Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I started screen printing in 2007 because I wanted to make my band's shirts.  I bought a little DYI kit from an art store and started trial-and-erroring.  There are several different methods, but I only use the photo emulsion method.  Lots of friends have requested screen printing tutorials over the years, so here it is!

I don't have a fancy screen printing press, so all my prints come out looking DYI...but in a good way.


The Photo Emulsion Method is a bit of a process, but the screens and prints always come out looking pretty dandy.  I'll show you all the steps and show you how to stretch your own frame!  It'll save you tons of cash in the long run.

Keep in mind that this method is permanent to your screen and can only be washed out with a specific cleaner.  I keep all of the screens I make so that I can re-print them later.     


The list looks daunting...but most of the supplies listed below can be used over and over again!

1.  A screen printing frame (you can also build your own custom size)
2.  Cord long enough to go around the entire frame (11/64 diameter)
3.  Screen printing fabric
4.  A putty knife or cord setter to lay the cord (make sure it's not too thick or else it will stretch the trenches and your cord won't stay put)  
5.  Screen printing emulsion and sensitizer
6.  Screen printing squeegee 
7.  A transparency with your image (I get mine printed at FedEx Office)
7.  Aluminum pie tin (from your local grocery store)
8.  250W Photoflood Light Bulb (These are fairly easy to find at your local camera store/photo developing store.  They burn out always have a backup handy)
9.  Light socket with electrical cord (I found mine at a hardware store in their lamp department.  You can also find them anywhere that sells paper lanterns)
10.  Masking/Painters tape 
11.  Screen printing ink


I always stretch my own frames because the pre-stretched ones are super expensive (in my opinion).  This frame would have cost about $25 if it were pre-stretched, but it only cost me about $8 to do it myself.  Plus, you can use the frames over and over again.  I will re-use a frame until it literally falls apart.  Just re-stretch some new fabric and start a new design.  

Stretching your own screen can be a bit of a bitch (sorry mom).  You want to make sure it's super tight without any wrinkles.  I'm finally able to get it right the first time around.  Woot!

Start with a helper.  Have her/him hold the screen tight while you wedge the cord into the frames ditches.

Continue all the way around the frame...

If there are any loose areas in the screen (ripple, wrinkles, etc.)...remove the cord and start over.  You want to make sure it is completely smooth so it will lay flat on your shirts, posters, etc...

Trim any excess fabric to make sure your frame will lay flat.


Don't forget to buy sensitizer when you're purchasing your emulsion!  It's a teeny tiny bottle that feels empty. It is not.  And it is 100% necessary before you begin.  You will mix the sensitizer with the emulsion before you coat your screen.

NOTE: You want to do this step in a dimly lit room.  Emulsion is light sensitive and you don't want to pre-expose your frame.  You've got some wiggle room while the emulsion is drying, but you want to be quick with this step.

Add a little emulsion to your screen...

You want to spread a THIN layer of emulsion on each side of your screen with your squeegee.  Just enough to coat both sides.  If it is too thick your image might not develop correctly.  Use your squeegee to scrape off any excess emulsion back into the jar (don't be wasteful).

Let your screen dry in a PITCH BLACK ROOM.  While it's drying you can prep your transparency image and your light setup.


Totally ghetto.  Totally still gets the job done.  This is the same pie tin I bought in 2007.  I'm thrifty!

Pretty self explanatory...

I usually make two copies of my transparencies and tape them together to make sure no light shines through that portion of the transparency.  Keep in mind that anything that's BLACK is where your paint will go.

Here's a simple little print I was working on yesterday.  Nothin' fancy.


Once your emulsion is dry it's time do develop!  Exposure time is based on the size of your frame.  I found this nifty difty chart here.

Frame Size  -  Bulb Height  -  Exposure Time
8" x 10". . . . . . 12 inches . . . . . 10 minutes
10"x14". . . . . . 12 inches . . . . . 10 minutes
12 "x 18" . . . . .15 inches . . . . . 16 minutes
16"x2O" . . . . . 17 inches . . . . . 20 minutes
18"x2O" . . . . . 17 inches . . . . . 20 minutes

** VERY IMPORTANT ** Make sure you have your transparency facing the correct way so that your image is not reversed on your shirts/posters!  Since my transparency is developing on the bottom of my screen...I have REVERSED it so that the text is not backwards when it's time to print.  Dig?

Set your timer and let your screen develop in a completely undisturbed room.  Even the slightest nudge of the screen can make your image weird.


Once your screen is developed you can take it back into the light.

Use the hand-held kitchen sink squirty thing (or your shower) and start spraying water in a spray-paint-can fashion all over both sides of your screen.  Lukewarm water seems to work best.  Keep spraying both sides until your image has completely broken through.  This can take about 10 minutes or so.  Be patient.  

Hold it up to a bright light periodically to see when all parts of your image have been washed out completely.


Let your frame dry completely before you start printing (duh).  

Use masking tape or painters tape to cover the edges of the bottom of your screen and any areas that you might have messed up on.  This is the bottom of my screen...thus why the text is backwards...

Hooray!  You're done!  Time to start printing!  

The process of actually printing your image on a shirt/poster does not come across very well via checkout the video below (I did not make this video...obviously).

This guy has a fancy printing press...but I print all of mine by hand.  You can make your own rig with some heavy duty clamps.  This is very helpful if you plan on using more than one color.


Thanks Notorious B.I.G. for the inspiring words.

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