DIY Guide to Screen Printing For Musicians

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Spending too much on promo items for your band? You want the freedom to focus on your band without going broke in the process. Well, here’s a way to kill two birds with one proverbial stone; start making your own merch.

Many bands go through the Sticker Guy for stickers or Disc Makers for their CDs, as these are fairly inexpensive services. T-shirts tend to be the priciest of the bunch, unless you know how to do it yourself. Screen printing is also substantially simpler than you might be led to believe. This step-by-step guide will help you start making profitable merch – best of all, these techniques can also be applied to hats, bags, posters and more.

Purchase a screen printing screen. It’s easier to start with a kit since it has all the components you need (screens, fabric ink, and a squeegee), and can be found for a relatively low price at most craft stores. We recommend going for a Speedball Fabric Screen printing Kit (which can be purchased online at www.dickblick.com for $39.99 or at your local A.C. Moore). You’ll also need an X-Acto knife, some extra blades and blank shirts, bags, bandannas, or other items you plan to customize.

1. Decide what you want for your design. It can be as intricate as you are willing to take the time to cut out. Draw out your design first and determine if you’ll need to do multiple screens to get everything on there that you’d like (multiple designs placed in different areas on the shirt will necessitate more cut outs).

2. Cut out your design with the X-Acto. Remember, anything that is cut out will show up when you print the shirt, so only cut out what you want to be show up on the final product. At times you will have to let lines of paper remain to hold the cut out together.

3. Affix your design to the screen with tape, place a sheet of white paper or cardboard inside the shirt so that the ink won’t bleed through onto the other side, and place the screen over the area you’d like to print.

4. Have a band mate hold down the screen, put ink onto the screen, and use the squeegee to press the ink through the screen by dragging it back and forth over the area to be inked. The number of times you must do this will be determined by the pressure you apply to the squeegee and the area to be inked. The larger the area, the more ink and the more times you should go back and forth over the design. For a design approximately 8” x 10”, you should not be pressing the shirt for more than 30 seconds. Otherwise, you may over saturate (and ruin) the paper, making it impossible to print more than a small handful of shirts.

5. Lift the screen from one side, ensure that the ink has properly transferred, and then remove the screen. Place the shirt to the side; it will need to dry for approximately 15 minutes before you can do anything else with it. A good cut-out with a skilled squeegee artist can produce about 30 t-shirts before the paper will be too wet and you start to risk bleeding on the shirt.

6. When the shirt is dried, you may add more designs by following these directions, or you’ll need to steam-free iron the shirt with a towel over it in order to set the ink. If you do this, the shirt will last hundreds of washes. If you don’t, it will likely wash out in the first cleaning.

The process takes practice in order to get it right. If you make 30 shirts of one unique design, the approximate cost will be $110. This means each shirt will cost approximately $3.70. Once the initial investment is covered though, you will only be paying the cost of the shirt ($2-3) and additional ink ($2-10 depending on style, color, and quality/company).

Marc Pinansky (of the band Township) recently started making his own shirts to peddle at his solo shows. “First, people asked. That gave me a good excuse to try my hand at screen printing. The idea that I am hand-making these shirts fits in perfectly with the theme of my solo career – it is all very hands-on and simple. It’s nice to see the philosophy of the music carry over to the merchandise.”

When asked about the process, he comments, “It was relatively simple and fun to learn. Like any art project as a child, there is a bit of wide-eyed wonder when you see something that you have created from nothing. The hardest part of the process for me is that there are several small steps that can easily be over-looked and will ruin a shirt if not done properly. Also, despite its simplicity, it can be a very time, and space, consuming project. I would recommend taking the project slow, so each step is well executed and you don’t eat up a whole day with a mediocre product to show for it.”

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