Fast Screen Printing with Stencils: Make a Cool T-Shirt or Tote | Leitha Matz | Skillshare

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Fast Screen Printing with Stencils: Make a Cool T-Shirt or Tote

teacher avatar Leitha Matz, Maker

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      An Overview of Quick Printing Methods


    • 3.

      Stencil Design Inspiration


    • 4.

      Selecting a Stencil Design


    • 5.

      Color & Contrast for Your Print


    • 6.

      Create a Stencil from a Photo


    • 7.

      Cutting Out Your Stencil


    • 8.

      Gather Your Supplies


    • 9.

      Make a Test Print


    • 10.

      Produce Your Print


    • 11.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Need to make a quick gift or a little something to make someone laugh?

With just a few reusable supplies and less time than it takes to watch a TV show, you can create a simple, screen print on T-shirt, tote bag, apron, tea towel, baby onesie, pillow case... basically anything that lies flat on the table.

We'll explore the materials, the method and the tips you need to design a great stencil.

Meet Your Teacher

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Leitha Matz



I work as the head of product at a startup, but when I'm not at the office, I'm always making things of my own. I especially love illustrating, writing and design.

Here at Skillshare, I usually focus on creating classes in printing -- everything from stencils to woodblock.

I find printmaking inspiring because anyone can quickly start making successful prints with very few tools. It really opens the doors to producing a vision of your own on all kinds of materials: t-shirts, walls, stationery, stickers and so much more.

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1. Introduction: Stencils are a fast and easy way to bring a design that you love onto a surface. If you have a design in mind already or you're just starting out and need some inspiration, I'm going to take you through the process of getting your stencil ready and taking it to production. In this class, we're going to make a t-shirt or a tote bag with your custom stencil on it. You can use it as a gift or sell it or keep it for yourself. I'm like that and I've been making prints since I was a kid. I'm going to show you all my tips for making a great stencil and bringing it into production. Let's get started with a printing overview. 2. An Overview of Quick Printing Methods: Thanks so much for enrolling in my class. I'm going to first start out by going over a few quick printing methods. Silkscreen has been around for thousands of years and it's really the de facto method of doing printing because you get such a smooth result. However, there are other methods, the humble potato is one option, and obviously this is a make and use immediately kind of device because the potato is going to shrivel pretty quickly. However, it can be an easy way to add ink to fabric and come up with a nice design. You can also buy or carve your own rubber stamp, which is really just a more durable form of the potato. For this project, I recommend using a screen with a stencil. The silkscreen is really going to help you get that smooth surface. It's really a great low fidelity way of doing quick printing jobs. The screen helps keep the stencil in place, so you can do discontinuous patterns, which is something that's a little harder to do if you're using a stencil on a wall. That's it. If your design in simple enough, you can use transparency film, put it down on your surface, and either spray paint or sponge your stencil onto the fabric. You have options, but I'm going to take you to the process of using a stencil and silkscreen frame because I think it's going to give you a really great result. Let's get started talking about stencils. 3. Stencil Design Inspiration: It's a really exciting time to be doing stencil art. There's so much great inspiration out there on the web from stencil artists across the world. We can see what techniques they're using. We can see like this one, for example, is a photo mash up, but just two colors. As we look at some of the techniques they're using, people are focusing on site-specific stencils and stencils that really have meaning for their environments. I love just doing a web search for stencil artists or stencil art. There's an incredible variety out there and it's really inspiring. Some of these stencils are going to be easier for us to use for our project here. For example, this repeat of a weasel would be really easy for us to do this project. A face like this one, even something like this cord or this bird could be done on a T-shirt or a tote bag. In this lesson, I'm going to encourage you to do something really simple just to get a feel for it. Once you start thinking about stencils, you're going to find stencil inspiration all around you. This, for example, is a photograph that I just recently took. It's an old warning sign from a warehouse district that shows that you're in an area that could explode. But when you take it into black and white, the lines are really clear and distinct and thick. So this is the thing that could be cleaned up and made into a good stencil. We'll talk a little bit more about that in the next lesson. 4. Selecting a Stencil Design: This section is about selecting or creating a good stencil. This is going to be the foundation for the design that we're going to do on your tote bag or t-shirt or whatever you're going to print on. The first characteristic of a good stencil is opacity. You're going to want solid colors that evenly fill the space. Something like the transparent wings on a bumblebee or a fairy are not going to work well for this stencil. Then we have line weight. That's important for making sure that your design is going to print well, if your lines are too thin, you're not going to be able to get the ink in the crevices consistently. Finally, complexity. If your design is just too complicated, it's going to be difficult to print. We're going to look at a few examples and I'm going to show you what I mean. So say we wanted to put a big star on the middle of a shirt. You have opacity. All those black areas are going to be the areas of printed ink. You have line weights, which is even and thick, and it's fairly simple. This is going to be a design that's going to print well on this shirt. Now what about this llama? The llama is opaque. The llama has appropriately thick line weights. The llama is simple. Now I think you can see we've gone through a few examples of ideas that work and ideas that aren't going to work so well. In the next video, we're going to look into color and contrast to make sure that your design is as good looking as it can be. 5. Color & Contrast for Your Print: In the last video, we determined that this Lama would make a good stencil. In order to make that happen, we need to make some decisions about color and contrast. You're going to have to look for contrast in both color and neutral background situations. This is a high contrast example. These ones are low contrast examples and they both have their place. But for this Lama, we might be more interested in really making it pop, or we could work with a range of other color options. The Lama looks very different depending on the background that we choose. Now one of the things that you might also want to consider is placement. We could make the Lama very small. We could move our Lama into more of a nontraditional place on the shirt, or we could just create a whole pack of lamas. Of course, one of the important things to consider is that a basic kit of ink colors usually comes in a limited range. So maybe you only have black, maybe you only have white, but your printing surface is likely to come in a whole range of colors. It might be a good idea to look at which ink color you're going to be using and then choose a complimentary surface based on that ink color. So now might be a good time to finalize your design. Choose your surface and your ink color and post your materials to your project. In the next video, we're going to be gathering supplies to actually start doing the printing. 6. Create a Stencil from a Photo: A few students have asked me how to create stencils from scratch. So I'm just going to show you a method of doing a photo to stencil design in Photoshop, although you can use other design programs as well. So I have a photo here. It happens to be my face because faces actually make great stencil designs. The reason for this is that humans have a great ability to see faces in just about everything. If you've ever seen a face in an electrical outlet or a piece of wood, you know that faces do pop out at us. The fact that it's going to be in black and white and low fidelity isn't going to matter because you're still going to recognize that there's a face there. Let me begin by going to the Image menu, choosing Adjustments. I'm going to go down to the threshold. Now threshold is going to take me to black and white. I'm going to be able to move this slider back and forth to make it more or less sensitive. I think that looks just about right. So I'll click "OK." Now I'm going to go to the Filters. Under Filters, you'll find the Filter Gallery. In the Filter Gallery, choose Artistic. Among the various options, Cutout is the one we're going to want to use. I'm just going to make this a little smaller so we fit it into view. Cutout is actually what we're going to be doing with the stencil. So it's a good choice to simplify the edges. I have this set, so that's the number of levels is very low and the edge simplicity and edge fidelity are about in the middle. You see that we still have a little bit of complexity here, but I can actually ignore that while I'm doing my cutting. So I'll hit "OK." We have a pretty good-looking stencil candidate here. I could take this and if I wanted to, I could put a image of myself on a shirt so I could wear my face on a shirt, which would be weird, but if I wanted to do that, I have that option. So another option for using the same technique is to take a very basic design. Now I have this design here. I've lined up the guides with the edges of the circle. Now I will just create a selection around the circle just so that we can make this more basic and get rid of the rest of the building. I will use Command C or Control C to copy it, and I will create a new layer to just get rid of that background. Now, I will use the same technique going to Image, Adjustments, and Threshold. I'm going to move the slider over to make this very simple. I'll hit "OK." Now you can see that the design is very bold in the whitespaces, when you use the Magic Wand Tool to select that. Then I'll hit Cut again, and I'll paste this onto a new layer. You can see that I have a nice design to make my design dark enough so that I can cut it out. I will select the pixels and I'll just make that black. Once I do select that, I have a pretty good-looking flower here. There are a few flaws here and there, which I could get rid of here in Photoshop or I could just print this out and ignore those when I'm doing my cutting on the cutting board. With a design like this, I could see it being useful for something like a shirt I'm going to wear to yoga. So I hope this gives you a couple of ideas of how you can create your own stencil designs. There are other options too. You can create a series of shapes, some of the stencils that I've put in the resources section of the class are simply made using an assembly of basic shapes. So that's another great idea for making a stencil that you are going to be able to cut out. You can always fall back to looking out on the web somewhere for a stencil that somebody else has made, there are a lot of free stencils available, but this is a great way to get started making your own. 7. Cutting Out Your Stencil: So I've got a couple of comments from people saying that they would like to see how stencil is cut out. Now I find that this is the dull part of the screen printing process, but I'll speed it up so that you can watch it happen if you really want to see it. As you can see here, I'm just using a clean cutting board and I've put down a towel underneath it, just to make sure it doesn't move around a lot. I've got my stencil which I printed out and an X-Acto knife. 8. Gather Your Supplies: Now, we're going to look at the materials that you need to get going with your print. Honestly, you don't need a lot, but the things that you do need are pretty specific. You're going to need a screen printing screen, and it doesn't need to be very big if you're doing the projects that we're working on right now. The screen that I have is about eight-and-a-half by 11, which is pretty perfect for printing out template on the printer and then cutting it out and reproducing it on a t-shirt, or a tote bag, or whatever. The next item that you need is a squeegee, and they do make squeegees especially for this purpose, they are harder kind of rubber. The ink that we use is a fabric ink, specifically. If you get a basic screen printing kit like you have here, you will get black ink. There are other inks sold, obviously. There's a variety of ink, but the ones that are most readily available are the ones in primary colors. You can combine these inks to make other colors. For example, I could combine the red and the blue and come up with a purple, but you're going to have to do some experimentation with that and do make sure that you have enough ink to finish your project. Finally, you're going to need the basic supplies to put together your stencil. That would be an X-Acto knife, you need a paper template that you've printed out, and you will need a cutting surface so that you can make the template with the X-Acto knife. Finally, there are a few other miscellaneous supplies that I like to have on hand. Tape for making sure that your stencil is going to stay in place, damp paper towels are never a bad idea, and iron is a good thing to have around if your printing surface is wrinkled. I like to have a small paint brush in case there are any quick touch ups I want to do on an edge that didn't come out quite the way I wanted. But that's pretty much it. Other than that, I would say have some newspaper to cover your surface. These are water-based inks, so they're not terribly messy, but it never hurts to have a good clean work surface. Finally, you're going to need some place to clean up your screen. I recommend a bathtub or a roomy sink, and you can just use the water to clean your screen right after you do the print, and that's pretty important. Now, in the next video, we're actually going to start our first print. 9. Make a Test Print: So now it's time to pull the print. I've got the stencil, cut out here; the tea towel is what I'm going to do this first print on. So I've positioned the stencil here on the tea towel. I've ironed it a little bit to even it out. I'm going to position the screen right here, on top of the stencil so that there is no surface available for the ink to flow into other than where I want the ink to flow. Now I'm going to put the ink on the squeegee. I've got a little spatula to give myself an even application of ink. I don't want to get too much on the squeegee. Too much is just too much. You want to give your screen kind of a firm grip. if you have a [inaudible] hand or maybe even some clamps that can help, but otherwise, a firm grip. I'm going to run the ink evenly across my screen. I'll do a pass in this direction as well. Okay. I'll give it a little bit of an inspection. You want to see that the entire stencil is inked, but there should be no uneven portions of ink applied. Now am going to very carefully lifted the screen and the stencil, leaving the print behind. you can see that came out pretty well. There's a little bit of overage ink here. I can even that out with my paintbrush. But overall, it's a pretty nice prints. I'm pretty happy with this one. We do have the screen still damp. So if I wanted to put another dogs on, for example, on the other side of this tea towel, I could do that now. It's not too messy on this side, there's been a little bit of creep through with the ink, but nothing that concerning. For this stencil, I think I could actually pull two prints. Here's our little test print and it worked out pretty well. I think we're ready to move on to the real thing. 10. Produce Your Print: So now that I've done a successful test print, I'm going to go for the real thing. I've cleaned my screen and it's really dry. If your screen isn't dry, I suggest going after it with a hairdryer. In this case, I've done a couple of modifications to my original robot design. The arms needed to be a little bit fatter. The line weight here on the side was not quite enough. So I've given it a little more room there. I've put down individual pieces. The eyes, and the heart, and the mouth, and the arms need to be placed individually. I will do that here. I will put down my screen very carefully so that I'm covering this entire area. You can't see it but I have put a piece of paper behind the shirt so that if there's any leak through, it won't go all the way to the back. When I have it pulled, I want to see that nice even application of ink. Now I should be able to evenly lift the screen. This stencil comes with it. You may not be able to see it, but I have a little bit of touch-up to do in one of the arms. So I'm going to get my paintbrush and do that now. Here's my finished robot, and he looks pretty good. I'm just going to hang him up to dry for a few minutes and it won't really take that long. I again accelerate it with a hairdryer as well. Before I do anything else, I'm going to want to tear off this stencil and get my screen cleaned up. You really don't want to leave any ink on your screen or you're going to be sorry next time you go to create a print. Depending on the kind of ink you have and check the instructions on it to be sure, some of the inks require a heat set after you've done your print and to do that, it's pretty simple. Just take the iron and maybe a piece of paper or a piece of fabric. Put it over your design, take that hot iron and run it over the top for three to five minutes. 11. Final Thoughts: Now instead of a boring gray shirt, I have a cool robot shirt, and it only took a few minutes to do that. I think it took more time to cut out the stencil and to do the clean up. Once you have the ink and the equipment, you can do all kinds of things. You can fill your entire kitchen full of Llama tea towels if you want. If you are going to be doing a lot of prints, I would suggest you try using a piece of plastic instead of a piece of paper. Piece of paper is good for one print or maybe two prints, but a piece of plastic will do multiple prints. So you could do a bunch of doxins all over a whole bunch of towels. Now that you have the basic equipment, the screen, the squeegee, the ink, you're ready to do multiple color prints. If you wanted to, you could move onto something like photo and motion printing, which is going to allow you to do a lot more complicated designs. But for now, I hope you post your first project and I'm really excited to see what you produce.