Screen printing t-shirts has been a tradition of DIY bands, fans of punk and free-spirited creatives. Learning how to screen print t-shirts is not complex, but you need to consider a few things before starting the sometimes messy journey of screen printing. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of screen printing, including how to choose a printer and what kinds of materials you can print on.
How Screen Printing for T-Shirts Works
Screen printing t-shirts is a three-step process, but the basic thought behind screen printing is to transfer an image to a fabric piece. Ink is pushed through a fine mesh fabric screen, then that screen is pressed against the fabric. Create a stencil that will block the ink to the design you want. You can create your own stencils with tape or a cardboard box, you can buy pre-made stencils from a home supply — or Print Bind Ship can make one for you and save you the work.
After you’ve followed the steps to screen-print t-shirts, the ink will leave an image on your shirt. Keep it somewhere safe and flat to dry until you’re ready to wash it. Drying times vary based on the material and type of ink used, so read and follow the ink manufacturer’s recommendations.
4 Reasons Why Screen Printing Is Ideal for Custom T-Shirts
Here are four reasons you might want to create custom screen-print t-shirts rather than a cumbersome iron-on.
Most custom screen-printed apparel has a lifespan of about 20 washes before it fades to a noticeable level. Custom clothes fading is a nostalgia factor that generally looks great with screen prints. Screen-printed t-shirts can become staples of your wardrobe while also taking you back in time to why you made it in the first place.
Traditional DIY-printed clothing relies on heat transfer technology, which uses a heat press to transfer the image from the paper onto the fabric. While it can look as good as a screen print, the heat-transfer method is often not as durable because it skips a crucial step that the screen-printing process offers. The heat presses use a thin film to adhere to the shirt, whereas screen printing uses a thicker film that bond to the shirt and is able to withstand the wear and tear of everyday life much more effectively. The difference in quality is felt immediately, as the heat transfer tends to peel away from the shirt after a few washes, whereas the screen-printed designs stay intact for the life of the garment.
If you’re designing your own artwork or working with an artist to create a unique design for your custom screen print t-shirt, it can be difficult to get the look you want. Even professionally-designed graphics can end up looking dull on something like a plain white t-shirt when you’ve taken all the saturation out of the colors. Using screen printing allows you to have more control over the colors and vibrancy of your design, allowing for richer and more vibrant images. Your custom clothes stand out even more and create a memorable keepsake that is especially valuable if you want a customized item from a specific event or occasion.
Though there may be more steps in screen printing your own shirts, it’s cost-effective and amplifies your creativity. The process is easy to learn with a little practice, and results can be very rewarding for very little money out of pocket. Even better, if you know how to print t-shirts, it opens up many opportunities to sell your work and make a profit if you’re a brand, band or artist who wants to market yourself physically rather than just your social media presence or website.
3 Steps for Screen Printing Custom T-Shirts
Here are the three steps needed to create screen-printed shirts.
Hone In on the Details
Decide what type of design you’d like to produce, as this will impact the type of process you use to design your t-shirt. Though stencils can be as intricate as you like them, screen printing works best with simpler designs. The screen needs to show one color at a time, so complex details won’t work as well. You also have to think about how wide your design will be, as the ink has to cover this width before it can be printed onto the shirt. For example, if you have a design that takes up the whole front of a shirt, you’ll want to think about printing the design onto two panels, one on either side of the shirt. However, if you decide to make your design shorter, you can use this to your advantage by experimenting with different angles to get the effect that you’re looking for.
Outside of your design, knowing the t-shirt material you want to use is imperative because it will affect what type of ink you choose, how the image will transfer and how it will dry. Finally, you need to know how many shirts you want to make, which will affect not only the cost of materials but the amount of time it will take to print each shirt. If you’re going to be selling a large number of shirts, it may be more economical to use a digital printing service rather than screen printing each one by hand, though it creates a personal touch.
Set up Your Silk Screen
Create a workspace in a room out of direct light and cover your workspace with a material that can get ruined, like a newspaper. The UV light that comes from the sun can prematurely harden emulsion chemicals when you are working with them, so close curtains or doors that let in sunlight to prevent this from happening. Put on safety glasses and begin setting up your silk screen. You’ll need a sheet of plywood or something hard and straight to create a frame for your silk screen.
If you are using pre-mixed emulsion chemicals from a kit, coat the light box or table with the coating solution and allow it to dry for about 15 minutes. Then apply a protective layer of varnish over the exposed surface of the lightbox. This process will help to prevent damage when you begin to print your t-shirts.
If you are using liquid emulsion chemicals, you stir the liquid thoroughly and then slowly pour it into the lightbox until it reaches a height of about 1 inch. Try to apply an even layer of emulsion over the surface of the lightbox to prevent it from bubbling when exposed to air. Once it reaches the desired height, let it set for about 20 minutes before you apply the protective layer of varnish. This process will require a bit more effort than the pre-packaged emulsion kits, but it will allow you to customize the color and thickness of your print as desired.
Transfer Your Design Onto the T-shirt
If you are using a stencil, slide it under the screen and hold it in place while pulling the squeegee down across the screen to force out the air bubbles. Place a piece of tracing paper on top of the image and trace over it with a marker to outline the stencil to use later in the process. Lay the stencil face up on your fabric and press it down with your finger so that it adheres well to the surface of your fabric. Cover it with a plastic sheet to protect it from dust and abrasion while you’re printing it. Finally, tape it to the machine to hold it in place and position it so that the design is centered over the mesh of the screen.
Depending on how detailed you want your design to be, you can create your stencils with other materials like tapes, 3D-printed flat objects or stickers as long as they’re not too thick or complex. What you choose will depend on how quickly you want to finish your project and how expensive it is to find alternative materials.
Screen Print T-Shirts with Print Bind Ship
Print Bind Ship can make your t-shirt dreams a reality. We’ll print in a variety of direct-to-garment options, which apply ink directly to your garments in full color with no setup time to you or with traditional screen printing methods that require setup time and extra steps to achieve color vibrancy and clear graphics.
Small Batch T-Shirts
Making t-shirts for a high-school reunion, family adventure or grandma’s 90th birthday party are generally small-batch t-shirt runs. You are looking to produce 20 to 100+ t-shirts per order and probably only need a couple dozen or more of each size. Traditional screen print tees can provide great results but require a lot of equipment and a lot of time to print each shirt individually. At Print Bind Ship, we can work with whatever run you need at a cost-effective price, with direct shipping within 24 hours of processing if you need it.
The difference between screen printing your own shirts and using Print Bind Ship in customization is the end product. With traditional screen printing, you are limited by the quality and number of colors you can apply to your design. You also have to hand print every design, which means customizations have to be stenciled individually. As a direct garment printer, we can custom screen print your t-shirt design down to the letter.
Selling T-shirts Online — No Inventory
Because Print Bind Ship is a printer with over 60 years that dominates the logistics world, we can tie in with your content management system (CMS) or digital storefront, make your designs to order, ship them to your customers and take back the inventory so that you can focus on growing your t-shirt business online.
One of the great things about printing directly with Print Bind Ship is the ability to reduce minimum order quantities dramatically, making it easy for customers to purchase personalized merchandise without having to buy in bulk.
Take the Hassle Out of Printing
Screen printing by hand can be a messy and time-consuming process, and it’s hard to obtain the kind of high-quality results you can get with Print Bind Ship’s direct-to-garment services. With plug-and-play tools for web stores like Shopify, Etsy and direct checkout options, we can print, package and ship t-shirts directly to your customers, friends or family hassle-free within 24 hours of processing. Keep screen printing fun, and let your passion for t-shirt art shine with a customized printing experience from Print Bind Ship.
Custom screen printed t-shirts need to be washed on a shorter cold cycle and hung to dry or sent through a low-heat dryer tumble. For the first wash, you may want to do it gently by hand. Wash screen-printed t-shirts inside out.
A great custom screen printed t-shirt needs a design that can easily transfer while keeping the details intact. A great quality t-shirt design should be easily recognizable and interesting.
Custom screen-printed t-shirts can be as simple as a three-step process but depending on your stencils, emulsion ink and colors, the process can become more detailed and time-consuming.