Teen Librarian Toolbox
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MakerSpace: Using a Silhouette Cameo to Do Screenprinting

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This summer as part of our Summer of Shirts, we did a very low-tech version of screen printing, which turned out to be incredibly popular. So I was excited to learn that the Silhouette Cameo can be used to do a more traditional type of screenprinting. It works really well and I HIGHLY recommend it. After being pretty decent with my Silhouette Cameo, it only took me about an hour to make my stencil and screenprint my t-shirt. And since many of the supplies can be re-used for multiple projects, the cost per project is basically under $20.00, though your initial investment will be slightly higher (assuming that you already have the Silhouette Cameo of course).

Thing 2 wearing her screenprinted T-shirt

Thing 2 wearing her screenprinted T-shirt

Supplies:

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  • Silhouette Cameo and PC/Laptop
  • Weeding tool
  • Piece of 651 Permanent Vinyl
  • Scissors
  • Clear contact paper (to be used as transfer tape)
  • A wedge to be used with the transfer tape
  • A 14 inch embroidery hoop
  • Painters tape
  • A sheer fabric curtain (I purchased a white one for less than $5.00 at a local store)
  • Speedball screenprinting ink
  • A foam brush or squeegee (or credit card)
  • Gloves
  • Something to protect your work surface
  • A piece of cardboard to insert between the two layers of your shirt

Step 1: Making Your Design and Turning it Into a Stencil

Tools used in this step: Laptop, Silhouette Cameo, Vinyl 651 (permanent), weeding tool

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You begin by making your design in the Silhouette design studio. You’ll want to think about simple designs to begin with. You then send your design to the cutter unmirrored with your vinyl 651. You want to design and cut your vinyl as you would a normal vinyl project. HOWEVER, when you weed your project you want to remove the design part while keeping the edges in place to create your stencil. For example, I removed all of the guitar pieces and letters and kept the part I would normally remove attached to my vinyl backing. You final screen will look like this.

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Step 2: Turning Your Vinyl into a Printing Screen

Tools used in this step: Vinyl stencil (created in step 1), transfer tape (contact paper), wedge (used for transfer tape), painters tape, embroidery hoop, a piece of sheer curtain slightly larger than your embroidery hoop

You now have a negative image piece of vinyl that has been weeded, so you’re going to use your transfer tape (contact paper) to lift your stencil off of the vinyl backing and attach it to the screen (which is a piece of sheer fabric curtain). If you don’t know how to use transfer tape, there are instructions here: How to Use Transfer Tape for Cricut and Silhouette Projects.

After you place your vinyl stencil onto the screen and remove the transfer tape, you can cut your stencil/screen to the size of your embroidery hoop. The hoop is used to hold your stencil/screen tight for the application phase. You want to leave about 2 inches around the outside of the hoop so that you can keep it pulled tight. Use painter’s tape around the edges to help make sure you don’t go over the edge of your vinyl stencil.

The hoop plus your sheer curtain with the vinyl stencil attached is now your screen for the purposes of discussion.

A "Screen" for Screenprinting

A “Screen” for Screenprinting

Step 3: Doing the Screen Printing

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Tools used in this step: Your screen (which is the embroidery hoop with the sheer curtain piece and your vinyl stencil attached to it), Speedball ink, squeegee, gloves (if you want to keep your hands clean), surface protection, cardboard for in between layers of your t-shirt

Insert a piece of cardboard between the layers of your t-shirt to prevent bleeding through. Place the screen onto your shirt where you want it to appear. You will then put a little bit of Speedball ink onto your stencil and spread it evenly over the stencil using your squeegee. Fill in all the parts and then scrape it clean so that you have a thin layer of ink over the areas where it is supposed to print. Let it dry for a few minutes and then remove your screen.

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Your shirt is now done, but you need to let it dry for about 24 hours.

Advantages to Screenprinting vs. Vinyl Heat Transfer

Once you have created a screen, you can take it out of the embroidery hoop for storage and re-use it. From one sheet curtain panel you can create anywhere from 6 to 8 screens which you can store. This gives you a variety of ready made screens that you can pop in and out of your embroidery hoop to teach teens the basics of screen printing. Would also be great for creating summer reading shirts.

Because you are creating a screen that can be re-used, it costs less than using heat transfer vinyl on a large number of t-shirts. Heat transfer vinyl is more expensive than standard vinyl and here you are using one piece as opposed to multiple pieces for multiple shirts.

Many of the supplies and tools can be re-used, which makes this a less expensive project over time.

The t-shirts feel more like authentic t-shirts as opposed to t-shirts that have the stiff feel of vinyl on them.

What the Teens Learn:

  • Design
  • Some basic tech
  • Screenprinting

Here is a really quick tutorial that you can watch on YouTube that demonstrates how quick and easy screenprinting with a Silhouette Cameo is:

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