Simple Silhouette T-Shirt Stenciling




We had wanted to try screen printing at Coventry Makerspace for a while, but were concerned about use of chemicals in our kid-friendly space, and the cost of materials and equipment was somewhat prohibitive. But when we received a Silhouette Portrait from Instructables (thanks guys!), we realised that we could use it to experiment with low-cost stenciling in the style of screen printing.

You will need:

  • Silhouette cutter (we used a Portrait)
  • Self-adhesive vinyl (ours was clear, but any will be fine)
  • Low-tack masking tape (or transfer tape, if you happen to have some)
  • Hook/probe tool
  • Screen-printing paints
  • Hair dryer or hot air gun
  • Iron

Step 1: Create a Stencil

First off, you need to create a stencil. You can do this directly in the Silhouette Studio software, or you can import an existing design that you have created elsewhere. If you import a design, you can use the trace function to create cut lines around the edges of the artwork. Once you are happy with your design, cut it into vinyl using the Silhouette cutter.

We find that for best results cutting vinyl, once you have set the media to vinyl and the ratchet blade to 1, edit the thickness settings from the default of 10 down to 5. This will ensure that you 'kiss cut' the vinyl, meaning that you cut the top layer of vinyl leaving the backing paper intact. Doing so makes the next step a lot easier!

Step 2: Lay Your Stencil

Once you have printed your stencil, use masking tape or transfer tape to hold everything in place. Carefully smooth the vinyl stencil on the fabric you wish to print (we chose T-shirts), and gently lift away the masking or transfer tape. weed out the areas you don't want (where the paint needs to penetrate) using a hook or probe tool.


Step 3: Paint!

Although we are using screen print ink, really we are stenciling, so we used a paintbrush rather than a squeegee to paint our design. First we brushed the paint across, then pressed the paint in with a stippling motion. We have found that one or two layers of paint was fine for most colours, but the white ink required several. Once you are happy, carefully remove the vinyl stencil and cure the paint to your manufacturer's instructions. In our case, this meant using a hot air gun (or hairdryer) to heat it for a few minutes, then ironing it. This cures the ink, fixing it in place.

Just a little word of warning - be sure that you follow the manufacturer's instructions to the letter! And if possible, have a look online to find out other product users' experiences. We followed the manufacturer's instructions for our low-end-of-the-market paint , but only when we had a first-time-in-the-laundry disaster did we discover that although the instructions just told us to iron the print on the reverse, other users reported that they had to iron for five to ten minutes to cure the ink completely. Cue some less-than-ideal hand painting by the Maker Girl's father! In the future, we think we will opt for better inks, as well as doing more thorough research online before proceeding.

Step 4: Multiple Stencils to Create Something Truly Amazing

You can use multiple stencils to build up a larger composite. Our Maker Girl wasn't that impressed with her maker girl shirt. Sure the text was pink, and it was cute, but after the mini disaster with the ink being washed out something had to be done. What would stop a little maker from being upset about a failed project? Hmmmmmmmm. A large pink unicorn? Yes, that would do it!

So after a quick search through free clip art, we found a great looking unicorn. With a big approving smile from maker girl, we tasked the Silhouette and it produce the goods. Following the instructions above, we now have a much large design than we could have achieved in a single pass.

The shirt was ironed to the limits of setting it on fire and then handed over to our min maker! All is good.

Step 5: Multiple Colour Printing

After our first successful attempts, we decided to make a two-colour print. We chose to make T-shirts with our Makerspace logo on, so we can brand ourselves when we're out and about doing our community work. First, we needed to separate the two colours in our logo, which was very easy in Photoshop (and can be fairly easily accomplished in free software as well). Once we had our two colours, we made a stencil for each of the two colours. We then printed each colour separately, exactly the same way as before, ensuring that we cured the ink on the first colour thoroughly before moving on to the second. We were pleased to find that the first colour was unaffected by having the vinyl of the second stencil placed over it, and suffered no ill effects. The result was just what we wanted, at a fraction of the cost of buying commercially printed shirts! You could of course do this with as many colours as you like - it just adds to the time and complexity.

While mock-screenprinting is not practical for making large quantities of the same shirt, it is ideal for making truly unique, one-of-a-kind designs. It would also work well for proofing designs before transferring the design to a screen. I hope you like our instructable, I can't wait to see what you come up with!

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    11 Discussions


    3 years ago

    How well did the tshirts hold up after washing? And which inks did you decide to use?


    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you. The maker kids *are* very cute, they are also awesome makers and we are so proud of them, and the others in our makerspace :)


    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you! We really enjoyed making them, the Silhouette build nights have been so much fun! We really appreciate the help that Instructables gives to makerspaces :)