Silkscreening your own t-shirts

Silkscreen printing (or serigraphy) is a printing method favored by t-shirt artists and it’s great because it can be easily done at home!

The first and second steps of the process are the most important. Getting this right will determine if the final image is good or not. It is similar to the analoge photographic process of exposing to light a film (or photolithograph), but being home-made adds on difficulty with the timing. Whereas the third step is the fun part of painting.


  • organdy silk-screen cloth
  • wooden artist frame
  • staple gun with staples
  • squeegee
  • photosensible emulsion
  • your chosen image printed out in black ink only on transparency acetate sheets.
  • t-shirt (of course)




Get yourself a wooden frame.

TRICK: I bought some cheap framed corkboards and unpinned the cork away.


You’ll need a silk organdy (or similar) cloth to create your canvas. Lay the fabric on top, straighten it, and tightly staple it to the frame.

TRICK: Use a wall stapler and start by stapling opposing corners. Then you can go back to cover all the frame with staples (1.5cm distance in between will do).


Dark moment. You should find yourself a dark room, preferably the bathroom because you’re going to mess it up a bit. It’s time to spread the photosensible emulsion (using a squeegee) on the self-made canvas. You want to make this emulsion layer as even as posible.

TRICK: Start from the top of one side and work your way down. Repeat beside until you are done with the width of the canvas and then turn round to even out the emulsion that transferred to the other side. Do this a few times, and don’t forget to also work the corners, if you leave anything out you are keen to get undesired paint stains.

IMPORTANT: No light during this process. You can help yourself with some red light (you can always cover a small lamp with red fabric). This photosensible emulsion will react with UV light and, in general, light from the blue-violet hues, so red is somehow a “safelight” (not 100% though, but you’ll still want to be able to see what you’re doing!).



This emulsion will take quite a long time to dry. Mine did in 9 hours but read your own paint’s instructions to be sure.

TRICK: Use night hours to get your canvases dry and, if the room you’re in has to be used, you can make yourself a lightproof box to keep your canvases in.



It’s time to insulate! Get ready your photolithographic material, i.e. your pictures! To do this you can use your own home InkJet printer and print with it on InkJet special acetate sheets.

TRICK: Bare in mind that you can’t print shades of gray, but one tone only at a time, so you’ll need to process your image beforehand.

You may retouch in your Photoshop an image by varying the threshold.

Or you can apply the Filter>>Pixelize>>Color Halftone with a 10px radius to transform gray tones into a black and white pattern of dots.

IMPORTANT: Be careful wether you want to print a normal version or a negative! Remember: your black printed ink, will result in the tint you want to apply to the t-shirt. The not printed parts will remain the color of the t-shirt. So for a white on black design you need to print in negative.


Place the acetate sheet facing the canvas (i.e. the other way round) and tape it (clear tape!).


Expose it to the sunlight. You can also use artificial light for this or more professional equipment, but as this is a cheap DIY, I used the sun.

TRICK: I used this reference timing table as a guide, but I must say I had to try several times to get it right. And yes, if you fail here you’ll have to throw away your organdy cloth and start all over again.

Direct Light: 25 seconds.
Indirect Light: 50 seconds.

Direct Light: 30 seconds.
Indirect Light: 60 seconds.

Direct Light: 35 seconds.
Indirect Light: 70 seconds.

Direct Light: 40 seconds.
Indirect Light: 80 seconds.


Wash away with cold water the photosensible emulsion that was not affected by the sun, revealing your image.

TRICK: Use a scourer (not a wire wool one!) to start with and simply brush the canvas with it.

If the image washes away –> you exposed too little.
If the image does not appear or is eaten away with emulsion that will not peel off –> you exposed too much.



After letting the canvas dry you’ll have a non-permeable cloth area with your image occupying a permeable area, so help yourself with the squeegee and spread serigraphy paint over it, on top of your desired t-shirt.

TRICK: You should place your t-shirt on a hard surface and remember to separate front from back placing a cardboard in between, just in case.

Let dry and voilá: your very own homemade painted t-shirt!


Author: Bea Cabrera

Freelance Filmmaker with a passion for big cities, snowboard, cinema and a weakness for the smell of freshly ground coffee. Engineer & Graphic Designer in a previous life, loving and living both: art and technology.  

One Reply to “Silkscreening your own t-shirts”

  1. vierito5 says: August 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Results were very good! :)

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