I have been screenprinting my own dorky T-shirts for a couple of years now and have a ton of fun thinking of new designs and funny sayings on a daily basis. A few folks have asked me to write a tutorial on how I make my upcycled t-shirts. So, here you go.
Before we get started, I will tell you that I have tried the traditional means of creating a screen for screenprinting t-shirts. So, I bought a pre-fab screen, put UV sensitive emulsion on it, placed my photo transfer on it, stuck it in the sun forever and then rinsed it off. What I gained from this experience is that it is expensive, super time consuming, and, for me, not worth it. Bearing that in mind, I moved on to making my own screens from reused materials and using glue to make my designs. It is much cheaper, still time consuming, and does not come out the way a pre-fab screen would. It is much more organic, painterly and much less graphic-like. So, keep that in mind when you read this tutorial.
How to Reuse Materials to Screenprint a T-shirt:
Old Photo Frame
Curtain Liner (the sheer stuff you put behind the heavy stuff when you hang curtains)
Staple Gun and staples
Ink Applicator (Cardboard)
1. Find an old photo frame. Place it on top of a piece of drawing paper. Trace along the inside of the photo frame. Remove the photo frame.
2. Draw some 1 inch arrows towards the center of the square/rectangle you just drew on the peice of paper. This will remind you to stay away from the edges of your screen. You don’t want your drawing close to the edge because it is really hard to slide you ink applicator evenly along the edges.
3. Draw your t-shirt design! Don’t worry if you goof (you can see that I could not decide where to put the work RUN!) you can make your final decisions when you draw on your screen.
4. Staple your curtain liner to your photo frame. Pull the liner snuggly against the frame, then staple it. Cut away any excess curtain liner.
5. Place your screen on top of your drawing, flat side down. Your screen should be touching the piece of paper. Trace your drawing. Make sure you use a permanent marker. I made the mistake of using a regular one and it bled a ton and got into my screenprinting ink while I printed. Just so you know, the permanent marker will bleed just a touch, so if you don’t want that, use a pencil. I find pencil very hard to see so I use permanent marker.
6. When your drawing is complete, flip your screen and begin applying Mod Podge. So, here’s the deal with the glue. Place glue in the places where you DO NOT want ink to flow through when you are printing. Where ever there is glue, there will be tshirt when you print. Where ever there is NO glue, there will be ink when you print. You will need to let your screen dry for about a day.
7. Time for a test print! Place your screen onto a test piece of paper. Place screenprinting ink along one of the sides of your screen. Use your cardboard applicator and slide it along your screen. Do this until your whole screen has ink. Lift your screen and see your creation! You might see some spaces that need more glue. Rinse off your screen, let it dry, then add more glue. Text seems to always need two or three layers of glue.
8. Now you are ready to print on a T-shirt! Place something in the middle of your shirt so that the ink does not get on the backside. Make sure it is as large as your screen so that your print comes out evenly. Slightly pull the sides of your shirt and tape them to the table. The shirt should not have any wrinkles; you want your screen to be placed on as flat a shirt as possible. Print the same way you did for your test print.
9. Check out your brand new tshirt! Remove the middle piece that was protecting the other side of the shirt and hang up your shirt and let it dry. When the ink dries, place a piece of fabric or a towel over the screenprint. Heat up an iron on low and iron over the towel/fabric. This will help seal the ink to the shirt.
10. Wear your shirt with pride!