Nothing feels better than wearing a shirt you designed yourself!
I was glad to have worked at a college – as staff we are also allowed to use some of the facilities for our personal experiments and explorations. As my college offers art and design courses, there is a print studio for students to do silkscreen printing and other print making stuff. It is one of my favourite places to hang out, not just because of the things we can do in there, but also the great student-tutor atmosphere.
One day I decided to design and print my own Lomo t-shirt! This article will document the step-by-step process of it, hopefully this will also give you some insights of how basic t-shirt print making is done.
First step: Get a blank shirt! I sometimes get mine at department stores; it’s quite hard to find totally empty ones as nowadays, too many shirts have unnecessary designs on them. Afterwards, I went online to find images of Lomographic cameras. My idea was to have a row of small cameras in bright colours, hence I copied the images of 8 Lomographic cameras as the number fits just across the chest area of the shirt.
I converted them into simpler shapes using Adobe Illustrator’s live trace function. Then, all the shapes must be changed into black for a technical reason that I’ll touch later. I had the designs printed out using a laser printer (from the staff office); bubble jet printer won’t work because for the next step you have to coat the paper using cooking oil.
This part is to make the paper a little bit transparent / translucent, with only the designs remaining black. Ink from bubble jet will smudge when it is wet.
The excessive oil on the surface is then absorbed dry using newspaper.
Putting the oiled paper aside, the next step is to do the frame. It is basically a wooden rectangular frame with a silkscreen cloth (something like a curtain sheer fabric) that is tightly pulled and stapled on one side.
Then, the chemical part begins – the big black tub contains photo emulsion, a purple gooey substance that will react when exposed to light. The smaller bottle is iodine, which is needed to mix together with the photo emulsion.
As the following steps must be done in dark areas, no photos are available; but essentially what you have to do is to mix the 2 chemicals together, scoop some into the silver tray and, with the frame held up vertically, thinly coat the silkscreen surface with a layer of the chemical. The surface is then dried with a hairdryer.
Then comes the big machine part! This is a light exposure machine.
It has rows of white fluorescent tube lighting below the glass surface. The oiled paper with designs is placed on the glass surface first, then followed by the frame with the dried photo emulsion on top of it.
The machine cover is then closed and switched on for about 4-6 minutes. What happens this time is the light from the machine will expose the designs on the paper onto the purple screen. The white part (translucent) of the paper will let light shine through, making the purple substance permanent; while the black part (camera design) will block out the light, leaving the purple substance as it is.
After removing from the machine, the subtle designs of the camera designs can be seen on the purple layer! The next step is to remove the purple photo emulsion layer from the screen; it’s a simple process, by just shooting water at it!
The blank parts with no design let light shine through, making the purple substance permanent and cannot be removed, so only the purple substance on the cameras will peel off. The end result would be a see-through shape of the camera designs!
The frame is also dried with a hairdryer. I only used half of it as the frame I’m using is a big one.
Right, it’s a long process, but now comes the fun part – the printing itself! First, the screen needs to be checked to make sure there are no unwanted holes from the water shooting. If it’s the case, masking tape is used to cover them up.
Then, a cardboard is placed inside the shirt to maintain a flat surface so it won’t stretch.
Then the frame with the designs is positioned on top of the shirt, wherever we want them to be. The colours to be used are fabric paint; normal paint won’t make it because they will wash off in the washing machine. I chose to use primary colours: red, yellow and blue for the designs.
After positioning and making sure of the alignment and everything, some small blobs of paint are then placed on top of the cameras. Sometimes we mixed a few of them to get whacky combinations! The frame is then held firmly onto the shirt, and with the use of a squeegee, drag down the paint over the “holes” (the camera designs that have no purple photo emulsion).
It must be done firm and slowly, and when lifted it up, the designs are printed onto the shirt!
I repeated the same steps for the Russian Lomo behind.
And there you go – dry them with hairdryer and the new shirt is ready to be worn!