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How to Screen Print T-shirts at Home

Tips and Instructions for screen printing shirts at home

Screen printing T-shirts can be a lot of fun, but seems like a hard-reached goal for many, especially when the costs of materials and equipment are factored in. Just setting up to print for fun (let alone to make a profit) can cost a lot of money (thousands, even) if not planned right. The tips and instructions on these pages will help you screen print quality T-shirts on a limited budget.

Table of Contents:

Materials and Equipment
Image Creation
Choosing a Screen (mesh counts)
Stretching Screens
Burning a Screen (getting your image on a screen)
Screen Printing Inks
Squeegee Selection
Printing a T-shirt
Multi-color T-shirt designs
Curing (making the ink permanent)


Materials Needed For Screen Printing

So what do you need to get started? Below you'll find four columns. The first column lists the tasks you'll be doing, but don't worry for now if you don't know the significance of each one- that will come later. The second column mentions only the bare essentials you'd need to print your first T-shirt- Only go with this "Bare Bones" column if that's all you can afford! The third column adds several more items that will make printing T-shirts more effective, but still keeping the operations cheap. This is a recommended place to start. The fourth column lists the items you'd want for an ideal home or small business set-up. There could very well be an additional column or two, detailing what you'd need to go big time, but let's stick with a DIY setup.

T-shirt Screen Printing Materials Checklist

Task or Item

Bare Bones Good Starter List Intermediate DIY Setup
Shirts Blank T-shirts from local store Blank T-shirts from local store or online vendor (bought wholesale if possible) Blank T-shirts from online vendor (bought wholesale)
General 1 or 4 color printing press 4-color printing press 4-color printing press
General 1-4 Screens per image (stretched) 1-4 Screens per image (stretched) 1-4 Screens per image (stretched)
Image creation Pencil, pen, paper, window Pencil, pens, paper, window or light table Pencil, pens, paper, light table, Photoshop or similar software
Image Transfer Transparency, permanent marker Transparency (printed at copy center) or specialty inkjet transparencies Specialty inkjet transparencies.
Image Burning Emulsion, clear tape, glass, sunlight Emulsion, scoop coater, fan, clear tape, glass, heat lamp, 500 watt photoflood bulb, black fabric, wood Emulsion, scoop coater, fan, clear tape, homemade exposure unit, black fabric, wood
Washout Shower Shower or utility sink with hose, sponge Utility sink with hose, sponge, back lighting
Printing Packing tape, squeegee, spray fixitive, ink Screen printing tape, squeegees (4+), platen glue, ink, soft additive for ink Screen printing tape, squeegees (4+), platen glue, ink, soft additive for ink
Flash Curing Heat Gun Heat Gun, Digital Thermometer Flash Dryer, Digital Thermometer
Full Curing Heat gun (not recommended!) Oven, cookie sheets, Digital Thermometer Conveyer dryer
Cleaning Rags, turpentine Rags, screen opener Rags, screen opener
Screen Reclaiming Hose w/ attachment, scrub brush, bleach, tray, plastic, rubber gloves Hose w/ attachment, scrub brush, bleach, tray, plastic, haze remover, rubber gloves Hose w/ attachment or power washer, scrub brush, emulsion remover, haze remover, rubber gloves
 
 

Recommended products from above lists:

Heat Gun After buying too many cheap heat guns, I found this one that is a good balance between affordability and quality. I've put this Wagner 1,200-watt Heat Gun to good use.

 

Flash Dryer A good Flash Dryer can cost hundreds of dollars. This BestEquip Flash Dryer 18" x 18" costs about a third of what you might otherwise pay. So far I'm very happy with how effective it is. The heat flow is even. I suggest upgrading to the one with the temperature display. One WARNING, however: The price is VERY cheap, and though it functions well, I feel the legs aren't very strong. I've reinforced mine a bit.

Digital Thermometer When using a flash dryer for a soft or final cure, you'll want to be sure you've reached 320 degrees F, and a laser thermometer is the easiest way to be confident. Prices have gone way down on these, and this Etekcity Lasergrip Digital Thermometeris a very affordable but highly rated option.

Next: Preparing an image for screen printing


 

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