Easy Screen Printing

Silk-screen printing may sound exotic, but trust us: it's inexpensive and kid-friendly, thanks to this technique. Here's how to make T-shirts, totes, napkins, and more.

01 of 10

Get Ready, Get Printing

girl wearing screenprinted shirt
Andrew Greto

Silk-screening is super fun, but it can definitely get messy. Wear smocks, protect your work surface with newspaper or a vinyl tablecloth, and have lots of rags or paper towels on hand for rogue paint.

What You'll Need:

  • 1 yard of chiffon or voile (around $5 a yard)
  • Two 10- to 12-inch plastic embroidery hoops (about $3 each)
  • Template (download below) or drawing
  • Dull pencil
  • Mod Podge
  • Paintbrushes in assorted sizes
  • T-shirt
  • Cardboard or newspaper
  • Scrap fabric or old T-shirt
  • Thick acrylic paint (we recommend Liquitex Basics)
  • Painter's tape or masking tape
  • Plastic gift card or old credit card
02 of 10

Create the Screens

screen printing screens
Andrew Greto

You'll need one per color. For each, cut a circle from the chiffon or voile about 4 inches wider than the hoop. Stretch the fabric as tightly as you can between the inner and outer hoops and tighten the screw to secure it. Trim the excess fabric, leaving a 1-inch border.

03 of 10

Draw the Design

draw the design
Andrew Greto

Lay a hoop, fabric side down, onto your template or drawing. Use the pencil to trace the parts of the design that will be the same color (here, the cone). Repeat with the second screen and the remainder of the image (the ice cream).

Tip: Don't choose a design with tiny details Mod Podge is thick and it can be tricky to create small lines.

04 of 10

Mask the Non-design Areas

masking the non-design areas
Andrew Greto

Flip over the hoop so that it's fabric side up. To minimize the amount of Mod Podge needed, tape around the design, then fill in the space between that border and the hoop with more tape. Do the same on the other side of the fabric.

05 of 10

Apply Modge Podge

apply ModgePodge
Andrew Greto

With the hoop fabric side up, use a fine paintbrush to apply Mod Podge along the lines of the design, switching to a bigger brush for larger areas. To see if your blocked areas are completely filled, hold the screen up to a light, then dab more Mod Podge over any holes you see. Flip it to check the other side. Holding the frame in one hand, use a clean brush to smooth out any blobs of Mod Podge. (Avoid having anything touch the wet screen.) Place the hoop fabric side up to dry, about 15 minutes. Repeat with the second screen.

06 of 10

Prepare Your Shirt

prepare your shirt
Andrew Greto

Iron out any wrinkles. To keep the paint from bleeding through to the back of the T-shirt, place cardboard or a few layers of newspaper inside. (Do this with tote bags and anything else with a second layer.)

Try a test print: Place the first frame fabric side down onto a piece of scrap fabric or an old T-shirt. Apply a 1/2-inch-thick line of paint across one edge of the design. Hold the gift card at a 45-degree angle to the screen. While pressing firmly against the screen, scrape the paint across the design.

07 of 10

Print

print
Andrew Greto

Go over each section of the design only once; overlapping a little bit is fine. Carefully lift the screen off the shirt. Use cold water to rinse the paint from the screen, inspect the print, and add Mod Podge or tape to the screen as needed to fill any holes. Repeat with the other screen. Let the Mod Podge dry.

Clean up promptly: As soon as you're finished making prints, rinse the screen thoroughly to remove the paint. Rub gently to get rid of any stubborn bits. When the screen is dry, re-apply any tape that fell off.

08 of 10

Add Another Color

Clean-up
Andrew Greto

When the paint is dry (about 1 hour), print the second color with the second screen.

09 of 10

Set the Paint

Set the Paint
Andrew Greto

When the paint is dry, place a sheet of paper or a clean cloth over the design. Press with an iron set to the appropriate heat for your fabric.

10 of 10

Other Project Ideas

other screen printing ideas
Andrew Greto

1- Add personality to a tote bag.

2- Try an anytime design, such as a UFO... or a monster!

3- Print family tree T-shirts for a reunion and have relatives sign the leaves with permanent marker or a fabric paint pen.

4- Add cupcakes to aprons for friends who like to bake.

5- Put friendly fruit on cloth napkins.

Print on paper: You can also make silk-screened cards, wrapping paper, and art prints. (For the sharpest results, use Con-Tact paper instead of Mod Podge.) Here's how: create a screen but instead of tracing your design on fabric, draw it on a piece of Con-Tact paper. Use a craft knife (an adult's job) to cut out the design. With the hoop fabric side up, adhere the Con-Tact paper to the screen. Use tape to secure the outer edges of the Con-Tact paper and to cover the rest of the screen. Now make your prints the same way as with the Mod Podge method.

Nicole Blum is a crafter and writer who's frequently assisted by in-house testers Ava (age 12) and Harry (7). Her family lives on an apple farm in western Massachusetts.

Originally published in the June/July 2012 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

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