I'll show all you cheap people how to screen print. I build or make %99 of my stuff. This is probably the cheapest way of doing screen printing. Only thing is, is that you will have to want to make many screens for it to pay off. But I've made many screens and truly love making people shirts, and even more.... saving money.
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Step 1: The Screens
the screen frames are pretty easy from scratch, I use 3/4 inch wood (lying around, so it doesn't truely cost me anything) and cut 1- 1 1/2" strips. I then make 45 degree cuts on the corners. My screen's dimensions are usually 18" X 17" for a regular design but for full shirt designs I use 21" X 18". but after the 45degree cuts have been done they should all set flesh with each other. now take out your pressurized staple gun and shoot each corner this should hold the frame together. Now its time to stretch your fabric.
Step 2: Stretching the Fabric
now its time to do the most annoying part of screen printing... stretching the fabric. if anyone has performed either stretching a canvas or made a projector screen will be familiar with this process. To start out you will need the fabric to stretch. I buy mine at my local wal-mart the fabric needed to do this is called a "mesh" fabric, if your not %100 on fabrics ask a employee they are sure to help you out. most of the time I buy my fabric for $2 a yard so it ends out being pretty cheap. Now its time for the sketching of your newly purchased fabric, I start out with 1 staple on each side and progressively add 2 to each side making sure that I tug on the fabric as I go to each opposing side. after a while and a few hundred staples I finally finish my screen.
Step 3: WARNING: HARMFUL CHEMICALS Aka Phto Emustion
Step One: make a sensitizing solution
Use rubber gloves, apron, and eye protection.
This is toxic and can penetrate skin.
14 grams of Potassium Dichromate (from ceramic chemical suppliers)
4 fluid ounces of water.This can be stored in a dark glass bottle in a dark place for several months. I bought my potassium from ebay, 1lb for $20 (including shipping) this proves beneficial if your doing A LOT of screen printing cause 1lb = 543 grams. Elmer's glue is like $.25 each so I stocked up.
Step Two: make a photo sensitive emulsion
Use rubber gloves.
This is toxic and can penetrate skin.
10 parts Elmer's Glue (by volume)
2 parts sensitizing solution
Keeps in total dark for a day or so. Work in dim light.
Use a small piece of mat board to spread the glue thinly across the fabric to close the mesh with glue as thin as possible to stop up the fabric. Work from both sides to spread it thinly.
Dry in a dark closet.
Step 4: The Design
Some tutorials will tell you to scan in art and then print them onto a transparency, this is a good way to do it. But me being my cheap self use translucent paper ( given to me from my art teacher at school so no expense there) and draw on them or trace to make my design. I use a combination of permanent sharpies to make my designs. but if you have a large or intricate designs I would stick with the transparencies.
Step 5: Exposing Your Screen
I have a reflector I bought from lowes for $8, and has proven to be worth it. since this is homemade emulsion tests will need to be done as far as exposing time goes, I know my 18" X 17" take 15 - 20 min. to expose. if you happen to try this please post your personal times and heights etc. I tape my designs down on one side. This prevents from the design moving around and since there's only one it works as a hinge and allows you to see the difference in colors from the exposed to the non exposed parts of the screen. Also if the screen is not ready the tape allows you to place it back down with out any movement of the design. ( hence referring to it like a hinge)
Step 6: Water Time
Use a garden hose or power washer to spray the entire surface of the screen with water. At first, do this with low pressure from a distance. Within 2 minutes the screen will start to open up and the positive areas will start washing away. Move closer if necessary, increasing the pressure of the hose and focusing it on any areas that do not seem to be washing away. Sorry for no pictures.
Step 7: Final Step... Printing
the final step is printing. I use nothing but a car squeegee used for cars, found at walmart for $1.80 and works just as well as the expensive squeegees people will say you "need" place a strip of ink above the design, burnt into the screen. then with little force pull the ink towards you. then go back up top and use a little more force then before.now carefully pull the screen off the fabric. This should now reveal your new DIY cheap screen printing.
Step 8: Word to the Wise
well over the last few weeks i came to the result that a cheap product called vellum (found at staples) works the best for burning your screens. also if you would like to "reclaim" your screens, all that is required is bleach. Lightly apply it to the ruined/ unwanted screen, let it set and them spray it with the hose.