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I have found that screen printing with vinyl can almost always achieve the same results as traditional screen printing (without all the chemicals). I am able to cut a stencil using my Cricut and start the screen printing process without exposure time. Distressed designs have been one exception. Cutting and weeding the fine details of a distressed pattern in vinyl doesn’t always work. I was determined to find a method of distressing that I could use while screen printing with vinyl.

Distressed screen printing method vintage shirt

I discovered that Speedball’s Screen Filler is the perfect solution! This product is typically used along with Drawing Fluid to hand paint designs on screens for screen printing (another alternative to burning screens). The screen filler is used around your design to block out areas where you don’t want ink going through.

After attaching my vinyl design (in this case, a pumpkin with a lot of open space), I used a paint brush to apply the Screen Filler randomly to my screen. I used different brush strokes to replicate a distressed look.  There’s really no wrong way to do this, you just apply more or less depending on how distressed you want it. It looks very strange at first, but it’s magical, I promise!

Distressing screen filler speedball

You have control over how much distressing you wish to apply. You can use a fine tip paint brush to make smaller lines or a larger brush to make bigger marks. For this pumpkin design, I had a lot of open space, so I created larger distressed marks.  I’m excited to try different types and sizes of paint brushes to get different looks.

How to distress screen printing

The great part about this method is you can print the same design multiple times and get the same distressed pattern on each shirt. Need to make 20, 30, 50 shirts? No problem!  You can reuse the screen over and over to make as many as you need.   If you are new to screen printing with vinyl, be sure to check out my step-by-step guide to help you get started with details I don’t cover in this tutorial.

Screen printing distressed vintage look

Once you are finished making your shirts (or totes, pillows, etc.), remove the vinyl from the screen. Then, rinse your screen with water. This should remove the ink, leaving the screen filler.  To remove the screen filler, you can use Speedball Speed Clean. Apply the solution to your screen and scrub with a soft brush. Prop your screen in the sink and allow it to sit for 3-5 minutes. Then, rinse your screen with water and scrub gently.  This will remove all of the screen filler and allow you to reuse the screen for your next project.

Process Video

Here’s a look at the process – from applying your vinyl design to the screen to washing the screen:

Supplies Used in this Tutorial

How to distress vinyl screen printing

Step-by-Step Process

  1. Cut your design on Oracal 651 vinyl and apply it to your Speedball screen printing frame. One of the keys to getting the vinyl to stick to your screen is using the right kind of transfer tape. This transfer tape is the one I recommend.
  2. Cover your table with paper towels. The filler is likely to drip through the screen so you want something under to absorb it. Stir the screen filler well and paint on the distress marks. Keep in mind you are painting the areas where you do not want ink to go.
  3. Allow the screen filler to dry. This usually takes 15-20 minutes or you can speed up the process by using a heat gun or hair dryer.
  4. Screen print as you normally would. You can use the same screen to make multiple prints.
  5. Remove the vinyl and painter’s tape.
  6. Rinse the ink off the screen using water and a soft brush.  This will leave the screen filler on the screen. Squirt Speedball Speed Clean on the screen and scrub over the area gently with a soft brush. Prop the screen and allow the cleaner to stay on the screen for 3-5 minutes.
  7. Rinse the screen with water, using a soft brush to gently scrub. The screen filler should come off easily. If you have any stubborn areas, try adding more Speed Clean.

I’m excited to make more distressed designs to create that vintage look. What designs do you plan to distress? Share your ideas in the comments below!