How to screen print T-shirts using Dollar Store items! Step by step DIY instructions and useful techniques

Screen printing is popular since you can make your own original T-shirts.

It would be fun to print your favorite pattern on a T-shirt. Moreover, since you can make as many T-shirts as you like with the same pattern once you make it, you can use them for same T-shirts for a close friend group and events.

However, it seems difficult to make a pattern, and it’s worrisome if the pattern comes out beautifully when printing. So, this time, I will introduce a simple step-by-step procedure for making your own first T-shirt with silkscreen and essential points not to fail.

What is a silk screen?

Silk screen is one of the stencils that make prints on the mesh where the ink does not pass and the pattern on the T-shirt. In the past, it was called silk screen because silk was used, but now prints are made out of mesh so a mesh screen are called a silk screen.

There are three ways to create a silk screen printed T-shirt at home:

  • Indirect method: Method to copy pattern on a mesh screen by exposure
  • Blocking method: Method to apply a special liquid to the part that you don’t want the ink to pass.
  • Cutting method: Method to make a pattern by cutting out a sheet

Depending on which method you use, a mesh screen and liquid you need will change.

What kind of silk-screen prints are there?

This is the silk-screening product most commonly used in Japan.

Because it is a mesh that can be used to expose patterns, it is possible to create T-shirts with fine designs. Moreover, you can print on 100 T-shirts on a single screen. If you have one pack of 5 sheets, you can make 500 sheets, but that’s a bit too much to use at home. In addition, since it is difficult to adjust the exposure time for copying the pattern, there is a disadvantage that it is easy to fail until you get used to it.

This time, I wanted to make a silkscreen T-shirt with an affordable price, so I decided to make my own using mesh fabric and Dollar store items which I already had at home.

I DIY my own silkscreen T-shirt

1. What you need for silkscreen printing

Wood Frame (Dollar Store)

Since we only use a frame, it can be a cork board or embroidery frame. However, if the inner size of the frame is not larger than a scraper (or dough knife), the ink won’t be spread out.

T-shirt Exclusive Ink

When using Dollar Store paints, it is necessary to mix with “silk screen medium” to make the ink for printing. This time, we decided to use special ink (100g 540 yen=$5) in consideration of cost, effort and finish.

Cutting Sheet (Dollar Store)

This sheet is necessary for painting inks with silk prints. Choose a size larger than the frame. It is easy to work because it is firmly attached and hard to get dirty.

Mesh Fabric

This time I used a small piece of fabric that I found at home. Tetron Mesh is sold in a handicraft shop or art supplies shop, and you can get it for 1,000 yen or less (about $10 or less). Note that the mesh fabric is too fine for the ink to penetrate. To start, 60 or 80 mesh is recommended. If you are using a mesh which you already have, you can try to see if the ink appears on the cloth you don’t need.

Squeeze or Scraper (Dollar Store)

Use a cooking or cleaning scraper at a Dollar Store. The pink rubber spatula in the photo above is just an example.

Paper Cutter

It is easy to cut with a design knife. It is also sold in a Dollar Store. The blade edge like an orange pencil in the photo above is thin and suitable for fine work.

Staple Gun

If there is a staple gun, it is easy, but staplers and glue are okay. This is a red staple in the photo above. It is the type of pressing from the top and hitting.

2. Preparing Illustrations for Silkscreen Printing

This time I chose a panda illustration from the copyright-free pixabay.

In order to avoid becoming too big, after printing, I recommend you to adjust the size with Excel etc., confirm it in the preview and printing will not fail.

3. Put an illustration on the cutting sheet

Place the printed illustration on the back of the cutting sheet.

Let’s put a frame and check the size and position of the cutting sheet. Since ink is applied from the back of the cutting sheet, illustrations can be printed in this state without being inverted.

4. Cut out the cutting sheet

If you can check the size of the cutting sheet with the frame, it might be easier to out a piece of masking tape to hold the paper to avoid moving. Cut out the black part you want to color the ink with a cutter or design knife. Let’s place newspaper and cardboard underneath it so you won’t cut your desk!

I made a mistake here! (> <) I cut out all the parts of the face, and then I have to put it on top again, but I thought I didn’t need it and threw it away (crying).

So …

I will use the rest of the cutting sheet previously used and attached to the color box to fix it. The width is a little too narrow … I cut out the face part again.

5. Put the mesh fabric on the frame

When the illustration is cut through, put the mesh fabric on the frame. Use a staple gun or stapler to firmly place the mesh fabric on the back of the frame! *If it is too loose, ink will not work well.

6. Put a cutting sheet on the mesh

Remove the back sheet from the cutting sheet and apply it to the mesh fabric. I made a mistake using the cutting sheet which was too narrow so it didn’t cover the whole mesh fabric. (If you have a large piece of cutting sheets, you don’t have to worry about the edges getting dirty.)

7. Insert a cardboard piece into a T-shirt

Put a piece of cardboard between the T-shirts so that the ink does not reach to the back. This time I used cardboard came with the wood frame.

8. Place Ink on the T-shirt

After placing the wood frame on the T-shirt, place the ink on the top. I scooped the ink with a disposable plastic spoon and put it on it.

9. Extend Ink with the Scraper

By using a scraper, you will spread the ink placed on the top of the frame from top to bottom. Try to get ink on the entire illustration.

When you are finished spreading, gently lift the frame.

While applying ink, I noticed the failure and rushed to remove the frame, but the ink in the lower left of the panda dripped (crying). The area around the buttock is now dirty and there is a lot of ink. This is because the mesh tension was weak and the cutting sheet was not firmly attached.

After that, iron it for about 2 minutes and let it dry! The ink will come off if you wash the wood frame and scraper immediately with water.

What happens if you wash a printed silkscreen T-shirt?

I pulled the T-shirt that had been washed once and dried, and checked what will happen to the ink.

Even if it was washed and pulled, it did not crack and the ink was firmly on the fabric. It seemed good to use special ink!

Advantages and disadvantages of silk screen DIY T-shirts

The hard part of making your own silkscreen T-shirt was the cutting curves and cutouts of the small details. It was difficult to attach the mesh fabric and cutting sheet, and the ink dripped or faded. If you buy a frame with a mesh fabric or use a mesh that can be printed with an exposure, you may have a better chance to have a fine product in the end.


You can make as many designs as you like

You can make your own favorite T-shirts, and you can make several T-shirts with the same pattern.

Print anywhere you like on your T-shirt

Silk screen printing can be done anywhere you like, such as the back or hem.

Can be matched

You can choose a T-shirt of your favorite material and match it with a bag. T-shirts with different colors can be made.


Cannot fix if you fail

If you fail to color, you can’t start over.

It is hard to cut out the cutting sheet

It takes longer than I expected to cut out a pattern from the cutting sheet. Small detail of fine designs and letters are very hard to cut out.

Can only print one color at a time

The silk screen can only print one color at a time. The colorful design is not suitable because you may need more frames (plates).