So you wanna screen print your own fabric? Part 1 – Supplies and getting set up.

I’m counting this post as my Funday Monday Post because I did this awesome screen printed fabric over the weekend and I love it! If you made something over the weekend leave a comment!


So. It’s been about two weeks since I started my plan to screen print my own fabric. If you want to screen print your own fabric (NOT TEE SHIRTS!!) this what you need to know.


If all you ever want to do is print on clothing, stop here. If you want to print fabric panels or yardage, continue reading.







Are you sensing a theme yet? Do not buy a kit. It will not help you, and you will be wasting your hard-earned start-up cash. For example – I purchased the “deluxe” Speedball screen printing starter kit for $70 (used my credit card points for a discount, it usually sells for $90) and ended up with a mostly useless cardboard press, and four beautiful pots of paper ink that I will never use. Not to mention the squeegees are the worst quality I’ve ever seen and I’ll never use screen filler or drawing fluid. Also the paper-ink they send is too thin for the mesh on the included screens and the screens are loose to begin with. Lots of off-contact needed!

You do not need a screen printing press!!! Those are only good for t-shirts!

Also do not buy wood screens. They’re not as sturdy and don’t last as long.

Also do not buy SpeedBall diazo emulsion fluid. Well, you could, but it costs the same as a bucket twice the size and as far as I can tell is incredibly cheap and actually made for paper inks, not fabric inks. Super nice, SpeedBall. It does come with remover though, so that’s a plus. But it’s already mixed, and so you’re paying for water, basically. Cheap for them, not for you.

Also do not buy squeegees that are the exact same numerical measurement as your screen. It will not fit.

These are all things I have learned the hard way.



High quality aluminum frames, all the exact same size every time. ALWAYS BUY THE SAME SIZE FRAME FROM NOW TO FOREVER. If you always buy the same size frame you always just need one size of squeegee and scoop coater. Get it? I got mine from but has them too. Start with 110 mesh, that’s the most common. If you want to use metallic inks you’ll need an 86 mesh screen, if you want to do superfine details you’ll need a 156 mesh screen. I purchased screens 20″ x 24″ because my table is 2′ x 4′. Make sure you consider your working space before you buy your screens.


Good quality paint. Face it. Ink is expensive. Suck it up. I bought Permaset Aqua and it’s been doing great. If you want to buy the cheap stuff before you invest, try out the Speedball or Jacquard brands. I bought mine for about $9/300Ml at Utrecht Art during a great 20% off/free shipping deal yesterday. Dick Blick had a deal running too but it wasn’t as good. And that’s another thing – for some supplies like ink, definitely shop around for a deal, and usually the more you buy at once the better off you are.

[Update: I tried out Enviroline’s water-based ink tonight, I think it’s made by Matsui. It’s crazy thick and difficult to work with. And smells like ammonia. I’m sticking with Permaset. Update 2 – You can add water to water-based ink!!! Now that I’ve figured that out I’m sooooo happy! My ink was getting really thick after a run because it was drying out. Now I just add some water, mix it up and I’m good to go! I’ve also been using a retarder and it’s been FANTASTIC. Definitely go for the retarder if your ink is drying in your screen while you’re printing.]

Clear printable transparencies. It’s getting harder and harder to find these, but my local Office Max not only sells them, they’ll print files and do copies on them for a small fee. It’s probably cheaper if you order the transparencies online though. The industrial printers really do a better job of ink coverage but I still have to double up my transparencies like in the tutorial I linked to above, so now I just print them on a home laserjet myself and they’re fine. You can get larger transparencies just by tile printing, which is especially easy for patterns with lots of empty space. Much more difficult for large patterns with lots of ink. If you really need a large transparency you can outsource it.

Not pictured: Screen de-hazer/degreaser, ink remover, and emulsion disolver. Use your spray bottle(s) to mix/spray these as directed on the packaging. The Speedball diazo kit doesn’t come with dehazer, but you can use dawn dishwashing soap if you’re in a bind. I’ve been using it recently with good results but don’t use it long term. It has moisturizers etc that aren’t good for your screens.

[Edit: I received my Green Stuff dehazer/degreaser and it really does work and smells great too. Another edit: Actually I’m having problems with the Green Stuff not really dehazing, so I’ve ordered a specific ink cleaner. We’ll see how that goes. Update on the Enviroline waterbased ink screen opener and remover- it works GREAT for cleaning your screens after a print run. It’s not super great at dehazing, but so far I haven’t actually found anything that will dehaze completely. I did have a problem where my emulsion didn’t stick to my screen after using it though, so I think for cleaning between emulsion I’ll use the green stuff. For cleaning between print runs I’ll use the Enviroline screen opener.]


One good squeegee, durometer of 70, 3-4 inches shorter than the frame’s declared width. So if you go for the industry standard screen size of 20″ x 24″ you need a 16″ squeegee.

A few cheapo dual-sided sponges.

A big bucket of emulsion. These start at about $25. Totally worth it. The emulsion pictured here is leftover from an uneducated purchase. New emulsion is on the way. My recommended emusion is a hybrid (works for water and plastisol inks) dual cure. It’s safest for multiple types of ink.

Lots of paper towels.

Some sort of paint scooping device. I’ve been using an old credit card but at some point I’m going to have to upgrade to a spatula.

[Update: I’m still using credit cards and plastic spoons. No problems.]


A scoop coater. They’re cheap. Just do it. Get one the same size as your squeegee.

[Edit: I used mine for the first time today. I’m in LOVE. GET A SCOOP COATER.]



Masking tape or blue painter’s tape. You don’t need fancy tape. I happen to prefer the masking tape.

[Update: I hate the blue tape, it doesn’t stick well enough. Use plain masking tape.]

A big roll of postal mailing paper. I got mine at Target. It is awesome.

If your table surface moves at all you’ll need some of this traction stuff. I got mine at Target near the cleaning supplies and drawer lining paper.

Large alligator clamps. Use these to hold your screens in place on one side to make a sort of temporary clamp system. Use a temporary spray adhesive to stick the fabric to your table surface. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Quilt basting spray works ok for me but FastTack 382 is better, cheaper, and you get more in a can. Stinkier though! Don’t stick the fabric to the brown paper, it won’t work. You must stick it directly to a hard surface. I got a sheet of MDF for $11 from home depot. Works perfectly. Just rotate it when it gets gunked up.

Make sure you tape a quarter to each corner of each screen on the print side in order to give you clearance (aka off-contact) for the screen to pull away from the inked fabric. DON’T SKIP THIS STEP. Otherwise the ink will stick to your screen instead of your fabric, which is not what you want. Again, I learned the hard way so you don’t have to.


At least one empty spray bottle and some latex gloves.


A yellow bug light.

A 500 watt work light from Home Depot for your exposures. (13:30 for a 20″x24″ screen 16 inches below the light.) I’ll be writing a full tutorial for this soon. I promise! Update, this tutorial is located here.

I know, it seems like a lot. My estimated total startup cost for all of the above, assuming just one screen and one pot of paint and the small bucket of emulsion is around $190. Not bad considering initially the deluxe speedball kit sells for $80-$90 and will get you through maybe four screens and 20+ printings each. The difference is this list is all things you will actually NEED and will last for 20-25 screens and 100+ printings each. If I had known all this I would have saved myself probably $200. Hindsight and all that….


Do pre-wash your fabric.

When you use your scoop coater to put the emulsion on the screen, it does not need to touch the frame edges. In fact, it shouldn’t touch the edges. You’ll use your masking tape to tape off the gap between emulsion and frame.

Always put more ink on the screen than you think you need. It’s the key to a good print. Then you should only need 2-3 strokes to get a good print. 1) Lightly pull down to “flood” the screen with ink, 2) Press pretty hard, quickly, back upwards to clear the ink from the screen, and also pressing it through the screen to your fabric. You can do this part again if you think you need to, but once you’ve lifted your screen up off the fabric you’re done, there’s no going back, so make sure you got it right the first time! You really shouldn’t need to do a double push unless you’re not pushing hard enough. The ink should sort of “roll up” behind the squeegee.

[Update: I actually do 2-3 pulls (pushes) regularly now, for fabrics that have a visible weave, like linen. It’s just what works for me. For plain quilting cotton I just do one pull.

Only ever wash your screen with the soft side of a sponge. The scrubby side is too harsh on the emulsion.

When you are reclaiming a screen, in other words removing the emulsion, do not let the screen dry in any way. Give it a spray with remover every once in a while as you wait for it to do its job. Then use the scrubby side of your two-sided sponge to scrub away all the emulsion. Do not run water over the screen until all the emulsion is completely dissolved. Once the solvent touches the screen, if it doesn’t completely scrub away it will become permanent and ruin the screen. Once you’ve cleaned the emulsion off, use a dehazer to remove any ink traces.

Don’t wash your screen between uses unless you have to. Instead, clean off as much ink as you can with a squeegee/spatula, then use a very lightly damp soft sponge, then papertowels. You can also get a spray for cleaning ink between printings if you think you need it. In a bind you can use dishwashing soap but you’ll almost certainly have to re-tape if you get your masking tape wet.

[Update: I actually do wash my screens between each run. It just takes too long to do it this way.]

Use your yellow light in whatever room you’re going to be drying your emulsified screens. I’m using our small walk-in closet for a drying rack. Just put tacks in your wood frame, or for the aluminum frames you can tape on thread spools or whatever you have around the house to keep the frame from touching. I put a bit of wax paper on the shelves just in case. I also let the screens dry with a fan for a couple of hours then store them inside the box they came in with a thick blanket over the top, so we can continue to use the closet normally.


Make sure you dry your emulsified screens in total darkness, with the inkwell facing up/mesh facing down! See above, use tacks or spools or something to keep the mesh from touching anything. Do not dry them vertically.


It can be done. You really need to use a hose or some other high-powered water pressure – the sink just doesn’t cut it. I happen to already have a high pressure shower head in my shower so I just use that to clean my screens and wash emulsion, it’s not really all that bad. If you have a super dark space to dry your screens and a high pressure water supply, you’re good to go.

[IMPORTANT UPDATE: I rigged up our unused stall shower with a high powered garden hose and some plastic to prevent staining. A tutorial is coming, I promise!)


Yes, this is really my apartment complex.


You really just need a super-smooth surface. I had a 2′ x 4′ table in my studio already, so I just bought a board of MDF for $11 at Home Depot to cover it. It was the perfect size! Then to keep it from getting wet and swelling, I roll my postal shipping paper over the top and either tape it down or use my big clamps. Then I can use the paper to practice, or set inky tools down on top without worrying about my table. I also spread some paper or a plastic drop cloth over the carpet, just in case I drop ink on the floor.

Coming next week: How to screen print fabric yardage at home, from start to finish. (Not clothing!)

[Update: Obviously this didn’t happen. But it’s going to. After the washout booth and exposure light tutorials.]


, , , ,

22 Responses to So you wanna screen print your own fabric? Part 1 – Supplies and getting set up.

  1. Mantas August 23, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    Hey thanks for tut. What did you use for water based ink cusring?

    • Sarah B. August 23, 2013 at 9:09 am #

      Oh sorry I misunderstood, I think you meant curing? I use a heat gun for a few minutes, then once it’s dry I throw everything in my clothes dryer for 60 minutes, high heat. Does the job.

      • Mantas August 23, 2013 at 10:26 am #

        Yes my question was about it. Thanks for reply.

  2. Marion April 16, 2014 at 10:52 am #

    Hi! I love your tutorials! Thanks so much for sharing all of this great information. I’m just getting started and this is super helpful. I’m very interested in printing fabric yardage but I’m struggling with mess. I tend to get ink everywhere and it seems like the possibility of getting clean runs on large pieces of fabric is close to zero. I was wondering if you are still interested in sharing your process?

    Thanks again!!!

    • Sarah Bailey April 16, 2014 at 11:15 am #


      Thanks for the feedback! I may still do one more tutorial this summer but much like you I find printing yardage a frustrating process. How miserable to print three good screens and then ruin the fourth! Regarding the messiness, I can offer a few small bits of advice. 1) Never EVER touch the underside of your screen for any reason. If you overflood, wash out and start over. 2) Don’t overflood – with most colored inks (ie non-white permaset) you can use a “scraping” flood stroke rather than a typical flood stroke you’d see on a t-shirt printer. I will use this scraping stroke and flood/scrape 2 times without lifting the screen if I’m using a 156 mesh screen. 3) Keep your hands and screen frame clean. Keep a giant roll of paper towels handy and a bowl of water. If you get ink on your hands via your squeegee or a splash, wipe it off immediately, don’t keep working. 4) Asking a friend or partner to help can greatly alleviate this. For example, I’ll have my husband stand on the other side of my table. I’ll do the printing and set the screen location, but he holds the screen up off the table completely while I move around and heat gun the last printed edge. I also make use of empty rolls of masking tape to hold the edges of my screen off the table, hands-free, until I’m ready to print.

      Just for your reference, printing 2 yards of 60″ knit took me a couple of hours, with a large break in the middle for washing out, drying, etc. It is NOT a quick process at all (which is why I won’t sell my fabrics, not worth the price I’d want!) Printing continuous yardage means you need to use a heat gun after at least every couple of prints to dry the ink you’ve just printed before you can lay the screen down on top of it, and you should also use a retarder mixed into your (water-based) ink to keep it from air-drying so quickly on the screen, giving you more time to do things like heat gun what you’ve just printed.

      Hope this helps!

  3. Tina McDonald September 20, 2014 at 3:50 am #

    What brand of emulsion are you using now? Is it a lot better than the Speedball?

    • Sarah Bailey September 20, 2014 at 7:37 am #

      Tina, I’m using Ryonet Hybrid emulsion found here and it’s WAYYYYYYYYY better than speedball. No one should be using that crap, it wears off, washes out when it shouldn’t, and you can’t see through it. It also costs double what the Ryonet stuff costs by weight. Trust me, you won’t regret switching. Also if you haven’t gotten a scoop coater it’ll be the best investment you ever make. Buy one four inches shorter than your screen’s official width. ie my screens are 20″ wide and I use a 16″ scoop coater.

      Good luck!! – Sarah

  4. Clara November 6, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    Hi, can you tell me more about the heat gun? I’ve been going the ridiculous route of wiping wet ink off the back of screens after each overlapping print. What brand/model do you use? I mostly print jersey yardage with waterbased Permaset inks.

    • Sarah Bailey November 6, 2014 at 7:11 am #

      Hi Clara! I ordered my heatgun from but I’m sure you can also get them at any local hardware store. Mine cost about $35. It’s like a blowdryer but without the fan, and hotter. Not safe with kids around! Just point it at the ink about 8″ away and you’ll see the ink dry within roughly 45-60 seconds. Careful not to leave it in one place too long as you can scorch your fabric. As long as the ink is a normal layer and isn’t too wet it’ll dry right up. If the ink has pooled on an area of the print then I’d probably use a paper towel or something to try to clean it up if possible before using the heat gun, otherwise it will bubble (but really, this is a printing imperfection probably due to the design being too close to the edge of the screen and should be resolved in other ways.)

      • Clara December 2, 2014 at 11:30 am #

        This is a belated thank you, but thanks so much for the info! The heat gun has changed my life. Do you have a washout station tutorial up yet? I’m looking for some kind of hose adapter for my tub, but haven’t had much luck searching online.

        • Sarah Bailey December 2, 2014 at 11:34 am #

          I’m so glad I could help! For the washout booth, I don’t have a tutorial and probably won’t write one, but I can tell you I ended up using a shower head pipe to garden hose brass adapter. Then I put a high pressure nozzle on the hose and it did OK. It looks sort of like this but I’m not sure that’s the exact right thing –

  5. Christina Smith April 8, 2015 at 10:58 am #

    Thank you for this very detailed and informative post!!! I’m just beginning and very grateful!! 🙂

  6. Nate August 20, 2015 at 5:28 pm #

    Hi, would I be able to screen print 2 inch x 7 inch pieces of fabric. Also how can I get the graphics for it. Like through photoshop or something?

    • Sarah Bailey August 20, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

      You can screen print any size piece of fabric as long as it’s stuck down to the table. I used illustrator to make my graphics, you can really use anything as long as you get a super crisp clean edge for stuff like logos. Black and white images can turn out ok as long as the contrast is super high. For text anything will work, you just need to be able to print it onto the transparency sheets.

  7. Roxy February 22, 2016 at 2:16 pm #

    Hi, I use black water based and on a 68T white mesh; after one run the ink “runs” through the screen and messes the next print around the design. Should I use a thickener or am I doing something wrong? I don`t push when flooding the screen.

    • Sarah Bailey February 22, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

      Hi Roxy! Your mesh count is good, so it sounds like you’re over flooding and/or running the print stroke too many times. When you’re using a looser ink you really only need one flood stroke, and one print stroke, MAYBE two print strokes, but usually not unless your ink is drying out. Also try reversing your flood/print stroke directions. If you push your print stroke try pulling it for looser ink, it forces less ink through the screen than pushing. Definitely should not need a thickener. Your water-based inks will thicken naturally as you work them anyway, because they dry out while working. Hope that helps!

      Just in case, if you put a blob of ink on the screen and it immediately runs through the mesh without you touching it, it is actually likely too loose, it should be the texture of pudding. Let it dry out a bit. Ink should sit on the screen but not “run”. If you are using good quality fabric ink this should never happen.

      • Roxy February 22, 2016 at 2:32 pm #

        Thank you so much for the quick response!
        Now I realize that it might be the fact that from one draw with the squeegee the ink does not cover the design entirely, so I do it a few times (sometimes in different directions just to cover the design). Might this be the problem?

        • Sarah Bailey February 22, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

          Yes, absolutely, you need to buy a bigger squeegee 🙂 Squeegees are sold by the inch, and should be purchased 4″ shorter than your screen width, because screens are measured by the outside edge. Just in case you didn’t know. So you should buy a 16″ squeegee for a 20″ screen.

          Or possibly if you are using the right size squeegee already, you need to put more ink on the screen. You absolutely must be able cover the full design in a single flood.

          • Roxy February 23, 2016 at 2:22 am #

            Thank you!

  8. Annie February 23, 2016 at 11:16 am #

    I just want to say this blog post is a godsend! I’m also trying to set up for large screen printing jobs in an apartment. Not exactly the easiest thing. I had one question though: I have a relatively detailed design (henna style) that I’m going to use metallic ink for. Would you still suggest 86 for the mesh size? I haven’t bought the screens yet because I’ve been stumped.

  9. Steph April 25, 2017 at 11:53 am #

    Seriously. Why is this article so hard to find?! I’ve been researching screen printing for weeks. YouTube tutorials and articles. Everyone wants to sell something. This is the most consice and the least delve serving for the writer. I appreciate you a lot!


  1. Screen Printing Tutorial Part 2 - Make Your Own Cheap and Easy Screen Exposure Unit - Sew What, Sherlock? - January 4, 2015


Leave a Reply