Screen Printing 101 for the Art Room

My students recently came up with the idea to screen print t-shirts to raise money for a cause. It all started when I challenged my 8th-grade students with a class project called “You in Society.” For this projects, students had to create an art project that impacted their community through art.

My first class to decide to print t-shirts came from an emotional desire to help out a classmate, who at the time was very sick and waiting for a kidney transplant. Students designed the t-shirts with their classmate in mind. We sold over 100 shirts! The profits from the project went to her and her family. Since this first event, we have screen printed for Relay for Life and other charities.

Print your own t-shirts with this easy tutorial!

First, organize your pre-orders.

With a project like this, you want to make sure that you will raise money. Pre-orders let you know how many of each size you’ll need and allow you to collect money up front so you can be sure you’ll be profitable.

You’ll want to help your customers visualize what the finished t-shirt will look like. You can print your design on a flyer, but if you can print a sample t-shirt, even better! I create a pre-order form with spaces for the student’s name, homeroom or advisory teacher (as this is the way most things at the middle school are sorted back to students), t-shirt size, and quantity.

After you collect the money and pre-order form, then you can go and purchase what t-shirt sizes you need. This is the beauty of a pre-ordering. You will have money on hand to purchase the number of t-shirts you will need. You know exactly how many you need and in what sizes! I always grab a few extra, just in case!

Then, print your t-shirts!

After researching various methods I found, Drawing Fluid and Screen Filler. The process is student-friendly and effective. I think students in grades 4-12 could handle this process, but you know your students best!

Check out this great YouTube video that helps to visualize the process:

Here are the steps to Screen Printing using Drawing Fluid and Screen Filler.

Prepping the Screen

  1. Have students work together to draw a design. Make 2-3 photocopies.
  2. Have students place a photocopied image under a screen. Then, have them paint the Drawing Fluid onto the screen using the image underneath as a guide. Keep in mind the ink will show up wherever the Drawing Fluid goes. Let the Drawing Fluid dry overnight.
  3. The next day, squeegee on the Screen Filler. The Drawing Fluid will resist the Screen Filler as the Screen Filler creates a coating on the screen that will block the ink from going through anywhere else.
  4. After the Screen Filler dries, simply rinse the screen under water. During this step, the Drawing Fluid will also wash away, leaving open space on the screen.

Printing

  1. Once the screen has been prepped, grab any color of fabric screen printing ink or mix colors to create your own custom color.
  2. Cut pieces of cardboard to put inside the shirt just in case the ink bleeds through.
  3. Place the screen on top of the shirt and place ink at the top of the screen.
  4. Have students squeegee several times to make sure they print a great image!
  5. Pull the screen slowly away from the shirt to reveal the image.
  6. Finally, if needed, place a piece of paper over your image to heat set the screen printing ink with an iron.

To finish up, you’ll want to organize the shirts by homeroom and size so you can start delivering them to your customers!


The Reaction

When my students see their designs walking around the school, they feel pretty empowered! As an art teacher, the added work is worth it. Plus, this often is a project that reaches a few of those kids who are otherwise not engaged.

Screen printing for a cause is a win-win. My students get to try out a cool technique at no cost to the art program, and the extra money goes toward a great cause. Students see that they can use art to make a difference in the lives of others. Each year, we bring in a few hundred up to eight-hundred dollars. Wowza! Who knew that making t-shirts would make the world a better place?!

Have you ever tried screen printing with students? Tell us about it! 

What questions do you have about the screen printing process? 

Chelsie Meyer

This article was written by former AOE writer and technology guru Chelsie Meyer.

Related

  • Vicky

    This looks wonderful. After you have finished with the screen can you re-use the screen once it has screen filler on it? How do you remove it? I have just finished screen printing with grade fours but we laboriously cut out stencils with knives. This looks much easier, thanks for sharing!

    • Hello
      Vicky,

      Thanks
      so much for asking! I forgot to mention that I use Greased Lighting to remove the screen
      filler so we can re-use the screen. I found it in the cleaning supply aisle.

      It
      takes a little bit to get them clean, but this was another reason I went with
      the drawing fluid/screen filler option- you do not have to throw the expensive
      screens away!I feel this method leaves a cleaner print. I have used Mask-Ease too but the ink would sometimes go in places it was not supposed to go. 

      It
      also says that 1 cup of Arm & Hammer’s Soda with 1 gallon of water will do
      the trick! Click
      here to read more- scroll down to Screen Filler.

      Thanks
      so much for asking! I forgot to mention that I use Greased Lighting to remove the screen
      filler so we can re-use the screen. I found it in the cleaning supply aisle.

      It
      takes a little bit to get them clean, but this was another reason I went with
      the drawing fluid/screen filler option- you do not have to throw the expensive
      screens away!

      I feel this method leaves a cleaner print. I have used Mask-Ease too but the ink would sometimes go in places it was not supposed to go. 

      It
      also says that 1 cup of Arm & Hammer’s Soda with 1 gallon of water will do
      the trick! Click
      here to read more- scroll down to Screen Filler.

  • I have never done this, but your method seems much simpler than others I have seen. I am amazed at the things you can get your student to take initiative and do!  

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  • marieelcin

    we use Simple Green to remove screen filler and reclaim screens- let it soak for about 5 minutes and wash with hot water- might take a few rounds, but it’s worth it. For more easily removable stencils try contact paper or shape/letter stickers. These can also be used in place of drawing fluid if simple shapes are needed, and you can do positive/negative switches by first printing the background negative space color, then coat with filler, allow to dry and peel off stickers to print positive space color!

  • Amy Roadman

    I teach in a small rural district and started with nothing but the basic supplies 2 years ago.  This past year we received a huge grant that we called Print-It-Out in which we were able to obtain new technology and a semi-professional screen printing set-up.  My middle school students designed awesome t-shirts and printed them the last couple weeks of school.  You couldn’t be more right about who ends up loving the process.  The students that won the design contest and the others who stayed after school to print were not my most artistic students but they were such hard workers and were super excited about the entire process that I found a way to involve students who normally weren’t as excited about art.  The money we raised bought us a used kiln and ceramic supplies to add to the curriculum.  Next year I’m hoping to start up a student store and see where it goes from there.  

    • Wow! You have been busy and deserve all the great things coming your way. It really shows that everyone can succeed in the art room!

  • Kmason

    What a great idea. I think my middle school students would love to do this. Our school is celebrating our 45th anniversary this coming year and I need to come up with a fundraiser idea. I am curious how many screens you used to make the process efficient and keep everyone busy. I will need to put together a budget. I have done thermofax printing myself which is a very easy way to make screens, unfortunately my machine needs some fixing. Also what vendor did you use to purchase the shirts?

    • This would be a great way to help your school celebrate their 45th year! 

      I used around 4 screens with around 3 students at a printing station.   Other students helped sort and organize t-shirts, heat set the image by ironing,  and prepare the printed labels that we put on the shirts after they were completed.  

      I did have some outside help as well, when students came in during study hall or after school.   Two ironing boards would be a good idea, if you can round them up!

      I will double check on the vendor and get back to you.  Our FCS teacher recommended them.

      • H. Taylor

        I am so motivated to try this! I love that it is a community service project too. Thanks for all the great “how-to” info. Chelsie, we would love to know the name of a good vendor for the T-shirts if it’s o.k. to share.

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