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When you are screen printing at home with your vinyl cutter and a simple setup, lining up your design for multi-color shirts can be tricky. Sure, a big 4 color press would make this super easy, but it’s not very practical for at-home crafters.
I’ve shared a tutorial about using registration marks for multi-color designs (view tutorial). This process works great when you can spread out one or two shirts on your table and leave them in the same spot before applying the next color.
After taking on this project, I quickly realized it was going to be difficult to do registration marks on 12 shirts without moving them. After some frustration and experimenting with different methods, I came up with my own “hack” that took the guess work out of keeping the layers lined up.
It’s the same concept as my registration mark tutorial but with stickers. The stickers make it easier to move the shirts around between layers.
These stickers (actually color coding dots) are used to line up the screens on all of the shirts BEFORE I start with the ink. With the dots in place, I can easily line up each screen layer. See step-by-step process below.
- Oracal 651 Vinyl – any color (or HTV if you want to make a permanent screen)
- Speedball Fabric Ink I used the Speedball opaque colors for the light bulbs along with the Leaf Green from my Ink Recipe Guide.
- Painter’s Tape
- Transfer Tape
- Color Coding Dots
- Blank T-shirts
- Cricut Maker
- Screen Printing Press (this made the 2nd color easier to apply, but not necessary to follow this tutorial.)
- Heat Press, Easy Press 2 or household iron
Fair warning… this is not a beginner project. If you are just getting started with screen printing, I would suggest getting the hang of one color before following this process. Start with my ebook to learn the basics which includes a bonus section with the step-by-step instruction for screen printing multi-color designs.
If you are ready to take on the challenge, keep reading!
- Setup your design and cut your vinyl. For step-by-step on how to do this in Cricut Design Space, watch this tutorial first. Except… rather than adding the registration marks, you are going to add an extra .75” circle a few inches BELOW your design.
- Transfer your 1st color design to the screen using transfer tape. If you need help with this process, my ebook will help you learn the basics.
- Before you add any ink to your screen, use the screen to place the sticker dots directly on the shirt. Repeat this process until you have 2 dots on every shirt.
- Now you are ready to line up and screen print your first screen. Repeat this process until all of your shirts have the first color. For this step, I used the blend technique of mixing inks. You don’t have to mix your inks during this step, single colors work just the same.
- Wash your screen and allow the first color to dry for at least 30 minutes. Believe me…this is an important step! I got frustrated when trying to screen print before the 1st color was dry!
- Prep your screen for the 2nd color. In my case, this was the black outline and lettering layer.
- Use the 2 circles to line up your screen with the shirt. I used my screen printing press for this layer. I have a little more peace of mind knowing that I can lower the screen if I miss a spot with the black ink. You can still do this process without the press.
- Repeat Steps 5-7 for any additional color layers you have.
That’s the quick run down on how I made 12 multi-color screen printed shirts without a 4-color screen printing press.
Not sure if you're ready to tackle a multi-color screen printed project? Download my ebook, Beginner's Guide to Screen Printing with Craft Vinyl. This guide includes a bonus section to walk you through the process of making your first multi-color screen print.
When applying your two tone color light bulbs on all your shirts, did you ever need to wash the screen at one point due to excess paint or accidental crossover? If you did or didn’t wouldn’t washing the screen making the oracal 651 come off?
Also, since you did 12 shirts or so, did you have issues with the speedball ink drying in the screen since it is water-based it, I know tends to dry faster? Did you have any issues with this?
Love your work!
No, definitely don’t want to wash the screen in the middle of the process – it will take off the vinyl when it gets wet! The ink did mix together more as I went along so each shirt is unique. I like to get all of my shirts ready and lined up before I start -that way I can work quickly. When you are between shirts, you don’t want to let your screen sit very long. That’s when it’s most likely to dry out. I try to go right to the next one and keep the process moving. I’ve been able to get 50 shirts done with one screen without the ink drying out!
How did you setup your heat press to hold the screens?
Here is a tutorial on how I setup my 1 color press: https://www.pigskinsandpigtails.com/2019/11/how-to-setup-your-1-color-1-station-screen-printing-machine-ns101/