(Kind Of) Screen Printing on the Cheap




About: I'm ridiculously picky about some things and sometimes the only way to get stuff the way I want it is to do it myself. Other times I'm just procrastinating.

Usually, if I want a design on a t-shirt I will paint it, however there came a time when I found myself in a position of having volunteered to make 30 or so t-shirts with the same design and could not be bothered to paint them all freehand so I researched screen printing and have put this method together with what things I had to hand/were cheap
The only thing I had to buy for this was some black fabric paint (I had other colours but I wanted black!) and a sponge.

So, here goes...

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Step 1: Gather Your Ingredients

You will need:
Something for the screen 
          This needs to be a thin mesh. I used tights because that's what I had in the house.
Something to hold your screen
          I used an embroidery hoop but you can use a wooden frame and staples
A design
          Unless you're very good with a paint brush and thick paint, go for something simple!
Something to block the design with
          You can use Mod Podge or PVA or special stuff but I used acrylic so I could see where it was
          Mine were ones I bought in the pound shop
Fabric Paint
          In the colour of your choice. You could probably use other paint but it might clog your screen up.
A sponge
          It doesn't need to be duck shaped like mine, that's just what Wilkinson had...

Step 2: Create Your Screen

I forgot to take a picture of this before I painted BUT

Stretch your pair of tights or whatever screen material you are using over your embroidery hoop and trim so you don't have excess bits of tights everywhere getting in the paint!

Lay your assembled screen on to your design and paint the negative of the design with your acrylic (the bits you DON'T want on your final product)

For this I went round a few things I had made on Illustrator. Fancy adobe program however not required. Word, paint or anything else would do, or you can draw your design, or if you're a daredevil you can go freehand.

At this point try not to get too much paint on your embroidery hoops or the person you've borrowed them from will not be too happy!

When I did my first screen I pulled the paper away from the paint before it was dry, this turned out to be a clever move, on my third I left it attached to the paper and had a bugger of a job trying to fix it up. Perhaps you could put some cling film underneath so it sticks to that instead of paper? I haven't tried that way though so don't blame me if it goes wrong!

When you peel away the screen from the design you will only be left with a very thin amount of paint on your screen. At this point, I tend to turn it over and apply a thick layer of acrylic on the back.

Top tip: leave your acrylic out for a while so it thickens up, it's easier to get a nice coat on the tights!
Top tip number 2: don't leave your acrylic out where your cat can walk in it...

Step 3: Go to Sleep

Or read a book, or watch your paint dry...

Step 4: Repaint Your Screen

At this point your screen with it's first layer of paint should be nice and dry. 

It's worth then going over your paintwork, not that it isn't wonderful already which I'm sure it is, just that tights are not the easiest things to paint and you may have some little holes in the negative.

It's worth painting on both sides to get a good thick resilient negative

Step 5: Wait, Again

I'm afraid this is not an instructable for the impatient!
You need to let your screen dry or you will screw up anything you try to print.
But don't worry, you're nearly there.

Use the time to collect lots of things that DEFINITELY need some screen printed design on them.

Step 6: You're Ready to Print!

When your screen is dry you are ready to print! This is remarkably simple.

Pour a little of your fabric paint into a shallow dish so you can get to it easily with your sponge

Place your screen on your item of fabric that you wish to print, with a bit of cardboard between layers of fabric so that it doesn't bleed through

Sponge the paint on to the screen and over the design

When you've gone over the whole design, you're ready to see your results!!

Peel off your screen very carefully, you can use it again as is if you're doing a large batch all at once but if you don't want to use it again right then but will do in the future it's worth giving it a rinse before it dries and clogs up the whole thing.

You should have your design!

Step 7: Make More!

Now you've made your screen you can make as many items as you want with that design, as long as you care for your screen.

Now go show off your new skills.

The finish won't be perfect, but I like the retro/distressed look!

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    28 Discussions


    3 years ago

    this is an awesome idea!! ive been wanting to try screen printing, but eh, there were too many steps involved haha. i will definetely try this though!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Now you're tell me the sponge doesn't have to be duck-shaped, after I spent like 4 weeks and $80,000 trying to obtain one!?!

    JK :)

    2 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Haha I would be surprised if you'd spent 4 weeks trying to get one, seeing as I only uploaded this a week ago :P


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Clearly AJ used this: https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Build-a-Time-Machine-Vortex-Distortion-Spa/

    I would say, after having done something similar myself, pretty much any novelty-shaped sponge would work. For some reason, normal-shaped ones just look at me blankly, their invisible, judging eyes imploring me to take them back and trade them in for something more fun...

    (Great tute, btw :) )


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Not-so-pro tip: For those of you, like me, who have never done anything like this before in your entire life, there is a difference between fabric /dye/ and fabric /paint/. Hahaha Dye will just bleed your clothes a lot, I get the impression it's meant to completely change the color of the shirt. Details are non-existant, but if you just want a big dot, it might work?

    As far as the actual screen goes, it seems to have worked pretty well so far, though I wonder if the first painting step could be skipped and the design traced onto the mesh with sharpie or something? The first level of paint didn't seem to do much for my mesh, and it worked better when I just picked it up and painted on it, rather than painting with it on the newspaper.

    I haven't tried it that way, so it may not work, but just an idea?

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Ah yes, definitely use fabric paint rather than dye, dye will seep too much!

    Painting straight on to the mesh without the paper behind does leave a better layer and so save time but I had problems tracing the design on to the screen as it stretched and buckled too much and didn't leave an outline that I could see well enough, also a felt tip bleeds too much through the mesh. A sharpie might work but I didn't have any to hand!


    7 years ago on Step 7

    you've saved me a ton of bucks!!! daughters airsoft group has been pestering me for t shirts...now i can deliver!!


    7 years ago on Step 7

    Absolutely Brillantey..
    This is a truly good idea.. coz even my Bike Group Has T-Shirts, and getting it done from the professionals cost a Bomb. This will definitely give a personal touch and the rough and distressed look will go with the touring image we have. Thanks a Ton for this Instructable..


    So simple, so BRILLIANT! I already have everything I need.

    Love it :)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Nice work :) My daughter wanted to do just such a project a few weeks ago and we did it almost exactly the same as you did - same materials except that we used mod podge instead of acrylic pain - it was what we had to hand. I would agree with not getting paint on the embroidery frames (!) Ours turned out pretty well and daughter was very pleased with the results.

    Uncle Kudzu

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Now this is an interesting approach to printing on the cheap! I can't imagine it getting any more basic than this.

    I've got the acrylic paint and my GF has a big embroidery hoop, so...


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I've always wanted to try printing on fabric but was too lazy/cheap to buy the supplies. I already have all the stuff needed for this instructable and now I just have to decide what design I want to do first!

    Thanks for the lovely, clear pics and instructions! :)

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Do everything! The screens take a while to dry so you can make loads while you're making the first. Or if you're incredibly impatient you can use a hair dryer!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Such a cool idea.I can definitely pull this off.