With plenty of websites offering relatively cheap custom prints, it’s easy to get custom printed T-shirts, tote bags, and, these days, face masks. But even with all of these options, you might be wondering how difficult it is to make your own graphic T-shirts at home or in your garage. After all, that’s how many a successful streetwear label got their starts. DIYing can be more satisfying while allowing you to customize to a greater degree. And since larger companies use the same techniques that you can use at home (albeit on a larger scale) you can yield professional-looking results. What you need is a screen printing machine, heat transfer machine or manual screen printing kit.
It’s worth breaking down the different DIY ways of making graphic T-shirts because they each offer their own benefits and vary by quality. The first is screen printing, which involves using a mesh screen and chemical solutions to create a design.
The benefits of screen printing are longevity and quality. The print won’t easily come off in the wash, and the design will look more professional. One major drawback of screen printing is that, while possible, printing multiple colors is more challenging. Screen printing is also time-consuming, and because of photosensitivity, you have to work in special lighting conditions. Screen printing machines can make it easier to get more precise results and produce greater numbers of T-shirts. These machines are typically not electric, but rather manual devices that hold your frames in place so you can get even results.
Heat transfer prints are quicker and easier, and they offer a wider variety of color options. Where with screen printing you can only do one color at a time, heat transfer machines offer greater variety. The drawback of heat transfer is that the prints can crack and fade in the wash, and the printed part of the shirt can look and feel stiff and plasticky.
We’ve rounded up some equipment you can use to make your own custom graphic tees, totes and whatever else you feel inspired to create with either screen printing or heat transfer techniques.
1. Speedball Advanced All-In-One Screen Printing Kit
BEST FOR BEGINNERS
You don’t need advanced machinery to screenprint, but there is some essential equipment you’ll need. This kit from Speedball gives you most of what you need to get started in screenprinting, including a screen, squeegee, lamp and transparent sheets. There are also bottles of emulsion, sensitizer, remover and screen printing ink in different colors. For any beginner who’s just looking to try screen printing out, this is a great gift to get.
2. Cricut Easy Press 2 – Heat Press Machine For T-Shirts
BEST COMPACT MACHINE
Cricut has exploded in popularity thanks to its relatively affordable, space-saving products that allow you to tackle a wide range of DIY projects. This heat press machine is a compact way to create graphics for T-shirts and totes. You can easily control the time and temperature settings using the control panel. The Easy Press is available in three different sizes depending on the scale of your project. The price shown is for the 9″ x 9″ size.
3. VEVOR Screen Printing Machine
BEST FOR QUICK RESULTS
This screen printing machine makes it easier to make individual prints with multiple colors, which is more difficult to do with only a single screen. There is a single workstation and four arms that can each hold one screen, allowing you to quickly make multiple prints on one shirt or the same print on multiple shirts in rapid succession.
4. AWT Professional-Grade Screen Printing Unit
BEST PRO OPTION
This screen printing kit from AWT is a great way to get consistent results, thanks to the hinged design that opens and closes to hold the shirt in place. In addition to the warp-resistant wood frame and 12XX polyester mesh, a squeegee is included for even results.
5. Speedball Screen Printing Frame
If you’d rather buy the pieces of your screenprinting kit individually, this option from Speedball is just the frame, so you can buy the solutions and squeegee individually. The frame is made from durable hardwood, and the mesh is made from a 110 monofilament fabric that makes for more precise results. The screen is also replaceable. It comes in a few different sizes, and the price shown is for the 10″ x 14″ option.
6. RoyalPress 12″ x 15″ Heat Press
MOST VERSATILE MACHINE
If you want to heat press T-shirts, this option from RoyalPress is 12″ x 15″, making it large enough to make larger prints on the front of T-shirts. The digital display panel allows you to monitor time and heat. You can also go beyond just T-shirts, though. Included with this press are kits for making hats and even mugs.
7. Speedball Diazo Photo Emulsion Kit
If you have the screens and other equipment but just need new supplies, this emulsion kit includes an 8 oz bottle of remover, a 6.6 oz bottle of photo emulsion and a 1 oz bottle of stabilizer. Plus, an instruction and suggestion booklet is included to make it easier for beginners.