Friday, December 23, 2011

Screenprinting 101: A DIY Guide for Starting Your Own Apparel Line

Ever wanted to design your own images and print them on a shirt or bag? This can be great for commemorating a friend's birthday, creating merchandise for a local band, or creating branding yourself with a repeatable image that can be applied to virtually anything.

I'll start with a list of supplies needed to establish your screenprinting studio, followed by a step-by-step guide to burning an image on a screen, and then the process of printing an image on fabric, which is actually the easier and least labor intensive part.

Materials: (Estimated total cost $165)

Photo emulsion: If your buying a retail brand like Speedball, purchase a larger size is the best bang for your buck - 32oz $25
Photo emulsion sensitizer: 2oz $7
Cubic yard of 1/2" plywood, one side spraypainted matte black: $10
Cubic yard of 1/4" glass: $10
Squeegie at least as wide as the biggest image you intend to print, 70 durometer: $25
Transparencies to draw or print your image on: $3
Opaque markers or Sharpie paint pens extra fine: $5
Light fixture with ceramic socket and reflector: $10
Atleast a 250 Watt specialized photodevelopment bulb: $10
Surge protector/extension cord with switch (optional): $10
Black contractor trashbags (The bigger and more opaque the better): $10
2" brush or a handful of dinky foam brushes: $5
Framed Silk Screen: $20 used.
Bleach/Photoemulsion remover: $15

Overview: How exactly am I burning a screen? Is this dangerous? No lighter or extinguisher needed. You are going to burn a positive image (as opposed to a negative or background image) onto a screen by using multiple transparencies printed in a high contrast so that the image is opaque, alternatively reaching the same effect by coloring in a single transparency with an opaque/paint marker. Its simpler than it sounds.

The Screen: A framed stretched piece of mesh silk.

If you can find a used screen with someone else's image burned into it, this is much cheaper than buying a screen new. Check used art supply stores or recycled hardware stores. You can find screens that go for $250 new for under $30 if you're lucky. When buying a screen you want to look for the finest woven silk mesh as possible that is stretched as taut as possible, without any holes or tears. Alternatively you can make your own screen using a staple gun and a picture frame; Results will be much more professional with a factory made screen.

Prepping the Screen: Bleach and Photo Emulsion Remover

If you are using a used screen, you are going to clean the photo emulsion, paint, screen filler, and drips on the screen. You are going to need a spray hose - the higher powered the better - but not something as powerful as a pressure sprayer. A restaurant dish faucet works but so will a home faucet. You can use photo emulsion remover if you want, but bleach works just as well if you take the necessary precautions.
Paint the used screen with bleach or photo emulsion remover

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