DIY Screen Printing Screens

Making your own screen printing screens can save you a ton of money. It’s the perfect way to learn. If you decide later down the road that you want to invest in professional quality tools you’ll already know what you’re doing and will be a lot less likely to mess up your expensive equipment.

Just getting started?

Check out my article on how to screen print at home

You can also get nearly the same quality print using DIY equipment. Where you may have issues is in the time to setup and reclaim your DIY equipment and the long term durability of your DIY setup is nowhere near that of professional equipment.

What size should you make your screen printing screens?

You need to know 3 things to decide what size to make your screens:

  1. How large you can print a transparency.
  2. How large your squeegee is.
  3. Size of the product is you’re printing on.

I’ll be printing one sided tee shirt designs, I have the capability of printing 13″ x 19″ Inch Transparencies and I have an 8 inch squeegee. So to start with I decided to build 9″ x 11″ screens. This will be perfect for an 8.5″ x 11″ Transparency Film and leave a border around my screens. When I’m ready to increase the size of my prints I’ll shoot for 14″ x 20″.

Equipment needed to make DIY Screen Printing Screens

This simple project only requires a few tools. You should have most of this around the house. You can certainly use power tools but you don’t need to, I’ve used both a power and hand saw to create screen printing screens and both work well.

How to measure and cut your boards.

There is a really simple formula for how to measure your stock before making your cuts. Trust me, as easy as this seems, you can screw it up if you’re not paying attention. I wrote this article, drew a diagram and still messed it up.

Pick a size screen you want to make, for example I used 9″ x 13″ for my printable area.

You’ll cut 2 boards to the length of your smallest dimension. So in this case cut two 9 inch pieces of wood. If you want a 16″ x 20″ printable area use 16 etc.

Now comes the tricky part, for the height, the 13 inches you have to add 2 times the width of your stock to end up with a 9″ x 13″ printable area. So next you’ll need to measure the width of your boards. In my case they’re 1.5 inches wide. 13+1.5+1.5 = 16 inches.

The reason for all this measuring is that a 2″ x 1″ isn’t actually 2″ by 1″. It’s 1.5″ by 0.75″ but there is also a bit of wiggle room there so it’s best to measure and make sure.

Assembling the Pieces

All the basic equipment needed to make a diy screen printing screen.
two screen printing frames laid out for stapling

Do a test assembly of your screen on a table to make sure that everything lines up. You can still trim your boards if you ended up with poor cuts. Put glue on each of the joints and staple across the joint. Once you’ve stapled all 4 joints flip the screen and do the same on the back side. This thin pine can be subject to splitting so I try to use 3 staples in each corner on each side of the frame. The frame should be strong and rigid when you’re done. Set the frames aside and allow at least 30 minutes for the glue to set.

Stretching the Screen

Place your finished frame on top of the screen printing mesh and cut out a piece that’s about 2 inches larger than the frame on all sides.

I like my screens to wrap around the screen and be attached on the back side. The reason for this is that I don’t want a loose staple to damage a shirt when I’m printing.

Pick one side and starting from the middle attach the screen with a staple. Continue to add staples on the same side being careful to keep the mesh pulled tight to avoid any wrinkles or loose sections of screen.

I then move to one of the corners opposite the side I started with, pull the screen as tight as I can without ripping and place a staple in the corner. I’ll then move back toward the already stapled side, being careful to keep the screen tight and wrinkle free.

Screen printing frame  laid out on top of mesh.
Step One: Cut the screen giving yourself about 2 inches on each side.
DIY Screen printing screen with 2 sides stretched and stapled.
Step 3. Pull the screen tight to the opposite side, I started from the center and worked my way out.
Stapling the first side of a DIY screen printing screen.
Step 2: Staple along one side, trying to keep the mesh aligned and avoiding wrinkles.
Stapling the final side of a DIY screen printing screen.
Step 4: Still pulling the screen as tightly as possible without tearing the screen, affix the 3rd side.
Back side of a finished DIY Screen Printing screen with screen attached to all sides.
Step 5: Starting from the center pull the screen tight along the final side. Remove any wrinkles as you go.

I continue this process until the screen is attached firmly on all sides. I then like to fold the corners over and staple on the side of the frame. The reason for this is to increase the strength of the mesh where it’s most likely to fail, at the corners.

Trim any excess mesh from the back of the screen. That’s it, you’ve created your own DIY screen printing screen. This screen is ready for emulsion. If you’re ready for this step then you’ll need to make sure you can print a transparency to burn your screens. Check out our article on the best printer for screen printing.