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Whether you are a beginning screen printing at your kitchen table or planning to build a shed just to expand your craft space, you may have wondered what the right equipment setup is for you.
The best setup depends on your skill level. Each of these setups have everything you need to successfully complete whatever project you are working on right now.
In this post, I'll share a Beginner Setup, Intermediate Setup and Full Expert Level At-Home Setup
1: Beginner Level Setup
Are you just starting out or do you screen print just for fun? If so, my Screen Printing with Vinyl Kit is just what you need.
This kit comes with everything you need to start screen printing at home with your Cricut or Silhouette today. Partner the kit with my Screen Printing for Beginners Online course and you will be making your own shirts in no time.
The great thing about my Screen Printing with Vinyl Kit is you don’t really need to buy any additional equipment. You can use a household iron for the final step of curing the screen printing ink (learn how to ink cure with an iron here). With these simple supplies, you can start screen printing in a very small space, like your kitchen counter!
Bonus Beginner Item
If you want to take your hobby up just a notch, check out the Easy Press from Cricut. It is a step up from using an iron. With a larger heat element, you will be able to cover more of your design with one press. This will save you time if you are making several shirts. Plus it's nice and compact so you can store it away easily.
This screen printing kit (and Cricut Easy Press) are great because you can do small projects for fun or just try out the process to make sure you love it before investing in a more robust setup.
2: Intermediate Level Setup
If you’ve tried the Screen Printing with Vinyl Kit and loved the results (which I hope you do!), here are the next items you need to take your printing to the next level.
A Quality Squeegee
An experienced screen printer treats their squeegee like a shortstop treats her glove. This is a piece of equipment you will use on every single project. It is fine to start out using only one squeegee, but as your skill level grows you will discover certain squeegee’s are better suited for different materials than others.
Here's a look at all of my favorite squeegees and what I use them for:
1: Speedball Red Baron
This starter squeegee comes with my Screen Printing with Vinyl Kit. While it's great for getting started, you might find a plastic or wood handle to be a little more comfortable if you are doing a lot of screen printing projects. Once you upgrade, keep this squeegee handy because it works great as a scrapper tool for your transfer tape and vinyl.
2: Speedball 9″ Craft Squeegee
This 9″ craft squeegee was my first squeegee upgrade. I have used it on many projects from shirts to tote bags to paper projects. It's a nice universal squeegee.
3: Speedball Fabric Squeegees
Similar to the plastic handle squeegees (#2) are the Speedball Fabric Squeegees with wood handles. They come in various sizes: 6-in squeegee (pictured), 10-in squeegee (pictured), and 12-in squeegee. These are very universal but I tend to grab them most often when I'm printing on fabric on my table. If you decide to upgrade to a screen printing press, the next squeegees are my favorites for that.
4: Speedball 6-in Graphic Squeegee
This is my go-to 6-in squeegee when I'm screen printing smaller designs, like my logo on my shipping boxes. I find that a sturdier, more firm squeegee is easier to control the acrylic ink with.
5: ScreenPrinting.com 70 Durometer Squeegees
The ScreeenPrinting.com line of squeegees come in a range from 2-in all the way up to 72-in! These are my go-to squeegees when I am using my screen printing press (keep reading for more on this setup). These are heavier and allow you to put more pressure on the squeegee and screen. As you advance to using techniques like off-contact, this type of squeegee will give you great results.
6: Squeegees for Larger Projects
If you are going to print larger projects, like door mats, it's great to have a larger squeegee. Choosing a squeegee that is larger than your design will prevent overlapping ink lines. The pictured squeegee is no longer in stock but you can choose the 15-in or larger squeegees from screenprinting.com.
1-Color Screen Printing Press
The screen printing press was a major game changer for me. I own 2 different 1-color presses. I started with an economy press from Amazon and eventually upgraded to a better quality , I wrote this article to help you decide which one to buy.
If you are waiting on buying a printing press because you aren’t sure how to use one, let me teach you with my Screen Printing with a Press Course.
If you don’t have time to wait on your screen printing ink to dry for 2-3 days, a heat gun is a handy tool to speed up the drying process. This is also a great tool to have to when layering more than one color on a shirt. You can use the heat gun to dry the first color before placing the next screen down.
As your skill level increases, you will probably want to try out different types of projects. To do this, you will want to consider upgrading your screens. I started by upgrading to a larger 16×20 wood frame which allows me to print wider designs.
Eventually, I upgraded from the light-weight wood frames to the sturdier and larger aluminum screens. My favorite sizes are the 16×20 aluminum frame and 20×24 aluminum frame.
These screens are a little more heavy duty and they don’t lose tension like the wood frames do over time. This is a huge help when getting the vinyl to stick on the screen. If you decide to upgrade to these aluminum screens, be sure to be careful. If your ink dries in your screen or you get a hole in one, there isn’t an easy way to replace the mesh on this type of frame.
In addition to larger screens, you can experiment with different mesh counts. I have found that the above mentioned screens with 110 mesh are very universal. If I had to pick one, it would be the 110 mesh. The higher mesh count screens, like the 156 mesh screen, are great for fine detail prints when you want less ink to go through the screen. The lower counts, like the 60 mesh screen, are ideal when you mix glitter with your ink. It allows more ink (and glitter) to go through your screen.
3: Full Expert Level At-Home Setup
You’ve mastered the 1 color press, heat gun, and you found a squeegee that fits your hand like a glove. Now the t-shirt orders are rolling in and you can barely keep up. In this section, I will describe everything you need to set up a successful screen printing business.
A 4-color screen printing press will make printing multiple colors, on multiple shirts, much faster. You line up the screens once and you can print shirt-after-shirt quickly.
If you’re not sure you can do it, I show you this step by step process in my Screen Printing with a Press Course.
I have this economy 4-color press from Amazon. While it does work, it was a pain to setup (plus I had to return the first one because it was missing parts!). If I could do it all over again, I would have gone for the Riley Hopkins 4-color press. The Riley Hopkins is a better quality product, easier to setup and comes with outstanding customer service. As the foundation for a professional at-home setup, I would spend a little more to get a good quality product like the Riley Hopkins 4-color press.
Pro-Level Heat Press
Time is money when you are a screen printer. The more tools you can find to free up your time to make a shirt, the more you’ll be able to make in an hour. The absolute longest part of this process is drying and curing the ink.
For me, standing with my hand on the Easy Press waiting is time that I could be using to prep the next shirt. I have 2 pro-level heat presses that I recommend: Cricut AutoPress and TransPro Plus 15×15 Semi Auto Heat Press. These presses both have an auto-open feature. Once you close the press, it will open automatically when the time is done. This means you can get more done while your heat press is left to do its job.
Like I said in the previous section, time is money for a screen printer. If you are going to be making large quantities of shirts, a flash dryer will save you tons of time over air drying or using a heat gun. Typically water-based ink takes 1-4 days to air dry, then you still need to heat set the ink. With this flash dryer, you can dry and heat set your ink at the same time. All in less than 2 minutes!
I hope this article helped you decide which screen printing setup is best for you. If you have any questions, leave a comment below.