Sponge Paint Shirt Making

Sponge Painted Onesies 21

It’s baby season again. I know at least five expectant mothers, and it inspired me to try a different type of fabric printing. As much as I love the effect of screen printing, it’s not a feasible method for one-off productions – you really need to be working in bulk for it to be worth it. But thanks to our Silhouette Cameo cutter, I’m able to create a detailed design for much smaller projects.

First, I began with the cutter and some adhesive vinyl, and I cut out my designs.

Sponge Painted Onesies 1

I am using the vinyl as a stencil, so the design itself becomes the negative space.

Sponge Painted Onesies 2

I repurposed a few letters from a rainbow baby design to decorate the raptor pen.

Sponge Painted Onesies 3

Next, I used transfer paper to cover the design, and a squeegee to make sure it was firmly attached.

Sponge Painted Onesies 4

Now I could remove the backing to the vinyl and stick it onto the pre-washed onesie. I used a fondant smoother as a squeegee here.

Sponge Painted Onesies 5

I very carefully peeled off the transfer paper and made sure all the vinyl was stuck down well. Because my designs were close together on the vinyl so as not to waste space, some of the designs came pretty close to the edge. I added some hockey tape as a protective border to ensure that I didn’t colour outside of the lines too much.

Sponge Painted Onesies 6

Remember of course that fabric is porous, so if you’re pushing ink onto it, you have to protect the back side of the shirt. I cut little rectangles out of a plastic bag and shoved one inside each onesie.

Sponge Painted Onesies 7

Now for the application! I am using regular cellulose kitchen sponges, which are very soft and have large holes in them. This will produce something of a vintage, faded effect on the onesie, because you’re not producing as much pressure as you would while screen printing. If you wanted something a little sharper, use a finer sponge, like a cosmetic sponge. They also make sponges specifically to apply paint and ink so you could use one of those as well.

Sponge Painted Onesies 8

I’m using my Speedball fabric screen printing ink, because that’s what I had on hand, but you could use any form of fabric ink or paint and you’d probably have a similar result.

Sponge Painted Onesies 9

Dabbing a little bit of ink on the sponge – don’t want too much all at once.

Sponge Painted Onesies 12

Deep breath – ready?

Sponge Painted Onesies 13

Here I gently dabbed the ink into the negative space on my stencil, dabbing a few times to ensure I got everything covered.

Sponge Painted Onesies 14

Sponge Painted Onesies 15

Then I started experimenting with blending colours.

Sponge Painted Onesies 16

It got a little tricky when all the cut-outs were so close together.

Sponge Painted Onesies 18

Now I had to force myself to wait overnight for these to dry properly before I could see what they looked like.

Sponge Painted Onesies 17

Okay I cheated: I pulled them off about four hours later. So this is the dried ink just after removal of the stencil. Everything is pretty sharp, but you have to wash this AGAIN to get any loose ink off.

Sponge Painted Onesies 19

Here are my designs after another wash and run through the dryer. You can see that the ink is sort of faded in the corners, like a vintage t-shirt. TADA!

Sponge Painted Onesies 20

Sponge Painted Onesies 22


The things we do for love: Learning to Silk Screen at Home

Screen Printing 72

Beware: this is a very long post!

Because I love my husband and because I support his weird video game addiction (I did make him a cake after all), I agreed to make up some t-shirts for an upcoming tournament in my hometown of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, in May.

Screen Printing 92

Screen printing in a studio is awesome and you can do all sorts of fun stuff.  And fortunately nowadays (unlike when my mother was an arts student), the materials you use won’t kill you.  Which means you can do this stuff at home, too!


First you need a design.  For our first attempts, we decided to work with something simple: a giant squid for myself.  Because I love giant squid.

Screen Printing 8

Screen Printing 9

After several attempts, I had something I liked.  I didn’t notice, however, that I’d put an extra tentacle on the thing.

Screen Printing 22

But after photoshopping it looked pretty good.  Pick something simple with high contrast.

Screen Printing 38

Then copy it onto a transparency — this way you won’t have to cut it out.  If you have a strongly black and white design you could just print it out in black on white paper and cut it out.

Screen Printing 41

Now, the first time we tried this it didn’t work (I will show you that later), because the transparency printings weren’t as opaque as they should have been.

Having learned from that, we printed our images in triplicate, and lined them up.  You can see in the photos below how the opacity increases with each layer.

Screen Printing 52

Screen Printing 53

Screen Printing 54

After carefully lining them up, tape them together with a bit of clear tape.

Screen Printing 55


And now for your screen.  We ended up buying a kit from Urchin downtown to get us started, but we also made a few of our own screens.

Screen Printing 1

This is the Speedball screen that came with the kit.  This is the squeegee side, where you will burn your image and spread your ink.

Screen Printing 16

Here is the print side, which will be going flush against your fabric.

Screen Printing 17

To make your own screen, you need frames and screening.  Here I have some sheer polyester that I picked up from Value Village.  It’s denser than, say, pantyhose, which means that the details will come out much more finely, but it’s also hole-y enough that you can squeegee paint through it, which is kind of key.

Screen Printing 3

And I have these picture frames, also from Value Village.  Take out the glass and the picture and everything and you can staple your fabric onto your frame using a staple gun.

Screen Printing 6

Pull it relatively tight — not so much that it buckles or tears around the staples, but tight enough that there are no wrinkles and you could run a squeegee up and down it with no worries.

Screen Printing 11

Screen Printing 12

Screen Printing 13

Give your finished screen a scrub with warm water and a bit of dish soap and leave it to dry.

Screen Printing 20

Use tape to line around the outside of the frame on the screen so paint won’t go all over everything and make a mess.  I used hockey tape because it’s pretty waterproof and sticks well to fabric, but I’m sure there’s some specific tape you should really be using.

Screen Printing 14

Do it again on the inside of the frame as well.

Screen Printing 15

Oh yeah, and you need a squeegee.  If you don’t have one, you can get away with using a piece of stiff cardboard.  Who came up with the word SQUEEGEE anyway?  It’s fantastic.

Screen Printing 24

Okay so we’re almost set here.  Do you have photoemulsion?  You should get some — it’s kind of key.  It’s a weird greenish stuff that will turn hard and waterproof under UV light.  I got the Speedball stuff that comes with the kit.  Make sure you follow the instructions on the back, as they’re all different.  Normally it comes in two parts: the dark green Diazo sensitizer, which comes in a wee bottle and you add water to it:

Screen Printing 26

And the blue photo emulsion base, to which you add the Diazo sensitizer.  Once this is mixed, you can keep it in your fridge for several months.  So you see here that it is green, indicating its mixedness.

Screen Printing 28

Screen Printing 29

Screen Printing 30

Spread the emulsion carefully and in a thin, even layer all over your screen, on the FRONT side, and the back side.  Use the squeegee to get a nice thin layer all over.  The first time we did it we spread it on too thick and as it dried it dripped.  Gross.

Screen Printing 31

Screen Printing 32

Screen Printing 33

Quickly place the emulsified frame in a completely dark room.  Lay it horizontally to dry for a few hours.  Don’t let any light touch it.  A nice big closet or a well-sealed box is a good place.  Ideally you should set the screen bottom side down while you dry (not what is shown in this picture, because we did it wrong the first time), so you will need to prop the screen up so the wet side doesn’t touch your closet.

Screen Printing 37


When you’re ready to burn the image onto your screen, you have to work quickly.  Some people like to expose their images inside, under high-wattage light bulbs, but we did ours on the cheap and exposed them outside on a sunny day.  Worked like a charm.

You’ll need your image (cut out from opaque paper or printed on transparency) and a sheet of glass that will fit inside the confines of your screen.  And a dark towel or thick piece of dark fabric for wrapping your frame in while in transport.

In the dark (we shut the curtains to our bedroom and I stood almost IN the closet while the Pie held the door mostly shut), lay your image on the inside of your frame (on the squeegee side, and orient it the way you want it to look when it’s printed (as in, you don’t need to mirror this).  Lay the sheet of glass on top so the image is fully covered and flattened down.

Now wrap the frame up in your dark towel so that the print side of the screen is resting on the towel, face down, and the rest is wrapped up around it.  Take it out in the sun and lay it in a flat, sunny spot.  Unwrap the towel so that the frame is resting completely on the dark surface (you want it flush so that there’s no chance of any reflection hitting the photo emulsion on the bottom and exposing it by accident).  You can see that the dried photo emulsion starts out green.

Screen Printing 56

And then in a few minutes turns a nice bluish.  We left ours out for about ten minutes.  Then you need to wrap it back up in the towel like a burrito and take it back inside.

Screen Printing 58

Now you need a source of high pressure warm water, like a sink sprayer or a shower head, and a nylon scrubbing brush (like a dish brush).

Working quickly, remove the wrapping, glass, and image from your frame and put it under the spray.  Use the scrub brush on the parts where your image is to get the unexposed photo emulsion off.  Scrub both sides vigorously until it comes clean.

Screen Printing 46

If you exposed it correctly, the contrast between the blue exposed photo emulsion and the stuff you hid under your image will be quite good and the unexposed stuff will come right off. If you didn’t have an opaque enough image, then the contrast will not be good and the photo emulsion will not come off, and will in fact continue to expose as you work.

Screen Printing 47

You can see this failed attempt only had a few spots that were truly opaque and so that was all that came off.

Screen Printing 48

But this one worked pretty well, save for a bit around one tentacle that didn’t expose properly.  But I can live with that.

Screen Printing 59

Screen Printing 60

After you’ve gotten all the unexposed photo emulsion off, let the screen dry in the sun for a bit (this will also cure the remaining photo emulsion).

Screen Printing 61

And here’s one that the Pie did for his video games.  He is using drawing fluid to fill in some pinholes in his exposed screen.

Screen Printing 71


Make sure that you’ve washed and dried any fabric you are planning to print on first, to get rid of sizing and make sure that it has shrunk all it’s going to shrink.  I picked up this handful of t-shirts at Old Navy and Michaels for cheap.

Screen Printing 4

Protect your work surface and wear an apron — fabric ink is permanent, after all.  If you’re printing clothing, put a piece of cardboard inside the t-shirt so that if ink comes through the fabric it won’t stain the other side.

Screen Printing 74

Lay out your shirt flat and place the screen where you want it to go.  For our initial test we used a piece of scrap cotton.  Pour a line of ink on one side of the screen, on top of the emulsion.

Screen Printing 65

Hold your squeegee at a 45° angle and using even pressure, pull the ink across the surface of your screen.  It helps if you have another pair of hands holding down the screen frame while you do this.  Do a second pass in the other direction.  Experiment with the pressure you put on and the number of passes you do until you are satisfied with how the ink looks on your fabric.

Screen Printing 66

Ease the frame off the fabric on an angle (so that one side is still touching the surface if you need to put it back down) and set the fabric to dry.

Screen Printing 67

On our second pass I tried a blend of two different colours.

Screen Printing 68

I tried to repaint the missing tentacle. It didn’t go well.

Screen Printing 69

My two shirts, one in greenish-gray and the other in silver.

Screen Printing 84

The silver wasn’t as opaque as I’d like it, but it’s still nice.

Screen Printing 77

And the Pie’s two shirts.

Screen Printing 85

When we did the yellow one we forgot to re-fill the pinholes and you can see they came out onto the fabric.

Screen Printing 81

When the paint is fully dry (give it an hour or two), place your shirt on an ironing board and, with a sheet of paper between your design and the iron (no steam!), run the iron on hot over the design for a few minutes.  This will “fix” the image and protect it from frequent washings.

Screen Printing 83

Modeling.  Sorry for the selfies.

Screen Printing 91

Screen Printing 86Screen Printing 90

Screen Printing 87

Screen Printing 89


Silver on blue …









Gray on orange …









Unless you want to use those screens again, you’ll need to get the photo emulsion off as soon as possible.  I used the ScreenClean stuff that came with my kit, but you can also use 1 cup of washing soda dissolved in a gallon of warm water.

Use a paint brush to apply the cleaner to both sides of the screen and scrub briskly with a nylon brush.

Screen Printing 49

Apply the cleaner again with the paintbrush to both sides and leave it to sit for about 5 minutes.

Screen Printing 50

Run under a forceful stream of hot water and scrub again until all the emulsion and cleaner has washed away.

Wow, that was a lot to take in.  I hope it was easy enough to follow.  If not, please let me know!


Here are some of the links to the other sites I checked out to learn how do this stuff:

How to Screen Print! Silkscreening at home – The Art of Doing Stuff

Screen Printing: Cheap, Dirty, and at Home Instructables

Top Ten Worst Screen Printing Mistakes Adventures in DIY Screen Printing

DIY Screen Printing – I Love to Create

Cheap screenprinting tutorial – Craftgrrl

How to Silk Screen Posters and Shirts – No Media Kings

%d bloggers like this: