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How Does Silk Screening Work?

You can transform T-shirts etc. into art pieces with silk screening. Here are tips and details about the same.
Buzzle Staff
Silk screening is a decorative technique that uses a direct impact stencil made of cloth/wire mesh adhesive to print designs on T-shirts, coffee mugs, table mats, photo frames, bed and pillow covers, etc. Earlier, silk was used for the stencil, hence the name. Today, silk is rarely used.


Adopted by the American graphic artists in the early 1900's, silk screening basically began as an industrial revolution. This process is now popular in both commercial and fine arts printing.

How can I learn the process?

The basic process involves creating a screen from a porous fabric such as nylon. Nylon is used because it can be stretched out and held in a wooden frame.
The art can be learned in a number of ways. However, the course of action depends on whether you want to learn it as a hobby or to learn how to create your own promotional items that you can sell in the market. Based on your purpose, you can follow any of the processes that are mentioned.

Instructional Books

If you like reading, then books are a good way to learn. These books can be found in bookstores or craft supply shops. If you are not keen on spending money, you can borrow the book from the nearest bookstore or rent it at a library.
Books provide you with detailed and illustrated instructions. Ensure that the book you are taking home is fairly new and recent so that you learn the most up-to-date techniques.

Specialized Classes

You can enroll for various specialized classes that are offered at art galleries, art museums, and schools. The lessons in these classes cover everything from the basic to the advanced stages of silk screening.
To procure information about the process and classes check online or your look up your local telephone book. Search for galleries, museums, and schools in your vicinity.

Videos and Images

Silk screening videos are available at craft supply stores and print and dye shops. These videos make learning much easier because someone actually performs the process in front of you!

The Internet

Online tutorials are a boon for students learning this art. Most sites have an active forum with people who answer your questions and discuss newer and better techniques.

How does it work?

Traditionally, a piece of fabric is stretched over a square wooden frame, that is about the size of a T-shirt. When silk screening, you are required to put a thin sheet of plastic into which holes have been cut. These holes enable ink to appear on the t-shirt where you want the design to be.
That done, place your t-shirt on a flat board and press the screen onto the fabric. Coat the screen with a thick ink using a sponge. This causes the ink to flow through the screen onto the T-shirt. You can follow these steps multiple times for multi-color designs. Move from the lightest color to the darkest.
Other products that can be used are iron-on transfers. These are available in various T- shirt shops and tourist attractions. All you need to do with these is to iron the picture onto a t-shirt. Once you do that, the designs bond to the fabric of the shirt.


>>You will need plenty of table space. In order to make this possible, you can buy two door hinges. Screw the one half into the table and the other part into the top edge of the screens, keeping the hinge pins to secure the screen.
>>Next, you will need a screen that is strong. To ensure that it is strong, turn the screen and check if there is a thin rubber cord running in a groove.
>>A squeegee is another prerequisite. When buying one, make sure it is at least about ΒΌ inches thick.
>>You will also need some sort of a mask (you can use contact paper, freezer paper, or the kind available at most art stores). Since this is an adhesive film, you can cut pretty designs into it.
>>For a better design, use masking tape specifically the blue painter's tape, available at art stores to mask out the borders of your image. Preferably mask along the edges as it prevents ink from getting in under the wood and ruining the design. Masking tape can be used for other purposes like under the table and screen to register the prints correctly.
>>Have a wood clay tool or bone folder to run along the edge of the masking tape to see if the area has been sealed.
>>Now, comes an important element in the process....ink! If you are a beginner, start with water-based inks because they are simpler to work with and easier to clean. To have a wide range of colors at your disposal, include basic colors like magenta/red, cyan/blue, and yellow.
>>Use a heat gun to speed things up.
>>Keep a sink or large plastic tub at your workstation's side to wash the equipment in.