Silk Screen Printing 101 - How to Print Your First T-shirt

Posted by Jeffrey Gononsky on

your first silk screen printing project

Silk screen printing comes with its own set of requirements like screen printers, screen printing kits, screen printing machine, screen printing presses etc. Using all these to create a new masterpiece makes the process highly professional and fun to do. For more on Holden's kits go here.

When it comes to DTG printing, you can find a stupendous variety of printing supplies including printing inks and screens that you can use to craft something wonderful. That's how most of the professional or hobby screen printing people describe their first encounter with commercial screen printing. 

You see, screen printing is an art, and a lot of people would avow to the fact that printing techniques especially printing custom tshirts or a tote bag is more fun along with work. If you are fond of printing onto the fabric, you can even start printing at your home with a few fabric screen printing inks and printing frames. Here's how you can do it, 

What You Need For Your Tshirt Screen Printing Marathon 

As they say, firsts can be both exciting and overwhelming. That's exactly the case with getting your hands on the original tshirt and printing process for the first time. Let's make it easy for you and see what you need:

  • Screen Printing Ink

  • Of course! 

    However, for an amateur, choosing the right ink can be a little clumsy process. You can begin with ready-mixed inks available at the stores like speedball fabric inks instead of going for photo emulsion. Make sure that you read all the instructions given on the link and follow them carefully to create a washable design.

  • Screen

  • Again, you don't need to prepare one at your place for the printing process. You can buy one from a store (it can be a little expensive but that's fine). If you find these readily available frames taking a toll on your budget, you can but one mesh and cheap canvas stretcher frame to make your own frame by placing the mesh over the frame and fixing it evenly. Generally, a 43T mesh count is best for the usual printing process. Checkout more on getting a custom screen made here.

  • Squeegee 

  • You can get this easily from a local craft supply store that sells printing supplies. When it comes to printing on fabrics, you can use a D-cut blade or a square-edged one according to your choice. However, you can also make use of hard plastic or thick cards to make your edges firm.

  • Other things that you’ll need include- 

      • Plain paper
      • Craft knife
      • Roll of masking tape
      • Basic cotton jersey T-shirt or fabric

    How much will it cost? 

    The cost of your entire process depends on the type of screen printing frames or printing supplies you are using. Usually, an A4 screen made from scratch along with other printing supplies including mesh, squeeze, and frame can cost you around $25. It can get a little tight for some new beginners, but if you use it well you can continue to utilize this frame and supplies for a long time.

    What to do to start printing tshirts?

    If you are following the DIY culture and want to make your own tshirt with printed image, you need to follow these basic steps, 

    • Before printing onto the fabric, select your design. As this is your first time, don't go for a design that is too difficult to process. Take it slow. Choose a design that can be easily cut off the paper with a craft knife. You can go for simple designs including triangles or diamonds in a circle or scattered designs. Now that you have selected your design, cut it out.
    • Now, the next step is to take your screen and mask the edges of the side that will be in contact with the fabric. This is done to let stencil have ample space on the screen without mesh creeping in between. However, don't tape your stencil to the mesh.
    • Place your t-shirt or fabric flat on the screen and lay your paper stencil over it where you want your design to be printed. Keep your screen in the top making sure to not move the paper and positioning it exactly at the center.
    • Place some ink usually a tablespoon of ink in a line at the top edge of the screen.
    • Hold the screen firmly with one hand and place a squeegee on the ink with another. Keep applying pressure as well as pulling it down the screen and taking the ink with it. Now, keep this squeegee to another side and keep repeating the process. Make sure that you do not drip excess ink.
    • Now, carefully hold your fabric with one hand and lift the screen up from the bottom. And, there you are with your first ever craft.
    • You can observe your paper stencil sticking to the screen with ink. This is a crucial step as you have to take your next step instantly. If your ink is beginning to dry, wash the screen immediately as water-based once dry is difficult to get out.
    • After finishing your print, discard the paper stencil and wash it with cold water. You can also scrub it with a sponge or nylon washing brush to get all the ink out. Leave the skin to air dry before using it again.

    For new beginners, silk screening can be a little daunting experience and you may not get successful at your very first attempt. Hence, what you can do is run a test print to get to know the process. This will acquaint you with a basic understanding of the screen printing techniques and ideas that you can incorporate in your final run. You might come up with a few difficulties including holding squeegee and screen at the same time. But, you can always get help. You can ask someone else to hold the screen as you focus on the squeegee.

    Happy screen printing!! Stay tuned with Holden’s Screen Printing Supply for more updates from direct to garment printing tips and techniques.