How to Screen Print Using the Draw & Fill Method
Get ready to learn the in’s and out’s of screen printing using your own artwork! This tutorial walks you through the process of screen printing with drawing fluid and filler. You’ll also learn a bit about the history of this technique.
Screen printing: The O.G. of customization. Seriously, the act of screen printing is steeped with history. Need more convincing? Screen-printing can be traced all the way back to 221 AD, when the Chinese invented a similar practice that allowed their designs to be transferred onto fabrics, other items, and for multiple copies, or prints in this case.
So cool, huh?!
It doesn’t end there! The Japanese used the Chinese method as inspiration for their own version of customizing, using stenciling techniques to create imagery. (Stencils were cut out of paper and the mesh was woven from…get this…human hair!) Stiff brushes were used to force ink through the mesh onto fabric.
The French caught wind of the cool new technique and started using silk screens. Stiff brushes were still used, but the French added a clever touch. They stretched silk over a frame to support the stencils.
Squeegees were introduced as a way of pulling ink through a mesh during the early 20th century.
The squeegee has been adapted by many artists since, popping up in all sorts of places and on all kinds of materials. The 60s was a real game-changer for screen-printing, with artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol popularizing it (and creating the pop art movement at the same time.)
Today, the screen-printing technique offers endless creativity and is increasingly accessible to all kinds of apparel decorators. What was once only possible in a professional print house, can now be done by you, in your own home.
Products We Used
- District® Youth V.I.T.™ Fleece Hoodie #DT6100Y
As always, we encourage you to use the same products we’ve already tested and approved, but if you’d like to go your own way, we salute you! Just make sure the blank you are using is a similar fabric.
Additional blanks we recommend you use for this project are also listed at the bottom of the tutorial.
Screen printing ink
Screen (we used 10" x 14")
Clear acrylic ruler or acrylic t-shirt ruler
Heat press or home iron
Stir sticks or plastic spoons
Painter's tape, 2" wide
The Prepping - Use the "Draw and Fill" Method:
First off, it’s important to note that there are different screen-printing methods. Here, we show the “draw and fill” method.
This method includes “tracing” or drawing the artwork directly onto the screen with drawing fluid, applying the fill with a squeegee and then rinsing the drawing fluid to create the stencil used to print the blank. Let’s start making!
Step 1: Print or draw your design.
For this tutorial, we created our design using Adobe Creative Suite and printed it with a regular desktop printer.
Once printed, set your design to the side.
Note: You do not need to mirror any text in your design prior to printing.
Step 2: Use 2” wide painters tape to create a guide.
Using 2” wide painters’ tape, create a placement marking in the shape on a square with an “X” marking the center (see image below) to help you place your screen in the exact same spot during the screen-printing process. The size of your placement marking will depend on the size and shape of your screen.
Place your printed design in the center of the “X” and tape it in place.
Step 3: Create lifts for the frame to sit directly on top of.
The screen will need to be raised from your working surface before adding the drawing fluid (our drawing fluid is the blue) and filler (dark red). You can use anything as a “lift” as long as it effectively raises your screen up at least a ¼” above your working surface.
We created lifts for our screen by stacking and taping together a couple of paint-stirring sticks and placing them under two parallel edges of the frame. We secured our lifts directly to the working surface below the screen, which creates a more sturdy working surface.
Honestly, there’s no textbook for deciding how to do this! This is our method but anything can be used to lift your screen. The only rules are: you want them taped down and you want it the same height on both sides.
Step 4: Place your frame on the lifts.
With the flat side facing down and the beveled side facing up, place the screen frame on top of the lifts. The frame’s edges should fit perfectly on top of the lifts.
Step 5: Prepare the drawing fluid.
Remove the lid from the drawing fluid. Mix it well using a stir stick. The thick settlement at the bottom should be thoroughly mixed to create a smooth liquid that has a consistency similar to melted chocolate.
Be sure to read through the drawing fluid guidelines before using.
Step 6: Trace your design.
Stand directly over the screen to have a bird’s eye view.
Using a paintbrush size that will accommodate the detail in the design, dip the paint brush into the drawing fluid and begin to trace your design directly on to the screen.
While tracing the design, keep an eye on the screen placement to ensure it continuously sits in the same place within the border. This is important, as you want to make sure that the traced design comes out level and straight.
The drawing fluid will go a long way so you won’t need much.
Once the entire design has been traced, let the drawing fluid dry. If you used a light coat, it should dry quickly, but if you really can’t handle waiting, use a hair dryer or fan on cool to speed up the drying process.
Step 7: Apply the screen filler to the screen.
Remove the lid and stir until evenly mixed. Be sure to read through the screen filler guidelines before using. This is not the time to just “wing it.”
Using a spoon or stir stick, scoop out the screen filler and place it on the screen, distributing it in a line along the top of your design.
At a 60-degree angle, place the squeegee between the filler and the beveled edge of the screen. Using light force, pull the squeegee toward you and spread the filler evenly across the design. It might take a few passes of the squeegee to successfully cover the entire design.
Do not apply all the way to the edge of the screen. There should be about a 1” space between the filler and the screen frame.
Don’t make the coat too thick - when that happens, it often negatively affects the drawing fluid and prevents it from rising off the screen.
Once the filler is applied, gently flip the screen to remove any excess that might have seeped through to the other side. And, hey, don’t get discouraged! This part takes a bit of getting used to. You may need a few cracks at it to master it.
Step 8: Let the screen filler dry.
It should dry quickly. A hair dryer or fan on cool can be used to speed along the drying process.
Step 9: Remove the dried fluid using water.
Once the filler is dry, take the screen to a sink to remove the dried drawing fluid with lukewarm running water. If the faucet includes a sprayer, even better, as the force will help remove the dried fluid faster.
You can also use a sponge and warm water to slowly and more precisely dissolve and wipe away the dried fluid.
Step 10: Let the screen dry.
Once all the drawing fluid has been removed, let the screen dry.
Once the screen is dry, use painters’ tape to tape it off. The idea is to cover the exposed mesh left between the frame and the dried screen filler. This will prevent any unwanted ink from your blank.
The Making - Screen Printing on a T-Shirt:
Step 1: Wash and dry your blank.
This removes any manufacturer’s finishing that could make it tough for the ink to bond to the fabric.
Step 2: Plan the placement of your design.
Lay the blank on a flat surface and use a clear acrylic ruler to map out where you’d like the design placed.
Step 3: Lint roll the application site.
Lint roll the application site to ensure all fibers are removed. If these pesky fibers are NOT removed, and you screen print over them…they will come off in the wash along with part of your design on them. Not cool. Not cool at all. Nobody wants little missing pieces from the design they’ve worked so hard on. Trust us, you want to take the time to prep properly here.
Step 4: Slide a piece of parchment paper inside the blank.
This prevents the ink from soaking through the layers of your blank.
We recommend doing a practice print on an old tee or piece of fabric before screen printing your blank.
Step 5: Let’s get printing!
Place the screen, with the flat side facing down, on top of your blank in the desired location.
Follow the same process as you did when applying the screen filler. Using a spoon or stir stick, scoop out ink and place it on the screen, distributing it in a line along the top of your design. Leave enough space between your ink and the screen frame to pull your squeegee.
Then, at a 60-degree angle, place the squeegee between the ink and the screen frame. Using light force, pull the squeegee toward you and spread the ink evenly across your design.
Stop before reaching the bottom of the screen but make sure to have covered the whole design.
Set the squeegee aside and lift the screen to reveal the printed blank.
Step 6: Cure the ink on your t-shirt.
This step will help further bond the ink to the fibers in the fabric and help prevent fading during wash cycles.
To cure or set the ink, use a heat press or home iron. We used a handheld heat press at 330–degree for about 20-30 seconds. When using a heat press, take a piece of parchment paper or regular printer paper and place it on top of your screen printed design before pressing. You can also use a heat gun to cure the ink.
Step 7: Clean up.
Scoop any excess ink back into the jar. We don’t dig wasting materials, nor money. Take the time for this step and you’ll save both.
Ensure the lid on the drawing fluid, screen filler, and ink are all nice and tight before storing.
Take the screen to the sink and place it under lukewarm running water to remove any excess ink.
Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines included with the screen filler to understand how to remove it from the screen. The manufacturer usually has a specific cleaning fluid that should be used. Keep in mind, if the screen filler is left too long on the screen it could become permanent. It's best to clean as soon as you are done with your project.
Now that you have some solid knowledge as a foundation to start playing around with, get making! There are tons of different ways to use screen-printing for apparel decoration. Just make sure you share your finished creations with us.
Now, go forth and screen print!