T-Shirt Forums banner
1 - 5 of 5 Posts

Premium Member
10,512 Posts
I have no idea what the heck plastisol is!
Liquid plastic used as an ink. As an artist and someone trying to keep costs down, I'd skip it.

One of the links showed a technique for using stencils (somebody called it podunk) and that seems to make the most sense to my brain.
Hmm, that sounds like something I'd say. Was it?

There are better ways to make t-shirts than cut stencils. Depending on your stencil method, that can be more or less true. Some, like the glue method, are rubbish. On the other hand, it's worth bearing in mind that all screenprinting is technically stencil based.

The "correct" way to screenprint is with emulsion exposed to UV... which creates a stencil.

Keep in mind I'm more of a fine artist than a graphic artist and I generally like to have a pen, pencil or paintbrush (not a mouse) in my hand!
That's fine/great, but there are lots of ways to use that without resorting to stencils. In fact, if your preference is for mark making implements it doesn't make much sense to move over to a blade.

You can draw directly onto film and expose that to screen. You can draw on paper and photocopy it directly to film (I've done plenty of t-shirts that way). You can paint directly onto film (I created a pattern repeat for a fabric length this way I'm still quite proud of).

Lastly, when I do want to use a stencil, I more often use rubylith. It's UV opaque (red) film. I cut the positive with a blade (like a stencil, but positive instead of negative) and expose it. Visually and in terms of simplicity it's like a stencil, but with the benefit of a proper screen to work with.

There are more direct ways to make film positives than via a computer, and personally I'm a huge fan of them.

Premium Member
10,512 Posts
So does anyone around here actually use stenciling?
A bit. Mostly just to mess around with ideas, print something new because I'm bored, etc. rather than with any real purpose.

Also I saw a link on DIY screen printing where this girl used an embroidery hoop and sheer curtain fabric as the screen, Mod Podge glue to mask off parts of her design and Speedball Ink to print it.
Ugh. Sometimes I wish that that tutorial had never been written. It's a cute weekend project for people who want to make themselves a t-shirt, but there are easier ways for anyone who wants to do it properly.

There's getting into the spirit of DIY, using convenient materials to hand, etc. Then there's just being tight. That tutorial is definitely the latter.

A screen is the basic unit of screenprinting. They're really not that expensive. A squeegee isn't that expensive either, and will give you much more even ink coverage than a brush or roller - it will look a lot better.

Stencils are unreliable. They're often not very repeatable, and they don't store well. They're great it you want to do just a few shirts, but if you want to do even a dozen they're not adequate.

You don't need to be printing dozens or hundreds of shirts to look at better methods.

Does anyone here actually use a process like that?
I don't think anyone uses a process like that, except a few naive crafters.

How possible would it be to slowly start a small business like this?
I'm not just being negative, but I honestly think it would be damn near impossible.

You can do it cheaply, at home, without buying a lot of equipment, taking a DIY approach, small space, etc. - but not with embroidery hoops and glue.

Premium Member
10,512 Posts
I'm terribly sorry: emulsion is like a plastic transparency type sheet?
The basic screen making process goes like this:

You take a screen. You apply emulsion to it, preferably with a scoop coater (which is basically a small metal trough), but some use other things (paint brush, a squeegee) to save money. Emulsion is liquid and light (UV) sensitive. Once applied to the screen you leave it for a while (completely away from UV) and let it dry. Through all of this you need to keep it away from UV (so yes, this part of the process has a lot in common with darkroom photography). You then put a positive onto the screen - the positive needs to block UV from passing through. Expose the screen to UV. At this point the parts covered by the positive will be dry, but still soft. The parts exposed to UV will have hardened into the screen. Take it away from the UV, remove the positive, and wash the screen. The soft/unexposed parts will wash out. This leaves just hardened emulsion, with a negative image in it. Put ink on the screen, pull a squeegee across it, and you'll apply ink through the areas that used to have unexposed emulsion.

That's a poorly written explanation, but hopefully it makes sense.

For what you want to do, one of the key things to remember is the film positive. The film positive can be anything that blocks UV from getting to the screen.

Drawing with pen and pencil? Painting with acrylics? This sounds lovely!
Most people are so computer orientated that they'll print film from a computer and never think beyond that.

Since you just need something UV opaque to make a screen, you can do it in any number of ways.

A few things to bear in mind: one screen, one colour. So if you want multiple colours you have to work on multiple sheets of film, putting one colour on each sheet (then one sheet per screen). It can be a nuisance. The fabric length I mentioned was two colour (and about 110cm x 60cm) so doing that was definitely a pain, yet also somehow fun. Satisfying anyway.

There is a specific paint available for creating opaque films. You could quite possibly get away with normal acrylic. Might be worth experimenting with for budget reasons, but there is a specific, reliable product available if necessary.

The biggest drawback: screens are binary. They either print or they don't. You get one colour, no shades of a colour. If I take a brush and paint light opaque paint onto film, you will get a brush stroke, but it'll be high contrast. Areas stay, or drop out.

There is one way around this, but it involves computers / technology (and potentially expense). You can use half-tones to get greyscale effects by turning shades into varying sizes of dots (like CMYK printing, like a photo in a magazine).

I have, for example, drawn a sketch in pencil, scanned it into a computer, printed it on a printer capable of printing halftones, exposed the film, and printed it on a t-shirt using a grey ink. I didn't modify the image during any of that, and you don't need to be computer literate - but you do need access to the technology. The end result looked much like it was drawn on the t-shirt with a graphite pencil.

It's worth bearing in mind that you can pay people to make film, and you can pay people to make screens. For cost reasons you don't want to be doing that all the time, but you can do it occasionally if the design demands it and you don't have the resources to DIY.

Drawing on paper and photocopying the drawing onto film is one of the easiest ways to create a positive.

Another great screen I saw was made using twigs off a tree. The actual plant was taped to film and exposed. It created a beautiful silhouette.

The key principle is whatever part of the emulsion doesn't get hit with UV will print. A lot of people get caught up in computers as the only way to produce work. By not making that mistake, you're opening yourself up to all kinds of possibilities.

While you won't be able to work in exactly the same way you are used to (printmaking is its own thing after all), you will be able to bring across a lot of your skills, some of the same techniques, etc. It's a new medium to explore, which will be a combination of your old one and some new ideas and challenges.

If you want to reproduce pre-existing works on a t-shirt it would be easier to do it with the aid of a lot of computer technology. But if you want to create whole new works in a visceral hands on way, there's a world of possibilities.

Then, the exposing process is something like in photography?
Somewhat like it. It's definitely the easiest point of reference for people new to screenprinting.

What would be the cheapest but most effective way (with most consistent results) for me to set up a small operation to screenprint. Low-tech, please!
If it was me, the minimum I'd want to do it properly would be:

A couple of screens.
A couple of different size squeegees.
A scoop coater.
A safe bulb.
Sheeting to cover windows.
Some film.
An opaque pen or paint.
Waterbased printing ink.
A hairdryer and an iron (can use the same ones as your domestic; they won't get damaged or cross contaminated).

The scoop coater will give you a more even coating of emulsion, which will give you a better print.

To print, you can just use any table. A lot of professionals will tell you you have to use off-contact (space between screen and substrate) to get a good print, but they're wrong. A lot of fabric lengths are printed on-contact. I've printed plenty of t-shirts on contact. Having the wrong off-contact distance or using the wrong ink for on-contact will give you a crappy print, so I think they just assume it can't be done. On contact printing is not only possible, it's easy.

The safe bulb and plastic are to temporarily set up your laundry or bathroom as a darkroom.

To expose the screen, you've got two options. You can either build a cheap exposure unit. That's more reliable, and means you can work at night, but it can be very slow. And a nuisance to setup. The other option is to use the sun. You'll need to be careful, but sun exposures are a common way to start out in screenprinting. It's a powerful source of UV and it doesn't cost a dime.

The film is what you make your positive on. It would be preferable to buy a pen specific to the purpose, though things like sharpies can sometimes be opaque enough.

The hairdryer isn't a must, but they can be useful to speed up drying. The iron is to cure the ink - it's laborious and sometimes unreliable, but it basically works and it's cheap.

All of the above should cost about $150-300. Less if you can find things secondhand. It'll be enough to create professional prints (if you get the ink curing right :)) limited more by your artistic ability and imagination than the materials.

Premium Member
10,512 Posts
I've seen here and there that it is possible to hand paint with water-based inks and then set the ink? Is this true? Any personal experience?
I think so.

Crazy as it might sound, I've done the hand-painting bit, but never got around to the curing the ink and washing the fabric bit (one was an art piece, so it didn't actually need washing... I mostly used ink because I had more of it to hand than paint, and partly for symbolic reasons).

Anyway... waterbased ink can be painted with. Waterbased ink does cure and is wash safe.

So, the only possible reason it wouldn't work (and it could be a problem) is that whereas screenprinting lays down a very thin, even coat of ink, painting with it builds it up quite thickly.

It might not be able to cure all the way through.

If I had a particularly thick coat of ink like that, I would try curing it once normally, and once inside out.

Ultimately I think the answer to your question is yes it would work, but you'd have to try it to find out.

Premium Member
10,512 Posts
You're welcome. I'm a computer nerd through and through, I love technology. But I took up screenprinting to get away from that. I don't think there's enough encouragement out there to experiment with different ways of creating a film positive, so I like to help with that where I can.
1 - 5 of 5 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.