August 2, 2014

DIY Screen Printing

I have never screen printed before this project, but with the low cost and great results, I would do this again and again.  Sheesh, I did do this again and again.  Here's how:

Step 1: Make your screens

Get yourself an old canvas wrapped frame (I used old ones from my cousin's art practice -- Thanks Kate!) and cut off the canvas.  Rip it right off the staples around the frame.  Don't be shy.

Now measure a piece of porous fabric to be about 2 inches larger than the frame on all sides.  Your fabric can be a sheer organza type, like I've used here (from an old prom dress), or it can be a fine nylon.  I imagine even a tightly woven toole would work here, so long as it's more mesh than toole.  I'm betting silk would work, as it was originally named 'silk screen'!

Using a staple gun, staple one side of the fabric to the frame, then pull as TIGHTLY as you can to the opposite side and staple it there.  Then turn it on it's side and pull crazy hard again while you staple it there.  Finally do the same with the 4th side.  It should be so taught you can bounce a quarter off of it.

Cut off the excess fabric on the back of the frame and now you're ready to roll.

Step 2: Design your T

I love my Silhouette Design Studio software (almost more than my adobe software, which is big) so I design in it often.  Since I was designing a T-shirt for a family reunion (hence the need for 60 identical shirts) I made one that was basic, and had easy, clean text.

Step 3: Flip your design

You'll be needing to flip your design horizontally (or mirror the image) so that it can go in the right spot after we make the screen printer frames, so do so before you print it out.

Step 4: Cut you design out

I used my silhouette for this, and it was incredibly easy, but it's not too hard to print off your design on copy paper, tape it to a sheet of vinyl, then use an x-acto knife to cut out the letters.  You want the negative image, so be sure that you cut out the design and leave the negative space.  This means you cut out the letter 'e' and keep the hole in the 'e' but throw away the solid e shape.  If you're using a cutting machine, weed the letters out of the cut vinyl.  I HIGHLY recommend a sharp pointy tool to hook the letters with to get the vinyl off. Using your fingernails is slowwwww.
I used a push pin.
It should look like this now:

Step 5: Transfer your vinyl to the screen

Using transfer paper (slightly sticky paper sold at the craft store, in the cutting machines section, or here here) rub on top of your vinyl design.  Make it nice and even, then lift it off the backing.  Pull it off slowly and at a sharp angle, watching for any loose pieces that stick to the backing instead of to the transfer tape.

Centering your image on your newly made screen frames, rub the vinyl image onto the fabric, and then flip it over and rub it again on a solid surface so that you can really press hard to get the vinyl to stick to the fabric.  When you feel like it's adhered, flip it back and slowly pull off the transfer tape, again with a sharp angle, and all the while making sure the tiny bits that belong inside the letter '0' etc., stick to the vinyl where they belong.

Step 6: Tape off the area surrounding your vinyl image

Grab some packing tape or some painters tape, and tape around the image you just placed down on there.  The idea is to make the whole screen paint proof so that when you slide the paint around on the opposite side, it doesn't accidentally leak through the fabric where it shouldn't and make it look like an ameture did the shirt.  Tape off all around the image clear to the frames if you're me.

Step 7: Prep your shirts
Stuff each shirt with a FLAT impermeable material (like a cutting mat, or a cereal box) and lay out 6 or so in a row.  DO not use corrugated cardboard (makes it bumpy), nor any sort of piece with a bend in it (especially the flaps on a cardboard box).  Flat things only.  A simple sheet of cardstock would even work!

Step 8: Paint your shirt
Find a straight edged tool (like a plastic putty knife, or a Pampered Chef nylon scraper, or even a plastic bench scraper - I found that empty DVD cases and jewel cases are not so good for this.  Especially if they're busted up on the back and get flimsy on you) that fits within your frame.

Now center your image (it should be right reading with they vinyl touching the fabric of the t-shirt) on the shirt and push down hard on your screen while you squirt a line of fabric paint/ink on one side of the image.  Drag your straight edged tool across the letters/design in smooth strokes.

The harder you push it onto your design and the less times you do it, the better the image results.  I recommend passing over each part of the design maybe 2 times, without leaving huge trails of paint on the design.  The majority of the excess paint should be scraped to the side (where the tape is protecting it from seeping through onto your shirt).  Put down your scraper tool, and lift off the frame using both hands at a time, evenly.

Step 9: Let your design air dry for 24 hours

I like to lay the 60ish shirts I've printed all about the room and admire what a huge thing I just did :)  Really my sisters and I painted these shirts until 4am, laughing like hogs about all sorts of things the whole time.  We hadn't seen each other in a really long time; it was much needed catching up.  I'm so thankful they helped me!!  Don't worry.  If you're not laughing till your tears cloud your eyeballs, you'll finish much much sooner than we did.

If you are in a hurry, just wait till the ink is dry to the touch, and iron it.  I'd follow the paint directions on this one.

Step 10: Deliverance

Or maybe it should be called 'delivery' because this is simply where you give out your shirts.  But then again you're free from the project and everyone is relieved the reunion is finally here.  So much prep!

And now, enjoy all those shirt-wearers, and the beauty that is having your huge family all around you.

Some helpful tips:

Use the glossy vinyl meant to put on bumper stickers. You can get it here here if you're feeling lazy (because it's more expensive) or elsewhere online.  It's just more of a permanent, or industrial vinyl. Stickier.  I got mine from my sis, who got it from ebay in an huge roll, probably from some guy's basement.  Sorry no links for that one.

DO NOT USE FABRIC MEDIUM in your acrylic paint. Just use the acrylic paint.  Acrylic is permanent once dry and happens to be the right consistency for this project.  If you try to add the fabric medium that they sell to make acrylic paint into fabric paint, it will make it runny, and it will absorb into the fabric much faster than it should.  Then your end up with a blob of watered down color instead of clear cut letters.  Acrylic paint is also like .50 cents and after one or two washes is just as soft to the touch as regular fabric paint.

If you botch it, just do it over the top again in another color for a shadowed/grunge look.  It works, and is a cool technique.

Wipe off the screen gently (with a soft cloth) on the side that touches your t-shirt after a few uses.  Then you won't get bleed onto the next shirt before you even apply the paint.

Use baby wipes to get out accidental paint drips from your shirt.  Although it's permanent, you do have about 2 minutes to find drips and get them out.

Use big prints on bigger shirts.  Scale your design and make larger versions of it for those who wear a 2xl versus the 12 month onesie.  I used the same screen size for all our shirts, but the larger shirts are less flattering with such a small image.

Make a couple screens and switch between them.  My screens lasted for about 8-9 prints each.  Rinse them off really well after each set of prints, and make sure the paint never dries on there.  It will block the pores of your fabric and you'll have to re-make it.

If you're having trouble, here is a link to the brilliant tutorial that I learned from on  Brilliant I tell you.

Good luck!  Feel free to comment with questions!