Screen-Printing On A Budget

Excess ink is scraped off the screen and saved for later

Like many college students, I’m currently matriculating only thanks to a generous scholarship. During the school-year, academic and extracurricular success tends to outweigh my motivation to find a job, and the lack of transportation bars me from most part-time or full-time work. Money is tight for college students these days, but that’s no excuse to neglect your American entrepreneurial spirit. Being your own boss means more responsibility, but the ability to mold your working hours around your free time is priceless. In my first few years of college, I found a decent scheme to make pocket money: screen-printing.

What is screen-printing, you ask? If you’ve ever seen a graphic t-shirt or a poster for a concert, chances are you already know what a screen-printed product looks like. The process is quite simple: take a wooden frame and stretch silk over it until it’s taut. Then, using a chemical amalgam which hardens when exposed to heat, create your desired design on the silk. When ink is forced through the screen, only the portions without amalgam allow the ink through, thus replicating your design as many times as you’d like.

Although professional-quality screening with chemical amalgams can be time-consuming and require expensive equipment, it’s quite easy to duplicate the process using contact sheets (essentially plastic, with one side coated in adhesive). Simply trace your desired design (backwards) onto the contact sheet, and cut the unneeded parts out with an x-acto knife. Apply the sheet to a silk screen and you’re ready to start making some shirts! A dorm shower affords a great space to not only wash off the silk screen between printings, but to hang shirts to dry. For best results, hit the freshly-dried designs with an iron on low heat. This helps preserve the design by bonding it with the fabric, so that it doesn’t come off in the wash. Buy shirts in bulk in a variety of popular sizes, and get an idea from other students (= potential buyers) of what sorts of designs they’re interested in.

Popular and recognizable characters make great subjects

The only problem with using contact sheets is that they degrade rather quickly. However, you’re guaranteed at least twenty or thirty printings if you treat your screens with care and wash them off with cold water, as hot water can remove some of the adhesive that holds the contact sheet to the screen. For an even cheaper option, buy the silk by itself, make your own screen, and do the stretching yourself.

All of the materials you’ll need to go into business as an on-campus screen-printer are available at Dick Blick Art Supplies, including silk screens, contact sheets, and fabric paint, and bulk t-shirts can be found easily on Ebay. Keep in mind that each screen will allow you to print one color at a time, so the more screens you buy, the more involved your designs can be. Look up a tutorial on color-separation screen-printing if you’re interested in making more complex pieces.

Bryan Menegus

Image Credit: (w1n5t0n, slimguy379)

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