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June 12, 2008 6:41 PM   Subscribe

What stuff do I need to make fun, cool homemade t-shirts?

I'd like to get into making t-shirts, both one-of-a-kinds and designs that more than one person might want. I know there are iron-on transfers that can be fed through an ink-jet printer ... but is there anything better, at the intersection of reasonable price and great quality? How long do the designs on such shirts last? What's the state-of-the-art of printing your own t-shirts at home, short of buying full-on screen printing equipment?
posted by jbickers to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I definitely wouldn't call this state-of-the-art, but this technique is sort of a cross between screen printing and stenciling. I've done it and it's awesome and cheap for one-colour designs.

Avoid inkjet iron-ons; they look like crap.
posted by loiseau at 7:09 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, but besides that, Speedball screen printing starter kits only cost $50...
posted by loiseau at 7:10 PM on June 12, 2008

I used to make small patches with this stuff called "transfer glue" that you can get fairly cheap at craft stores. The process is like this:

1. Print out design as a mirror image (as if you wanted to read it rightways through a mirror). Make sure it has lots of bold lines and contrast.
2. Put it through a copier
3. Smear a layer of paste over the toner
4. Place the fabric over the paste -- not stretched, but so it doesn't have wrinkles
5. Isolate with wax paper and sandwich between a few textbooks for a day or so
6. Run under water and rub the paper pulp away from the cloth.

Very durable, high quality images but works best if you treat gradients as halftone. The paste dries a matte white, so best on white or grungy white-paint-on-black style shirts. The fabric is still really flexible, too, though won't breathe as well.
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:16 PM on June 12, 2008

This bleach/stencil process also looks really cool.
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:17 PM on June 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Contact paper screen printing. [youtube]
posted by jayCampbell at 7:48 PM on June 12, 2008

What I meant to dig up was a technique where you put the contact paper directly on your shirt, apply the correct paint, then peel the stencil off. It produced results like those above and was even cheaper.
posted by jayCampbell at 7:54 PM on June 12, 2008

I love Gocco! Basically silkscreen without the mess and 10x as fast. It's awesome!

A couple issues with it though, can't buy new machines in the US (only from Japan via US ebay) and supplies are hard to find (there's two US vendors online). However, there are strong groups out there for advice, supplies, etc. Check out flickr, yahoo, etc. Ebay also has a bunch of US Gocco enthusiasts who live in Japan and supply us folks stateside with inks, screens, bulbs. While it has gained in popularity the last few years, it's still a pretty small group of enthusiasts in the US.

With Gocco, I use the fabric inks and they last for a long time on t-shirts, as long as you set it with an iron.

Oh yeah, didi I say I love Gocco! We've done our wedding invites, Christmas cards, t-shirts and all sorts of stuff.

If you get one, feel free to email me, I'd be happy to provide pointers. But here's Part 1 of the the instructional video, it has some sweet ass 80's music!
posted by pokeedog at 7:58 PM on June 12, 2008

Well, along with Tie Dye, you might wanna give Marbling a whirl.

If you're dedicated, try textile airbrushing.
posted by RavinDave at 8:23 PM on June 12, 2008

Goccos are great but they're pretty expensive. Like as in... not the next step from inkjet transfers.

The contact paper idea sounds completely logical and yet totally rad.
posted by loiseau at 8:27 PM on June 12, 2008

I found a pretty awesomenater tutorial online a couple years ago that's really fun. Basically you import any picture into photoshop, convert it to grayscale, then max it to full black/white (no scale.) Then you decide if you want to invert it or not (just changes the look) and print it out on overhead projector film from like, say OfficeDepot.

You can then use that to burn a silkscreen and screen it in the typical fashion.

Oooooor, you can print it on heavy paper like slick cardstock and use a craft knife to cut out the black parts, then use silkscreen ink and a roller over the stencil to make your design.

I did this with a picture of my golden retriever, and the negative stencil of her is a dead-on replica. I would have never thought it possible with black and neutral space.

Sorry I don't have a link, but really that's all there is to it.
posted by TomMelee at 8:39 PM on June 12, 2008

ok, i had the same problem in college when i needed to make a whole bunch of shirts for my IM frisbee team. I wanted to screen a bunch of shirts, but I refused to go through the traditional screen printing process, which involves a light table and a bunch of other crap.

The way I ended up doing it was
1) make design, take it to kinko's, print it out on a transparency for a dollar
2) take a crappy old canvas, rip the canvas off, then buy some screen material from an art store and staple that to the frame nice and tight. (5 bucks if you have a frame)
3) buy the screen printing photo emulsion (it's this plastic that turns hard when exposed to light) and spread it kinda evenly on the screen (here's the one i used, 20 bucks http://www.dickblick.com/zz433/04/)
4) put the transparency on the screen, stick it in the sun for about 2 minutes (I am not joking, screw the light table, this works fine)
5) wash off the unhardened emulsion
6) screen! (you still need a squegee and ink. steal the squegee from the gas station windshield cleaner thing to make it free. ink is like 4 bucks)

If you are a painter, and have some old crap like canvasses laying around, this could cost you a grand total of 30-40 bucks. Some real screenprinter is going to complain about my cut-rate methods, but hey, if you only want the screen to last for like 30 images, this works just great. The image I used was the movie poster for superfly, made black and white, so you can get some good detail out of it. If you want some more tips, shoot me an email.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 9:59 PM on June 12, 2008

Inkjet iron-ons work surprisingly well..

I've done it this way a few times:
1. print out a black and white version of the stencil
2. glue it to a half a mailla folder
3. cut it out with a xacto knife
4. spray adhesive it to a stretched out shirt
5. dab fabric paint on
6. there is no step 6

it comes out OK.. but some people do it A LOT beter than me.
posted by majikstreet at 9:02 AM on June 13, 2008

Ginny Eckley sells a neat sun or light-bulb activated screen material that you can use without mounting it on a frame. She just tapes it in place and uses sponge brushes and old credit cards to squeegee the fabric paint through. She draws with an opaque marker on transparency film, or prints on it with an inkjet, to create the masks that go over the film when it's put in the sun. There's a bunch of tutorials on her site.

Marcy Tilton has some good material at her site about using stuff besides paint, using a slightly different no-frame-needed silk-screen process, most of which would apply to any sort of screens.

(Disclaimer) I made video tutorials for both Ginny and Marcy about their surface design techniques, but there's plenty of free info available at each site as well.
posted by dpcoffin at 1:42 PM on June 13, 2008

According to Volume 6 of Craft, you can draw directly on a t-shirt (white is best) with an oil-based wax crayon. Cover with a piece of wax paper, then a pillow case, and iron. Wash to set the design.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:42 AM on June 14, 2008

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