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I love using my Cricut to create screen printed shirts (rather than HTV) without the chemicals and exposure units of traditional screen printing. With minimal setup, I can make shirts that look just like the pros. However, one of the challenges I've encountered while screen printing at home is perfecting multiple color designs. Traditional screen printing shops use large 4+ color station screen printing presses to easily produce multi-color shirts in bulk. As a home crafter, this setup isn’t practical for me.
NOTE: This is not a beginner tutorial. If you are new to screen printing, start here and try a 1 color design first!
I’ve shared tutorials about using registration marks to align your screen. If you haven’t seen those tutorials, watch this tutorial first. Once you are familiar with how I add the registration boxes, the rest of this process will make more sense.
Shortcut #1: Using 2 screens for a 3 color design
Each time I start a multi-color project, it takes some analyzing to figure out the best approach. While the registration technique will work for any design, it would take 3 screens to create this 3 color design. Not terrible, but I am always looking for a way to speed up the process. I've shared a tutorial using this technique on a multi-color pillowcase here.
Since the red and purple in my design are not overlapping, I am able to carefully screen print the first 2 colors with one screen. Then, I will screen print the black next. That's just 2 vinyl cuts on 2 screens for 3 colors. (More about how I will print 2 colors below).
Shortcut #2: Using parts of the design to line up the screen instead of registration boxes
Using registration boxes can be limiting when you are making multiple shirts at once. When I'm making 10+ shirts with one screen, I don't have room to spread them all out. As a result, I could lose one of my registration boxes in the process of moving my shirts. Then, the next layer would be much harder to line up! I wanted to share another technique that works just the same as registration boxes.
Instead of registration boxes, this time I’m going to use the stars in my design to register the 2 screens. I chose the stars because they do not touch or overlap with the black ink. You can do this same technique by choosing an individual letter or design element that is part of the FIRST screen you are going to print. I am going to print the stars on the shirt using the first screen, then I will use those to line up the black screen.
In Cricut Design Space, I duplicate the design so that I have 2 identical cuts (1 for each screen). Then, as I do with registration boxes, I remove the black pieces from the color layer and the color pieces from the black layer. BUT, I leave the stars in both designs. It looks like this in Design Space:
Now for the fun part
First I prep the color screen that will be used for 2 colors of ink – purple and red. I am gong to start with the red ink, so I need to tape off the purple parts of the design. I tape very close to the edge of the red lettering. As I squeegee the red ink over the design, the ink will get on the tape rather than the screen.
After the first color has been applied, I remove the tape (making sure the screen doesn’t move!). Now, I tape over the areas of wet red ink. You can put the tape right on top of the wet ink. Once the red ink is covered with tape, I squeegee the purple ink over the design without the colors mixing.
After the first 2 colors have been applied, I lift the screen. If you are using a 1 color screen printing press, you can lower the screen back down if you missed a spot.
Using the screen to make more than one shirt
If I were making multiple shirts, I would immediately place this first screen on the next shirt and repeat the process – adding and removing the tape to keep the colors from mixing as you apply each color. I would also be sure to tape around the purple design before adding the purple ink. You want to make sure your 2 colors don’t mix. This is possible by blocking off the areas so little ink is left on the screen.
Allow the first layer to dry to the touch. You don’t want the ink smearing when you place the next screen on top. You can speed up this process using a heat gun or just wait for it to air dry for 30 minutes or so.
Now, it’s time to line up the 2nd screen for the black ink. I use the stars as my guide to line up the screen in the correct spot. I press the screen down and look carefully through the screen. I adjust the screen until the stars on the shirt line up perfectly with the stars on the screen. Then, I use tape to cover the stars (you don’t want black ink going through and covering your stars!). I put the tape on the back of the screen, but if you are making multiple shirts, you want to put the tape on the top of the screen. This will keep ink from covering your stars, so you can see through them when you line up the next shirt.
I squeegee over my black ink and lift my screen to reveal the final design – perfectly aligned!
Supplies Used in this Tutorial
- Oracal 651 Vinyl – any color
- Speedball Screen Printing Frame 10×14 (I used 2 frames but you can get by with just one, washing between)
- Speedball Fabric Ink
- Painter’s Tape
- Transfer Tape
- Blank T-shirts
- Cricut Maker
- “Hocus Pocus I Need Sonic Drinks to Focus” SVG Design
- Screen Printing Press (optional, but a great tool to have if you love screen printing)
- Heat Press, Easy Press 2 or household iron (Learn how to heat set your finished shirt)
Whew! This was a detailed post and a little more advanced than my starter tutorials! I hope it makes sense and gives you ideas on how to save a few steps when you are screen printing your next multi-color shirt.