The Common Man's Silk Screening Guide!




Introduction: The Common Man's Silk Screening Guide!

Ever said to yourself  "Man, I wish I could find (Insert "ultimate fantasy shirt" here). But I just don't know where to buy one...(Sigh)...Guess I'll just keep looking..." ???

Well...The truth is, you don't really have to look anywhere! You can make the shirt you've been looking for and pretty much any design you can dream up with a method of printing graphics know as...

"Silk Screening"

For those of you who want to get into silk screening, its a very simple and fun way of printing designs onto fabric, paper, wood, plastics and a variety of other materials.

Here's a screenshot of the materials you might like to purchase if you don't already have them:

(See notes for details on items!)

1: A silk screening frame with mesh (Nylon mesh is what is used and comes in different gauges of fineness. 110 mesh is ideal for t-shirt making. You can buy mesh and frames at most supply stores)
2: A squeegee
3: Water Soluble Fabric Paints (Come in regular for normal use and Opaque for use on dark fabrics.)
4: Screen cleaners and De-Greasers (For prolonged life of your screen)
5: X-Acto knife

6: A Heating Iron


Miscellaneous items you might like to have:

Photo Emulsion: This will give you a higher quality stencil. Light sensitive material, should be used in a dim environment and should not be exposed to light until dry.

200 Watt Lightbulb: This is used in conjunction with the emulsion. The light bulb exposes the light sensitive emulsion and hardens it while leaving a positive unhardened image on the screen thus creating a stencil.

(I will be covering the Photo Emulsion process in another Instructable...)

Retarder Base: Slows the drying process of the ink's

Step 1: Getting Started. the Paper Stencil Method

Alright, you have your materials in front of you and you're ready to make some prints, but wait...lets get a little organized.

Have your materials nice and neat and set up some news paper or work in an area you dont mind getting dirty with paint. Wear old clothes that you dont mind getting paint on as well. Wear some gloves so you don't get paint your hands and always remember to keep them clean. The last thing you want is to end up with a smudgy finished product...

The Basics

There are many ways to go about making a stencil for your design...

Paper Stencil: The paper stencil is the simplest way of making your design transfer to the shirt.

Using this method will render quick usable stencils. For stencils ideally you will want to have a black and white image. You will want to either print or draw these designs.

(ADVICE: When cutting a stencil, Make sure you leave areas where the white parts of your image stay connected to the entire piece of paper or they will fall out along with the black parts. You only want to cut the black parts of your image. See notes for more tips)

When you have the stencil ready, cut along only the black or negative parts of the image. This is where the paint will flow through and end up on your garment. Be careful not to cut the white as this will act a the negative parts of the image and will block unwanted paint from going onto your shirt.

Step 2: Printing.

When your stencil is ready you can put it aside and grab your screen.

The screen has two sides...

The area where you pour your paint and use your squeegee is the deeper part of the screen. The opposite side is where you lay your stencil.

(ADVICE: When making a print it is advised that you put masking tape over any area that you will not want paint applied to. This should be done on the "stencil side" of the screen.

You might also want to test your print on an old shirt or a piece of paper to make sure the results are nice and crisp and everything lines up nicely)

Have your shirt ready and lay a piece of cardboard underneath so the paint doesn't bleed through to the other side. place the stencil onto the shirt in the way that you want it to appear and then make sure everything is to your liking. Place the screen over the stencil with the inside of the screen facing you. Again make sure the screen is adjusted nicely over the stencil and that it doesn't move it.

Once you're sure of the positioning you can apply your paint. Wear gloves so that you dont get your hands dirty with paint as you will be handling your shirt later and might smudge it.

Put a bead of paint on the edge of the screen closest to you. The amount you apply depends on the size and how much "open" areas you have on the stencil. For instance. If you had only a small circle on your paper, you would want to use a small amount of paint. If you had a bigger more open circle you would want to use a bit more. Any paint left over can be scoop up and put back in the container to be used again.

You will now perform a motion with your squeegee known as a "Flood" stroke. This will flood the screen with the paint and allow for an even coat of paint. With your squeegee in one stroke move the paint to the side of the screen opposite of where you applied your bead of paint. Dont do this hard as will prematurely print the graphic. The key is to apply minimal pressure when doing a flood stroke.

Now. Firmly grasp the squeegee with both hands. Hold it a 60-65 degree angle.

(ADVICE: You might want to have someone hold your frame down tightly so it doesn't move when making the print stroke. This will ensure a crisp image free of smudges and mistakes)

And with one firm smooth pass, move the paint over the stencil and back toward you. Make sure the motion of the print stroke was smooth and not jittery.

Set aside your squeegee and remove your gloves and gently raise the screen and view the results. Remember it is always best to test the print before the final run or you may not end up with what you were expecting

Step 3: And the Verdict Is...?'ve made your print.

View your results and see what you did wrong if you think you might have made a mistake.

If you're satisfied. Get your iron out and have it on the hottest dry setting and put a paper towel underneath and over the print and put the iron on top. This heat will cure the paint essentially making it permanent and washable and hardened.

Step 4: Cleanup.

To clean your screen, scoop up any left over paint and pour it back into the container as you will be able to use this again. Its good not to be wasteful.

Take the screen over to your bathtub or sink and with warm-hot water and a nylon brush scrub the screen down and make sure the paint you've used has been fully removed from the screen on both sides. Paint the is allowed to dry will ruin your screen. Once washed, let the screen sit vertically and allow it dry before its next use. Clean your squeegee in the same way.

The products pictured below are also very helpful during cleanup.

Ulano Screen Degreaser Liquid Number 3.
Speed Cleaner by Speedball.

Step 5: Troubleshooting and Thanks.


Q :My image isnt dark enough. I have spots where paint wasnt applied.

A:Your print stroke was not firm and was not one smooth motion. If possible align the screen precisely again and print once again. The key to a clean image is a smooth and firm pass of the squeegee.

Q :My stencil is falling apart. What am I doing wrong?

A :Your stencil when being cut must have the white or "Positive" areas still connected. You must only cut the black or "Negative" spaces of the image is this is where the paint will flow.

This process is simple, yet at times frustrating. You will goof if up eventually, we all did and sometimes still do. But that's fine because that's how we learn from our mistakes. Every mistake leads to improvement. Remember that and you will be making great works of art in no time.

Thank you for reading this instructable. I hope what you've read will help and guide you along what to me is one of most expressive and hands on ways of creating art that you can wear!

I'd also like to thankSpeedball for their awesome products. I recommend them highly.

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    3 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    how do you make the stencil to silk screen on to shirt ?


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    There are many ways to go about preparing your stencil.

    A good place to start would be taking a sheet of computer paper, and practicing how to cut stencil designs. Once you have the hang of it, cut out something simple or print out a stencil from the web ( Google images, type in stencils).

    With an exacto blade, carefully cut the negative spaces of the stencil - the black filled sections - This will be where your silk screen ink will pass through.

    I hope that answers your question

    If you are good with PhotoShop you can take your own designs and create stencils out of them using a filter found in PS. Google will definitely guide you along the process of creating stencils in PS.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    cool thanks i have wanted to do this for along time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!