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Learn How to Screen Print With Vinyl in 10 Easy Steps
Screen printing with vinyl has literally changed my life. Since starting DIY screen printing at home with my Cricut just a few years ago, I have launched a screen printing kit with Speedball that is carried by Hobby Lobby, Michaels, Joanns, and Blick. I have also taught hundreds of people how to screen print at my live events, and thousands more with my Screen Printing for Beginners online course.
Like many of you, I started out making shirts for family and friends using HTV. I enjoyed creating shirts with HTV, but I always preferred wearing screen printed shirts. I also really hated how the vinyl would start peeling after only a few washes.
Screen printed shirts feel so much better and when done right, they will last wash after wash. For these reasons, I wanted to try screen printing but I thought it was too dangerous, complicated, and expensive to do in the comfort of my own craft room.
Lucky for you (and unlucky for my husband), I REALLY wanted to try screen printing at home. I researched the process online and started trying a few steps at a time. It wasn’t pretty at first, but I kept trying. Eventually, I perfected the technique that you see me (and so many other crafters) using today.
Screen printing with vinyl using my Cricut (a Silhouette works too) has been great to me. In this article I will tell you exactly how you can get started on your own screen printing at home journey.
This article is written for beginners. If you have mastered the basics but need a little help working out some of the kinks in more complicated projects, check out my Screen Printing with a Press course.
Screen Printing at Home Supplies: Everything you need to get started:
Speedball Screen Printing Frame **
Speedball Squeegee **
Speedball Fabric Ink **
Oracal 651 **
My Favorite Transfer Tape **
Parchment paper **
Cricut or Silhouette Vinyl Cutter
Iron or Heat Press
** You can get all the basic supplies in my Speedball Beginner Screen Printing Craft Vinyl Kit
Optional Equipment to Print like a Pro
Step by Step Instructions for Screen Printing with Vinyl
1. Cut the Vinyl Design with Your Cricut or Silhouette Vinyl Cutter
Design and cut your vinyl with your vinyl cutter just like you always do, but use Oracal 651 outdoor vinyl instead of HTV. Oracal 651 is an adhesive vinyl that sticks to your screen. This helps keep it from peeling up during the screen printing process.
2. Weed the Design and Apply The Transfer Tape
Carefully weed your design then put transfer tape on top of the vinyl and remove the paper backing.
3. Put the Design on Your Screen
Place the frame face down on a firm surface and apply your vinyl design in the center of the mesh screen on the back side of the frame (the side that touches the shirt). Putting the design on the back of the screen is a little trick I developed to keep the vinyl from peeling up while pulling the squeegee over the design.
4. Peel the Transfer Tape Away
After you get the design smoothly applied to the screen, carefully peel the transfer tape away. If you are struggling with this part, check out this resource. Once you get the transfer tape off the vinyl, use painter’s tape to cover the open areas of the screen.
This is where screen printing becomes more economical (and time saving) than iron-on vinyl (HTV). HTV can get expensive when doing a bunch of shirts. With screen printing, you can reuse the same stencil over and over. I've been able to use the same screen to make 200+ shirts!
5. Place Parchment Paper Inside the Shirt
Wet screen printing ink is just like any other wet substance. It will soak through (bleeding) your shirt if you let it. Placing a piece of parchment paper inside the shirt will stop the ink from bleeding and messing up the backside of your garment.
Don’t use cardboard! Some beginners try using cardboard for this step because they believe it will prevent the bleeding and give them a firm surface to print on. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Cardboard isn’t one solid piece of material. The ribs it has on the inside create an uneven surface when you press down. This will mess up your design every time.
6. Place Your Design Where you Want it to Print
Getting the design in the perfect spot is a lot about feel and what looks good to your eye.
This is the most frustrating step for many of the beginners I talk to. To help get my designs in the right spot every time, I use my dot method. You can learn all about my dot method as well as all these other steps in my Screen Printing for Beginners online course.
7. Spread and Squeegee the Ink
Spread a spoonful of ink across the top of the screen above the design and squeegee the ink over the design by pressing down firmly and pulling toward you. I highly recommend that you don’t use white ink when starting out. Dark inks are more forgiving and easier to work with when you are learning this process.
I use Speedball water-based inks for almost all of my projects. The industrial screen printing process uses harsh chemicals that aren’t safe to use at home. When I was trying to figure out how to successfully screen print at home, finding a safe way to do it was key.
These water based inks are the key to making screen printing at home possible. I don’t have to worry about getting them on my skin (which I do all the time) and I can wash them down the sink when I’m done. They are also fun to mix and create new colors using my Ink Recipe Guides.
It might take some trial and error to get the hang of how much ink to use and how firmly you have to press down. I try to use enough ink to make 2-3 passes across the design with the squeegee. As for how hard to press, you will know when you lift the screen. If you didn’t press hard enough, the ink will not have covered the entire design very well. If you pressed too hard, ink likely bled out the sides.
8. Lift the Screen
There isn’t much to this step but it does take a steady hand. Lift the screen from one side in a steady motion. Don’t slide the screen or shift it when lifting.
Tip – Be sure to wash your screen and squeegee right after you are finished so the paint doesn't dry on your screen.
9. Dry Your Ink
When you lift the screen, the ink will still be very wet. You need to completely dry it before doing anything else. When I started out, I air dried all of my shirts. In fact, I still air dry things when I do large quantities.
To air dry your shirt, lay it on a flat surface in a well ventilated area and let it dry for at least 24 hours. You can use a fan to help circulate the air and speed up the process but you don’t have to.
If you’re looking for a faster drying solution, you can use a heat gun or even a flash dryer. These aren’t required, but they do really speed up the drying process. I use both of them in my crafting these days. Just remember, whatever drying method you use, the key is to not let anything touch the wet ink or you could mess up your design.
10. Heat Set the Ink
One of the reasons I love screen printing over HTV, is how well the garments hold up over time. If you properly heat set the ink on your screen printed items, they will last much longer than those made with HTV.
Heat setting is the final step in the screen printing process when using Speedball water-based inks. Once the ink is completely dry, you must heat set (or cure) the ink to make it permanent. If you don’t heat set fabric ink before you put your item in the wash, the ink will not hold up. You’ll likely see fading or lose the design altogether.
I prefer to use my heat press to cure the ink on my projects because it is so quick and easy to use (about 40 seconds at 320 degrees is all it takes). Don’t worry if you don’t have a heat press yet, any of these methods will work just fine for heat setting your ink.
There you have it. Follow these 10 steps and you will be screen printing with vinyl in no time.
If you’re still a little unsure about trying to screen print on your own, let me guide you through each step with my Screen Printing for Beginners online course.
In this course, I'll explain:
- How to line up the screen on your shirt for perfect placement every time.
- How to use this method for screen printing more than one color in your design.
- What to do if the ink bleeds or you mess up on a shirt.
In this easy to follow video course, I will show you everything you need to know to screen print with vinyl so you can start making better quality shirts at home using your Cricut or Silhouette today!