Make your own t-shirts

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This is not necessarily a screen printing tutorial and I am not a screen printing expert. I took a class in college where I learned to screen print. If you want to learn to screen print you can find how-to videos on YouTube.  If you want you create shirts for your business or website I would definitely consider screen printing your own.
Currently I see a lot of online woodworkers exchanging stickers to promote their work. That is really cool maybe T-shirts could be exchanged next.
Why screen print instead of the heat transfers? Durability the plastisol inks used in screen printing hold up much longer than heat transfers.
Next screen printing requires investing in some equipment upfront. Kits range from $100 to $1000 but once you get going you can print shirts for a little over the cost of the shirt. So if you are selling shirts it’s much easier to make a profit if you print them yourself. A quality white tee is about 2-3 bucks online, colored tees 3-5.  I do not know how this compares to the online companies that print custom shirts, but when you do it yourself you can definitely save on labor.  Due to setup and clean up being laborious I never print less than 10 shirts to make it worth my time.  Also you can do cool things  like camo shirts or tye-dye white shirts then screen print.

The equipment-
The screen you can make your own, but I had mine made by DSP. I sent them the image and they burned the image on a new screen. I put two designs on the screen so it can be flipped to print a different shirt.  You can make your own screen, but its just easier to have one made.

The design and the screen
The design and the screen

The machine or jig. This is a one color machine because it holds one screen at a time. The shirt rests on a platen and the screen is on articulating hinges so the screen can be brought down on to a fresh shirt. You can get a fancy machine multicolor machine, but I have seen people get good results with a screen on a 4″ door hinge mounted to plywood.

The jig and platen
The jig and platen

 

Screen on the jig
Screen on the jig

Shirts-I bought these on sale, I got Virginia Tech maroon and 2 grab bags of variety colors.  Get high quality apparel quality shirts.
Ink- I use thermoset plastisol ink, it is really thick and you flash set it with heat. I use a heat gun to get the ink up to about 400 degrees. It is really durable and you can get it on amazon.

Plastisol ink
Plastisol ink

Squeegee- this is what you use to spread the ink through screen onto the shirt.

squeegee
squeegee

Printing- mask off the screen around the design you are printing on. Setup the jig, platen, screen and shirt-this is where you make sure the design prints in the right spot. You can measure it out or eyeball it. Put some ink on the screen above the design, use a spatula to do this. Use the squeegee at a 45 degree angle and pull the ink over design pressing firmly. I make multiple passes. Lift the screen and set the ink with heat.
Remove the shirt and repeat.

Setting up to print, checking position and alignment
Setting up to print, checking position and alignment
Pulling the ink through the screen
Pulling the ink through the screen
Fresh print
Fresh print
Flash drying a fresh print with a heat gun
Flash drying a fresh print with a heat gun

Quality control- The number one thing to look for is registration.  This is how the ink is flowing through the screen. Do you have a full image?  Are the edges sharp or crisp?  To adjust this pull more ink through the screen or less.  Also you may want to clean the screen.   Next is position.  Does it look good is it in the right spot?  If not all you can really do is adjust on the next shirt-move the screen or move the shirt.  Finally watch out for ink!  Be careful it can get everywhere and can ruin a freshly printed masterpiece.  Use rags and mineral spirits to clean-up any ink that is not on the screen.

Registration-The shirt on the right has registration problems, notice the areas that are faded or dull
Registration-The shirt on the right has registration problems, notice the areas that are faded or dull

Clean-up-This is the worst part, you will get wet, you will get dishpan hands.  When you are all done you want to clean screen with mineral spirits, hot water, a sponge/brush, and then rinse with high pressure.  Plastisol ink is durable and this makes it hard to clean.  I scrape the extra ink off the screen then thin the ink with mineral spirits then let it sit for 10 minutes.  Use water and a sponge to scrub the screen, add mineral spirits if needed and scrub some more.  When I think the ink is thin and loose I take the screen outside and spray it with a high pressure nozzle on a garden hose to blast all the ink off the screen.  How do you know when the screen is clean?  There should not be any ink on the screen and the open mesh for the image show be 100% clear.

It is alot of work to get started and the clean-up sucks but it is very rewarding to make your own shirt to promote your woodwork, business or website.  In one afternoon I printed 53 t-shirts and so could you.

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