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MakerSpace: Screenprinting Program Recap

Regular readers know that I have been on a roller coaster journey trying  to learn how to do screen printing in order to host a program at the Teen MakerSpace at my library, The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (OH). There were tragic fails, epic highs, emotional angsty, and some down right sweating as the program came closer and I still wasn’t sure how to set up the first portion of the program (more on that in a minute).

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I am happy to report that we hosted our program on Monday night and it was a success! 99% of the teens walked out with a successfully screen printed t-shirt. As always, I had printed out instructions that the teens could take home and a sample of books that they could check out from the library to help them further explore screen printing. We did screen printing on paper and t-shirts. There was one shirt, our first, that we had to try and fill in some, but otherwise it went really, really well.

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So here’ what I did.

First, I set up the room into three main stations:

1) Designing your stencil

2) Making your screen

3) Doing the actual screen printing

DESIGNING YOUR STENCIL

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To design our stencils, I brought out a couple of laptops and our Silhouette Cameo cutting machine. We used cardstock as our medium to cut into stencils and this worked really well. With a little bit of instructions, our teens were able to sit down and make their designs. I was worried about how the teens would do with the design process because the Silhouette has its own design software, but it’s not too different in the details from things like Microsoft Powerpoint, which most of our teens have used some in school. Some teens needed a little more one on one than others, but everyone did walk away from this station with a design of their own making and choosing cut into a stencil.

“Details Make Fails”

At one point, I was explaining how simpler designers were better and a teen came up with the phrasing “Details Make Fails”. This became kind of our motto in the design phase. The more details you try to add, the more likely you are to have a failed project, especially as a newbie.

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Cutting a finished stencil down to size to fit on our screens

Using multiple laptops to one Silhouette Cameo cutter meant we could have more than one teen designing at once and we could just move the USB from latptop to laptop to do the actual cutting. I believe you can have 1 Silhouette set up on up to 5 devices.

MAKING YOUR SCREEN

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To make our screens, we used a temporary spray adhesive purchased in the sewing section of a craft store to adhere the design to a piece of pre-cut mesh curtain. We pre-cut all of our materials to size and were able to get 25 pieces of screen from one $5.00 mesh curtain purchased at the local Wal-Mart. We had 8×8 embroidery hoops so we cut our screens to a 10×10 size. Each embroidery hoop cost $1.50 and the screens average out to $0.20 s0 each screen is roughly $1.70 (I’m going to round up to $2.00 because I like to make my math simpler).

We have 3 Teen MakerSpace staff so each staff member helped at a station.

DOING THE ACTUAL SCREEN PRINTING

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Before working on a shirt, we had each teen practice on a piece of card stock paper. If they were satisfied with the result, they would then screen print their shirts. Although we had squeegees available, which is the traditional way you screen print, most of the teens preferred to use a foam paint brush to help prevent bleeding under the stencil.

RUNNING THE PROGRAM

Because I knew that we would have to allow teens time to design their stencils, I ran the program for a full 5 hours. As each teen came in, I gave them a brief run down of how traditional screen printing worked and how we were modifying that process so that they could do it at home if they wanted to. I then introduced them to the Silhouette Cameo cutter, explaining that if they didn’t have access to that type of technology at home they could still make their own stencils. That was our goal: to teach teens how they could take a Teen MakerSpace project and do the entire process at home without a lot of fancy tools and not a lot of money.

All in all, it took each teen about 20 minutes to make a t-shirt. We bought t-shirts on sale at a local craft store for $2.50 each. Each screen cost us about $2.00. And a single color of paint and a foam brush costs about $2.00. So each t-shirt cost us about $6.50.

HERE’S ONE T-SHIRT FROM START TO FINISH

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AND HERE’S A GALLERY OF SOME OF OUR SCREEN PRINTING JOURNEY

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Not only did my teens learn how to screen print, but I did as well! This was a fun, successful, and relatively inexpensive program. It had a steep learning curve for me personally, but watching those teens successfully create their own shirts and seeing that joy and pride was 100% worth it.

MakerSpace: Screen Printing with the Silhouette Cameo – a comparison of processes and cost

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Making t-shirts have traditionally been some of my most popular programs throughout the years as a YA/Teen Librarian. T-shirts can be immensely cool and we choose them, often, as a form of self expression. Last year we did an entire series on altering t-shirts and it was popular and fun. One of our programs taught teens how to do a low cost form of screen printing on t-shirts. I’ve talked about screen printing before here at TLT, but I wanted to do an in depth analysis of what would work best in a public makerspace, consider process, outcome, and cost.

This past year, we purchased a Silhouette Cameo for our Teen MakerSpace and given this year’s Teen Summer Reading theme – Libraries Rock! – it seemed fitting that we would look once again at screen printing. My goal has been to teach our teens how they can use this type of technology to create their own screen printing designs.

Today we are going to be looking at screen printing using a silhouette cameo in a couple of different ways, to address various cost issues. One of the factors we will look at is cost, but we have to be honest and admit up front that the technology needed to use a Silhouette Cameo is costly up front. You need a computer or laptop and the Silhouette Cameo itself. Many people have this technology in their homes, but cost is a barrier to access. There are less expensive ways to make stencils, which we have covered before. For example, you can cut stencils out of card stock or old overhead projector sheets.

Traditional screen printing produces screens using an emulsion process. It’s time consuming and requires access to technology and tools that most libraries don’t have, even those with makerspaces. The Silhouette Cameo can be a way to produce screens without going through the traditional emulsion process.

We will be specifically looking at using a pre-made screen and a homemade screen.

Screenprinting is divided into three main activities:

1) Designing your screen

2) Cutting and making your screen

3) And using the screen to screen print onto a t-shirt (the actual screen printing process).

Designing Your Screen

If you are going to be using a Silhouette Cameo to do your screen printing, as we are here, then it comes with it’s own design software. I’m not going to go into detail here how to use the design software. There is a bit of a learning curve and there are a lot of really good online tutorials to help you get started.

When designing specifically for screen printing, I have learned a few rules that help you be successful.

T-Shirt screen printed by me

T-Shirt screen printed by me

1. Text is difficult, so avoid it if you can.

2. If you do use text, you want to use big and less complicated fonts.

3. Especially when you begin, the less complicated your design the better.

4. You want big, open spaces that are easy to weed, transfer, and ink.

Once you have made a design you are happy with, you will need to cut your vinyl. I do not know how a Silhouette Cameo screen compares to a more traditional emulsion created screen, as I have no experience with that type of screen. I have, however, used stencils, both store bought and hand made, and find the Silhouette Cameo created screen to be superior to other types of stencils. For example, because of the precision of the Silhouette Cameo, I could create a more elaborate design because the Cameo did all the cutting for me; it’s easy and precise. Trying to make smooth cuts onto a stencil by hand is hard, the Cameo elevates the design and precision. Also, using a stencil to paint a t-shirt without the screen is not technically screen printing. That may be splitting hairs, but I like the idea of teaching teens various ways to design and create their own personal shirts.

Cutting and Making Your Screen

To begin, you will send your design to cut like normal.

After your design is finished cutting, don’t remove any vinyl yet! Look at your design and consider what parts of the design you want to be printed onto the shirt. This is the part of the vinyl you will weed. You will be doing a reverse or negative weed. Leave the big piece of vinyl in place with the backing and weed out the design and letters that you want to fill with ink.

You will then have to transfer your sheet of vinyl onto your screen. So let’s talk about screens.

You can purchase a traditional, pre-made screen for screen printing from most craft stores or online. The most common one is made by Speedball. These are wooden frames that have a screen in them, a sort of mesh material. I have seen them priced as high as $25.00. These come in a rectangle shape, they are pre-made so they are pretty taut (this is important to help prevent bleeding), and they are easy to use. They’re ready to go, so you can’t beat that. But buying multiple screens can really begin to add up. The screen in these screen printing frames can be pulled tighter or even replaced.

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Completed screen including vinyl design with tape

Completed screen including vinyl design with tape

You can also make your own using a mesh curtain and an embroidery hoop for less money. When purchasing a curtain you want a sheer curtain. I bought mine at a local store for only $5.00. Embroidery hoops also cost around $5.00. To create my homemade screen I used permanent vinyl on a piece of sheer curtain. You can take out the entire curtain piece and put a different one in to make a different design. I have made 3 designs and they are just stored for re-use; I literally have a small box that has pieces of curtain with the vinyl attached to them. I just take them out, pop them in an embroidery hoop (making sure to pull it really, really tight) and print another shirt.

A "Screen" for Screenprinting

A “Screen” for Screenprinting

I have tried and used both the Speedball and a homemade screen and, although I found the professional screen to be slightly more effective and easier to use, they both work well.

Screen made with curtain and embroidery hoop

Screen made with curtain and embroidery hoop

Pre-made screen

Pre-made screen

If you have some spare wood lying around, a sheer curtain, and a staple gun, you can also make your own screens this way. You always want to pull your screen as taut as possible. I can not stress how important this is.

Whichever screen you use, the next step is to transfer your vinyl stencil onto your screen. If you have worked with vinyl before, you’ll know that you use transfer tape (clear contact paper is my preferred transfer tape) and a wedge tool to help you get the backing off of your vinyl and your stencil onto the screen. Be careful to leave all the little bits and pieces in place, like the insides of circles and letters. When screen printing these little bits and pieces can slip or tear away, which is why I recommend as simple a design as possible. You also want to avoid any bubbles or wrinkles and you want to make sure your stencil is firmly applied. You will then want to use painter’s tape to cover up any exposed areas of your screen.

Completed screen including vinyl design with tape

Completed Speedball screen including vinyl design with tape

So now you’re screen is made and you need to do the actual screen printing.

Screen Printing Your T-shirt

To do the actual screen printing, you’ll need a paint or ink (fabric paints work, screen printing ink works best but is more expensive), the screen, a wedge or squeegee, and a piece of cardboard to place inside your shirt. First, place your cardboard inside the two layers of your short so your ink doesn’t bleed through to the back layer. You will then put your screen on place on your shirt. Scoop out some of your ink and use the wedge/squeegee to smooth the ink into the empty spaces on your stencil. You’ll then use it to scrape off any excess. Be very careful to fill in every last nook and cranny on your stencil to get a good print.

Applying the ink

Applying the ink

Carefully remove your screen. I recommend having a blow dryer handy to do a little bit of drying before moving or touching your shirt. Then let it dry completely. Follow the instructions for washing your shirts afterwards.

My final t-shirt

My final t-shirt

So in the shirt above, I actually had both a success and a failure. When doing the Spaghetti Sundays shirt above, the words were the negative space and that worked really well. However, in this design, the words Libraries Rock were on the screen and were meant to prevent the ink from going into that space and leave the shirt exposed, displaying the words. That didn’t work, the letters moved and there was bleeding. So I covered it all up with black and that worked fine. I then used vinyl cut outs on heat transfer to put my wording in place. I’m still trying to figure out how to be more successful with lettering.

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In all honesty, the pre-made screen is easier to make and use. It’s already taut, so you don’t have to worry about pulling it tight enough in your embroidery hoop. I also found the rectangle shape easier to work with, which may just be a personal preference. I had more bleeding with the embroidery hoop, though I admit that can be user error. Because I had a great discount coupon, the pre-made screen wasn’t really any more expensive than making my own.

So deciding which screen to use is a draw. Because you can make more than one screen with a curtain, I think it would work better in a public makerspace with multiple people making and using screens. Making your own screens is cheaper when you need multiple screens.

For my personal use, I much prefer the Speedball screens. However, for the Teen MakerSpace, home made screens seem the better way to go. Ultimately, they are less expensive so you can produce multiple screens for the same amount of money, which is important when you are going to have to produce multiple screens in a single program.

Supplies:

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  • Laptop/Computer
  • Silhouette Cameo
  • Vinyl
  • Scissors
  • Various vinyl tools, including the weeding tool
  • Painters tape
  • Screen printing screen (premade or homemade using a mesh curtain or embroidery hoop)
  • Screen printing ink
  • Wedge/squeegee
  • Table covering
  • Clear contact paper
  • T-shirt

Please note, you can also screen print things like posters and such, it doesn’t have to be done solely on material.

Some good tutorials

Silhouette Screenprinting Tutorial (for beginners) – YouTube

How to Screen Print Using Vinyl: Silhouette Tutorial – Silhouette School

Previously on TLT

MakerSpace: 5 Ways We Transformed T-Shirts into Something New

Low Tech, Low Cost “Screenprinting”

MakerSpace: Using a Silhouette Cameo to Do Screenprinting

MakerSpace: Low Tech, Low Cost “Screenprinting”

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We used several processes to make this example t-shirt. The Design Life words are part of our screen printing trials.

For some time now I have been on a quest to get a screen printing station into my Teen MakerSpace. My research involved reading a ton of books, a lot of trial and error and visiting a local art studio that did traditional screen printing. The big stumbling block for us is that to make screens for screen printing, you have to do a technique that involves emulsion. This was a no go for us. The second stumbling block is that screen printing can take up a lot of space, something which is a very hot commodity for us; We are a small space.

We also tried several low cost kits, some of which sere made by Klutz and Alex; these also proved to be less effective than we liked. Though we did keep the screen part of one of the kits because although you don’t need it for the method we chose to go with, some teens like to use it because it has a more authentic feel. But in a pinch, you can also make your own screens (more on that in a minute).

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The paints in this kit were awful, but I did keep and re-use the screen successfully

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Some exhaustive research and a lot of trial and error led us to a couple of low tech, low cost scenarios that do indeed work. It’s not truly screen printing, but it is a low cost, low tech way to achieve the same effects.

What You Need:

  • Stencils (store bought or you can make your own, see below)
  • Fabric paint or Speedball ink (you want something that will stand up to multiple washing)
  • Sponge brushes (or you can use an ink roller or flat edged screen printing scraper thing)
  • 202 No Pins spray fabric adhesive
  • T-shirts
  • A screen (not necessary, but it makes it feel more authentic)
  • A clean, protected surface to work on (you’ll want to cover your work surface to protect it)
  • A hair dryer, fan or heat gun to speed up drying

Getting Started with Stencils

Stencils are used to make your design on your t-shirt. In true screen printing, there is a multi-step process that is used to make your stencils that involves emulsion. We just don’t have the means for this in our library space. But you can achieve some of the same effects by using stencils. And to give it a more authentic and hands on feel, you can make your own stencils in a couple of different ways.

The key to successful “screen printing” is to use simple prints and block lettering. The less intricate your design, the easier it is to get a clean image, especially when you are just beginning.

1. Freezer Paper Stencil

You can use freezer paper to make a stencil if you have access to a printer. Follow the instructions here: Stencil Shirts With Freezer Paper – Instructables. Using this method teens can design their own stencils in a graphics program to make truly unique t-shirts. It involves the most amount of tech in our low tech process. You’ll want to make sure and design a simple image without a lot of lines and details to be effective; also, cutting the stencil out with an exacto knife can be tedious so simpler is quicker, easier and cleaner.

This method is also good because you can then just iron your stencil on to your t-shirt and remove it when you are done.  Some tutorials we read/watched said you could use wax paper but we did not find this to be true – it absolutely works best if you use freezer paper. Using this method, you will only be able to use your stencil once.

2. Card Stock Stencil

You can also make your own stencil using a heavier card stock. You can find those instructions here: Make Your Own Stencil – Instructables. You’re basically going to do the same thing as above: design, print an image, and cut it out with an exacto knife.

3. Buy Stencils

Folkart makes a series of large stencils that fit nicely on t-shirts and tote bags. You can buy them here. This is the easiest method by far, but it eliminates a lot of the tech as teens are no longer engaged in designing and printing out their own stencils.

Preventing Bleeding

When using a stencil, it can be easy for the paint or ink to bleed under the stencil, which makes your design look like a muddy mess. At the screen printing studio they use a temporary glue that helps hold the screen in place and acts as a resist. You can use 202 No Pins fabric adhesive spray to temporarily hold your stencil in place and act as a resist. Once you are done applying your paint/ink and allow your design to dry a little bit, you just lift off your stencil.

Bleeding is bad

Bleeding is bad

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Applying Your Medium

As I mentioned, you do not actually need a screen to do this process. But if you want a more authentic experience, you can make your own screens using either an embroidery hoop or building one out of wood. I found the results to be the same whether I used the screen or not.

To apply your paint you can use either a sponge brush, an ink roller, or a screen printing wedge. I liked the sponge brush the most because I felt it gave me the most control regarding the amount of paint/ink I used. Also, you can buy a bulk pack of sponge brushes fairly cheaply so that multiple teens can make t-shirts at once. In comparison, a wedge can run you around $5.00+ and the ink roller was around $7.00.

spongebrushes

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After you apply your paint/ink, you’ll want to let your design dry a bit before removing your stencil. We used both a fan and a hair dryer.

It also works well on tote bags, in case you were wondering.

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 For more information, check out these resources:

gigposters

I read a lot of books on the topic, and this is one of my favorites.

D.I.Y. Screen Printing – Instructables

Down and Dirty Screenprinting for Under 10$ – Instructables

A 5 Minute Guide to Screen Printing Ink