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How to screen print your own t-shirt designs at home

Traditionally, graphic t-shirts were made on a manual screen printer, a large and cumbersome machine that was not easily accessible to the general public. Nowadays, t-shirts can be mass printed in factories, and you can design your own through many online stores. However, the traditional screen print shirt has retained its charm, and many people still seek to create authentic screen printed shirts, whether for their own wardrobes or as a fun activity with family and friends. Nevertheless, it can be simple to create your own screen printer at home and start making your t-shirt dreams come to life. 

  • First, you’ll need to purchase a canvas stretcher, found at most arts and crafts stores. You’ll also want to pick up some fine mesh to stretch across the frame, to act as the “screen” between the fabric and your ink. 

photo of a screen printing frame

  • Get creative! It’s time to make your design stencil. Remember, the home-made screen printer can only take one colour at a time, so try to keep the designs simple. Otherwise, you’ll be stopping and starting the process of adding colour so many times, you’ll be able to do it in your sleep! It’s also good to create high contrast designs, as shading doesn’t come through clearly when using a screen printer to create your dream t-shirt. 

photo of high contrast designs

  • Coat the mesh of your screen printer in photo emulsion. This will stop the ink from seeping into parts of the shirt you want to keep clear, so it’s not a step to skip! Do this in a dark room to prevent the photo emulsion from hardening before you’re ready, as it isn’t easy to remove once it’s in the shirt. 

photo of screen print emulsion

  • Place your stencil backwards on the mesh of the screen printer, so that the design comes through the right way on the shirt. Once you’ve got the positioning right, expose the screen to light and let the photo emulsion harden. Once it’s hard, you can peel away your stencil and you should see the outline of your stencil. Wash off the excess emulsion! 
  • Place the screen over the t-shirt you want to screen on, and pour a generous amount of ink (or even paint) on the screen. Use a squeegee to spread an even layer over the stencil. 
  • Repeat this step with other colours you wanted to add, and voila! You have a brand new, custom-made shirt that you have every right to brag about. After all, you made it yourself!

photo of t-shirts screen printed

Home screen printing is the perfect way to bond with family and friends, so why not include invite everyone over for an afternoon of finger food and t-shirt designing?