Screen Printing

Making custom posters and unique t-shirts by hand is an empowering alternative to ordering them – and it’s cheaper, too.

Tell me more: Screen printing – also known as silk screening – is everywhere. It describes the way our t-shirts are made, our jerseys are customized and those band posters are mass produced. It’s a process of pressing ink through a mesh screen in a pattern that we design: A campaign slogan, a logo, a protest. Screen printing is inexpensive and is typically done with machines in faraway factories. But it’s also possible to do it ourselves in a classroom with less than $50!

Classroom Applications: Screen printing by hand is immensely satisfying for young people and adults of all ages. It can be practiced as a DIY alternative to ordering a set of class t-shirts, or printing up a stack of 8.5×11” posters that become invisible when they all look the same. It can be facilitated by teachers and students alike. But even better than just as an alternative to a project that might have been outsourced, screen printing can be an end all by itself. What if students were challenged to design and print campaign posters in a unit about elections and propaganda? Or if a class decided to educate their community about a global health crisis with customized t-shirts, inspired by the Product RED campaign? How might younger students learn about patterns and shapes by printing their own wallpaper or wrapping paper? Screen printing is an incredible opportunity to experience the power of hands-on making with minimal cost and infrastructure.

Go Further

  • We taught ourselves how to screen print by picking up a Speedball kit at a local art store and watching a lot of YouTube videos. We’re also inspired by Michael Perry’s “Pulled: A Catalog of Screen Printing.”
  • Our friend Brooke Toczylowski, an art educator and researcher in Oakland, led a fantastic screen printing project with her students that began with a study of where t-shirts come from. See NPR’s Planet Money T-shirt project for more about the research Brooke used with her students.

Top photo credit: Ming Rose Cooke

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