Wednesday, June 6, 2012

cheap-o screen printing

A couple of friends I know through work recently asked me if I'd make them a Thermofax screen for some fundraising t-shirts they wanted to print up.*

I was out of Thermofax screens and I couldn't get more by the deadline (they have to be special ordered), so I realized I'd need to go a more traditional route.

Screen drawing fluid + screen filler + framed screen = approximately $45 at the local art supply store. Way out of my budget for a donated screen. I could have justified the expense if I'd been planning to clean and re-use the screen, but I wanted to give them one they could keep for future print runs. I needed something less expensive, but quick and on-hand.

Back in school, we experimented a lot with different media in surface design classes, so I knew there was more than one way to solve this problem. In fact, we played around with a bunch of screen printing methods, and somewhere, at the edge of memory, I knew that there were ways of hacking this particular DIY project.

On-line research (word to Pinterest!) turned up some Mod Podge screen printing tutorials, but regular Mod Podge isn't waterproof, and that's all I had access to. Since I knew my friends would be making a ton of prints, I didn't want to risk any gumminess or dissolution.

Back to the drawing board internets. Where I found an article recommending latex paint, which I have coming out of my ears (figuratively speaking. And only sometimes literally).

I chose to use a (zero VOC) latex primer because it fills gaps so well, but if you don't have any latex paint laying around, you can usually get mismatched quarts cheap at the home improvement or re-buildng store. They're only a buck at my local place! Add that to the 99-cent thrift store wooden embroidery hoop and the (free) mesh polyester curtain fabric (it came with my house, but you can thrift similar ones), and this particular screen + frame only cost a little over a dollar and a couple of hours of my time.

Here are a few photos of the screen I made (using their design).

As mentioned above, the logo is their work; I traced it from the artwork they provided and painted it on the back of the screen. You can see that it's possible to get pretty fine detail on the lettering which opens up a wide world of possibility using text-centered designs and other fine-line work.

Too much ink + too much pressure = a terrible practice print.

Subsequent trials were better.

Their finished shirts turned out A. Mazing. (The printing and photograph below are both the work of people other than me, used by permission.)

(You can visit the Homeless Empowerment Network's Facebook page here.)

And then I caught the screen-printing bug, so I made a helicopter screen for my kiddo. As a happy coincidence, the helicopter screen gave me the opportunity to take more photos in-process.


1) Image drawn in pencil on the front of a stretched-tight piece of curtain in a wooden embroidery hoop (hoop up, with mesh screen flat on surface, like it will be when you're printing).

2) Negative space (everything but the printed image) filled in with primer on the back of the screen. Dry very well, overnight if possible. Drying it with a hair dryer will also offer you the advantage of heat-setting the primer.

3) Old t-shirt ready to be printed, with newspaper inside to absorb any seeped paint.

4) Screen on top of t-shirt, with ordinary craft acrylic paint pushed through using light pressure and a plastic gift card in place of a squeegee (you can also use fabric paint or screen printing ink. I tend to go cheap).

5) I didn't rinse between colors and using the tiny make-shift squeegee meant several pulls across the screen, so these have a nice, variegated appearance I liked for this project.

6) This one, too, a piece of the t-shirt quilt planned for our room (when I get around to finishing it up).

7) The key to longevity with anything screen printed it HEAT SETTING! Use an iron with a cloth over your design, or run it through the dryer on hot, and you're good to go!

Thanks to R & E for inspiring my return to screen printing! I hope you guys try out some other projects, too!

* In case you're unfamiliar with the Thermofax screen printing process, here's a short summary. The 9x12" screens come pre-coated with a heat/light sensitive emulsion. This gets run through a vintage Thermofax copier coupled with a reversed, carbon-rich image. The result, in seconds, is a screen-printing screen burned with a near-perfect replica of your image.

Ha! I just got the June/July issue of Family Fun Magazine and they have an article on Mod Podge screen printing! It's a small world, after all.

(p.s. you can make these photographs larger just by clicking on them, but then, you probably already knew that.)

Linking up to:

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Anonymous said...

Genius. Thank you for sharing. :)

Amy - while wearing heels said...

You my friend, should have thousands of comments. This is brilliant. I REALLY want to try screen printing BUT I don't want to invest a lot of money if it's something I turn out not to like. This is truly brilliant. I am totally pinning and hope to try in the very near future. Love it!

Christa said...

This is very cool! I've wanted to try printing too, but don't have the money materials investment. Such a great idea!

Danni Baird @ Silo Hill Farm said...

This is so awesome! I can't wait to try it. Thanks for giving such a great tutorial!

Gina said...

Coming to you from Wicked Awesome Wednesday. This is fabulous! Do you know if it washes okay? I wouldreally love to try it. Thanks!

Night Garden Design said...

Thanks, everyone, for your great comments! I hope you give it a try!

Gina, yes, things screen printed on cloth, even with plain old acrylic paint, hold up pretty well to washing, as long as you heat set! Use an iron with a cloth over your design, or run it through the dryer on hot, and you're good to go!

Paints and inks specified for fabric printing will be a bit more flexible and won't fade as much in the wash, but I've had really good luck with regular, heat-set acrylic paint on cotton tees lasting through dozens of washes.