What I wish I had known before I started screen printing at home

Experimenting and learning new processes and methods in screen printing is one of my favorite ways of getting my creative juices going.

But it also means I’ve discovered a few things to add to my “What Not To Do while printing” list.

I’ve compiled a list of the biggest things I wish I would have known before I started screen printing at home. Let me know if you have any to add!


1. Rinse your screen as soon as you can.

You don’t have to be too extreme about how quickly you wash out your screens after you use them, but it’s easy to get lazy about this and trust me, if you forget a screen for too long with old ink or an old design dried into it your screen will likely be stained with the design and ruined!

Just make it part of your process and you will never forget. If you do plan on reusing a finished screen, you can simply washout the ink and let the screen dry completely. Don’t let it go too long! I have ruined a screen or two by simply forgetting to wash out the design and fully clean the screens. Take it from me - wash those screens out the sooner, the better!


2. Keep trash bags at hand.

Screen Printing means you have to use (and clean up) ink! Having close access to your trash bag while you are printing helps you to manage thin inks and the cleanup without having to worry about accidentally tracking ink all through your house when you need to throw out an inky paper towel or rag, it’s so much easier to just reach over to your printing trash bag.


3. Stock up on rags or paper towels for easy cleanup of your print station.

You don’t want to have to scramble for paper towels or rags while you are in the middle of printing. Figure it out beforehand and you won’t have to worry and possibly ruin wet prints.


4. Resist the urge to over coat your screens!

Say it with me - “I will not overcoat my screen. I will not overcoat my screen with ink, I will not overcoat my screen with emulsion.”

A thin, even coat is all that you need for ink and for your screen fillers (be it emulsion or drawing fluid or otherwise). Applying too thickly all you achieve is wasting materials and time and effort to apply and remove the excess.  

Even more importantly, over-coating your light-sensitive emulsion won’t get you a better image. Too thick emulsion doesn’t expose properly under the lights and won’t wash out completely - meaning you won’t get the entire design you envisioned. Waste of time because now you have to wash out an entire screen you couldn’t print and start over.


5. Give yourself enough time to print - it’s a process!

No matter how you achieve your printed design - ink will still need time to dry before it is safe to touch without smearing the design. Rushing is when you will fuck up - you’ll forget a step and will be even worse off than when you started. Give yourself time to learn and perfect your printing process.

Pushing last minute in screen printing shows up - the work will be sloppy and low quality. If you are looking to sell your prints (be it on t-shirts, posters, etc.) not many people will be impressed by a sloppy product and certainly won’t pay well for it.


6. Plan where you will dry your prints before you start printing.

Wet print in hand is not the time to invent a drying rack! Prints (t-shirts, posters, etc.) need time and flat space to dry fully so the screen printed design isn’t ruined while the ink is still wet. Inks dry at different rates and different materials will dry quicker than others but you will still need a place to put your prints if you plan on making more than just one!


7. You don’t need to spend a ton of money to get started.

Sure the gadgets are shiny and cool but they aren’t a must-have. They won't’ prevent you from being able to create really great screen printed designs. All you need to know is what is worth the money when you’re getting you screen print station setup and skip the rest.

At its most basic, to screen print a t-shirt you need a screen (I show you how to make a great, cheap screen here) ink, a squeegee, and the shirt you want to print on. Anything beyond that is kickASS, but really not essential unless you are going for a really complex design.


8. Craft paint is a cheap way to test your color scheme ideas before committing to a full can of screen printing ink.

You can get cheap acrylic paints in a wide range of colors and options at any craft store or art supply store (my personal fave is Artist and Craftsman Supply). Acrylics dry in the screen as you are printing much quicker than screen printing inks so you will want to watch the prints for dried spots and re-ink and washout the screen often to compensate


9. Double check the printer type you have matches the transparencies you buy.

“Inkjet” is the most common type of at-home printer, so that’s what you’ll likely want. Not “laser jet”. If you get the wrong type of transparency the ink won’t cling to the film and will bubble up and be useless to you. Don’t waste your money!


10. Let your inkjet transparency design printout dry completely before you touch it to use it!

I learned the hard way, Rockstars, so you don’t have to. Just let your printout sit for a few minutes to ensure that all the ink has fully dried onto the transparency. Because it’s not printer paper it won’t dry instantly like you may be used to. Be patient and you’ll keep yourself from ruining the printout.


11. You don’t have to coat your entire screen with emulsion.

I may be going against what the textbooks say but coating your entire screen from frame to frame really is not necessary or efficient. Instead just coat the center of the screen big enough to contain your design and then tape off all the un-coated edges with painters tape when you are printing. Saves on emulsion and elbow grease to clean it out.


12. Get a big pad of cheap newsprint and always have it handy.

Newsprint is useful for testing your ink levels in your screen without ruining your desired material you are printing on (be it t-shirts or nice posters, etc.). You can use newsprint to check to see how ink is filling into the screen and whether it is time to wash out the dried ink or reapply.

It’s also handy to keep some newsprint for cleanup of inks and squeegees and excess ink while printing.


13. Put a barrier between the layers of the shirt you are printing on to prevent your design from bleeding to the other side.

Without a barrier, your screen print ink will bleed from the front where you intend your design, to the back, where you don’t! All it takes is a simple plastic mat or thick sheet of scrap paper to catch any ink that might bleed through.


Next steps

Be sure to comment below and let me know which of these tips were new to you! I’d love to hear which you’ve tried yourself and if any you had to learn the hard way.

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