How to screen print (from scratch) by Boom Done Shop

The first and no doubt what will be one of the most read guest blog posts comes from Boom Done Shop. It's a great blog to read if you're starting out and want to get set up without spending a small fortune!

Boom Done Shop:

I didn't go to fashion college, I woke up one morning and decided I was going to do this. If you want to learn how to screen print too, this guide will help you get started and dodge some pitfalls.

In a sentence, screen printing is creating an image on a surface by pressing ink through a screen using a stencil to define the image's shape.

The most time consuming part of learning the craft was exposing the screen. No, this didn't involve any public nudity. I wish it had, that would’ve been a lot easier.

Exposing refers to the process of exposing light on to the artwork and embedding it onto a screen. But we'll get to that later.


To come up with a design

- Your imagination

To build a screen press

- Screen printing clamps

- A standard sheet of plywood

- Old table or desk

- Hand saw

- Screws

- Screw driver (or drill)


To make screens

- Pine strip wood for frames (ours are 21mm x 21mm x 240mm)

- Wood glue

- Nails

- 45 degree mitre

- Hand saw

- Hammer

- Scrap wood (to reinforce the corner joints)

- Staple gun

- Scissors

- 43T silk screen printing mesh

- Hunt the Moon emulsion

- Scoop Coater 

- Squeegee

- Inkjet transparency film (A4)

- 1000 watt bulb

- Garden hose pipe or shower

- A standard inkjet printer. (This is to print the transparent A4 films.)


To print the design

 - Squeegee

- Butter knife

- Long spoon

- Blank t-shirt (preferably ethical cotton)

- Ink

- Masking tape

To Finish

- Clothes iron

- Hand wipes, (it can be messy work, the first time... )


Got that lot? Good, here are the steps:

1) To Make A Screen Press

That sounds like a big deal, but it honestly doesn't take long.

My first screen press (which I still use now for most of our prints) was cut from a sheet of plywood that cost less than £10.

One end of the plywood needs to be cut to the size of a t-shirt. 
Its other end needs to remain the original size to act as a counter balance.
Ideally, drill the non-t-shirt end into an old table or work surface for extra stability.

It needs to be anchored in well because of the pressure applied during printing. A solid, steady base will stop you getting paint in your face.

As I began this in my bedroom and I only had minimal space, my desk had to double as a screen press station and everything else besides.
My first set up had to be moveable. So instead of drilling it into my desk, I used clamps to secure it.
This also meant at the end of the day I could tidy my screen press away under the bed. Now I have drilled the sheet of ply into an old school desk.

Here it is:

2) Get Your Frame

I choose to make my own. All you need is some pine strip wood. Then knock them together with your 45 degree mitre, a saw, some nails, a hammer and some wood glue.

Alternatively, (and recommended) you can buy pre-made wooden or aluminium frames

3) Stretch the Screens

This is the process of attaching the silk screen mesh to the frame. The term 'silk screen printing' originates from the ancient Chinese practice of textile printing where they actually did use silk.

Nowadays, it's made more from more affordable material that doesn’t come out of silkworms. Stretching screens basically means stretching it tightly and stapling it to the edges of the frame. 

4) Coat the Emulsion on Top of the Screen

This needs to be done in a darkened room. It doesn't need to be pitch black, but no direct light. Leaving the door open to allow some light in is fine.
The emulsion is very runny and I use the long spoon to scoop it out before squeeging it over the screen. (HTM Edit: This is best done with a scoop coater)

The screen must stay in a dark room / cupboard until the exposure takes place.

5) Dry the Screen

I leave it overnight at room temperature. Some screen printers have a special drying chamber which speed up the process. My current setup is more DIY but it works well. It's basically like a schoolboy's den - a couple of large sheets either side of a desk. For the emulsion to dry fully, the water needs to evaporate. dry rooms with some air movement work best. 

6) Prepare Your Artwork

I usually draw my artwork out first then take a photo of it so that I can upload it onto my Mac. I’d forgotten I was horrendous on computers before I began this brand. I couldn't use Microsoft Paint let alone Photoshop. But I've finally improved .

My top tip is GIMP. It's a free alternative to Photoshop. I have used it for all the artwork connected to the brand, including the website design.

Once your artwork’s ready, print it in black ink onto the clear ink jet transparency film.

Here is a selection of the ink jet transparencies we have made since we began.

7) Expose the screen

There are a few variables to this process: the brightness of the light, the distance of the light to the screen and the time the light is exposed to the screen.
A lightbox is an option but I didn't have the money when I was starting out. It took months for me to find my perfect formula.

This is a 150w bulb, 12 inches from the screen for 45mins. I tried 40 mins, 41mins, 42mins, 43mins, 50mins etc. Anything apart from 45mins ruined the screen for me. I ruined more screens when first I started than I’ve had hot dinners. And I've had a lot of hot dinners.

Hunt The Moon Edit: A brighter and more powerful lamp or light source will improve this procedure no end. At this point doing a step test is very useful and saves a ton of time. Its the easiest way to determine YOUR exposure time. We recently blogged about it here: Step Test: Finding your exposure time 

After the time's up, turn off the light. Take the ink jet transparency film off and take your screen into the garden or shower to hose it down and leave the stencilled outline.

Top tip - wet the screen both sides thoroughly.
Then leave for 30 secs to allow the water to react with the heated up paint.
After, wash the screens and you should be left with a crisp outline of your artwork.

If you are in a hurry you can use a hair drier on the screen. I tend to leave it over night again, then it's time to screen print.

8) Time to Print

Before you print, gaffer tape your screen all the way around the edges. This makes it  easier to clean once you have put ink on it.

There are two main types of inks: plastisol and water-based. I began with water-based and recommend you do the same. It's much easier to use and better on the environment.

Screw the frame into your clamps, put a generous amount of ink along the horizontal edge nearest the clamps. Lower the screen onto your t-shirt and squeegee the ink / paint across the entire screen.

 I like to use a butter knife to mix my paint around in the pot to warm it up and thin it before adding it to the screen.

I make a pass to cover the screen before placing it on the cotton, then pass in both directions, back and forth. I apply light pressure to make sure the entire stencil is evenly covered with paint.

Then, I make a pass towards myself. I lift the squeegee and repeat this.

Once you have made two firm passes, lift the screen and voilà - your beautiful creation.

Now allow the ink to air dry. Drying times will vary, it depends on the heat of the room you are in.

If its a nice sunny day outside I'll leave it to dry by the window. Its usually takes a few minutes to become touch dry, you can speed it up with a hair dryer if you want.
After, I iron the ink for approx 5 mins to heat set.

And then, Boom; I'm Done.

Just starting out? Take your first steps: How to Screen Print using Stencils

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