Tuesday 24 September 2013

DIY Fabric Printing

This weekend I did a short course at the local Polytech in 'beginners fabric printing'. The focus was mostly on basic screen printing using paper stencils rather than photo emulsion screens.

If you haven't heard of screen printing before it's basically a way of making multiple prints by using a stencil process in which an image or design is superimposed on a very fine mesh screen. Printing ink is then squeegeed onto the printing surface through the area of the screen that is not covered by the stencil.

I've been thinking a lot lately about getting a screen printing set up at home and now it feels more achievable than ever. Mostly it's just a case of saving up for the equipment. I'm going to try and share some of the gems of information I picked up over the weekend, mostly though this post will act as a shopping list for the basic kit you need to get set up at home.

1. Screen printing screen

2. Screen printing squeegee – you'll want a couple of sizes. I found the small (shown below and medium most useful) also cooking spatulas and plastic spoons are really useful for mixing and spreading the ink.
3. Paper to cut we used news print which worked really well the better quality thicker paper I also tried didn't work any where near as well so I'd say the cheaper and thinner the better.

4. Craft knife or scalpel and cutting mat.

5. Padded surface. The Polytech had desks covered with a hard foam top (search or ask about underfelt foam) this was covered with a blanket then everything was covered with calico, pulled tort and pinned into place.

6. T- Pins for holding your fabric in place.
7. Masking tape

8. Solvent free print paste and ink dyes. You mix a couple of drops of dye to a cup of the paste to make your printing ink. You can of course mix the inks to make new colours, just like painting. The paste comes in transparent, which is what I used and opaque white which is good for printing lighter colours or onto dark fabrics.
9. Fabric or garments for printing on. Natural cottons work best.

10. An iron or heat press to heat set the ink.

11. newspaper and plastic sheeting to keep your house ink free. Apron, thin plastic gloves to keep yourself clean. Set up in a space near running water so you can clean your kit quickly and easily.

1. Draw your design onto the newsprint paper. Make sure your design is smaller than your screen. Stencils work like/as silhouettes so you can't have any details within a shape that is being cut out.

2. Using a scalpel or craft knife cut out your design.

3. if you are printing onto a garment or item like a tote bag put a sheet of paper between the front and back to stop any ink sinking through. Then use the t-pins to attached your fabric or garment onto you desk. The t-pins should easily push into the foam top.
4. Use masking tape to attach your paper stencil to your screen (you can mask of areas of your stencil to use later with a different colour ink as shown below)
5. Mix your inks ready to print using a spatula.
6. Spread the ink onto your screen in a line behind the start of you stencil.

7. Holding the squeegee at a 45 degree angle. Pull it through the ink towards you (often you would be recommended to flood the screen with ink before printing but our teacher didn't recommend doing this with a paper stencil as the life of a paper stencil is limited to 5-10 good prints before degrading and becoming unusable). If your pulling your squeegee correctly it should make a zip noise when pulled.

8. Lift your screen carefully from one side like opening a book and that's you done unless, like me you want to print more colours. Really you should wait for the ink to dry before printing onto the fabric again but who can be bothered with that! Plus you have to clean the screen before the ink dries which means losing your paper stencil.
9. I used one half of the stencil to print the blue and one half to print the yellow, masking off with paper as shown above. Once this was done I felt like it needed a third colour so i cleaned the screan basically with an old rag and did one final print in a pink ink.

10. Clean your screen and equipment in water, the faster you do this the easier it is to get the ink off. Leave the ink to air dry on the fabric around 2 hours depending on how thick the ink is. Once it's dry heat set using an iron for around 4 minutes. Place a piece of paper between the iron and the fabric so your iron doesn't get ink on it.

We also got to try out the thermal copier that makes a simple photo image screens from photo copies. Not as high quality as a photo emulsion screen but good for trying out little illustrations or motifs,
Copier shown above and the floppy fabric screen it makes shown below.

I used a mix of paper stencils and a thermal printed screen to make these prints.
I love the over prints and double registration. I hardly ever play around with making pretty stuff just because. It was really good fun not to be worried about a target market or design concept for once and i'm keen to keep letting myself play with just creating for the sake of it for a while. If you're thinking of starting screen printing at home I'd highly recommend doing a short course first as getting the hang of pulling the squeegee is a bit tricky. If you can't find a course though, this etsy film is a good starting point.


  1. That is amazing! Thanks so much!! I could never do the emulsion screening :)

  2. Dear Colleen, great tutorial of your workshop in screen printing :-)

  3. Dear colleen , I want to give you thousand of thanks, I have passion on ink....actually I am working on ink dispensing system

  4. Is there any further reading you would recommend on this?

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