How to Screen Print a Tote Bag with Ready to Print Mini Screens

Ready to Print Mini Screens are a really simple way to screen print onto tote bags and fabric. The large screens are the right size to be printed centrally or you can print the medium screens multiple times to make a pattern.

The screens are made with a digital screen maker from hand drawn designs and work well with either fine detailed imagery, big blocks of colour or text. You might have come across something similar in the old fashioned Thermofax screens.

You can choose from our design library, or send in your own images to be burnt onto a Custom Screen. Ready to Print Mini Screens are non-toxic and can be printed using water-based, solvent free inks.

1. YOU WILL NEED

  • Ready to Print Mini Screen(s) burned with a design
  • A cotton tote bag to print your screen(s) onto and any additional fabric you want to print on, including something to practise with (such an an old sheet or tea towel). White or light cotton is best to get started.
  • Non-toxic, water-based fabric ink that will wash out of the screen and off your hands with water (it will not wash out of fabrics)
  • A rubber edged squeegee

2. SET UP YOUR PRINT SPACE

Make sure your work area is clean and uncluttered; the kitchen table or a desk will make a good print surface, but you can experiment with padding your table with cardboard, magazines or an old yoga mat for a softer surface or put down a protective layer of newspaper to keep your table clean.

Place a sheet of paper or thin card inside the tote bag to prevent any ink bleeding through to the other side. The tote bags in our Craft Kits do not need washing before use, but any additional fabric you want to print on should be washed, ironed and cut to size before you get started.

Make sure you have somewhere to put your inky squeegee and bottle of ink where you won’t knock it over, such as a folded sheet of newspaper, an old plate, chopping board or ink mat.

3. PRINT YOUR SCREEN

It’s best to do a practice run before you print onto the tote bag. This is so that you can get used to the amount of ink you need to use and the angle, speed and pressure required on the squeegee. A practice run also helps to ‘flood’ the screen, particularly useful when printing on thicker fabrics like tote bags, hessian or calico. Flooding ensures the screen is filled with ink so that you get the best results when you print on the bag.

To make the most of this flooding, you’ll want to print your practice fabric first, and then move straight onto printing on your bag, so make sure you have both the practice fabric and your tote bag ready to go.

Lay your practice fabric and tote bag flat on your work surface. Choose where you want your first print to be and position your screen with the ‘this side up’ facing upwards (screens need to be printed this way round, otherwise they will be damaged).

Pour the ink across the top of the screen, ensuring there is enough ink to cover the whole of the screen.

Designs with small and fine lines will use less ink than ones with big blocks of colour. Use your practise fabric to get used to the right amount of ink.

Place the squeegee behind the well of ink. You should hold your squeegee at an angle between 90° and 45°.

If your squeegee is flatter than 45°, more ink will be pushed through the screen and up the squeegee towards your fingers, which will make a mess. You’ll need to tap or scrape it off before your next print.

If the squeegee is more upright, less ink will be pushed through the screen. This can be useful to highlight fine lines and details, but might not give you enough coverage for bolder, more blocky designs.

Play around with the angles until you find the right balance for your printing project.

Hold the screen in place with one hand, and firmly and swiftly, pull the squeegee and ink towards you, all the way to the bottom of the screen. The squeegee should be in good contact with the fabric throughout. Finish with a scooping motion to keep the ink on the squeegee.

If you move your squeegee too slowly, or exert too much pressure, you will push through too much ink, which can cause the ink to ‘bleed’ outside of the edges of your design, or over-saturate the fine details of your print.

If you move the squeegee too quickly or do not exert enough pressure, you won’t push through enough ink and your print may come out patchy or incomplete.

Thicker fabrics, such as tote bags need more ink coverage than thinner fabrics.

When printing on the tote bag, or other thicker fabrics, you’ll need to do more than one pass with the squeegee. To do this, without moving the screen, take the squeegee back to the top of the screen and bring all the way down again and repeat two or three times.

Lay the squeegee down on your ink mat and lift the screen to reveal your print. Try to do this in one smooth motion.

You can keep placing the screen down to continue printing your design on the bag, or leave it with just one print.

Don’t place the screen back down on wet ink, as it may stick or smudge your print or pick up wet ink and make a ‘ghost’ print next time you lay it down—It’s easier to leave a gap and come back to fill it in once the ink is dry.

4. WASH THE SCREEN

Wash your screen as soon as you have finished printing, even if you’re just pausing for a short while.

If you allow ink to dry in the screen it will block the fine holes in the mesh and you’ll no longer be able to print with the screen.

Remove any excess ink on the screen with a spoon or palette knife and return it to your ink bottle.

Run your screen under warm water and use a small soft sponge or cloth to lightly remove ink from the screen. Don’t use detergents or anything abrasive to clean the screen as this can cause permanent damage.

Some fabric inks will stain the screen due to their strong pigments, but it’s important to make sure you’ve washed out all of the ink.

Leave the screen standing propped up to drip dry or lightly pat it with an old towel. Don’t use paper towels as these can clog the screen.

The screen should be completely dry before you next print with it as any residue water can interfere with your printing inks.

Person holding a screen printed tote bag

SCREEN PRINTING TIPS

If your print has areas that haven’t printed very well, you need to get more ink through the screen:

· Make sure you have enough ink to start with – you should have some left over on the screen at the end (which you can put back into the pot)

· Pull the squeegee down the screen more slowly using more pressure

· Do more passes with the squeegee before you lift the screen to look at the print

If your print has blobs of ink or the design is smudged, you have too much ink going through the screen:

· Remove excess ink back into the pot and wash and dry the screen before you try again

· Pour less ink onto the screen next time

· Hold the squeegee at a more upright angle, slightly reduce the pressure you apply to the squeegee and move faster as you pull the squeegee down the screen

· Do fewer passes with the squeegee