Get Shirty

Earlier in the week, I learned that my friend Meg had done a DIY screen print technique. As I’ve been interested in screen printing for quite some time, I was delighted to find out how she did it, and to try it for myself.

Here are the supplies I used. Everything but the ink was around $10; the ink can be had for around $6 per 8-oz. jar, but I got a 6-color basic package of 4-oz. jars for $17.99. I got new blank shirts at Target for $5 each. The ink will last a long time; I barely touched the jar of black for this shirt.

The first step was to clamp a piece of material into the embroidery hoop and pull it tight, screwing the hoop down tight to keep everything nice and taut. I got a remnant of sheer curtain fabric for 60¢ (should be able to do about 5 screens with it) and the embroidery hoops were 89 cents each for the 9-inch jobbies.

It was tough to decide what to use for my first try; it needed to be something bold that could be done in just one color. I had a vector object of Boba Fett’s mask, which was a good choice because it’s just two colors: black and white. (You could also take any of your photos and run them through a Photoshop filter to get them down to just two colors.) It took a few tries to get it printed in a size I liked.

Next up, put the stretched fabric over the printed image and trace over the lines with a pencil. A duller pencil works better; my really sharp one tended to pull the threads of the fabric.

The finished pencil drawing on the stretched fabric.

This was the most time-consuming part: blocking out the areas of the screen that aren’t to be printed. This is where the Mod Podge glue comes in; using a couple of different brush sizes, I painted the glue on the fabric in order to cover up the areas where ink shouldn’t go through. Being incredibly anal, I did three coats of glue to make sure there were no holes or gaps left. The glue rinses off when wet, but is impervious to water when dried. Even though I was totally uptight about getting it right, it still only took around an hour to complete the screen.

The pants hanger is now my best friend when it comes to the screen. It made it mighty easy to leave the glue to dry. I just let it dry overnight, but supposedly the glue sets up in less than an hour.

Printing time! I put the screen where I wanted it on the shirt, and got ready to ink. The binder clip you see on the collar is holding a sheet of paper inside the shirt. Just in case the ink goes all the way through, it wouldn’t then stain the back of the shirt. I didn’t really need to worry, it turns out — the ink doesn’t go all the way through the shirt, but is more of an acrylic paint texture, and sits on top of the shirt.

Then I slathered the ink all over the open parts of the screen. I used a bristly brush to poke the paint down into the screen. I know now I still didn’t poke hard enough, since some areas came out lighter or a little blotchy. Next time I’ll really cram the ink down in there, so it goes everywhere it’s supposed to on the shirt. I ended up filling in a couple of spaces just using a brush on the shirt after I peeled back the screen.

(Side note: true silk-screeners us a gigantic squeegee to shove the ink down through the screen. You could do the same thing here, but you’d need a very small squeegee. Maybe you could use one of those rubber kitchen spatulas.)

The ink rinses away with water when it’s still wet; cleaning the screen was surprisingly easy. Though the black ink did color the open parts of the screen a bit; oh well, it makes it easier to see what parts are blocked off. Here are the finished shirt and the cleaned screen drying over the bathtub. The screen dried beautifully, and is ready for Scott to try his hand at painting his own Boba Fett shirt.

Once the ink dries, just slap a piece of paper on top and iron the front and the back for 3-5 minutes. We’ll see how it washes!