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From Artwork to Printed Silkscreen in 15 Minutes Flat!

There are a plethora of ways to create silkscreens, but they all seem to have limitations.

  • Photolithography is super flexible, but requires some investment in time, skill and money to get right.
  • Vinyl cutting by machine (with the TechShop's vinyl cutter) is great, but even a moderately complex design requires a significant amount of time, and skill to weed. Complex halftones are impossible. You only have 1 session with your screen if you use the TechShop's screens because you need to give it back at the end of the session, so it's not reusable.
  • Vinyl cutting by hand is even hand has all the disadvantages of vinyl cutting by machine, but with the added pain that you have to cut the vinyl yourself.

Why another silkscreen instructable?

This is a method that creates a screen that is:

  • reusable
  • durable
  • takes only minutes to create from any artwork
  • can support any islands and even full grayscale halftoning
  • uses way less ink than a standard screen (probably about the same per print, but filling the screen only fills the areas of printing)
  • so fast and easy, you'd be happy to do it for only 1 shirt!

The secret is, like so many other cool things you can do at the TechShop, the laser cutter of course. Jeanie, The Instructor for the TechShop laser class gave us the original idea: print at 75 DPI and the laser will create a connected latticework of dots, no matter the grayscale or islands. It works like a charm!

Tools Required

  • Epilog Laser cutter/engraver. Other varieties may work fine too.
  • Silkscreen printing station (optional -- I did it at home for what you see here)
  • 9" Silkscreen squeegee (actually, I used a 6" $0.50 squeegee from Tap Plastics)
  • Corel Photo-Paint. (Can just as easily be done with Photoshop, but instructions here are for Photo-Paint)
  • Custom silkscreen frame. I just cut out a frame from 1" MDF using a table saw and scroll saw. (the 15 minutes does not include build time for the frame...)

Materials Required

  • 2 mil Mylar sheet. I got this from Tap Plastics. They also have 5 mil mylar, but that didn't work. The 2 mil stuff comes on a roll and is about $1.50/foot (24" width). Get 5 or 10 feet and you can make a lot of screens:-)
  • water based silkscreen paint
  • tape

TechShop SBUs required:

  • Laser Cutter SBU
  • Silkscreen SBU (optional -- the prints you see here were done at my home without using the silkscreen station)
  • Wood shop (optional -- if you make the from some other way, you don't need the woodshop)

You make this anywhere that you can get access to the tools, but I made this at TechShop!

Download and Open the Template: Total Time=1 Minute

The Attached file, "I smile because I have no idea whats going on silk.cdr" is a template for you to use. Important things to note: This is designed for a 9" squeegee. You can modify as you like.

Only the black frame and the artwork are on a printable layer. The frame (red) and usable space (green) guideline are on a non-printable layer.

Drop In, and Crop Your Artwork. Total Time = 5 Min

Drop your artwork into the location indicated by the red square.

Cut Your Screen! Total Time = 10 Min

Now, you just print. On the 45 watt Epilog Helix, the settings are:

  • print both RASTER + VECTOR
  • RASTER: 75 DPI, SPEED 60%, POWER 20%, Floyd Steinberg dithering
  • VECTOR: 100% SPEED, 30% POWER, 5000 PPS

Note, it's important to use the 75 DPI setting, otherwise you'll end up with a screen that doesn't hold together.

This step will take between 30 seconds and about 3 minutes.

Tape Your Screen to the Frame. Total Time = 11 Min

Tape your screen onto the frame. This takes about a minute.

Go Ahead and Do the Print. Total Time = 15 Minutes

And, here you go:

Basic steps for silkscreening are:

  • float some ink over the screen before putting it on your t-shirt
  • put the screen down onto your t-shirt
  • slowly squeegee the ink into the t-shirt, making sure everyting his held steady
  • lift the screen.

Getting a nice print will probably take some practice, but this technique shows some real promise!

A Close Up Look at the Screen Produced

Here's a close-up of what the screen looks like (after printing and washing). Thanks for the comment DIY-Guy -- it gave me the idea to get a good image of what's going on close up.

The 75 dpi from the printer driver is right on, and this also shows us we can probably go even a little higher for a tighter screen.

Interesting... it looks as if the steps in the vertical direction are not perfectly uniform. In fact, far from it. And, there is some misalignment in the left-going vs. right-going scan lines.

It looks as if you may be able to go *slightly* higher in DPI, but not a lot. Maybe if we try slowing the print speed down and lowering power, we might get more uniform and smaller dots. That'll need some investigation.


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