Silkscreen Print With Vinyl




For this one, we took a vinyl stencil cut on a roland vinyl cutter, stretched a screen on a frame, attached the screen, printed a couple of shirts.

You may not want to do it exactly like this, but here's one way that actually worked.

For this project, I used the image created in the document ConvertImageWithGimp -
Here are the photos -
There is also a process for taking the image created with gimp and cutting a stencil with the Roland Signcutter using the Fabuntu interface, which at this time has not yet been written.

This technique was developed in part through the guidance and advice of Ed Baafi and Amon Millner at the South End Technology Center Fab Lab.

There are a few advantages of using this technique. Having the image in the computer and 'printing' it with the vinyl cutter means that you don't have to get nervous about ruining your original artwork. You can also scale the image up or down. If you want to make a small print on one side and a big one on the other side, you can just cut it with a different size. You also don't permanently attach the stencil to the screen with this technique, so you can use the same screen over and over by keeping it clean after each use and peeling the stencil when you need a different image printed.

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Step 1: Stretch the Screen

There are a few ways of doing this, the way I am doing it now was figured out by Jeff Nollner grade 11 Duxbury High School class of 2004.

Attach one side of the screen to the frame. Start in the middle with one staple, then stretch toward one end, staple it, then pull the other end, staple it. Get the middle locations, each time you put in a staple, it should be pretty much in the center of the gap. Sometimes it is good to put them parralel to the edge of the frame, then go back and put them at 45 degree angles. On the first side you don't need to put any tension on it while you are stapling, but on the next sides you do.

After you have one side completed, start in on the side opposite. Start with the center of the opposite side. Pull the screen very tight until you have the staple in the wood then let go after you staple. Next do the top corner and bottom corner. The next staples go into the center of the top and bottom gaps. When you have the side pretty much done, you can go back and put a diagonal one in the gaps. Tightness is important.

Next do either the top end or the bottom end. Same technique as above. When you are done, the screen should be uniformly tight and taught as a drum head.

Step 2: Staple the Screen

After you have one side completed, start in on the side opposite. Start with the center of the opposite side. Pull the screen very tight until you have the staple in the wood then let go after you staple. Next do the top corner and bottom corner. The next staples go into the center of the top and bottom gaps. When you have the side pretty much done, you can go back and put a diagonal one in the gaps. Tightness is important.

Next do either the top end or the bottom end. Same technique as above. When you are done, the screen should be uniformly tight and taught as a drum head.

Step 3: Trim Off Excess Screen

Trim off the excess screen with a sharp knife. You might want to leave a little extra so you can pull and put more staples if you find a loose spot, but you don't have to. Be careful not to bump the screen at this point, you want it to stay tight.

Step 4: Attaching the Stencil - Weeding

The stencil material for this was made by avery. It came in a big long roll and was cut on a roland vinyl cutter. After it is cut, you have to weed out the parts you want to print by picking at them with a sharp knife, then pulling the part out.

Step 5: Attaching the Stencil - Adhesion

When the weeding process is done, you put a low tack masking tape over the image to hold it in place. I used a sqeegee to make sure I got an even result. At this point, the cut vinyl is sandwiched between the low tack masking tape and the original backing that it came on. Theoretically, you can let it sit in this state indefinitely. In this example, it was a week between cutting the stencil and putting it on a screen.

Step 6: Trim the Stencil to Fit the Screen

With the screen tightly stretched, make sure there isn't a bunch of dirt or grit on the screen, that will keep you from getting a clean attachment. Make sure the stencil isn't too wide for the frame. If it is, you will want to trim it down. You can save the pieces you trim off to use as masking to cover the parts of the screen that you don't want to print.

Step 7: Peel the Backing Off the Stencil

Peel the manufacturer's backing from the stencil. Put the cut stencil on the inside of the frame, where you will be putting the ink. Rub it in place with your hands, and then with the squeegee to make sure you have a good connection with the screen. You can flip it over and look at the other side to see where it looks like it is stuck. When you feel like you have a good solid connection to the screen, then you can peel off the low tack masking tape. Pay attention to the stencil when you take the backing off. If any parts come off with the backing, you will want to stick them into place before you lose them.

Step 8: Block Screen to Fill in the Open Spots

If you have any spare scraps of vinyl, you can use them to cover any holes in the area around the stencil. Regular masking tape works fine for this, make sure any masking you do is pretty flat, because if you run the squeegee over a bump in the tape it will probably come out as a light spot on your print.

Masking tape has an adhesive that sets up over time as it oxidizes, so it may not be good if you plan on leaving the stencil on the screen, then hope to reuse the screen.

Step 9: Put Ink on the Stencil

Take some ink out of the can and spread it above the image with an ink knife. Usually I would use a putty knife, but everything I could find was either way too big or a little rusty. I settled on an aluminum ruler. The ink knife should be at least an inch or so wide. This ink is water based, so it cleans up easily.

Step 10: Sqeegee the Ink Onto the Shirt

Put some paper inside the shirt. Neat paper is good, make sure the surface below the printed area is nice and flat. Today was sunday paper day, so there was plenty around. Put a couple of sections in between the front and back of the shirt to add some tension to the screen and protect the back from the ink.

Position the squeegee above the ink and the image. It is very helpful to have a second set of hands at this point to hold the frame. You can use a printing frame with fancy hinged clamps, but that might not be available. With some pressure on the frame, push the ink over the image with the squeegee. The ink will be pushed through the holes in the screen where the parts of the image have been removed. Go back and forth a few times. If you have sides that are not completely blocked off, be careful, because you could print out the side.

Pull the frame up carefully and the shirt should stay in place. Hopefully you have a nice clean print. If you don't, you can try to reposition the screen over the image and try again, but it probably won't register properly. It might be easier to use misprints as test cases later.

Set the printed shirt off to a side to dry. It should be dry in a few hours by itself. You can speed up the drying process with a hair dryer, iron or something like that. Sometimes incandescent light bulbs have worked well. For the ink to really adhere to the shirt, you should heatset it with an iron a drymount press or run it through the clothes dryer. If you don't heat set it, it will make a mess in the clothes washer.

Step 11: Cleanup

On this stencil I used paper towels first on the screen to wipe off most of the ink. Then I got impatient, and I used some citrus cleaner to get the ink out of the screen itself. This was probably a mistake, because the citrus probably eats the adhesive. Ultimately I just hit the thing with water to get it off. Maybe a glass cleaner or something like that would work. When I have used lacquer based stencils, a huge blast of water cleared if off pretty quick.

Step 12: Printed Shirt

If you print on a decent quality shirt, you should get a pretty good image and nice shirt that will last for years. If you choose 100% cotton, you could also do batik or tie dye on the shirt to really spice it up. Experiment with it and have some fun.



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    40 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I think when it comes to making a really good impression, you need to be as professional as possible, which means using the pros to make your signs. There are so many intricacies that go into making a sign just perfect, and the companies have been taking advantage of the secrets of the trade for years. I think by giving them the power, you will end up really impressed, and more people will appreciate your banner.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    for the price and simple one color art, i am going to not use a pro to make a sign. thanks for this awesome idea, i thought there was no other way except to use professionals to get plastinol tagless label for tshirts, but now i realize i can just use my silhouette cameo vinyl cutter and crank out my labels.


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for this mate, I will certainly be trying it. I am a little concerned about the squeegee lifting the vinyl from the screen. Has anyone tried applying the vinyl to the outside of the screen? Should be OK with the water based inks.

    2 replies

    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    We put the vinyl on the underside and it worked just fine but only for around five prints. I believe the water based inks have a solvent which attacks the adhesive or perhaps it was just the water. Anyway have had great success for one ofs by just sticking the vinyl straight on the fabric.


    Reply 5 years ago

    great to hear for a 'one-off' I had the idea of sticking a vinyl mask directly on to the T shirt and sponge painting the ink on....? will try that now


    6 years ago on Step 9

    Great instructable! About how much ink do you use for each shirt? We were thinking of trying this and making our own shirts for a family reunion, it looks like a fun do-it-yourself project. Is the silk piece special, or could we use an old silk nighty from a second hand store?


    9 years ago on Introduction

    thank you for the tutorial. How many run can you get out of vinyl. ?

    I have a vinyl business and have a cutter...but can't figure out what you do with the adhesive backing when using vinyl for silk screen. do you pull the vinyl off the adhesive backing or adjust the blade and cut through the backing? How about loosing little parts like the inside of letters? Help, I'm so frustrated with emulsions and I have a cutter just sitting there, just missing this crucial step.

    1 reply

    Originally, I did silkscreen by cutting the emulsion by hand. That stuff had a clear backing. What you want to do here is have the cutter cut the design (simple ones at first until you get the hang of it). Then you will weed out the parts of the image that you want the ink to go through. The parts that remain will stay on the paper backing. Once you have weeded out the inked sections, you put a wide masking tape over it. Regular masking tape actually works ok, but the transfer tape that shipped with my machine works better. When it is all covered with the transfer tape, then you remove the backing. Make sure the parts all stay on the transfer tape. Next you put it on the screen and burnish it into place so when you remove the transfer tape all of your image stays on the screen. Then mask off your image and screen your pictures.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    i just tried this with a simple robot image and used two screens, one white and one black on a bunch of different shirts(and different colors). i used oracal vinyl and made 8 shirts and a pair of sophies for the girlfriend. washed it about 5-6 times during the printing and the vinyl is holding up great. i forgot to make a registration system however so the two plates didnt quite match up, actually looks really cool. the shirts i used were all goodwill shirts i ran out and got, cant beat $2 per. made the vinyl guy 2 shirts in exchange for the cutting :)

    RnR robot.jpg
    6 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Hey that's great! I would love to see a photo of the shirt on a person! Glad you found this helpful.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Heres 4 of the final shirts. and using the dryer for setting the ink was a genius idea, especially for as big a batch as i had.


    this is one of the better ways ive seen to do multiple small runs. like you said im not sure it will hold up for 100+ orders, but if you are doing 5 - 10 different shirts at 20 per design then this will save a huge amount of time rather then creating and applying emulsion to the 5 - 10 screens or even cleaning and re-using the same screen 5 - 10 times. Great job!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    where did you get that humungus roll of masking tape


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    The screen is basic silkscreen mesh. Ity is likely a poly, definitely not a natural material. The screens I have seen all seem to be of a similar material.