DIY Screen Printing

So, I am super pumped about this one! I have been planning to make a video of this process, but with such nice weather and our decision to get a milk cow (and thus build a barn), the video is on the back burner for a bit. In case you don’t want to wait, I’ll walk you through the process here for now πŸ™‚

We got Shelby a Cricut vinyl/paper cutter for her birthday and it has been so much fun! My favorite has been making shirts! We have made several with iron-on vinyl, but for more than one or two shirts- I wanted to figure out a way to screen print them. I am a sucker for a great DIY, and this has totally been my jam lately! We have been designing and screen printing our own shirts around here a bunch these days-so fun! The best part is that they are endlessly customizable, and the screens are DIY and reusable!Β 

I know there are a ton of ways to do this- and by no means am I a pro, but I’ll walk you through how I build my own reusable screens for cheap! It may seem like a lot of steps, but is really pretty simple πŸ™‚

You will need a Cricut (or any brand) Vinyl cutter.

Vinyl– I use Oracal 651. The color does not matter, because you’re just using it for the screen.

Transfer Paper

Screen printing ink– I use Speedball ink from Amazon, because Hobby Lobby isn’t open on Sundays when we got to town πŸ˜‰

Some cheap, sheer polyester fabric. I buy it for around $3/yard at Wal-Mart.

2″x2″ wood– I use the cheapest I can find- under $2 for an 8′ board. Just make sure to get the straightest boards possible.

Tape- I use 1″ and 2″ blue painters tape

Paper plate, plastic spoon, and an old gift card, driver’s license, or credit card.

2″ nails and a nail gun if you have it. You could also use screws (Just make sure to pre-drill your holes).

Scrap piece of plywood or melamine,Β roughly the same size as your screen.

Small paint brush– for touch ups.

Shirts! Or whatever you want to print on (towels, bags, etc). I like to wash and dry mine before printing.

An iron- or heat setter if you have one.

Thin towel or teflon sheet for heat setting.

Optional- Hot glue gun

First up, I build the screen frame. You can build these any size you like, but I make mine 11″x14″, so measurements are for that size, but feel free to change it up!

You’ll need to cut-

2- 2″x2″ @ 11″

2- 2″x2″ @ 17″Line them up so your 11″ boards are inside the 17″ ones.Here’s where I like to use a hot glue gun, but you can totally do without! It just helps hold the pieces in place while you nail them. Glue and nail your frame together.Now, cut a piece of your fabric 1-2″ bigger than the outside of your frame. Then, tape the fabric tightly to your frame. If you have a staple gun, you can staple the fabric instead πŸ™‚I like to go around with skinny strips of tape, like in the pic above to get everything tight, then I add 2″ tape to keep things from coming undone. Just work your way around til it’s even and tight. You want snug, but not crazy, fabric ripping tight.Β 

Okay, now your screen just needs some vinyl!

I design everything in Adobe Photoshop, then save it to a folder on my desk top as a .png file and upload it into Cricut Design Space as a cut file to send to the machine. There may be a better way to do it, but this works for me πŸ™‚ Here is an example of some designs in Photoshop. I love the versatility! I have gotten free and purchased fonts and elements from, and also used free fonts from…Β  So, once you’ve got your designs ready- go ahead and cut the vinyl! (You do not need to mirror this as you would for iron-on.)Now, you will weed out what you want to show- because what you weed is where your ink will go.Next, grab your transfer paper and cover that vinyl. Then, use an old gift card, or grocery card- whatever you have, and rub that transfer paper onto the vinyl.I like a more sideways kinda motion with my fingers kind of bending the card as opposed to having the card straight up and down. Hard to explain, but hopefully it makes sense πŸ˜‰ Straight up and down seems to catch…Β  Now, slowly peel up your transfer paper, making sure none of the vinyl gets left behind. If it does, just rub the transfer paper back onto it until it picks up.Β Once you’ve got the vinyl up, set it in your screen frame- on top of the fabric. Try to get it straight here, as it will make lining your shirts up a lot easier πŸ™‚ Rub the vinyl onto the screen just like when you were putting your transfer paper on.Β Then, peel the transfer paper away, leaving the vinyl on your screen fabric. Again, if the vinyl pulls up, just rub it back onto the screen til it stays.Β It helps sometimes to hold the vinyl down while you peel the transfer paper away.Β Once you’ve got the transfer paper off, rub that vinyl onto the screen one more time. Again, use the sideways motion so you don’t catch on anything.Β Almost finished! Now, you just need to tape the edges of the fabric, between the vinyl and the edges of the frame. I like to cover a bit of the edge of the vinyl, being careful not to cover any of the design. I also like to overlap tape up onto the wood sides, to keep any ink from getting through the sides.Β Okay, screens are ready! Now, grab your shirts and your scrap piece of plywood, or melamine. I use scrap melamine left over from our concrete bathroom vanity. I just taped the edges so they wouldn’t catch. Put the melamine or plywood inside the shirt, going the same direction as your screen will lay. This will serve as your platen and will keep ink from bleeding through, and it gives a nice platform to print on. Line it up as straight as you can in the spot you want to print on. I like to tuck the edges of the shirt under a little to keep the shirt from pulling up when I pull the wet screen off. Not too tight- you don’t want the shirt stretched out.If you are making more than one shirt with the same design and ink color, you’ll want extra pieces of scrap wood. Put them in all your shirts and line them up before you start printing. I do up to 5 at a time because that’s how much melamine I had left over πŸ˜‰

Now, set your screen on top of the first shirt and line it up. I try to line it up with the neck of the shirt. The first one will be easiest, because you can adjust all you want, but don’t want to do too much adjusting once there’s ink on your screen.Time for ink! Grab your paper plate, plastic spoon, ink, paint brush, and grocery type card (make sure the card you use for this is one you don’t mind getting ink on;).Β Now, add some ink to that screen! I use the plastic spoon and place little blobs of ink around the top of the screen. It doesn’t take much ink per shirt, but you kinda need to put extra on to help it spread around. You can save extra ink, so use more than you think you’ll need, but don’t go too crazy πŸ˜‰Sorry, that one’s a little blurry!

Okay, now grab that grocery card, and using the same sideways-ish motion, while holding your screen down with one hand, rub ink all over the design. Go lightly the first time, just to get ink spread out.Then go back over a little more firmly. You will kind of be scraping ink away, but also pushing ink through the screen at the same time.You will really get the feel of this after some practice- so it’s nice to start with a practice shirt. You can buy single shirts in WalMart’s craft section that are less than $3 each! I also buy big packs in the men’s section.

Once you feel like you’ve gotten the ink everywhere, you can go more firm, and even begin scraping the extra ink away.Β If you are making more than one, you can scrape the extra ink to the side of your screen. Or, scrape it back into the container. Get as much off as you can before washing your screen.Β For multiple shirts, lift the screen straight off the finished shirt and set it straight onto the next. For one shirt, lift straight off and wash the screen right away. You don’t want the ink to dry on the screen or it’ll be ruined. It’s best if your sink isn’t full of dishes like mine πŸ˜‰ You can also go outside and use a hose.Β I don’t get super crazy washing, because I am afraid I’ll wash the vinyl off. Once it’s clean, I wipe gently with paper towels then set to dry. I actually wash my screen, then go back to the shirt for any touch ups. The better you get, the less you’ll need to do, but just grab that paintbrush and touch up any spots that need it. Don’t forget to wash your card, spoon, and paintbrush πŸ˜‰Β I usually let my shirts dry overnight- but they really don’t take that long. If you’re in a hurry, you can speed up the drying with a hair dryer. Once the ink is dry- you need to heat set it. I know you are anxious to wear that shirt, but hang in there!

There are instructions with the ink depending on what you use or have available. What I do is iron the shirts with my household iron set to cotton/high. I keep a teflon sheet or flour sack towel in between the design and the iron and iron each side for about 5 minutes. Keep that iron moving slowly so you don’t scorch the shirt. If you print on some type of fabric that requires a lower heat setting, I’d take heed of that. This is honestly the worst part- but we are so close to the finish line, I know you’ve got this! Just to be on the safe side, I also throw the shirts in the clothes dryer and run on high heat. I’m super paranoid I’m gonna give someone a shirt and the ink will bleed all over a load of laundry- but I have never had the ink bleed, so I’m sleeping better at night πŸ˜‰

Now, you can enjoy your shirt!!

There are so many great colors available! The above is an opaque purple color that is kind of sparkly and super pretty.

A few notes-

-Always make sure your screen is dry before using again. If you are wanting to use your screen for different colors right away, you can use a hair dryer to dry it for the next round.

-You may have noticed I actually used 1″x2″ wood for the Fearless screen. I do not recommend 1″x2″, because it is not as sturdy, and the nails were shooting out the sides.

-If the vinyl starts to come up at all, I’ve been able to press it back down and after it dries I’m good to go again. The sideways motion with the card will help to not rub or scrape it off.

-Have fun! πŸ™‚

I would love to see what ideas you come up with! Please let me know if you have any questions! If you’ve tried this or any other method, I’d love to hear about it πŸ™‚

4 Replies to “DIY Screen Printing”

  1. This is an awesome DIY. I have this on my next to do. Thanks for sharing your experience and tips.

    1. Thank you, Patrice! I’d love to know how yours turn out πŸ™‚

  2. I’m going to try the screen printing! I just got a cricut air 2. I’m very nervous because I am
    such a beginner! I’m still trying to understand design space down! LOL I will let you know ! I loved your post on cricut !

    1. Thank you so much, Chrissy! Don’t be nervous! You can totally do it πŸ™‚ Let me know how it goes!

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