You’re in an indie band and you finally realized - you can screen print your own band’s tees for merch sales and stop paying out to those t-shirt printing companies!!! Hell YEAH!
I’m here to help.
Below you’ll find my essential list of tools you’ll need to pull it off at home. Keep in mind -- screen printing is an incredibly versatile method of printing and you can go as cheaply or expensive as your budget can handle - it’s really up to you!
This is the start of the whole process - you’ll need some sort of screen or frame to hold your template and deliver ink to your blank tees. My favorites come from Speedball but you can also make your own using simple materials you can find at any craft store.
Next you need your ink! Pick your inks that are labeled for fabric and water based. They’re easiest to clean up and they usually pretty inexpensive. My favorites are the Speedball line of Water based fabric printing inks, but you can also experiment with acrylic inks to allow for more color combinations than you’ll likely find in the specialized screen printing inks.
Keep in mind - acrylics dry much more quickly than screen printing inks so you will want to watch your screen and wash out often to keep from clogging out the design. If you find the inks dry far too quickly you can also add tiny drops of transparent base to get the ink to last a little longer. For acrylic paint Americana Acrylic paint works well and also Liquitex is a good brand to try.
When Using metallic inks you’re going to want to be even more aware of the screen as it clogs - metallic inks use tiny flecks of material that can tend to get stuck in the mesh of the print screen. Just wash out regularly!
This is the instrument of print - how we get the ink from the screen onto our t-shirts. You’ll want to select a squeegee that is smaller than the size of your printing screen frame and is good quality - you don’t want the edges to be rounded, but a nice sharp edge.
Squeegees that come apart are nice for cleanup but not required. Just pick something you like - I’d say keep at least 3 on hand for ease of printing and having backups.
Yes emulsion! By far the most detailed and versatile screen printing method is to transfer your design using light and a light sensitive coating on the printing screen. This method allows for incredible detail without hours of effort to cut out the design and transfer to the screen. Though this is my favorite method, there are tons of other cool ways to print your tees (I can show you!)
If you plan to reuse your screen with a different design you’ll want to remove the emulsion you applied - get a big bottle of this so you don’t have to feel like you need to be stingy when you’re cleaning out your screen using a scrub brush
You don’t need anything super fancy for your light source when exposing your screens - I like a nice auto lamp with a reflector because it can be clamped onto anything and removed easily. Make sure to get the correct wattage light bulb for the emulsion you’re working with.
This is what you will print our designs onto to expose to your coated screens. Just like you remember your elementary school teacher using with the overhead projector, if you’re old enough, ha! You’ll want enough to experiment with.
This is an all around hero in my printshop -- helps to mask of excess areas of the screen to prevent waste, helps to stabalize screens. Get some blue painters tape!
This is not a must have but it is a KICKASS bonus - these allow for effortless registration especially when printing multiple color designs. I’ve also had great success simply using duct tape - so don’t feel like you have to dive in on this one right away.
Aother kickass bonus -- If you want to have a lot of fun with designing your band’s t-shirts I 100% recommend looking into getting a Creative Cloud membership. This program will allow you to make a lot of design magic. If you don’t want to dive into design software you are fine using free online programs like Canva and PicMonkey
This is another bonus - and the kind really doesn’t matter, but you will either need a printer or go to a local Kinkos to get this done. All this printer needs to do is print in black!
The best way to get great prices on your blanks is to shop around and buy in bulk - check wholesale tshirt websites on google and make sure to check reviews. Great brands to look at for t-shirts are Gildan and Bella.
Keep in mind your audience - if it’s mostly young women and teen girls you will want to be mindful of the cut of the garment you choose as well as the design. With dudes - a boxy tee is really not a big deal - they want a kickass design.
Another thing you’ll want to consider is the color of your tees - using any dark or brightly colored tee will require an additional layer of ink under the design to make the design pop (called an underlay-link to post about when and why to use underlay) white tees as well as pastel and lightly colored tees do not usually require this extra layer but it will always ultimately depend on the design.
Kinda unusual, I know, but this stuff is gonna help you dry the ink on your tees and set the design to last through washes and life in general. Using an iron to use heat to remove all the moisture from the ink to “cure” it
You need a surface to put your screens on right? This is my printing table - I like a good amount of room for printing and mixing inks as well as storing my prints - this does the job.
Or any other cheap paper to test out your design and printing setup and colors without wasting your tees or good paper and lots of rags - printing can get messy - you’ll want the rags to test print as well as help keep your space clean. You can stock up on cheap tees at your local Salvation Army or other thrift store and just cut them into 12”x12” squares for use.
This list doesn’t cover every method and tool for screen printing at home, only my favorites. Give them a shot and see what you can come up with. Do you have any other favorites you like to use in screen printing? Let me know in the comments below!