Cheap (no Photo Emulsion) Screenprinting




Introduction: Cheap (no Photo Emulsion) Screenprinting

There are a ton of ways to screen print on the cheap, and with little materials to purchase. This guide is just the method I used, given the material I had on hand. The end result looks very handmade, and each shirt will have some character! The total cost to me for one print was under $10. Most of the cost was for the ink, which can probably be substituted out. And the best part is it only takes an afternoon.

Step 1: Materials

The materials are simple:
- Frame: This can really be anything. Embroidery hoops, some stiff cardboard, or a bucket with a hole in it. I found a picture frame on clearance for $.75! It is plastic, so washing the ink doesn't do anything real bad to it, and it may hold up longer then cardboard. ($.75)

- The Screen: The most important part. Anything that the ink you are trying to use will ooze through. I used a friends worn out nylon stockings. When it gets stretched a bit it all works out. (Free!)

- The Ink: I had some Fabric Screen Printing Ink left over from another shirt project, so I used it. Some kind of latex paint or something similar will probably work too. ($7)

- The Blocker: This is what you put on the screen, to block the parts you don't want ink to go through. Most screen printing uses a photo transfer technique which uses some chemicals, and light and more things to buy specialized. Using the paint I had on hand saved me some money here. I used some white acrylic paint I had on hand. Elmers glue, wood glue, maybe pieces of paper if you work it right will do the job. ($2 (I think) for a small amount)

Step 2: Make the Frame

First I cut out a piece of stocking that I guessed would be the right size. It turned out to be close.

This next bit gets tricky. The nylon stockings did not want to stay stretched so taping it was a bit of a problem. The tape in the picture is not duck tape, though I wish it was. Something really sticky will be best. After wrestling it a bit, it stayed on.

Step 3: Transfer the Image.

This step was the most time consuming. I just painted all the areas I did NOT want to show up on the shirt. I placed the screen over the glass that came out of my picture frame, so the paint would easily come off. It did stick to the glass, but a gentle touch did the trick.

The only note is to take your time to be tedious. Go to the edges (although you could just tape this over). Also make sure that there is solid coat of whatever you are using. There are two pictures associated with this step which look very similar, but in one the white looks a lot better (the second coat to close holes). Try holding it up to the light to see of the light peeks through anywhere to see where to touch up.

I did notice that as the paint dried, the nylon did start to run in a few places. But some reinforcing ducktape helped because the run was near the edge of the frame.

Step 4: Screen the Shirt!

This is the fun part. I regret that some of good pictures of the process were lost.

Before this step I reinforced the frame with some ducktape. It stayed together much easier.

To actually screen the shirt, scoop some ink into a line at the top of the screen. Then using some kind of squeegee (folded paper and aluminum foil?) spread the ink over the whole thing. I have no tips for how to make sure you have enough, because that depends on the screen, ink, and all that. I would say that using a color dissimilar to the color of the screen might be useful so you can tell what you've covered already.

Let it dry, and make sure the ink sets right. The ironing instructions the bottle were useful as it dried the ink really good, so once through the wash changed very little of the final print.




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    26 Discussions

    im not sure i understood this part of your last paragraph.... "....The ironing instructions the bottle were useful as it dried the ink really good, so once through the wash changed very little of the final print."

    REALLY?! Only acrylic paint?! I can't wait to try this-- seems really easy. What do you suggest to find a photo/symbol suitable for printing? Should I just print it out from the computer on printer paper? Or what?

    A staple gun works great, BUT... it is not necessary to buy one if you don't already have it.

    For years, I've used an ordinary office / home stapler to attach the screen material to a frame.  Those staples will hold the screen, but are not as thick or large.

    NOTE: It is important when using staples of any kind to attach the screen to make sure:
    1.  The staples are fully seated / bedded into the frame so that nothing is sticking up to "snag" on whatever material you're printing on.
    2.  Even after making sure the staples are flush with the surface, I alway cover the staples, AND the screen material edge with masking tape to guarantee no damage will occur to the surface of what I'm printing on.

    the next time you make a screen i suggest a quick visit to joann fabrics or the like, they have very fine weave polyester for about 5.99 a yard (54 inches wide), i used to use nylon but the polyester does nto stretch and is much finer, that way the image is not distorted at all when you try and transfer and the smaller mesh lets you do more complex images.

    which side do you put the actual fabric paint on, the side with white paint or the other side

    1 reply

     If you put the ink on the painted side, the image will come out the same; if you put the ink on the opposite side, the image will be reversed.  An interesting idea.  Maybe try printing opposite images, for your backward friends?

    lol, this is the ghettoest thing ive ever seen. great instructable

    I've done something a lot like this using an old pair of tights and if you paint the edges with nail polish or something its less likely to run =]
    I've also found that using modge podge works really well!

    Hi, I use a T90 mesh or just a piece of net curtain for tshirts. In either case a window cleaning squeegee does the job very well. To be exact I have a window cleaning squeegee with a plastic handle and a piece of metal that holds the rubber. thankx

    I think you are mistaken. That design might have been inspired by something, but I am not sure. As far as I know, my friend came up with it.

    I made the mistake of using a design w/too many small details. Have changed it a bit & am still working on it. It's surprising me how many coats of paint I'm needing to close the holes! (3 coats so far. I think 1 more should do it.) If you use screen printing ink, can you reuse the "screen"?

    The cool thing about screen printing ink is that some of the brands are water soluble. That means before it dries clean up is pretty easy. You can screen quite a few shirts, depending on if/how you clean the screen and what it is made of.

    Great job! I have been doing this for years (with hoops) and have found a thing or two. As for the squeegee, in my experience the plastic credit card size gift cards work great. The edge is just agressive enough for good image transfer (i.e. no bleeding edges due to too much ink), and if you want a stiffer one just stack two together. As far as the ink, regular acrylic craft paint does the job and is EXTREMELY economical (.49 to 1.50 if you buy the small bottles). After it's dry you just lay paper over your image and iron for about 2 minutes to set. My shirts wear out before the images do! Another good thing about using acrylic is that you can add details or highlights in a different color to your image once you have heat set it. Many folks seem to feel that they are limited to just one color. Again, great 'ible!!!

    1 reply

    I agree, I used to use acrylic paint along with a textile medium to mimic the texture of screen printing ink, but found that it weakened the strength of the color of the paint. Now I just squirt paint right from the bottle to the screen without mixing ANY medium in it. Use a square of cardboard from an old box to spread it, just pitch it when you are done. Clean up is so easy. Another good thing about acrylic paint is you can mix ANY color you want together! The possibilities are endless! Have fun!