Screen Printing is FUN! I've gotten pretty good at printing t-shirts, so I thought I would try printing my own hats. Here is a video showing the 10-Step Process that I used to get some pretty decent results.
Shopping List! If you would like to try screen printing, below is a list of the supplies that I used with links to where you can purchase them.
- Sheer Curtain Material (1/2 yard is $3)
- EX1 Screen Printing Emulsion ($20)
(Hobby Lobby sells Speedball emulsion, but it's overpriced and doesn't work as well.)
- Speedball Fabric Ink ($9)
(Start with black ink because it's easiest to get great results!)
- 150 Watt Clear Light Bulb ($3)
- Clamp Light ($7)
- Squeegee (Hobby Lobby $2)
- Hats and Shirts (also Walmart $3-$5)
- Logo Transparency ($1)
- Wood Frame ($3)
- Staple gun and staples
- Duct tape
Money Saving Tip! Hobby Lobby has a small selection of screen printing supplies in their stores. If you have a store nearby, check their website for a 40% off one item coupon to save on ink, fabric, squeegees, and other supplies.
Instructions! After watching my 10-Step Process video, read through the steps below for further details.
- Print out your logo and get a transparency made at the copy shop. Avoid using extremely small text and thin lines in your logo if you can. If you use fonts and artwork that look worn and rugged, like the Cheap Trick logo, then that helps to conceal misprints because they look messed up anyway. Make your entire logo solid black with no shades of gray or blends/gradients. For a hat logo, a good size is about 2.25” tall and up to 4” wide. I printed 4 versions of my logo to make use of the entire sheet. The copy shop will simply put a clear transparency sheet in the manual feed tray of a copier, then make a copy of your logo.
- Make a small wood frame for the logo. Sides should be about ¼ to ½” thick so that your logo does not print too far up on the hat. You could also use a small picture frame or artist canvas frame. A 4x6" frame is a good size.
- Stretch sheer curtain fabric tightly over the frame and secure it with a staple gun. You can get this material from a fabric store. Trim the excess material and remove any stray threads that could get into the emulsion..
- Order some EX1 emulsion from screenprintingsupplies.com. It comes with light sensitive diazo powder that you need to mix in thoroughly. Spread a thin layer onto the screen and remove as much excess as you can. Make your last squeegee pass on the inside of the screen. Let it dry in a dark place flat side down. A sealed box is good for keeping it in the dark.
- Place the dried screen flat side up about 18” under the 150 watt light. Put your logo transparency on it backwards and use a clean piece of glass to hold it down. Turn on the light and expose it for about 25 minutes. Note: This time could vary depending on how thin or think the emulsion is on the screen. It make take you several tries to get a usable screen, but don't give up!
- Run water over the whole screen for a few minutes to weaken the emulsion in the logo area. Carefully spray the emulsion out of the logo area. Spray as little as possible so as not to damage the surrounding emulsion. Hold the screen up to the light to make sure the logo area is clear of all emulsion and not blocked.
- Hold the screen up to a light and inspect for any stray pinholes. Use a small brush to fill them with emulsion. Place the screen under the light again until it is dry. This additional exposure to the light will also help cure the remaining emulsion.
- Cover the frame with duct tape to make it easier to clean. This also prevents ink from squeezing through the sides and corners and any overlooked pinholes.
- Make a platen that will hold the hats flat while you print them. (Refer to the photo and dimensions provided at the end of this post.)
- This is the fun part. Print your logo onto hats. Order 5-panel hats that do not have a seam in the front for a smoother printing surface. Fold out the lining strip that goes around the inside of the hat and slide the brim into the platen. Work the hat so the front is flat on the platen. The hat needs to be as flat and tight as possible. You can use spray tack adhesive and spring clamps to help hold it in place. Center the screen and make 2-3 passes. Carefully lift the screen to see how you did. After it dries, heat-set the ink with a blow dryer or a heat gun for a few minutes, but be careful not to burn it. You can print multiple hats one after another, but when you are done printing, wash the ink out of your screen immediately! Do not let the ink dry in your screen because it will ruin it.
Pro Tips! Below are some great tips from professional screen printers who have seen my video and commented to help out us hobbyists. I will update this section with more tips as I receive. Thanks to the pros for taking the time to share their knowledge with us!
- "You need "off-contact" for a cleaner print. This means a space between your printing substrate and your screen. Normally about 1/8th of an inch. You can achieve this by taping coins to the bottom of your screen." (Thanks Richie R!)
- "You also want a really tight screen - you should be able to drop a coin on it and have it bounce. The tight screen will help shear the ink for sharper prints." (Thanks Richie R!)
- "Tape dimes on the underside corners of your screens to lift it off the hat a little, that way the fabric snaps back up after the squeegee passes. Gives you a cleaner print." Thanks Rick M!
My Results! In the video, you can see the first four hats I printed and they got progressively better. It took me four tries to get one that looked pretty decent. I need to get some more hats so I can keep practicing and tweaking my technique. I will get one that looks perfect! :o) Oh, and you can also use these screens to print on shirts, bags, shorts, and other fabric items. Flat stuff is a lot easier to print on.
That's a Wrap! My screen printing method may not be the best method, but it will get your new hobby started on a limited budget. Try printing some stuff for your family and friends, and if you enjoy it, maybe you would like to eventually invest in pro-level supplies and equipment and start your own screen printing business! Good luck and most importantly HAVE FUN!