When I first started screen printing, I just had a frame, and a piece of plywood that I would shove inside the shirt. It worked, but not great. Later, I found plans for a 4 color screen printing machine listed on ebay. I invested the five or ten bucks, and bought them. I built the screen printing machine, though I had to modify the design some. I have been using it ever since. I have only ever done single color printing with it though. If I had better screens, maybe screens with aluminum frames, I might try multiple color. But for the most part, single color printing is mostly what I want to do anyway. And the screen printing press I built worked fine for that.

If you are going to be printing many t-shirts, I seriously recommend that you look at screen printing machines. The benefit of screen printing machines is that you can slide the t shirts onto the board and they will be positioned the same everytime. Also when you drop the screen onto the shirt, the screen won’t move, giving you cleaner results. Also, if the ink didn’t get good coverage, you can drop the screen back onto the shirt, and do another pass and have a shot of getting a good shirt. If you have a loose screen, and don’t get good ink coverage, forget it. Just throw the shirt away. So a screen printing machine will save you money on wasted shirts, and give you better results.

I found that Dick Blick sells a bunch of screen printing machines, including a single color screen printing machine probably for less than what I built mine for. I wish I had seen that before I built mine.
They ever sell some really cool higher end screen printing machines such as the Dynamic 4-Color Screen Printer and the Jennings Professional 1-Color Press.

I mostly do single color printing on t shirts. So I can get away with using screens with cheap wooden frames. The wood frames warp a little which would hinder multicolor printing, but don’t affect single color screen printing really.
But one of the problems I have had with cheap wooden frames is the screens sometimes come loose. They are only held in by a pressed in cord. You can press the cord back in, but the screen will till be loose.
The solution I came up with was to remove the cord altogether. I position the screen over the wooden frame, and with a staple gun, I staple the screen to the frame in the middle of one edge. The I 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.

When I got my first screen printing kit at Michaels, it came with a small squeegee. This is what I used to apply the photo emulsion to the screen. Using the squeegee was awkward to say the least. The first times I used it, it did a poor job. I got slightly better using it, but it tended to coat the screen thicker at some spots that others. It would push the photo emulsion through the screen. So the coating would be uneven in thickness. So when exposing the screen, parts of the screen would be exposed before other parts of the screen. I read about a device called a scoop coater (also called an emulsion coater). It isn’t anything fancy. It’s basically an aluminum trough. I ordered one. The instructions I got were sparse. It took a bit of playing, but the scoop coater does a great job of applying a thin even coat of photo emulsion to the screen. An even coat is important! A thin and even coat will give you better detail, and sharper edges on your final results. And the scoop coater just makes the whole job of coating the screen with photo emulsion so much easier.

scoop coater

When buying a scoop coater, keep in mind the size of screen you are going to be using. If you buy too big of scoop coater, it won’t fit inside the frame. And if you buy one that is too small, you will have to make multiple passes. Still doable, but not as clean of coating as a single pass.

I got my scoop coater at Dick Blick, and have been very happy with it. If you going to do more than one or two small projects, you really should invest in a scoop coater as it will make your life easier, and your screen printed t shirts better!

There are different kinds of screen printing ink. Water based, plastisol, fabric, etc. The screen printing ink I use for printing t shirts is water based ink designed for fabric. I think many commercial places use plastisol ink, which requires solvents for clean up. I think they are easily flash dried for multi color prints. I don’t think most hobbyists have flah dryers at home. I don’t. The water based screen printing ink is easily available, cleans up easily. And I have shirts that I wear all the time, and they have lasted for years. So longevity is not a problem for the water based screen printing ink.

Screen Printing Ink for Fabrics:
Black, White, Red, Blue, Green, Orange, Yellow, Yellow-Green, Brown, Magenta, Violet, Navy Blue, Royal Blue, Sky Blue, Turquoise, Scarlet, Metalic Gold, Metalic Silver, Ochre.

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