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How to Screen Print a T-shirt on any Budget

Silk screen printing is a simple and affordable process. You don't need to spend a lot of money to start your own screen printing project. In this article, I will provide you with all the information you need to create your own t-shirt design using silk screen printing. This guide is suitable for those who want to keep the initial costs to a minimum or those looking to start a full-scale screen printing operation.




What you need


Bare minimum:


A design - Before printing, ensure your design is ready. For helpful tips on creating a proper screen printing design, check out our separate article.


A screen - Silk screens can be purchased online or from local screen printing companies. I recommend buying a pre-burned screen to start with before trying to expose one yourself. You can purchase a ready-made screen at www.norcalsps.com.


A squeegee - You should purchase a squeegee specifically designed for screen printing. Be sure to choose a squeegee that is wider than your desired design.


Ink - When starting screen printing, it's best to use plastisol ink instead of water-based ink as it won't dry on your screen while you're learning.


Heat gun - A heat gun will cure the design onto the shirt to ensure it survives the washer and dryer.


Infrared thermometer - This is essential to make sure that you're able to read the temperature of your ink while curing it. You can typically get one of these online for under $20.


Items to buy if you want to expand:


A press - You can purchase a single-color press for a reasonable price if you're interested in screen printing. However, if you want to print designs with multiple colors, you can look into purchasing a multi-color press. The price for screen printing presses varies depending on the size and type of the press. For small presses, prices can start at several hundred USD, whereas commercial-grade presses can cost several thousand USD.


Pallet adhesive - If you are using a screen printing press, you will need an adhesive to ensure the shirt stays flat on the press pallet.


Exposure unit - An exposure unit can be used to expose your own screens and is available for a reasonable price if bought used.


Conveyor dryer - An infrared belt dryer is ideal for quickly curing t-shirts, making it perfect for high output screen printing businesses.


Setting Up


It is crucial to follow all the necessary steps while setting up your print run. Skipping a step can lead to problems later on, which would require you to redo the entire process. Assuming that you already have an exposed screen ready to use, the following are the steps to set up your print job:


Organize your space


It's important to prepare your workspace before attempting to screen print. Make sure to have all the necessary items within reach and a clutter-free area to move around easily. Keep shelves or tables nearby to store your supplies for quick access. This will help ensure a smooth printing process without any unnecessary interruptions.


Tape up your screen


Even though your screen has emulsion on it to block most of the mesh, the edges of the screen can still be open and exposed. It is necessary to tape off the edges of the screen properly to prevent ink from seeping through.


Apply adhesive (if you're using a press)


To ensure your shirt comes out looking its best after screen printing, it's important to keep it flat on the press's pallet. This is something I've learned through my own experience. To achieve this, apply an even coat of adhesive across the pallet and allow it sufficient time to dry to a tack. If you're printing on sweatshirts, it's recommended to apply several layers of adhesive or use a heavy-duty one.


Load screen on press (if you're using one)


Load your screen onto your print head and ensure that you tighten the knobs firmly. However, be cautious not to over-tighten the knobs as it could damage your screen frame. You will see smaller bolts on the side and back of the print head clamp that enable you to adjust your screen's off-contact, which is the distance between the screen and the pallet. Use a wrench to loosen these bolts and adjust the off-contact to make it completely even. Ensure that the screen is 1/16" away from the pallet.


Apply ink to screen


Load ink onto your screen evenly using a spatula, applying it in an even line above or below the design.


Printing


If you don't have a press, you can just lay your screen on your shirt

If you are using a press to screen print your shirt, ensure that it is loaded onto the pallet as evenly and straight as possible, without any wrinkles. Next, clamp your screen onto your shirt. However, if you are not using a press, lay your shirt on a flat surface and position your screen on top of it.

A flooded screen

Start by 'flooding' the ink, which means pulling a thin layer of ink that completely covers the design on your screen using a squeegee. This may require some practice.

Then, use your squeegee to push or pull the ink through the screen's mesh. Try both methods to see which one is more comfortable or yields better results with your particular setup. Finally, carefully pull your screen off the shirt to reveal the finished print.



Curing


Before doing anything with your shirt, it is important to cure the ink. To do this, you can either use a heat gun (a cheaper option) or a conveyor dryer (a more expensive option). If you choose to use a heat gun, it may take some time and patience. To begin, turn on the heat gun and carefully move it in circles over the ink. Be careful not to get too close to the shirt or hold the heat gun in one place for too long, as this may cause the shirt to burn. In your other hand, hold an infrared thermometer and point it at the section of ink you are currently drying with the heat gun. Once you are confident that each part of the design has reached a temperature of at least 320 degrees (but not higher), then your shirt is cured. Using a conveyor dryer will make the process much easier. You will just need to determine the settings required to cure the ink to 320 degrees and then you can confidently use these settings to cure shirts.


Although it may seem overwhelming to grasp and master the information provided, with patience and dedication, it will all be worth it. These skills can be utilized to create awesome merchandise for yourself and your loved ones, and could even lead to an opportunity to earn some extra income by printing merchandise for others. Do not hesitate to reach out to us if you require any assistance or guidance throughout your journey, as we are always here to support you.

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