SILK SCREENING 101 by 7734

Let's not waste any time. I'm a self-taught hack, so I'm sure any pro will spot my mistakes. Rest assured though, my method will produce a nice screened shirt.

I made my first silk-screen, in 1976, in junior high; I think it was a Motocross image or the Zig-Zag man…can’t remember now, but 5 years later I needed to make t-shirts and I had forgotten everything I had learned in shop. With no world wide web at my finger tips, I had no choice but to visit Midwest Graphics. While purchasing supplies I did a quick read through of a manual I couldn’t afford. Now, more then 20 years later, and a visit back to Midwest Graphics. I’m cranking out new designs from an old craft.

Before I dive in on how to make your own silk screens, I'd like to talk about the fine art of stenciling. This is the easiest way to create a design on a shirt, and all you need is cardboard, an exact-o knife, and some spray paint. Stenciling can look just as nice with a good design.

1. Print or draw your design.
2. Tape it onto a piece of heavy cardboard. (Corrugated boxes will work, but they’re not the best choice. You could use the back of a notepad or cake box, etc.)
3. Cut away the positive space from your design – this is where you want paint to show. (Leave ample support between these cut out pieces, or your stencil will break apart during the spray painting.)
4. Lay a shirt out flat, place the stencil on the shirt, take your favorite color spray paint and let it rip. You can use multiple stencils for additional colors.

While stenciled designs can look great, they are limited. Designs tend to be blockier, insuring the stencil doesn’t fall apart. For fine detailed stuff we'll need to silk screen.


The basic materials you need in silk screening are: The frame, the silk, a blocking material/emulsion, ink, and a squeegee. Let's start with the frame. A frame is simply four pieces of wood that have been, glued, screwed, stapled, or nailed together. You can use wood as small as 1" x 1", to something around the 1.5" x 1.5" size.

Next you have to stretch the silk around the frame. The best way is to use a grooved frame and a piece of cord, fastening the material by pushing it into the groove with the cord. Don't start in the corner of the frame, I seem to get tighter screens when I start in the middle and work my way around. Insert the cord over the material, but only push half way down. After you've completed all four sides, make a second pass, pushing the cord all the way down into the groove, to tighten up loose areas. If that sounds like too much work, break out the stapler and staple it around the frame. What, no stapler? Use duct tape, but pull hard to keep the screen tight. Now take your finger and whack the screen. Does it feel tight and make a sound? If not, try again and pull tighter.

With the silk stretched to the frame, it's time to get that design onto the screen. A friend reminded me that you could actually paint on the screen using a material called Block-Out. You'll need a steady hand to try this. Take your design and lay it on a table, place the framed screen on the design with the well side up. Use a magic marker to trace your design on to the screen. Now the hard part, you'll need to hand paint Block-Out everywhere you do not want ink to print through.
Block painting is the cheapest process, but also the crudest. The next is a process using Rubylith. Rubylith is a film that you cut, and by removing