How To Screen Print At Home Step By Step Guide


Are you ready to take action on your screen printing journey but don’t know what materials to choose from or where to begin? At first, screen printing can be daunting, but with enough practice, you’ll recreate the best artwork at home in no time. Whether you will be screen printing on fabric or a flat object, the materials needed will remain the same. 

We’ll go over this comprehensive guide explaining every step of the way, specifically on manual screen printing suitable for home production.


Step 1: Decide What You Will Be Printing On

New Realm Wear T-Shirts and Paper Bags

Screen printing is primarily known as a method for t-shirt printing. The reality is that you can screen print way more than just t-shirts.

Before getting started, you must figure out what you will be screen printing on and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will I print on Fabric, Paper, Wood, Cardboard Boxes, etc.?
  • What printable surface area do I have?
  • How many pieces do I need?
  • What type of ink will I use?

If you know what you’ll be screen printing on, it will make this step so much easier

You can find blank t-shirts for cheap and without tax if you have a resellers permit from the following vendors:

If you don’t have a resellers permit, you can access T-Shirt blanks at regular prices from the following vendors:


Step 2: Select & Tune Your Screen Printing Press

There are many Screen Printing Presses out there, from Single Color Single Stations to 6 Color 6 Stations. It would help to consider how big your working space is to fit one in your home.

Single Color Single Stations are great for Single Color projects, and Multi Color Stations with Multi Stations are great for Multi Color work. However, you can work around a Single Color Single Station to create multicolor printing if you know how to align a single screen.

Most presses come with a standard wooden pallet sized 16 x 16 inches. Your artwork can only be printed as big as your pallet. Consider picking up a bigger size pallet for oversized artwork and a smaller pallet for smaller print subjects.

Wood pallets will warp over time because of heat when flashing prints. To prevent this from happening, Aluminum pallets are available to choose from. They are more durable and have a much more solid feel to them.

Step 3: Measure The Subject’s Printable Surface Area

After acquiring the desired print subject, use a ruler of any sort and measure the length and width of the printable area. This will guide you to your desired artwork print size measurements. Write this down as it will be helpful in the following steps.


Step 4: Select Your Artwork

Select the artwork file you will use using a computer or laptop. The goal is to recreate your digital artwork into a physical copy as closely as possible.

Before opening your file, open up your preferred vector-based image editor. Start a new document and make the artboard the same size as your transparency films. This will make it easier when printing out your positives. More on that later. Then import your file.

Here are a few applications to choose from

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Affinity Designer
  • Corel Vector
  • Inkscape
  • Vectr

It is recommended to use a vector-based image editor over a rasterization image editor to vectorize the artwork if needed by image tracing: select Silhouettes or Black and White Logo. Click expand after tracing the artwork. This allows the artwork to be resized without compromising the quality. The artwork will turn black. This is fine because you will need to print the transparency in black.

You can still get by with a traditional image editor if you don’t have access to a vector-based image editor although this will result in a less crisp image when printing out transparencies.

Here are a few alternative applications to choose from

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Affinity Photo
  • CorelDRAW
  • Gimp
  • Photopea

Size And Measure The Artwork

Once the artwork is imported and vectorized, It is now time to resize the artwork to the desired measurement based on the printable area you measured during step 3.

Use these measurements to guide yourself for a t-shirt print if you’re a beginner. With enough practice, you will find the sizes you prefer.

Print LocationMeasurements
Front Side Left Pocket Print4 x 4 Inches
Center Chest Print5 x 5 Inches
Front Side Horizontal Across Chest Print5 x 12 Inches
Medium Front Print8 x 8 Inches
Full Front Print 12 x 15 Inches

Include registration marks to help align the transparency film. They are shaped as a square or circle with t-shaped crosses in the middle. To get the best precision, add three at the very top and three at the bottom, totaling six registration marks on the artboard.

Color Separation

Single-color designs are the easiest to work with because they require less preparation; however, multicolor artwork requires color separation. Screen printing multicolor artwork is similar to puzzling pieces together by layering them. Color separation is necessary if the artwork has more than one color. This is done by using CMYK spot colors.


Step 5: Print Transparencies

Transparencies are transparent paper-like films to help create a stencil on a screen printing screen. To make that possible, all of the layers in the artboard need to be filled in black. Printing single-color images will be straightforward as they only require one transparency. Multicolor images will require printing all solid individual colors separate from the rest.

For example, if an image has a total of two colors, blue and red, in the design, hide all red areas and keep all blue regions visible along with the registration marks. Select print and do the same with the opposite color. When printing, select the photo paper platinum setting and ensure the transparency film is the same size as the artboard.

An inject printer that can print on transparency film is good enough for this step. We use a Canon Pixma iX6820. It is compatible with 250 and 251 XL ink cartridges. It also supports up to 13 x 19 transparency film.


Step 6: Select Your Screen

Aluminum Screen Printing Screens

Screen Frame Material

There are two types of Screen Printing frames to choose from. Aluminum and wood frames. Aluminum frames are built to last a very long time. They are light in comparison to the wood screen variant. That being said, they come at a higher cost than wood screens.

Wood screens warp over time due to heat when curing inks and reclaiming. This can become an issue over time and ruin your prints from the uneven contact caused by the warped shape. Wood screens are perfect if you’re on a budget or plan on having a short screen printing journey.

Overall they both produce the same result.

Mesh Type

When choosing a screen, you will run into the decision of picking out a mesh count. There are several options in mesh types. The higher the mesh count, the more detail you can produce while depositing less ink. The lower the mesh count, the less amount of detail you can capture with more ink deposit. 

Higher mesh counts have a yellow tint, while lower mesh counts only have a white pigment. 

For starters, a 110 and 156 mesh count is the sweet spot. Those two options will help produce a high-quality print for any scenario.

Mesh CountUseful ForMesh Color
80Higher ink deposits & specialty inks such as glitter, puff, foil adhesive, etcWhite
110Underbase & for text letter designs. Considered a standard mesh countWhite
156/160Considered the goto mesh count. It’s versatile for any designWhite
230Halftone effects & CMYK photo-realistic designs Yellow

Screen Size

Select a size appropriate for the object you wish to print on and the measurements you want to apply to it. Generally, a bigger screen will be sufficient for any job, but choosing a smaller screen will be more convenient for smaller projects. For beginners, a 20 x 24 is a good frame size to start with.

Screen SizePrintable AreaScoop CoaterMax Squeegee Size
9 x 14 inches7 x 12 inches6 inches6 inches
16 x 20 inches10 x 14 inches12 inches11 inches
20 x 24 inches14 x 18 inches16 inches15 inches
23 x 31 inches17 x 25 inches19 inches18 inches

Step 7: Select Your Scoop Coater

After selecting a screen, match the appropriate scoop coater size to fit the specified screen. This is a tool to prep screens with photo emulsion. More on that shortly. Use the grid up above to guide yourself when matching screen printing frames.


Step 8: Select Your Squeegee

Like the screens, squeegees have handles made out of aluminum and wood. There are other squeegee types, but these two are the most common. Aluminum squeegees can replace their blade if needed and have a much better grip, unlike the wood variant. Wood squeegees are much cheaper, and you can stock up in different sizes for the approximate price of one aluminum squeegee.

Mix-matching squeegee sizes to fit screens is possible, although using a squeegee large enough to accommodate larger prints for equal ink deposit is recommended. Use the grid above to see which squeegee size fits the screen you will use.

Overall, screen printing squeegees have a soft and rigid feel. It’s all based on their durometer blade type. You’ll find the four most common blade durometers below.

Durometer SizeDifference
Durometer Size 60Are one of the softest and most flexible blades when passing ink through screens
Durometer Size 70Have a stiffer feel with a slight flex when pushing/pulling ink through the mesh
Durometer Size 80Are the stiffest blade option. Perfect for minimal ink deposits
Durometer Size 70/90/70Tripple durometer squeegee blade gives you soft edges with a stiff center.

Step 9: Select The Ink Type

Plastisol inks behave much differently than water-based inks. Everything from how it feels to cleaning up and curing the inks and, of course, the final result. To top it off, all manufacturers create different types of inks. Some are more opaque and thick, while others feel buttery smooth.

Water-based inks need to remain moist during production. These types of inks dry up very quickly on screens, so it is vital to keep the stencil flooded right after the pass has been deposited. If your ink starts to dry up, spray some water to reactivate the consistency of the ink.

It’s important to know what temperature you need to set to cure your finished print.

Acrylic screen printing ink is an alternative for most ideal surfaces, such as printing paper, wood, and cardboard. It behaves a lot like water-based inks because it is a form of it.

Insert Image of Pantone Mixing System

Mixing colors is possible if you need to recreate a color you may miss. Use a HEX to Pantone Converter and follow a Mixing System guide to recreate it. This will require a scale, an empty ink container, an ink spatula, and the inks required to create the desired color.

Choose which ink type you will be using for the project, and look out for the cure temps when ready to complete the final result.

Ink TypeConsistencyCure Temperature
Plastisol Thick and Creamy320°F
Low Cure PlastisolButtery Smooth260°F
Water BasedSoft and Thin320°F
Acrylic Screen Printing InkSoft and ThinAir Dry

Step 10: Prep The Screen

Photo Emulsion

There are three types of emulsion Photopolymer, Diazo (Mixed), and Emulsion Capillary Films. Whichever route you pick, there will be a learning curve. Even when switching from one type to another.

We recommend using photopolymer emulsion if time is a factor due to the short amount of time needed to expose a screen. Its pro is that it has a long shelf life. If you don’t screen print as often, you can return to a useful batch of photo emulsion.

For those who don’t mind a long wait time when exposing screens, we recommend a Diazo mixed emulsion. It does have a shorter shelf life, unfortunately. Its pro is that it has a larger room for error when exposed.

Capillary films are best for those who want to minimize the screen coating process and skip some of the wait time compared to the presensitized and Diazo-mixed emulsions.

Begin by pouring photo emulsion onto the scoop coater evenly throughout the entire surface area slowly. Then grab your screen, have it standing upwards with one arm, and begin to scoop using the scoop coater with your other arm. Start from the bottom end of the back side of the screen, and pull upwards with even pressure at a 90-degree angle using the sharp end of the scoop coater.

As you’re finishing the upward motion, slowly reroute the angel back to normal and wiggle the scoop coater side to side to prevent any flooding from occurring. Do the same action on the print side of the screen. One layer on each side will be enough.

It is ideal to prep your screens in a dark environment, so your photo emulsion does not pre-expose. The most efficient way to get the best results is to coat your screens overnight, somewhere dust free and away from any light source. Let it dry up, and put the screens away before the sunrises in a safe space such as a box closet or a screen rack.


Step 11: Install Pallet Tape Onto Your Platen

Installing pallet tape will help increase the life expectancy of the pallet. It acts as a layer of protection as it is a form of masking tape. It will also help with the ability to capture lint buildup from projects over time. Make sure to match the pallet tape roll to the size of your pallet.


Step 12: Create A Registration Grid System

Create registration grids on the pallet tape. Mark grid lines with a black sharpie and make sure to space a gap of two inches apart. Use a T-Shaped Ruler to help with even straight lines. This will help with the accuracy and registration alignment for single and multicolor projects. Make sure the lines are opaque enough to view through the photo emulsion.


Step 13: Pre-Exposing Prep

Once the grid is complete, insert your dry-coated screen into the screen, press, and lock it in place. Grab your transparencies and place strips of scotch tape on the opposite edges of the film. Align them onto the grid using the registration marks mentioned in step 4.

Pull the screen down and press the mesh downward, touching the tape strips to secure it evenly. The film transparency should now be taped onto the back side of the screen facing you. Unlock the screen from the knobs and remove the screen.


Step 14: Exposing Screens

Head over to a dark room with no visible light and place your coated screen with the transparency taped to your exposure unit. Place a slab of tempered glass for added pressure and dial your timer. Then turn on your UV Light or Halogen light and let it shine through the screen.

Everyone has a different exposure time depending on their exposure unit, photo emulsion, light source, and light distance. Our exposure time is perfect at 20 seconds using this UV Flood light with a length of 13 inches away from the screen and the Baselayr Complete Emulsion.

Many screen printers use an exposure unit to lock in their stencil image with the help of UV light as it is the fastest light source to burn screens. You would be surprised how many business screen printers use a DIY unit in their shop. You can build one yourself using a 2 x 4 piece of wood, some nails, a hammer, and a UV flood light. If you don’t feel like building one yourself, there are proper pre-builds at a cost.

Here are some exposure units from reputable brands


Step 15: Washing Out The Stencil

After the screen has been exposed, it is now time to wash out the screen. This requires a washout booth where water can be captured and drained with little light. For the best results, it is best to use a portable or nonportable powerwasher to wash out the exposed photo emulsion in seconds.

Start by assembling your powerwasher and placing your screen into the washout unit. Have the backside of the screen facing you. Spray water on both sides of the screen for about 5 seconds and let it soak in for about 5 minutes. This will allow the pressure washer to remove the photo emulsion that did not get exposed by the transparency film’s solid black color.

Once the screen has been soaked, begin spraying about 3 inches away from the screen. You’ll start to notice the mesh become visible with the artwork shape. Clear out the entire area as quickly as you can. Be cautious with the amount of time and water being deposited into the screen, as it can damage the stencil the longer you take.


Step 16: Let The Screen Dry

The perfect way to let screens dry is through direct sunlight. Place your screen on your window or outside your home and wait until it hardens the emulsion. Take advantage of the time of the day whenever possible with screen printing.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of sunlight. Another way of letting screens dry is by placing a fan directly toward the screen and waiting until it is ready. This has drawbacks as dust makes its way onto the emulsion while still wet.

Lastly, the best way to let your screens dry without sunlight is by storing them in a safe room for 24 hours. Plan out your screen printing schedule accordingly, as this method may require days of processing.


Step 17: Tape Your Screens

Once the screens have dried up to the touch, it is time to tape the inside edges of the screen. This will help avoid ink spreading on unwanted parts of your print subject. Many screen printers use PMI Split Tape, which has an adhesive side and a non-tacky for an easy peel. An alternative is painter’s tape which also provides ease of use and helps avoid unwanted mistakes.


Step 18: Installing Screens

Lock the screen onto the screen printing press station and begin aligning it using the grid system on the pallet. The same applies if you’re printing with multiple screens on a multicolor job. Some screen printing presses have a registration system that can align screens with an X, Y, Z platform using their knobs.


Step 19: Apply Adhesive To The Pallet

Apply adhesive to your pallet. This will help lock your shirt, jacket, paper bags, cardboard, etc., in place. Without it, you are prone to having your print subject move and will end up with sloppy print. There are two main types of adhesive to choose from. Aerosol spray adhesive and water-based adhesive.

They are both excellent and help keep your print subject in place. Consider installing the water-based adhesive while your screens dry right after the washout. Aerosol spray adhesive dries quickly in comparison.


Step 20: Prep Your Work Station

Prep your space with all the equipment needed, such as an apron, squeegees, tape, blockout pens, a water-filled spray bottle (for water-based inks), a heat gun, a flash unit, a heat press, inks, and ink spatulas. Connecting any spare extension cords will help for a more comfortable environment. Next, have disposable paper towels ready to wipe any ink off necessary, along with a screen wash.

Before printing, open all ink lids and stir the inks with an ink spatula. Stir until you feel the ink is creamy enough. This will create a more consistent flow of ink when spreading onto the screens and flow of work during your session. Plastisol white ink is the thickest of them all and may take the longest to prepare. Use Curable Ink Reducer if needed. This allows the ink to become much easier to work with.


Step 21: Test Print

Right before you get to the primary production, it is essential to do a test print. Screen printing has many steps, and things can go wrong during the process without realizing it. Start with placing a Test Pellon onto the platen. These are thin layer sheets to catch any pin holes or errors. Alternatively, you can use a spare piece of fabric, such as a throwaway shirt.

Pull the screen down and spread enough ink across the lower side using an ink spatula. Grab your squeegee and pull the ink evenly using the squeegee blade up to the top.

Everyone has their preference for this next step. Push vs. Pull. Many screen printers say one is better than the other. This is entirely up to you and how you feel more comfortable.

Pass the ink through the screen twice and lift the screen and take a look at the results. Ensure no unwanted ink has made it onto the test Pellon/fabric. Give it another go, and make sure the screen is suitable for production if all goes well.

Do the same for all screens if you’re doing a multicolor job. Every layer must be aligned perfectly for a proper screen print result.

If you see any tiny holes with ink being pushed out, block them out using a blockout pen. This help with unwanted pinholes. Using tape is just as fine.

Sometimes ink won’t pass through even though the mesh is transparent. In this scenario, gently spray some photo emulsion remover onto a q-tip and rub it against the mesh. Wipe it down with a paper towel and give it another test.

In the worst-case scenario where the stencil isn’t worth using, you’ll have to prepare a new screen repeatedly. Retrace your steps and find out where you went wrong.


Step 22: Print On The Subject

It is now time for the real deal. Install your desired print subject onto the station and align it to fit, ideally using the middle grid line as a central point. For t-shirts, use four fingers from the distance of the collar area to where the print will land. For anything else, adjust it in place according to your liking.

Double-check if the print subject is well aligned and begin to flood the ink upwards using the squeegee. Then pull the screen downwards and perform a pass twice. Lift the screen and view your work. You’ll notice the ink is either faint or solid. This will depend on the fabric or material. Darker fabrics will require more ink to get an opaque result. To reach that effect, you will need to flash the printed area.

This is done with a flash unit or a heat gun. A heat gun is perfect for smaller-sized images, although you can flash larger prints. It will require more flashing time to get an even result. A flash unit is recommended to use if you plan on screen printing in large volumes.

After you flash the printed area, pull the screen back down and perform another pass. You will notice a much more crisp image. Flash the artwork again dry to the touch.


Step 23: Curing The Ink

For fabrics, move over to your heat press and cure your artwork. Insert your piece onto the heat press pallet and place a Teflon sheet or a portion of Parchment Paper above the artwork. Dial in the correct temperature depending on the ink you’re using, and press down for at least 40 seconds. Once the timer goes off, lift and wait for the fabric to cool down. Peel off the sheet and pull your fabric and view your final result.

Note: Using a Teflon sheet will result in a glossy effect with a flat feel to the touch, and using a piece of Parchment Paper will produce a matte effect with a flat feel to the touch.

Curing is possible by using a flash unit solely. This is done by calculating how high the flash unit is above the fabric/piece and the time spent curing.

If there is enough space in your home, you can cure your inks using a conveyer dryer. This is ideal for screen printers that require curing at an automated level. It is a method that cures inks through an oven with a conveyer belt that moves slowly.

Materials such as paper and cardboard require screen printing acrylic ink and water-based ink. They cure by themselves by air drying, but you can speed up the process with a flash unit, heat gun, or conveyer dryer.


Step 24: Clean Up Your Station

Remove any remaining ink from the screen using an ink spatula and place it back onto your ink container. Then apply screen wash onto the screen and scrub both sides using a paper towel until the ink is cleared away. Wipe all the ink spatulas and use the same concept on the squeegee blades. Shut off any electrical equipment if you haven’t already done so.


Step: 25: Reclaiming Screens

Reclaiming screens is the process of clearing photo emulsion away from the screen’s mesh when you decide to swap the stencil off. Do this if you wish to create a new artwork print using the same screen.

Begin by heading over to your washout booth and placing your screen down. Gather your power washer, emulsion remover, two cleaning scrubs, and Haze Remover & Degreaser 2 in 1. With the powerwasher wet the screen on both sides of the screen and generously spray emulsion remover onto both sides as well. Let it soak in for about 5 min. You will notice the photo emulsion begin to fade and drip down.

After 5 minutes, spray water with the power washer until the screen clears. The edges can be tough to remove. You can endlessly put pressure using the powerwasher or spray some more emulsion and scrub it away using the cleaning scrub.

Once the photo emulsion has been removed, it is time to place some haze remover & degreaser onto the mesh. This will remove any ghosting caused by the oils contained in the inks. Begin scrubbing using the 2nd scrub all around both sides of the screen for about 2-3 min. Do not interchange the scrubbers as they both serve their purpose using different chemicals. Then begin to spray water one last time to rinse the screen clean.

Light ghosting may still be present on the mesh, although it is nothing to be concerned about. Let the screen dry using direct sunlight or store it somewhere dust free. Once it is dry, it is now ready for a new cycle.

Bathtub Washout Booth Pre-Caution:

Using a bathtub as a washout booth can damage its surface. It is more notable if you’re using aluminum frames. It can also ruin your water pipes over time as they can get clogged up with photo emulsion buildup. Consider reclaiming your screens outside of your home if you don’t have a proper washout booth.

Proper Washout Booths:

  • Screen Printing Washout Booth (With Filter System)
  • DIY Washout Booth

Alternative Ideas:

  • Find an open area in your front/back yard
  • Use a local self carwash
  • Use a Tote Bin

Conclusion

Screen printing for the first time can be extremely tedious, but we can’t recommend it enough.

It is a skill that will stick with you forever. You can use it to start your own custom screen printing business or customize your very own clothing.

There are many steps along the way, but in the end, it is all worth the effort.

Welcome to the Screen Printing Community and Happy Screen Printing!

New Realm Wear

New Realm Wear is a brand that was created to share knowledge from within the screen printing community. Whether you’re a newcomer or a seasoned printer, you will learn a thing or two from this active website and from our multiple platforms.