How to Screen Print T-Shirts: A Step-by-Step Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 11 min read


  1. Gather Your Screen Printing Materials
  2. Select and Edit Your Design
  3. Prepare Your Screen
  4. Apply Emulsion to Screen
  5. Expose Your Design on the Screen
  6. Wash Out Your Design
  7. Set Up Your Printing Station
  8. Print Your Design
  9. Cure Your Print
  10. Clean Up Your Materials

Imagine having the power to transform a plain t-shirt into a canvas of art. This is the magic of screen printing. It's a fun, creative, and surprisingly straightforward way to breathe new life into your wardrobe, or even start a small business from your garage. If you're interested in learning how to screen print, you're in the right place. Our step-by-step guide on how to screen print t-shirts is here to help you get started.

Gather Your Screen Printing Materials

Before we dive into the process of how to screen print, it's crucial to round up all the necessary materials first. Think of it as your screen printing toolkit. Having everything at hand will make your printing journey smoother and more enjoyable. Here's what you need:

  • Screen and Frame: This is the heart of your screen printing setup. The screen, typically made of fine mesh, is stretched tightly over a wooden or aluminum frame. You'll apply your design to this screen.
  • Photo Emulsion and Sensitizer: These two products work together to create the stencil of your design on the screen. The emulsion is a light-sensitive liquid that hardens when exposed to light, and the sensitizer increases its sensitivity.
  • Transparency Film: You'll print your design on this clear sheet. It's crucial because it blocks light during the exposure process, maintaining the areas of your design on the screen that you want to print.
  • Squeegee: This tool, which looks a bit like a windshield wiper, is used to push ink through the screen and onto your t-shirt.
  • Screen Printing Ink: This is the lifeblood of your design. There are various types of inks suitable for different fabrics and designs. The most common type for beginners is water-based ink due to its easy cleanup and softer finish on the fabric.
  • T-Shirts: Of course, you'll need t-shirts or any other fabric you'd like to print on. Go for a simple, smooth, and light-colored fabric to start.
  • Washout Booth or Sink: This is where you'll clean your screen after each print, ensuring it's ready for your next masterpiece.
  • Exposure Unit: This is a special type of light that hardens the emulsion on your screen, creating your design's stencil. Some folks use the sun as a free alternative, but an exposure unit gives you more control over the process.

So, that's your screen printing shopping list sorted. Once you've gathered all your materials, you'll be ready to take the next step in your screen printing adventure—creating your design.

Select and Edit Your Design

Now that you've gathered your materials, it's time to decide what you want to print on your t-shirt. This is where your creativity gets to shine. Are you going for a vintage band logo, a funny quote, or a unique piece of artwork? The choice is yours.

Once you've picked your design, it's time to prepare it for screen printing. This involves editing your design in a graphic design software. If you're a beginner, don't worry, there are plenty of user-friendly options out there like Adobe Illustrator or free alternatives like Canva. Here's a simple guide on how to edit your design:

  1. Convert to Black and White: Initially, your design should be in black and white. This is because the areas in black will be the parts of your design that the ink goes through on the screen.
  2. Adjust the Size: Make sure your design fits well on your t-shirt. Measure the area on the shirt where you want the design to be, then adjust your design's size accordingly in your editing software.
  3. Reverse the Image: This might seem odd, but it's an important step in screen printing. You need to mirror your design so that it prints correctly on your shirt.
  4. Save As a High-Resolution Image: For the best results, save your edited design as a high-resolution image. This will ensure your design looks crisp and clear when printed.

Once your design is ready, print it onto a transparency film using a printer. Remember, the darker your design on the film, the better it will block light during the exposure process, which is the next step in your screen printing journey.

Prepare Your Screen

Now that your design is ready, let's get your screen prepared. This step is all about getting your screen ready to hold your design. It's not as tricky as it sounds, so let's dive right in.

First, you need to ensure your screen is clean. Any dirt or grease can interfere with the emulsion process later on, so it's best to start with a clean slate. You can clean your screen using a mild detergent and a soft brush. Rinse it well and let it dry completely.

Next, select the right mesh count for your screen. If you're new to screen printing, this might sound a bit technical, but it's actually pretty simple. The mesh count refers to how many threads per inch there are in the screen. A higher mesh count allows for more detail in your design but requires thinner inks. For most beginners, a mesh count of 110 is a good starting point.

Now, it's time to attach your screen to the frame. You can use a simple staple gun to do this. Make sure the screen is pulled tight across the frame. This is important because a loose screen can lead to blurry prints. After attaching the screen, trim off any excess material around the edges.

And there you have it, your screen is now ready for the next step—applying the emulsion. Don't worry, you're doing great. Let's keep going on this screen printing adventure together.

Apply Emulsion to Screen

Now that your screen is squeaky clean and tightly attached to the frame, we can move on to the next step of our screen printing journey—applying the emulsion. Emulsion, in screen printing terms, is a light-sensitive chemical solution that you spread on the screen to create a stencil of your design.

Remember, when it comes to screen printing, patience is not just a virtue—it's a necessity. So, take a deep breath and let's get started.

First, you'll need to mix your emulsion. It typically comes in two parts: the emulsion and the sensitizer. Follow the instructions on the package to mix them together. It will create a solution with the consistency of thick paint.

Next, you'll apply the emulsion to the screen. Pour a small amount of the mixture onto the screen and use a squeegee to spread it evenly over the entire surface. Be sure to cover both sides of the screen. The goal is to have a smooth, even layer without any bubbles or streaks.

Once you've applied the emulsion, it's time to let it dry. This is a crucial step in the process, as the emulsion needs to be completely dry before you can expose your design. Store the screen in a dark, cool place to dry. This can take a few hours, but it's worth the wait.

Great job! You've successfully applied the emulsion to your screen. The next step in your screen printing journey is to expose your design on the screen. Keep up the good work, you're doing fantastic!

Expose Your Design on the Screen

Alright, the moment of truth has arrived. It's time to expose your design onto the screen. This is the part where your design comes to life, so it's pretty exciting. Well, at least I think so. But then again, I geek out over all things screen printing!

First, you need to place your design on a piece of transparent material. This could be a simple transparency paper. The trick is to make sure the design is as dark as possible, so the light can't pass through it.

Next, get your light source ready. This can be a specialized exposure unit, or even a basic desk lamp with a high watt bulb. The idea is to blast the screen with light, which hardens the emulsion everywhere except where your design is blocking it.

Now, position your design on the screen, making sure it's perfectly aligned and secure it in place. Then, put your light source over the screen. The distance between the screen and the light source, as well as the exposure time, will depend on your specific setup. Don't worry, a bit of trial and error is part of the fun.

Once the exposure time is up, you can remove the design and you should see an imprint of it on the screen. If all has gone well, your design is now part of the screen, and you're one step closer to printing your own t-shirts.

Remember, practice makes perfect. If at first you don't succeed, don't worry. Screen printing is as much an art as it is a science. The more you experiment, the better you'll get. So keep at it, and soon you'll be printing designs like a pro.

Wash Out Your Design

Now, let's move on to the next step. This is where you'll see your design really start to take shape. We're going to wash out the unexposed emulsion to reveal your design. Ready?

Grab a spray nozzle or a power washer if you have one. You need to gently but thoroughly rinse your screen. Make sure the water isn't too hot, or it could ruin the emulsion.

You're aiming to wash away the emulsion that was shielded by your design during exposure. This will leave behind a clear, open area on the screen in the shape of your design, through which the ink will pass to create the print. It's kind of like making a stencil, but much cooler.

You'll know you've done it right if you can clearly see your design on the screen. If there are any parts that aren't washing out, or if the screen is getting damaged, stop! You might need to adjust your exposure time or the strength of the water spray.

Once you're happy with how your design looks, let the screen dry completely. You can use a fan to speed up this process. Remember, patience is key here. Your screen needs to be 100% dry before you move on to the next step.

And there you have it! You've successfully washed out your design and are ready to move on to the fun part - screen printing your t-shirt. Trust me, the anticipation is worth it. How excited are you to see the final product?

Set Up Your Printing Station

Alright, now that your screen is ready and dry, it's time to get your printing station set up. This is where all the magic happens!

First things first, grab your t-shirt and place it flat on your printing board or table. Make sure it's smooth and wrinkle-free. You want your design to be as clean and crisp as possible.

Next, position your screen on top of the t-shirt. The design should be exactly where you want it to appear on the shirt. You're the artist here, so feel free to adjust until it's just right.

Now, secure the screen in place. You can use clamps or weights. This is super important because if the screen moves during printing, your design could get messed up. And we don't want that, do we?

Once everything is secure, it's time to add the ink. You'll need a squeegee to spread the ink across your design. Start with a small amount—you can always add more if needed. Spread the ink over the screen, making sure your design is fully covered.

And voila! You've just set up your printing station. You're one step closer to seeing your design come to life. Ready for the next step? Of course, you are!

Now comes the exciting part of our "how to screen printing" guide—actually printing your design! Take a deep breath, because it's about to get real.

First, position your squeegee at the top of the screen. You're going to pull the squeegee towards you, spreading the ink across the design. But before you start, make sure you're holding the squeegee at a 45-degree angle. This helps to evenly distribute the ink and create a sharp, clean print.

Ready? Pull the squeegee towards you, applying a steady pressure. It's a bit like spreading butter on toast, but instead of a delicious breakfast, you're creating a piece of wearable art. Imagine that!

Once you've covered the entire design with ink, lift the screen gently. Be careful not to smudge your work. If everything went well, you should see your design beautifully printed on the t-shirt. Feels great, doesn't it?

But hold on, we're not done yet. While your print looks fantastic, it's still wet and delicate. It needs to be cured to make it permanent and washable. Don't worry, we'll cover that next. For now, give yourself a pat on the back. You've just mastered the art of screen printing!

Cure Your Print

After successfully printing your design (take a moment to admire your work—go on, you've earned it), the next important step in our "how to screen printing" guide is curing your print. What's curing, you ask? Well, it's all about making sure your design sticks around for the long haul.

Curing involves applying heat to your print to help the ink dry and bond with the fabric. An efficient way to do this is to use a heat gun or a heat press machine. If you don't have access to these, a good old iron will do just fine.

To start, place your t-shirt on a flat, heat-resistant surface. If you're using a heat press machine, set it to around 320°F (160°C). Ensure that it evenly covers your design, and press down for about 30 to 40 seconds. Be sure not to move the press during this time to avoid smudging your design.

Are you using a heat gun or iron instead? No problem. Set your iron to its highest setting, and place a brown paper or a thin cloth over your design to protect it. Apply heat evenly, making sure to cover all parts of your design.

After curing, your print should feel smooth and be fully integrated with the fabric. And just like that, you've added durability to your custom print. Congratulations, you're now a pro at screen printing!

Clean Up Your Materials

High fives all around for making it this far in our "how to screen printing" journey! Your t-shirt is looking great, and it's time to clean up your materials. Why? Well, cleaning up is not just about keeping your workspace tidy—it's also about maintaining your screen printing materials so you can use them again. Let's get started!

First, rinse off your screen as soon as you can after printing. If you leave the ink on your screen for too long, it might clog the mesh, and we don't want that. Use lukewarm water and a soft brush to gently remove any remaining ink.

Next, it's time to clean your squeegee. A good old wipe with a cloth should do the trick. If it's still stubbornly holding onto some ink, a bit of soapy water will help.

Remember the emulsion we applied to the screen earlier? You'll want to remove that too. Special emulsion removers are available for this job. Simply apply the remover, let it sit for a couple of minutes, and then rinse it off.

Finally, let all your materials air dry before storing them away. Make sure to keep your screen flat while it's drying to prevent it from warping. And there you have it! Your workspace is clean and ready for your next screen printing adventure.

By the way, did you know that good cleaning habits can prolong the life of your screen printing materials? That's right, a little bit of cleanup goes a long way. So, the next time you're wondering how to screen print, remember: it's not just about the printing, but also about the cleaning!

If you enjoyed learning about screen printing t-shirts and want to improve your skills even further, check out the workshop 'How to Sharpen & Resize Images for Print' by Austin James Jackson. This workshop will teach you how to optimize your images for screen printing, ensuring that your designs look their best when transferred onto the t-shirts.