How To Silk Screen Shirts

Screen Printing or serigraphing, more commonly known as silk screening, is a method of printing design on any surface using a designed screen made with silk and an ink that is forced through the screen’s design. This technique can be traced back to the Song dynasty in China and was then been brought to the other parts of the world through trading. It is one of the most interesting forms of printing and is very common today in shirt designs. If you’re interested to know more about how to do silk screens on shirts, read on.

First thing to prepare is your screen. You typically have two choices here – the wooden and the aluminum framed screen. For ease of maintenance and longevity, it is recommended to use the aluminum screens. The mesh count also is a vital factor to put in consideration. The mesh count is basically the tightness of the weaves of the screen. For silk screening on shirts, it is best to use a screen with a mesh count of 110-160 to let more ink pass through the screen, since fabrics are very absorbent.

Next thing to ready is the design you want printed on the shirt. You may use any designs you like as long as it has high contrasts for better printing. Though there are available stencils out there that you can simply purchase, you may also do the stenciling yourself using an emulsifier, a squeegee, rubber spatula, black cloth, a sheet of glass, a darkroom, a photosafe light fixture of 250 watts, and a water sprayer with cold water.

Follow these instructions when making your stencil.

  1. Coat your screen with the emulsifier or sensitizer. This substance will essentially put your design on your screen. In time, the emulsified areas of the screen will harden, allowing no ink to pass through it and making sure ink only passes through the non-emulsified areas. Be careful when applying the emulsifier in a lit area, as it hardens quickly so it is best to do it in a darkroom with the 250-watt photosafe lights. You may use very dim lights in the process. Always make it a point to apply the emulsifier very thinly on the screen using your squeegee. You can also use a spatula or a scoop coater. Let it dry by exposing the screen to direct light underneath your glass sheet. Just be sure to remove any blockages to the light or any small particles like dust on the glass that would ruin your design as it dries up.
  2. After about 15-20 minutes or when your stencil is completely dry, remove the glass sheet and let the screen lean on a wall and spray cold water on the design to clean it up.

Now that your stencil is done, printing comes next. To avoid wasting shirts, it is better to try stenciling the design onto any other scrap surface. In this guide, we’ll use a clear sheet of acetate as a test. Prepare your stencil, shirt, fabric ink and a huge acetate sheet. Place your acetate on the table and clamp your stencil on the table to avoid unwanted movements while printing. Once your acetate is sandwiched by the table and the stencil, put some ink on the screen slightly above the image and use your squeegee to spread the ink on the screen, completely covering the design. Once the design appears right, it’s time to use the shirt. To do it, simply put the shirt underneath the screen and do the same. Make sure to apply more pressure when spreading the ink to make the design more visible on the shirt. Let it dry for 30 minutes to an hour and iron the image after.


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