Screen printing frames are kind of expensive. Even the poor quality frames are pricey. But you can make your own frames.
Cheap commercial frames usually have 45 degree mitered corners connected by a little metal piece. Better wooden frames have jointed corners. Unless you have some expensive wood working equipment, complex joints are difficult. But simple lap joints are strong, and easy to make.
This is how to make the screens for screen printing…
First you need wood. You can make frames out of scrap wood if you want. You should use wood at least 1 inch thick, and about 1 1/2 inches wide. You also want the wood to have no major knots.
Cut the pieces to the size of the frame you want to make. If you want a 22″ x 18″ frame, cut two pieces to 22″ long, and two pieces to 18″ long.
Now you want to make the lap joints. Using a table saw or a router table, set the cutting height to half the thickness of the wood. If the wood is 1″ thick, set the cutting height to 1/2″. Now set the fence to cut to the width of the wood. If the wood you are using 1 1/2″ wide, set the fence to 1 1/2″. Now lay one of the boards with the end against the fence. Make repeated cuts in the board until you have completely cut away the wood 1/2″ deep from 1 1/2″ in to to the end of the board. Flip the board around, and do the same thing on the other end of the board on the same side. Do this with all of the boards.
When all of the boards are notched take one of the of the long boards, and one of the short boards. First fit the two boards together at a right angle. The boards should fit together relatively flush. Spread some wood glue in the notch, and fit the two pieces together again. Using a square, make sure the pieces are square. Clamp the pieces together using one or two c-clamps. Put together the rest of the the frame in the same way. Put the fram aside for the glue to cure. Later when the glue has cured, remove the clamps. Clean up the joints with some sandpaper if needed.
Position the mesh over the wooden frame, and with a staple gun, staple the screen to the frame in the middle of one edge. Then go to the opposite edge, pull the screen taut, and staple the screen to the frame in the center of that edge. Now go to one of the sides that hasn’t been stapled yet. Pull the screen half-taut, and staple in the middle there. Go to the opposite side, pull the screen taut and staple.
Now you should have staples in the center of all four sides of the frame. Go to a side, pull the screen taut, and place staples a half inch on either side of the staple that is there. Go to another side and repeat. Keep pulling the screen taut and stapling until you have staples every half inch around the frame. After you have stapled the screen to the frame, go around, and tap the staples down with a hammer, so the don’t stick up at all. You can trim some of the excess screen off. Don’t get too close to the staples though.
Screen printing is pretty straightforward if you’re printing a dark color onto a light colored shirt. For example a printing black ink onto a white shirt, is very easy. But if you’re tying to print a light color onto a dark shirt, this is a little more difficult.
If you’re just starting to learn how to do screen printing, you probably want to start out printing a dark color onto a white colored shirt. And then once you’ve got that down then move on to screen printing a light color onto a dark shirt. White shirts tend to be relatively cheap to buy, but they also tend to be cheaper looking. Where colored shirts are typically a little more expensive, but they look a little more professional.
Normally when printing dark color ink onto a light colored shirt, you do a flood stroke to fill the screen with ink, lay the screen down onto the shirt, and then do a print stroke to put the ink onto the shirt.
What I found that works to print a light color onto a dark shirt is do the normal flood stroke on the screen, lay the screen down onto the shirt. I’ll first do a heavy print stroke trying to push the ink down into the fabric. Then I’ll come back and do another flood stroke (without lifting the screen). Then I’ll do a very light print stroke, so that I leave ink on top of the shirt. At this point, I’ll go ahead and lift the screen from the shirt. It’s possible that you will not have gotten complete coverage. If you’re using a screen printing press, you can simply drop the screen back down on the shirt and do another stroke. However if you are using a loose screen, you are kind of out of luck because it will be near impossible to the lay the screen down exactly where it was on the shirt. Chances are you will just totally mess up the shirt. If you are using water-based ink and you mess up the shirt, what you can do is immediately soak the shirt in warm water, the wash away the ink, and then wash the shirt in a washing machine without ever letting the ink dry, you might be able to save the shirt for another try.
Now trying to print a dark color onto a dark shirt is even more difficult. Trying to print colors such as red or blue onto a black shirt wil leave the colors looking kind of dull. Professionals when printing non-white colors onto dark shirts seem to first print the design completely in white. Then they flash dry the white, then print over it with colors such as red or blue. This will make the colors look brighter and more vivid. But unfortunatley most of us don’t have a flash dryer at home.
When I began screen printing, I started with a cheap screen printing kit from Michaels. The kit only cost $50, and of course didn’t coming with a screen printing press. When I printed the t-shirts, I just laid the screen on then, and swiped the ink onto them. If I didn’t get complete coverage, I was out of luck. I couldn’t lay the screen down exactly where it had been. I found plans for a 4 color screen printing press for sale on eBay. I bought them and built it. I ended up modifying it heavily, but the plans got me started. Using the homemade screen printing press improved my screenprinting to a high degree!
Having a 4 color screen printing press is great, but to tell you the truth, I have never actually used it to print more than a single color. I use cheap wooden frames, and if I want to do anything more than the most basic multicolor print, I would need better screens (probably aluminum frames). But screen printing a single color is fine for most things anyway.
I wrote up these plans based on my press, and modified them to be a single color screen printing press. These plans tell you how to build a screen printing press yourself. It is very cheap to build, and you can make it from scrap wood.
17″ x 15″ x 3/4″ plywood (shirtboard)
24″ x 7″ x 3/4″ plywood (clamp board)
29″ long piece of 2×4 (beam)
(2) 24″ x 2 1/2″ x 3/4″ pine (clamps)
(2) eye screws
(2) carriage bolts 3/8″ x 3 1/2″
(2) washers 3/8″
(2) wing nuts 3/8″
plastic zip tie
First, cut out the shirt board. Start with a 15″ x 17″ piece of plywood. Cut the board so the one side is angled as picture in the plans. Make the beam by cutting a piece of 2×4 to 29″ long. Miter cut one end so that it is angled 45 degrees (see plans). Cut a piece of plywood to 24″x 7″ for clamp base. Next make the clamp pieces by cutting 2 pieces of 3/4″ pine to 2 1/2″ wide and 24″ long.
Mount the shirt board on the beam using wood screws with the tip of the shirt board extending past the mitered end of the beam by 2″ (see picture). Next screw the clamp base to the other end of the beam. It should be flush with the end.
Take the two clamp pieces, and drill a 3/8″ hole about an inch from each end. The holes need to line up so the carriage bolts will pass through both boards. Lay one of the clamp pieces on the beam next to the clamp base. Lay the strip hinge across the seam, and screw the hinge to both the clamp piece and the clamp base. The clamp piece should be able to flip up away from the beam. Lay the second clamp piece on top of the mounted clamp piece. Slide the carriage bolts up from the bottom, through both boards. Slide the washers onto the bolts, and screw the wing nuts onto the bolts.
Screw an eye screw in to the middle of the top clamp piece towards the front side. Screw the other eye screw into the middle of the clamp base towards the back side. Attach some rubberbands to the eye screw on the clamp base. Attach these rubber bands to the other eye screw using a plastic zip tie. You will need to pay with the number and size of rubber bands. You need to have enough tension to hold up the screen when it is mounted in the clamps, but not too much that you can’t easily pull the screen down to the shirt when printing.
The screens I use have 18″ by 22″ frames. You might want to mount the screen printing press on the a bench. You would bolt down the clamp base side, leaving the shirt board side hanging out. Just slide the frame in between the clamp pieces, and tighten the wing nuts. You should be able to pull the screen down so it lays flat on the shirt board.
Have fun with your screen printer as you screenprint tons of t-shirts!
Ever wonder how to start a silk screen business? It costs almost nothing to start a t-shirt printing business at home. I read about one guy who started a screen printing business with almost nothing. He made the screens with used lumber, and fabric from an old wedding dress. He screen printed signs, which he sold. He also screen printed magnets, and shirts, and baseball caps. He actually made his own screen printing press. In fact I bought the plans from him on ebay for his screen printing press, and built my own.
At one point I seriously looked at starting my own screen printing business. I ultimately decided there were other things I would rather do. But it wouldn’t be that hard, or expensive. It would cost under $100 to buy the stuff to screen print t shirts. The absolute minimum stuff you would need would be a screen, photo emulsion, a cheap light, ink, squeegee, masking tape, and t-shirts. For another hundred, you could buy a single shirt screen printing press. Screen printing a t-shirt only uses pennies worth of ink for each shirt. You can get blank shirts on sale at Michaels for $3-4 each. Or you can buy them in quantity for cheaper. I have seen boxes of shirts for sale on ebay.
What I have seen some people do is print shirts, and sell them on ebay. If that is what you are interested in doing, check out eBay, and find what kind of shirts people are buying. Are they buying dog shirts, cat shirts, karate shirts, etc. Find which shirts are selling. Develop your own original artwork, print a few shirts, and list them on ebay.
Some other screen printing business opportunities would be bands, baseball teams, family reunions, etc. If you know someone who needs t-shirts offer your services, and make a small profit. Make sure you do a good quality job. After you have done some jobs, you will likely get referred business by word of mouth. You can always get some business cards printed up, and post them on bulletin boards in your area.
If you have some other ideas, or questions on how to start a silk screen business, feel free to post here.
Screen printing frames can be expensive. And the better the quality of the frames, the more you should expect to pay for them. Sometimes you can find used screen printing frames. A good place to look is on eBay. You can generally find anything on eBay including reclaimed screen printing frames. Even new frames can sometimes be found for good prices. Be sure to know what you are getting. If you get a bunch of frames that are completely trashed, they aren’t going to do you much good. You might be able to find quality frames that are missing the mesh. Depending on the frames, the mesh might be able to be replaced. Be sure to compare the prices of the used screen printing frames against the prices for new screens. There is no sense in buying used screens unless you are going to get a good deal. And make sure they are the right size for your needs.
I have included an eBay search below in which you might find some used screen printing frames. Good luck!