Sunday, September 19, 2010

Screen printing: team shirts

I play a sport called Ultimate Disc (aka that game with a frisbee). I won't talk about that here, however we had a 2 day tournament and being the 'creative' type, I was chosen (well ok, volunteered and took over) to organise the player shirts.

Team Barrel of Monkeys 2010

Sublimating, iron-on transferring and professional printing were all talked about but in the end, hand screen printing seemed the obvious choice, as while it's a bit time consuming, it's relatively cheap (if you can borrow a screen) and a good excuse to have a team bonding party and drink a few beers!

For those who might like to do something similar, here are a few things to consider, and a few things I learnt along the way. Firstly, here's what I needed to prepare:

16 cotton T-shirts
16 pieces of cardboard

Design printed out several times
Exacto knives

1 screen + squeegie (thanks Peta’s sister)
1 roll of screen tape
Ink (used blue, red and orange)

Hairdryer for drying prints in between colours
Sponge for screen cleaning
Plastic spoons for ink
Scrap fabric for test printing

Printing Logistics:

So it was a bit like a production line. We had 3 colours to print on the front, so we cut out all of the stencils, then printed them one at a time in this order:

The blue barrel
1.   Tape paper stencil to screen
2.   Test print onto calico
3.   Print all 16 shirts
4.   Wash screen immediately (take off stencil-throw away)
5.   Dry prints with hairdryer
6.   Stand back and admire work while sipping beer

The orange text
1.  Tape paper stencil to screen
2.  Test print onto calico
3.  Print all 16 shirts (trying to place the orange text in the barrel without overlapping)
4.  Wash screen immediately (take off stencil-throw away)
5.  Dry prints with hairdryer
6.  Stand back and admire work while sipping beer

The red monkeys
1.  Tape paper stencil to screen
2.  Test print onto calico
3.  Print all 16 shirts (a bit of overlapping with the barrel didn't matter)
4.  Wash screen immediately (take off stencil-throw away)
5.  Dry prints with hairdryer
6.  Sit down (sore back) while admiring work and sipping warmed beer

Lesson 1: Screen printing and shirts
Cotton is the way to go using this technique. I helped out with shirts once before - they were made out of that synthetic-sporto fabric (not a technical term)...needless to say it didn't quite work as expected - the ink didn't get taken up by the fabric and it basically looked pretty scrappy.

I ordered T-shirts from a company in Australia called Blank Clothing. They delivered very quickly and were fairly well priced and gave you discounts if you ordered multiples of one size (so good for teams). The shirt style I ordered was a little on the thin side (ie. you could see through a bit)...good to remember for next time - we wanted white so the girls needed to be sure they had their best sports bras on!

** to print on T-shirts you will need pieces of cardboard or layers of newspaper to put inside the shirt so the ink doesn't go through to the back.

Lesson 2: Ink
Don't wait until the morning of the day you are supposed to print to buy ink...of course all the colours I wanted were not in stock - so I had to buy another brand of textile ink (I prefer to use water soluble Permaset - but the Derivan was great, just more expensive for slightly less ink). If you are printing onto dark coloured shirts – you will need a special white ink (super cover) that stays on the surface more (otherwise your print will disappear into the dark fabric).

**250mls of ink (one 250ml pot) was more than enough for 16 shirts (this depends on the size and ink surface of your print though.

Lesson 3: The Design
My lovely friend Peta had a vision for our team (called Barrel of know, like the game) and found the image she wanted for the shirts.

Then our other lovely friend, Dan, did some computer be-dazzling and made it more 'stencil friendly' (ie, blockier, as we were going to be cutting out using an exacto knife). I also did a bit of creative cutting on the day for the barrel.

Of course there are many ways to get an imagine ready for screen printing - but printing out on printer paper and cutting it out was the easiest and cheapest method for a ‘one off’ set of shirts.

I did think of using contact, but the design was quite fiddly, and the thought of peeling contact off and trying to stick it back onto the screen again made me think there was too much that could go wrong. You could also go to the trouble and expense of getting permanent screen image done if you were going to reuse later on down the track.

Lesson 4: The Stencils
Wanting a three colour print takes a bit more planning! This means you need to cut three different stencils and print three times (washing the screen and drying the print between each colour). This is easily achieved by having a group of friend’s help, some beer, cake (thanks Peta), music and lots of laughter.

Left (barrel stencil); middle (text stencil); right (monkeys stencil)
Lesson 5: The Printing
Once you start, you need to get it done before the ink dries on the screen - and with 16 shirts - it meant working fairly quickly (lucky it is winter here and was a rainy sort of day).  We placed all the shirts on the floor at our mate's (Bron) house (each with a piece of cardboard in the shirt).

Our captain Peta helping out
**I used a piece of calico to test print each stencil before moving onto print the shirts - and I didn't move to the shirts until I was happy with my print technique (2-3 passes of the squeegie followed by a dry pass to clear the ink through the screen), amount of ink, number of passes etc. I probably should have used an old T-shirt, as doing a test print onto a similar fabric is better – but I figured it would be ok.

Happy monkeys Emma and Isaac (yes we made a baby one too).


  1. That's such an adorable project! I want to try it on my own. I love crafts.

  2. The barrel of monkeys logo looks really nice! You did a great job in designing the team’s shirt! Thank you for sharing the procedure on how to screen print too!

    Linnie Dimmitt

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