator on this project)


    2 years ago

    this is just great. I will have to build one for my classroom.

    Uncle Kudzu

    2 years ago

    Very cool! The simplicity of your approach is brilliant. You'll have to update with a 4-color run so we'll know if your registration method really works!