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You've seen the reverse tie dye craze, right?! Many crafters use this process before adding a sublimation to t-shirts leaving a soft feel design. This is a popular process, but it can be expensive when you need to make multiple shirts with the same design.
This is where screen printing becomes the perfect solution. With screen printing you can use one piece of vinyl to print the same design over and over. Whether you need 2 shirts or 2 dozen shirts, screen printing will allow you to do this quick and easily.
Typically I screen print with a fabric ink. For this project, I'm using bleach gel instead of ink. Keep reading to see how this magical “ink” works!
Supplies Needed to Screen Print with Bleach Gel
- Screen Printing Frame (I used a 16×20 size but any size will work)
- Oracal 651 Vinyl
- Vinyl Cutting Machine (I used a Cricut Maker)
- Transfer Tape
- Painter's Tape
- Bleach (don't use Clorox splash proof bleach! Regular bleach works best)
- Pot and stovetop to make mixture
- Squeeze bottle for bleach gel
- Blank T-Shirts (100% cotton works best but read below for more details on the types of shirts I recommend)
PRO TIP: Don't use Clorox No-Splash Formula. It doesn't dye the fabric very well.
Watch Process Video
How to Make DIY Bleach Gel
I found a recipe for bleach gel from Karrie at Happy Money Saver and made a few adjustments to her recipe.
CAUTION: Always use caution when using bleach. Wear old clothing and gloves to protect yourself. Be sure to work in a well ventilated area to avoid the fumes.
- Start by mixing 1 cup of cold water with 5 tablespoons of cornstarch.
- Stir until the cornstarch has dissolved.
- Turn on your burner to medium heat, stirring your cornstarch/water mixture constantly.
- Once the mixture has thickened into a gel, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool completely.
- Add 8 tablespoons of bleach and stir until well combined. Be sure not to use Clorox no splash bleach – it doesn't work, trust me!
- Transfer your mixture into a plastic squeeze bottle.
How to Screen Print with Bleach Gel
Now that you have your bleach gel, it's time to screen print. Grab a few dark colored shirts for this project. I found that 100% cotton shirts work best but you can use cotton blends.
If you are new to screen printing with your Cricut or Silhouette, you can use my Speedball Screen Printing with Craft Vinyl Kit to learn the process. I also teach the step by step process in my Beginner's Screen Printing with Vinyl Online Course.
I decided to use my 1-color screen printing press for this project, but you do not need this equipment to screen print at home. Place your shirt on a smooth, sturdy surface. Align your screen printing frame on top of the shirt. Then, the rest of the process will be the same.
Squirt a good amount of the bleach gel solution along the top of your screen. Pull the ink over the design on your screen printing frame using a squeegee. I went over the design 3-4 times to ensure enough bleach covered the shirt.
Lift the screen to reveal your print. At first, you won't be able to see your design very well, but give it time. Within a few minutes, you should start to see the bleach working.
Keep your shirt in a good spot so it can continue to develop as you make additional shirts. Screen printing is great when you need to make multiple shirts with the same design. Just place your screen on the next shirt and you can continue making shirts with the same vinyl screen.
To speed up the developing, you can place the shirts in the sun light. This is safer than using a heat gun.
Once you have achieved your desired color, you can put the shirt in a wash with half hydrogen peroxide and half water. This will stop the bleach.
I immediately washed my shirts with a regular cycle of detergent and drying.
The bleach dyes the fabric leaving a nice, soft feel after you wash the shirts.
Which Shirts work best for bleach dying?
I found that 100% cotton shirts take the bleach the best. I had great success with Bella + Canvas 100% cotton and Comfort Colors. With thicker cotton shirts, you are less likely to create holes. The bleach can work through thin fabric quickly so keep an eye on your shirts. With thin shirts, you'll want to leave them in the sun for a much shorter time.
The darker color shirts are going to have a more dramatic look with the bleach compared to a light color shirt.
The longer you leave the bleach on the shirt, the more white it will turn. I left mine in the sun for about 30 minutes. I like how the black turned coral and navy turned a coral/pink color. This Gildan Antique Sapphire shirt had a really neat effect. Instead of turning white, the bleached areas look heather grey.
Will the bleach gel mess up your screen?
The bleach will not hurt your screen printing frame as long as you wash it off after use. Leaving the bleach on for an extended time could damage the screen.
How do you clean the screen?
To clean the screen, first, remove the vinyl and painter's tape. Then, rinse the screen using warm water and Dawn dish soap. Once all of the gel has been washed out of the screen, allow your screen to air dry and it will be ready for your next project.