DIY Cheap Screen Printing

If you are anything like me, you have an interest in learning how to screenprint but have been slightly distracted from trying due to the high start-up cost. I never wanted to spend hundreds of dollars on screen printing kits or buying each item separately with the fear of discovering, after trying, that I don’t like to screenprint.
After years of contemplating screen printing, I recently decided to get my feet wet the DIY way. I managed to make a handful of screens for less than $40! Yes, it is completely possible, and takes a bit of creativity!


List of supplies:

-picture frame
-nylon mesh fabric
-stapler/staple gun

Now let’s get started!!

DIY Cheap Screen Printing-To start you need a frame, I found a couple $.50 frames from a local thrift store. A frame that has a flat front side works best.

-Then you need a nylon mesh to attach onto the frame. I don’t really know the lingo of mesh counts, I simply bought 100% nylon mesh fabric from a fabric store for $4.00 a yard. The specific fabric I used was located in the special occasion section and is a tighter mesh. I also have found some at the local thrift store. Buy as much as you need and cut a size that is 2-3 inches larger then the frame on all sides.

-Finally, you need a stapler to attach the fabric to the frame. Depending on how soft the wood is of the frame, a regular household stapler may do, otherwise, a cheap staple gun from a hardware store will do fine. The one I have cost $9 and works great for the simple task needed.

DIY Cheap Screen PrintingNow lets start attaching the fabric to the frame.
-first, wet the fabric!

I have found this to be an important step because fabric expands when the fibers get wet so if you attach the fabric wet, it sags less when drying the emulsion or drying after washing the screen.

-Next place the fabric on the front side of the frame. Pick an edge and staple the fabric to the frame with a couple of inches of overhang. Then simply back roll the overhanging fabric to lay over the top of the edge you just stapled, and staple that edge again.

Here is my finished first side:

DIY Cheap Screen Printing-Pull the fabric as tight as you can and staple the opposite edge in the same manner, first staple row with overhang, roll overhang and staple a second row.
-pick the third side and pull gently and staple, just like before. And on the fourth side, full fabric as tight as you can and staple.
-staple excess corner fabric down to the edge of the frame.

DIY Cheap Screen PrintingYou now have a screen!!

DIY Cheap Screen PrintingSet the screen aside to dry.
When the screen is completely dry (you will also notice how much tighter the fabric got after is dried!) you are ready to apply emulsion.


-the screen you just made
-scoop coater
-a high watt light bulb and holder
-transparency film
-marker or computer/printer

To start you need the screen you just made, emulsion, and a scoop coater.

DIY Cheap Screen PrintingThe emulsion is the only item I actually had to specially order and couldn’t find a local store. There are some homemade emulsion recipes out there, but I decided to just purchase the not so expensive emulsion to ensure my screen turned out correctly.
Here is the Speedball brand emulsion I purchased:

This cost $25 including shipping and the sanitizer that is needed to make the emulsion sensitive. Smaller containers are available for much cheaper.

For the scoop coater, I hunted around the thrift store until I found this paint tray for $.50!! For a scoop coater, you need to have something with a trough to hold the emulsion as well as have a smooth and rounded edge for you to swipe along with the screen. I also found a couple of different sized bread pans that worked well!

DIY Cheap Screen PrintingI didn’t take pictures of myself applying the emulsion to the screen because I didn’t want to expose it too much, but at the end of this blog, there is a video that shows you how.

So after applying the emulsion, this is what your screen will look like:

DIY Cheap Screen PrintingNotice that you can no longer see through the fabric.

Next, you need a design on transparency film (I found a couple of sheets at a local thrift store for $.25, but if you have no luck at thrift stores, office stores are always in stock). I drew my design with a permanent marker on the film, but you can easily print your design onto the film.

DIY Cheap Screen PrintingCenter position your design onto the front side of the frame. make sure that if you have wording on your design to place the design backwards on the frame.
I also placed the glass from the screen on top of the design to make sure it does not move.

For my light set up, I used a spare high watt light bulb I had at home and bought this lamp for $1 from the thrift store.

DIY Cheap Screen PrintingNow you are ready to expose or “burn” the image onto the screen.
The bulb I am using is a 30-watt energy-efficient bulb, and placing it about 15 inches away from the screen it takes 65 minutes to burn.

DIY Cheap Screen Printing[Different bulbs and different distances burn at different rates. You can easily do a time test on a screen by putting numbers 5-90 on a transparency film in 5 number increments. Cover number 5 with a piece of paper at 5 minutes, cover number 10 at 10 minutes and so on. After you cover all the numbers, rinse the screen, and whatever number turns out the best is the amount of time you need to burn your screen.]

Here is what my screen looks like immediately after burning:

DIY Cheap Screen PrintingTake your screen to your sink or tub and rinse your screen with as much water pressure are you can. Since I can’t get a lot of pressure, I usually have to do a little light rubbing too.

DIY Cheap Screen PrintingWhen your entire design is emulsion free you are complete:

DIY Cheap Screen PrintingLet the screen fully dry and you are ready to print!!

DIY Cheap Screen PrintingTo print I bought fabric paint for a craft store and a window squeegee I bought for $.75 from a thrift store. I know, window squeegees are looked at as very bad for screen printing but as a beginner who is working on a budget, a window squeegee works fine to get started and test your interest in printing!

If you plan on doing screen printing regularly, I suggest purchasing actual screen printing products. This has just been my budget-friendly example/suggestion on how to get started in order to decide if it is something you would like to pursue further.

DIY Cheap Screen Printing

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