Jenn and I endeavoured to each create a silkscreened design within a single day with the goal of printing out 12 t-shirts using specialty fabric ink.
Silkscreening is a basic graphic art that’s been fundamental to printed shirts, posters, and packaging throughout the last half century.
Within the history of printing, silkscreening sits as one of the last small-run and widely available DIY methods around—and it’s easy to learn!
We both liked the idea of pausing our completely digital creative process and experimenting with something tactile. Jenn had done it back in school—though never on fabric—and I had always wanted to learn.
How we did it
With only a single day at our disposal, we figured we’d start with a kit that contained all the necessary parts, including a pre-stretched 10” x 14” screen. This meant that we’d be assured of having everything on hand and wouldn’t be dealing with screen framing/stretching production (requiring more tools).
We bought two Speedball Fabric Silkscreening kits from British Blueprint in Montreal. We each got a kit so that we would both have a complete set of materials to work with and learn from. This also granted us a bit of leeway in case we messed something up along the way. We also purposely chose to do a single colour design to avoid drying time between applications, not to mention the time required to recreate a second emulsion layer as the two-colour design often calls for.
We also bought a pack of clear Laser/Inkjet-compatible Acetate sheets to print out our original designs (we used 4 sheets) and 12 cotton t-shirts on sale from The GAP.
We used this video as an overview of the process which proved extremely helpful:
Some photos of our process here…
My screen probably wasn’t dry enough before exposing. The edges of the design bled through during the exposure and the lines didn’t come out crisp as some of the emulsion dried inside the masked area. We printed a couple of shirts using the screen but chose to do most with Jenn’s.
Jenn’s screen printed very well. The emulsion seemed to be a slightly different “dry colour” which makes us think that mine was a bit too thick. A design that was a bit more “grungy” worked well as minor imperfections proved to be a LOT less noticeable.
What we learned and some of our mistakes
Make sure the emulsion layer is not on too thick when applied to screen. Get rid of as much excess as possible once coated, leaving only a thin but consistent layer.
Having a proper drying area for screens is critical. Well ventilated and at most very dimly lit with a number of fans would work best.
Have the proper light source (250 Watt Photo Flood Bulb) and a proper downward reflecting photo lamp set at exactly 12” above the screen during the exposure period.
Time the exposure exactly according to supplied charts.
Never use HOT water to wash out the masked area.
Be very careful around your materials to be printed on—it’s messy work. Hands, squeegees, and working areas in general get covered in ink and it’s very easy to transfer that mess onto your clean items.
For heat-fixing fabric designs at the end of the process, use a proper ironing board. We used a piece of cardboard and it caused some troubles.
Washing out and resetting screens is hard work. You need a good set of cleaning materials. Both Jenn and I decided that we’d leave our designs in the screens which makes them permanent. Fortunately, screens themselves (10” x 14”) are only about 10$ each.
What could happen next
We still have a good supply of materials which could be used to create more art. Now that we have a handle on the process it would be much faster. We’d need to learn a bit more to do a multi-colour design but both Jenn and I think we could handle it. We’d also need to learn a bit more about registration and how to thin colours/retard drying times/etc..
Sarah suggested that we create hand-made holiday cards for our clients.
We could do some more shirts since one or two of them came out wonky.
We could print the smaller door sign onto wood to replace the older sign outside the office.
In the end, it was a fun creative process which got us thinking about lots of different ideas. We’d love to hear about your similar experiments or any suggestions you might have for us. And if you’re thinking about trying it yourself for the first time, good luck and have fun out there!