How to Make a Silk Screen Stencil in 3 Easy Ways

How to Make a Silk Screen Stencil in 3 Easy Steps

Whether you’re new to screen printing or looking to take your design skills to the next level, learning to create a custom silk screen stencil is one of the best ways to improve your craft. 

The thought of creating a silkscreen stencil may sound a little daunting but it can be completed in a DIY (do it yourself) fashion without any prior experience or major investment of time and money. This simple guide on how to make a silk screen stencil will show you how to do it in 8 easy steps.

Why is a Silk Screen Stencil the Right Project for You?

Once you have the right machinery in place, making small updates to the way you use it can make a world of difference to your enjoyment and results. A custom silkscreen stencil is an ideal option that can be used for personal or commercial designs. It can be used for screen printing onto t-shirts, hoodies, tote bags, and a host of other products.

The DIY approach to creating a screen print gives you the versatility of choosing between mesh screens, paper screens, or fabric screens. While a paper screen is a great starting point for when you want to practice screen printing, or only need to use a design once, a silk screen stencil is a cheap and effective solution that can be used several times while it also allows you to maintain a hands-on approach to screen printing activities. 

If you want to achieve accurate designs time and time again, a custom silk screen stencil is the best option by far.

How to Make a Silk Screen Stencil 

By now, you should be familiar with the silk screen making process and have some good ideas of how you’ll use the stencil to bring your latest designs to life. For the best results, though, knowing how to make a silk screen stencil will be crucial.

The following steps will detail three different methods to help you create a silkscreen stencil that will deliver reliable results and keep your screen printing activities fun for years to come.

Step 1: Take the Hand Drawn Approach

Perhaps the quickest route to creating a silk screen stencil is to draw and cut it by hand. To take this approach, you will want to tape vinyl or paper down and then draw your design, which can then be transferred onto the silk stencil material. The drawing needs to be accurate, so you will probably find that simple designs such as shapes or block letters are the best choice. You can use a metal ruler for straight lines and a marker to make the design clearly visible.

The next step is to attach this design to secure the vinyl to a sheet of transparent plastic, keeping a border of at least 1” in all directions. Using a sharp cutting knife and cutting mat, you can then remove the parts of the vinyl design that you’ve drawn. The parts you cut out are the areas where ink will be allowed to flow through and touch the bag, t-shirt, or product. As such, your vinyl will look somewhat like a negative of the design you wish to create.

Once you’ve done this, the stencil can be attached to a silk screen. Be sure to do this smoothly and remove the backing for optimal results.

Step 2: Use the Vinyl Machine Approach

Another option is to use a vinyl cutting machine, which prints precise designs. If running a business, you’ll want to buy one. A hobbyist may rent one or find a printing company that has one. When you take this approach, you’ll need to create your design on a computer using graphic design software and save it as a PDF.

If using the machine yourself, you’ll need to feed a roll of vinyl into the machine and then export the stencil design to the vinyl cutter, which will subsequently trace the outline. Once finished, you’ll need to use a sharp knife to weed the design by removing the excess material. Like a hand-drawn design, the parts you cut out are where the ink will be able to make contact with the t-shirt or product you want to print on.

You can then attach the frame to the silk screen and attach your stencil using tape. Be sure that the stencil is flat and without any gaps or bubbles that could ruin your printed design.

Step 3: The Emulsion Approach

The use of photographic emulsion does take time, but a lot of this is waiting for the paints to dry. So, you’ll be able to repeat the process or get on with other tasks during those times. To use this approach, the emulsion should be applied to both sides of the screen, using straight strokes with your squeegee to gain even coverage. Once you’ve finished, the screen should be left in a dark room for at least two hours and potentially for 48 hours.

In the meantime, you can print your silk screen stencil design onto transparent paper. You can then place this down over the screen while you may wish to place a sheet of glass or transparent plastic over the top of this to keep it in place without leaving any gaps that could result in a smudged or incomplete design on your t-shirt, tote bag, or other product. You should then place the screen and stencil onto a black surface for even light exposure of the emulsion.

Finally, you should put the screen under a UV light. The lightbox power requirements and durations will depend on the type of emulsion used, which is why you must pay attention to those times. Ultimately, though, it is the light exposure that allows the emulsion paint to set onto the chosen product. When you do it for the right amount of time, you will be left with a beautiful finish that perfectly replicates your chosen design onto the final product. Crucially, the colors will provide an even depth. Assuming there are no gaps in the print and stencil, the image will be 100% accurate.

The Final Word

As a screen printing enthusiast, knowing how to create and use a custom screen printing stencil is hugely beneficial and can deliver great results while saving time and money in the long run compared to other options. Whichever type of stencil you wish to use, get in touch with our friendly team to learn about the best light-boxes, emulsion, or inks today.