Silk Screen Printing With Vinyl Stencil: Yes, It's Possible!
For years, printers got used to the traditional way to the old-school way of coating with the use of a mesh screen with photo emulsion, burning the image with UV light, and so on. With the preparation time of the coated screen alone, it'll take roughly 20 to 30 minutes, and that's for one screen alone.
If you're familiar with modern ways of silkscreen, the preparation time of traditional silk screen printing, for lack of better words — takes forever. Thankfully, there are modern ways of silk screen printing using vinyl stencils. Yes, you heard that right! Screen printing with vinyl stencil is possible!
Using TeckWrap Craft's collection of adhesive craft vinyl, you can create vinyl stencils for silk screen printing. No more photo emulsion, say goodbye to acetate sheets, and most importantly, no more long waiting times. Let's get started and learn how to silk screen using a vinyl stencil.
Photo by Ronailson Santos from Pexels
What is screen printing?
Screen printing, also referred to as silk screen printing, is a printing technique where you apply paint to a material using a mesh, stencil, and squeegee. The stencil is used to pass the paint through to the screen, leaving a neat print on the material.
Silk screen printing is an old-school type of printing method that has been around since 1907 and is widely used until now, even by big commercial clothing brands. Silkscreen printing is the printing method of choice if you're working on bulk orders, thanks to the affordability of its materials and faster printing process. Plus, the print is guaranteed to last for years.
Supplies Needed For Silk Screen Printing Using Vinyl Stencil
Silk screen printing using a vinyl stencil is relatively similar to the traditional way of screen printing. What differs is the preparation of the silkscreen image. As mentioned, you won't need a photo emulsion, UV exposure box, and acetate sheets. Instead, you'll need these when creating your stencil material:
- Vinyl cutter (Silhouette or Cricut machine)
- Adhesive vinyl
- Blackout tape or painter's tape
- Transfer tape or parchment paper
- Weeding tool
- Cutting mat
Of course, you'll need the basic silk screen materials when transferring the image, namely:
- Screen printing frame (mesh screen)
- Print table with hinges
- Painters tape or masking tape
- Screen printing ink (Plastisol, Speedball ink, or water-based paint) of your preferred color
- Shirt, hoodie, or canvas bag you want to print in
- Note: You cannot use the same screen if the design has multiple colors. Always use a new one.
Step-by-Step Guide to Screen Printing Method Using Adhesive Vinyl
Granted, you now have the supplies mentioned above; now it's time to learn silk screen printing using adhesive vinyl. The whole process, from the stencil preparation to printing one garment (with one color), takes about 15 minutes.
If you've never used a cutting machine before, watch this video tutorial from TeckWrap Craft's YouTube page. Even if you've worked with a cutting machine before, reading through this step-by-step guide is best because the process is different when making a vinyl stencil for screen printing.
Step 1: Prepare Your Design
Start with choosing a design. You can create your own design or download a free SVG online. Once your design is ready, upload it to your cutting machine's design software (Silhouette or Cricut Design Space). The next step is to resize your design. How do you determine the right size? Make sure that the design's size fits well onto the screen and garment.
YouTube: How To Screen Print with Cricut + Vinyl by Makers Gonna Learn
Step 2: Position The Design
When positioning the image on your cutting machine's design software, place it on the center portion and allot at least two inches of space on its borders to serve as a blackout for the paint. The blank part will be covered by the painter's tape later on.
Step 3: Mirror the Design
Then remember to mirror the design by looking for the 'Flip Horizontally' or 'Mirror' option on the design software. Typically, this is not the process when working with adhesive vinyl. But since this process involves creating a stencil vinyl for screen printing, the process is far different.
Step 4: Test Cut!
This is an important step that many crafters miss out on, but you shouldn't. Start with changing the settings of the cutting machine to the material type. Choose on the dropdown list 'Adhesive Vinyl' or 'Craft Vinyl', depending on your cutting machine.
Once you've changed this setting, the cutting machine's force, blade, and speed settings will automatically adjust to the chosen material. However, this is only accurate at some times. At times, you need to increase the blade depth and decrease the cutting speed. You need to test the cut before cutting the actual design.
After you do the test cut, try to weed the vinyl. If the vinyl easily weeds, then you're good to go. If not, you may need to change the settings until you find the right combination.
Step 5: Place the Vinyl on the Cutting Mat
The next step is to prepare a vinyl that's big enough to fit the image. For instance, if the image size is 6x6 inches, it's safer to prepare 9x9" vinyl for cutting. Then, place the adhesive vinyl on the cutting mat with the colored side up. Using a squeegee, flatten out the vinyl firmly on the cutting mat's surface.
Step 6: Cut the Vinyl
Wait for the vinyl to finish cutting. During this step, you may encounter problems like the cutting mat falling out of place. This leads to the design not being cut properly. If this happens, repeat step 5 and try to cut again.
Step 7: Weed the Vinyl
If step 6 is successful, start with weeding your vinyl using weeding tools. Weed the design itself — the image that needs to be transferred to the garment. Do not weed the surrounding vinyl. Remember that you're using the vinyl as a stencil, not transferring the design to a mug or tumbler. The vinyl stencil should look like this after the weeding.
Step 8: Transfer the Vinyl to the Transfer Tape
Just like any other craft vinyl project, transfer the vinyl onto the transfer tape. Place the transfer tape on the craft vinyl, with the sticky side facing the colored side. Use a squeegee to flatten the transfer tape onto the craft vinyl. Make sure to remove the bubbles and wrinkles.
The goal of this step is to transfer the vinyl design onto the transfer tape and remove the paper backing of the craft vinyl. At this point, you now have a vinyl stencil that's ready to screen print.
Step 9: Transfer the Design to the Mesh Screen
This is where the screen printing process starts. With the sticky side of the vinyl facing the print side of the mesh screen, transfer the vinyl stencil. Use a squeegee to flatten the vinyl stencil on the screen. Once the stencil design is secure, you may remove the transfer tape.
- Remember to place the vinyl on the substrate side or print side.
- Place the vinyl stencil on the center portion of the mesh screen.
- When transferring the vinyl stencil, make sure to avoid wrinkles and bubbles, as this may affect the print quality of the garment later on.
- Carefully peel the transfer tape
Step 10: Cover the Mesh With Blackout Tape
In this step, your goal is to cover all sides of the mesh that are not part of the printing process. Use blackout tape or painter’s tape to secure the sides of the vinyl stencil and cover all the blank portions of the mesh screen so the paint won’t transfer to the garment.
Step 11: Secure The Screen on the Line Table
Get ready to secure the design on the silkscreen line table by clamping its hinge. Make sure it's secure, so it won't move while the paint transfers. Also, it is easier to work on a line table for an easier printing process.
Suppose you don't have a line table, at least on a flat and wide surface. If you don't have a line table, you may want to place a hard surface like cardboard inside the garment. You can secure the garment by clipping binder clips on all sides. For multi-colored prints, it is better to invest in a carousel table.
Step 12: Lay Down the Garment
Place the garment on the line table and start printing. Make sure to lay the garment flat and free of wrinkles. Also, ensure proper positioning of the shirt and the print of the stencil is where you want exactly to be transferred. Proper positioning is the key!
Step 13: Start Printing!
It’s time to start silk screen printing. Place a generous amount of paint on the upper portion of the screen, and using the squeegee, pull the ink along the full length of the design. Repeat this process at least three times to ensure full and proper paint transfer.
Step 14: Let it Dry!
Once you have a successful output, don’t remove the garment on the line table just yet. Let it dry by using a heat blower gun or a regular hair blower for faster drying. In case you don’t have a blower, then you can let it air dry. Let it sit for at least one hour to ensure the paint is completely dry.
Step 15: Clean Up!
After you've printed all the garments with the same design, don't forget to remove the vinyl stencil and blackout tape and discard it. Do this step carefully, as you don't want to damage the screen. Once you remove the vinyl stencil, you can't use it again in the future.
Then, don't forget to wash the mesh screen with water to remove the paint. Use high-pressure water to completely remove the paint on the screen. Set it aside, and you can use it for your next silk screen printing project.
If this is your first time trying the screen printing process, or you have yet to learn how the traditional screen printing process works, make sure to watch this great tutorial video: How To Screen Print with Cricut + Vinyl by Makers Gonna Learn.
What is the traditional screen printing process like?
Now that you're familiar with the step-by-step process of silk screen printing using a vinyl stencil, it's time to learn what the traditional process is like if this is your first time doing it. This section will help you better understand which process suits your preference.
So before you invest in supplies or work on a project, you know which better printing process to follow. The main difference between the traditional process and using a vinyl stencil is the preparation of the mesh screen. You're now familiar with the step-by-step process of screen printing using a vinyl stencil, but what about the traditional way? Here's what you need to know:
- Print the design on the acetate film.
- Place the printed acetate film on the mesh screen coated with emulsion.
- Expose it to bright light to harden and develop.
- Rinse away the unhardened emulsion.
- You're ready to screen print!
The whole process of preparing the mesh screen alone takes about 20-30 minutes. That's for one framed screen only. But if you use the vinyl method when screen printing, the whole process, including printing the shirt, will only take several minutes.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels
Can you use heat transfer vinyl for silk screen printing?
Yes, you can use heat transfer vinyl for silk screen printing, that is, if you intend to make a permanent screen. You can heat press the HTV on the mesh screen, attach it to the frame, then start screen printing.
However, this process is not recommended because once you press the HTV onto the mesh screen, it will be fixed permanently.
In the long run, it won’t be a cost-efficient process because you have to use a different mesh every time you print. In contrast, compared to using adhesive vinyl where you can just simply take off the vinyl and reuse the mesh screen.
Tips to Remember When Silk Screen Printing
Whether you decide to follow the traditional way of screen print or use adhesive vinyl as your stencil, there are tips you need to remember when silkscreen printing. Screen printing is a tedious process, but when done correctly, you can do it perfectly and cost-efficiently.
Keep the Screen as Tight as Possible
Always make sure the mesh screen is tightly placed on the frame. A loose screen can result in image bleeding. As you can imagine, a loosely placed screen has the tendency to move around.
The target print will bleed, and you may end up compromising the print quality. So make sure the screen is tight as possible, so the final product comes out of excellent printing quality.
Watch Out for the Screen’s Mesh Count
Did you know that silk screen mesh has a mesh count? The mesh count measures how many threads of polyester were used per square inch of the screen. The standard mesh counts range between 110 to 156.
A screen with a lower mesh count has wider openings. While a screen with a higher mesh count has tiny openings that can print finer details. How do you know which mesh count to choose? This will depend on the complexity of the design and how many colors are used. For better print-quality output, follow these tips:
- For bold and one-colored prints: Use a lower mesh count (at least 110)
- For complex designs with multiple colors: Use a higher mesh count (156 is preferred)
Be Careful When Printing Multiple Colors
If you print multiple shirts with one color, screen printing is the most cost-efficient and faster way. But you have to be extra careful with screen-printed shirts with multiple colors. Although it’s possible to screen print shirts with multiple colors, you have to consider several factors.
It’ll take more time, you need to use multiple screens, and complex color combinations will need advanced skills. For different colors, always use a different screen. Avoid reusing the screen, as this may compromise the print quality.
Suppose the entire design has multiple colors, better resort to another printing method other than screen printing. You can resort to heat pressing by using Inkjet Heat Transfer Paper. You can instantly print multi-colored shirts with a pigment ink printer and heat press machine.
Photo by Elena Rubtsova by Pexels
Be Careful with Ink Application
When silk screening, you should be careful with ink application, especially when applying multiple colors. Here are tips to remember:
- First coat: The first coat needs to penetrate the deepest into the material. This coating should have the thickest density, meaning it should have the thickest ink.
- Second coat: Should have medium-density ink.
- Last coat: Should have light-density ink (use little ink).
Top coatings should not be as thick; that's why most master printers use thinning agents to avoid wasting ink and blotching. Don't just start screen printing; place as much ink as possible. Carefully strategize your ink usage.
Secure the Platen
A screen-printed shirt may easily get ruined if the platen moves. The platten is the flat platform which the shirt is pressed against. Always secure the platen, so it doesn't move and distort the final printed image. Make sure the hinges are tight before you start printing.
Use a Straight and Sharp Squeegee
Squeegee can wear off over time after multiple uses. The deterioration may not be easily noticeable at first, but its wear and tear will show on your final print output.
If the squeegee is in prime condition, you only need to do fewer strokes, which is the accepted practice. Always check your squeegee to see if it's straight and sharp.
Always Take Your Time!
Screen printing is an art; instead of painting on a canvas, the blank canvas is a garment. In fact, not just garments, because you can screen print on paper as well as long as it has a flat and uneven surface. Even bakers use the screen printing method when custom-printing baked goods.
Any art takes time to save time. You don't want to commit an error and start over again, right? Take your time screen printing because this process requires patience, a careful eye, and skills. The first step, even when choosing the mesh screen count, should be tedious.
Good Pressure Is a Must!
The pressure and number of strokes matter as you screen print. Although the pressure depends on factors like the thickness of the ink, the material's color, the fabric used, and the complexity of the design.
As mentioned earlier, fewer strokes on the squeegee are the accepted practice when printing a high-quality image. What comes with a few strokes is good and consistent pressure, of course, with force. It would be best to have a little force and push when stroking the squeegee. Have strong and constant pressure all throughout.
Photo by Manolis Angelakis from Wikimedia Commons
Keep Your Materials Clean at All Times
Make it a habit to clean your materials at all times. This includes the mesh screen, frame, and squeegee. Random ink blotches from past projects can ruin your future projects, that's for sure!
Plus, completely dried paint may be challenging to get rid of the mesh screen.
You might end up ruining the screen while cleaning it. Keep your materials clean at all times, and use a high-pressure washer if you can, especially when cleaning the mesh screen.
Screen Print on a Flat and Even Surface
Always print on a flat and uneven surface when screen printing. Any bumps and an uneven surface beneath the garment may compromise the print outcome. The transfer might look uneven. And even if you repeat stroking, the thickness might look different from what it should be. So make sure you have a flat and even surface when screen printing.
Learn How to Mix Paint Colors
If you engage in silkscreen printing, you may encounter situations where you can't find the exact color of paint you want on your garment. Perhaps the craft store has run out of the color you want, or that paint color is just not available.
In this case, you need to unleash your inner artist self and learn how to mix paints to achieve your desired color. Feel free to try out color combinations. Of course, mix small amounts of paint only since you're still testing out the color combination. Also, test printing on a used garment also helps! It would help if you had an idea of what the actual print on the garment would look like.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
Let the Paint Cure Completely
Since you'll be using the paint with screen printing method, part of the process is to let the paint completely dry, otherwise known as the curing process. You have two options — let it hang dry or use a heat gun. Using a heat gun is a commercially accepted practice known as flash drying.
This is especially beneficial for bulk printing because flash drying can make the process quicker and easier. Using a heat gun can speed up the production, plus you'll save space and effort looking for a place to hang the shirts dry.
Old school printers not using heat guns still have to hang the shirts one by one and have a big space to accommodate all those shirts. But thanks to the heat gun, this old practice is rarely seen. Here are several tips to remember when flash drying using a heat gun:
- A heat gun only works for some kinds of inks.
- You cannot use a heat gun if you use water-based inks because it requires a few additives for this flash drying to be successful.
- You can use a heat gun for Plastisol or acrylic-based inks.
- Set the heat gun to the highest setting.
- Move it back and forth over the design for 1 to 2 minutes.
- The distance between the heat gun and the garment should be 5 inches.
In case you don't have a heat gun, a regular hair blower will do the trick. Make sure to use the highest heat setting, and instead of 1 to 2 minutes, just to be safe, dry it off for 3 to 5 minutes. Some even use a heat press machine for the final cure.
The Benefits of Silk Screen Printing
Screen printing technique has been around for centuries because it's undeniably a printing method with a lot of benefits. Those who intend to explore the world of custom printing or enter the garment printing business should learn the art of screen printing. Here are several benefits of this printing method:
- It's cost-effective: Screen printing is a cost-efficient method if you're looking to print in bulk. The materials are cheap, and with a single bottle of ink, you can print on plenty of garments. Plus, you can reuse the mesh screen plenty of times.
- Prints are durable: Plenty of printers choose screen printing because it's highly durable. Once printed on the garment, the paint will last for years without fading or flaking when taken care of.
- High print quality: The great finish, vibrant colors, and high-quality print are expected out of screen-printed garments. You can expect sharper prints, cleaner lines, and well-defined details out of screen printing.
- You can print large designs: Unlike sublimation, HTV, and transfer paper printing, your print size may be limited to A4 or perhaps 12x12" for HTV. Unlike screen printing, where you can print large designs. You can even use screen printing for large format printing as long as you have the supplies to do so.
- You can screen print on almost anything: Screen printing is not just for garments but other materials. You can screen print on other materials like wooden signs, paper, metal, plastic, caps, and even glass. Even bakers use screen printing to print on cookies!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is vinyl screen printing?
Vinyl screen printing is a method where adhesive vinyl is used as a stencil as compared to the traditional method of silk screen printing, where acetate and photo emulsion is used. The techniques of design preparation are different, but the final outcome is the same.
Do you need a heat gun for screen printing?
A heat gun for screen printing is beneficial but not necessary. A heat gun is helpful for faster drying of the ink on the garment, especially if you use Plastisol. However, you should never use a heat gun for screen print works where water-based ink is used.
How long does screen printing last?
If taken care of properly, screen-printed garments with high quality and ink used may last a lifetime compared to shirts printed using heat transfer vinyl that lasts for only several years. The ink's fade may fade over time if the garment is not taken care of properly.
Is silk screen printing the same as screen printing?
No, there is no difference. Silk screen printing and screen printing are the same. Silk screening is an older term used, but both are the same technique. The materials and methods have innovated over time, but the final outcome stays the same.
Is it cheaper to screen print or vinyl?
Screen printing is a cheaper alternative regarding the cost of materials if the shirts you have to print are in bulk. On the other hand, using heat transfer vinyl has a quick preparation process, but the overhead cost of materials, especially the heat transfer vinyl itself, is a little more costly.
What kind of vinyl do you use for screen print?
You can use both adhesive craft vinyl and heat transfer vinyl when screen printing. Adhesive craft vinyl is the preferred stencil, so you can reuse the mesh screen in the future. As for heat transfer vinyl used as a stencil, this is only recommended if you intend to create a permanent screen.
Wrapping It Up!
At this point, you're surely excited to create your own projects. Whether you're working on intricate designs on baked goods or for garment printing, screen printing using adhesive craft vinyl is easy to follow and for sure is cost-efficient in the long run.
With the printing technique you just learned above, you can print on anything you want! Who knows? This can be a business idea for you as well! Remember to practice, have patience, take your time and enjoy the process.
One last tip, since you're only using adhesive vinyl as a stencil, you don't need to buy those fancy ones. You can pick the simple craft vinyl of TeckWrap Craft vinyl like the Matte & Glossy Adhesive Craft Vinyl. Don't forget to check out TeckWrap Craft's site for other printing techniques and products as well.