Clouds & Cups – DIY Screen Printing

Clouds & Cups was birthed in mid-2018 in Sydney, Australia. The label is the result of me fusing my love for visual arts and fashion. For me, the graphic tee is the ultimate expressive medium. As a creator, by expressing yourself through clothing design, you’re giving other people a very tangible object in which they can use to express themselves to the world in an extremely overt manner.

Clouds & Cups attempts to encapsulate the idea of experiencing life, learning from it, and ultimately, sharing it with others. The brand is, in essence, a running commentary on life as it unfolds. The aim is to create a style of streetwear that’s more thought-provoking, relatable, and inspiring. It’s my hope to craft something that resonates with experiences people have had in the past, are having at present, or will have in the future.

Clouds and Cups:

I’ve always wanted to be as involved as possible in the production process so learning to screen print seemed like a very logical step to take. The entire process from concept sketching to the printing, all the way up to sealing the mailing bag is incredibly rewarding. There’s nothing quite like designing and creating an authentic home-made product with your own hands. Anyone who is willing to support the brand deserves something that is crafted passionately with love. That is ultimately what I want to provide for anyone who places their trust in Clouds & Cups.

What follows is a very brief overview of the screen printing process. Perhaps you’re curious as to how it works, or maybe you’re keen to give it a crack yourself. This article serves as a quick introduction to the basic concepts. This is definitely not an exhaustive guide. Truth be told, I’m still very much a beginner in this game, so I’m not particularly qualified to be teaching anything in-depth. This guide will, however, give you a good overview of the basic process and from there, you can pursue further research if you wish.

Step 1 - Obtain Screens

You can go the completely DIY route of creating your screens from wooden frames, mesh, and a staple gun. Alternatively, you can buy commercial grade screens online. Making them yourself is a lot cheaper and great for testing the waters before you commit to investing more money - just be aware that the results will not be as sharp or reliable as using professionally stretched screens.

Step 2 - Coat Screens

In a dim environment, coat the screens with light-sensitive emulsion fluid. When emulsion is exposed to UV light, like the sun for example, it will harden and cure. You don’t want this happening at this stage, so allow the coated screens air dry in a completely dark and dust-free area. The explanation for this will become clear later on. The image on the right is for demonstration purposes - do not take the coated screen out into the light until you’re absolutely ready to expose it!

Step 3 - Prepare Design

Your design must consist of one colour only. Start with some large, blocky graphics or text that doesn’t contain a lot of detail. Print your design onto transparency film (the sheets they put on overhead projectors in school classrooms). You can do this at Officeworks very cheaply.

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Step 4 - Expose Screens

In a dim room, place the transparency film onto the dry, coated screen. It’s best to place the film under a sheet of glass to ensure it’s flush against the mesh. Only when you are ready to expose the design should you take it outside and place it under full sunlight. You’ll need to do some research and testing in regards to correct exposure time. Many variables come into play - weather, location, time of year, thickness of the emulsion coating, etc. It’ll likely be somewhere within the minute to two minute mark.

Emulsion that comes into contact with UV light will harden and cure. You can see from the image on the right that the emulsion hidden under the opaque areas of the design remains ‘uncured’ since the UV light was blocked out. Uncured emulsion can be washed off but cured emulsion will be stuck hardened on the screen. This is why it is imperative that you do not take your coated screens into the sun until you are ready for final exposure. 

Step 5 - Wash Screens

Spray your screens out with a garden hose. The uncured emulsion covered by the opaque design elements will wash away, and if all goes according to plan, the areas of open mesh should correspond to the shape of your design. You’ve essentially created a stencil on the screen. When you print, ink will only pass through the open mesh areas, leaving your design on the fabric.

Step 6 - Print Garments

Using fabric ink and a squeegee, print your design onto the garment. This is the moment of truth. Take a very deep breath, cross your fingers, and carefully lift up the screen. If all goes well, you should have yourself a completely DIY hand-printed garment!

Step 7 - Cure Prints

Once the ink is dry to the touch, heat-set the print by ironing it for a few minutes. Place a piece of cloth between the iron and the shirt to prevent burning the fabric. Heat-setting cures the ink on the garment, ensuring the design survives years of repeated washing.

So there you have it - a very basic rundown on home screen printing. I’ve omitted a lot of small details for simplicity’s sake. As mentioned earlier, this is by no means an exhaustive guide, but if it’s piqued your interest, then that’s great! It should give you a good overview of what’s involved, and from here, you can dig deeper. There are a lot of variables involved in screen printing and you will need to do a tonne of troubleshooting along the way. To say it’s not a frustrating process would be a blatant lie but the feeling of pulling a perfect print is what makes it all worth it. If you’re looking to get your hands dirty doing some good old fashioned art and craft, then I highly recommend giving it a crack.

If you’re interested in learning more about Clouds & Cups or checking out some of our gear, there’s a couple of links below you can follow. Thank you for reading, and I hope it was informative.


Check out Clouds and Cups at:

Photos and Article by: Jon Wheeler (@frootl00ps)