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Screen Printing On Shirts

21 June 2016
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Ayla Wong
Ayla Wong

Silkscreen printing is a type of printing where ink gets on the fabric through a special stencil or screen. A stencil is made with photosensitive emulsion spread on the screen and exposed to light after drying. After the exposure, the stencil is washed with water leaving the unexposed areas clear. This clear area is going to be the stencil through which the ink will get on the fabric.

1. Choosing the tools.

Mesh, silkscreen ink, wooden frame, photosensitive emulsion, t-shirt, sensitizer, flat nose pliers, nails, and hammer.

You can buy screen mesh, light-sensitive emulsion and ink in a crafts store. When buying a mesh you need to look for the right size. For a t-shirt printing, the smallest size is enough (usually 1 meter is a minimum for sale). It is better to use textile ink or even plastisol ink, which is suitable for any type of fabric. Additionally you need to check the ink, which mesh count it is suitable for (mesh count refers to the size and quantity of the openings in the mesh).

The photosensitive emulsion must match the ink type, which is a plastisol ink in our case. The sensitizer is usually sold together with the emulsion and increases emulsion’s photosensitivity.

2. Stretching mesh cloth.

Cut the piece of the mesh for the size of the frame and stretch it as tight as possible, securing it with nails. Make sure no uneven or curved spots are left on the mesh, as it can affect the printing.

A useful tip: wooden frame can be bought in a store. Alternatively, you can make it yourself; just make sure it is slightly larger than the image you want to print.

3. Spreading photosensitive emulsion.

Open both the emulsion and the sensitizer in the dark room with a red light. You need to add some water to the sensitizer and mix it together with the emulsion. After that you can spread this mix on the silk screen from both sides. The emulsion should be spread evenly, with no gaps left. Leave the screen to dry for 30 minutes. Additionally, dry the screen with blow-drier after that time.

Prepare the image with the black ink. We decided to make a classic one: a white print on the black t-shirt. The image is a special logo that we designed in black-metal band style. It reads FURFUR.

It is best to put your image on either a transparent or oil paper. If you don’t have any, then you can just cut out your image neatly. Our image is a complex one with many thin intercrossing lines, whereas for the beginners it’s better to choose simple images.

A useful tip: a red lamp for developing is best suited for use in the dark room when working with photosensitive emulsion.

4. Exposing the screen.

Put something black underneath the screen, for example, a piece of wood or fabric. Put the image on the outer side of the screen and cover it with the piece of glass. Turn on the light and leave the screen for exposing in about 40 centimeters from the source of light. It needs to stay like that for approximately 30 minutes.

Our image wasn’t pressed enough which is not good. Try to press yours to the screen as tight as possible. We used a 300-watt lamp (the most powerful we could find locally) for exposure. Ideally, you need to use a 500-watt lamp and higher.

5. Washing the screen.

Spray the exposed screen with strong jet of cold water. The emulsion will wash off in the areas covered by the black image, because these stayed unexposed. Keep spraying until your image can be fully seen on the screen. Then your screen is ready and just needs to dry.

6. Printing the image on the t-shirt.

Lay the screen with its outer side on the T-shirt and press it. Spread the ink on the inside of the screen with strong abrupt movements. Then lift the screen neatly and put the T-shirt for drying.

A useful tip: a squeegee is best for spreading the ink but you can use any flat object for this job. Ideally, you need to wait a few hours to let the emulsion dry. We started printing exactly after 30 minutes due to limited time.

The ink amount depends on the size of the image you are printing. In our first experience, we put too much ink into the screen frame, which made the printed image to look inaccurate and smudged.

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