Best Printer for Screen Printing including Step by Step Tutorial

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Depending on whom you listen to, screen printing is either an incredibly simple at-home process that anybody can do with little thought or effort, or it is an absurdly difficult task which only those with advanced degrees in chemistry and bulletproof homeowners insurance should ever attempt.

The truth is, it is somewhere in between – definitely not the easiest craft project, but absolutely doable, and fun, and you will end up with such amazing results (and, potentially, such beautiful, unique and incredibly sellable products) that it is well worth the time and effort – not to mention the smallish investment.

We are going to get into a comprehensive treatment of screen printing here, a basic how-to guide and a rundown of all the materials you will need, but if you’ve just come here for a recommendation of the best printer for screen printing, or the best printer for printing onto transparencies, here’s my list:

Comparison Table: Best Printer for Screen Printing in 2021

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Editor's rating Image Printer for Screen Printing Price
All-in-One Best Printer for Screen Printing
Budget Best Printer for Screen Printing
Mid-Price Best Printer for Screen Printing
Professional Best Printer for Screen Printing
High-End Best Printer for Screen Printing

What is Screen Printing?

Screen printing, also known as silk screen printing, is a way to print incredibly bold, durable images onto a t-shirt, bag, jacket or any other cloth material. 

In fact, not just print, but paint – you are using technology and a clever process to literally paint your own designs, with beautiful, thick, flexible and washable paint, directly onto fabric.

The images are so strong and striking that customers always find screen prints very attractive, and are willing to pay quite a bit for them – knowing that not only are screen prints beautiful, they are long-lasting as well.

What Supplies do you Need for Screen Printing?

There are a lot of steps to screen printing, and while it doesn’t necessarily need to be a complicated or difficult process, having just the right equipment makes it much, much easier.

For example, you may hear that you can make your own screen printing frame, but it is so much easier, and you’ll get better results, by just buying an inexpensive specialty screen made for screen printing. Similarly, having the right paint, a good squeegee and a solid, adjustable lamp can make all the difference, and even all of this together is still not at all expensive.

You should also consider getting a very good printer for printing onto transparency paper, which will handle that kind of paper with no problems and will provide crisp, clean images. And while printers can, of course, be expensive, you can actually find some of the best printers for silk screen printing at a very low price. 

Even if you get a somewhat higher level printer, one that costs a little more, it can still be a great value – especially if you end up with a printer which is good for not just screen printing, but for anything and everything you might do in arts and crafts, and one which is well made and will last a long time.

I will offer some suggestions for the best printers for screen printing below, but now here’s a complete list of the supplies you’ll need to make beautiful screen prints, with my product recommendations:

A good printer for printing onto transparency paper 

(Quick jump to Printers)

Transparency paper

A screen printing frame

Emulsion paint

Emulsion paint

An Emulsion Paint Kit

Fabric paint

The most popular and great quality
Bigger bottles and superb quality paint

A squeegee

Designed specifically for screen printing
Different sizes can make things much easier

A good, strong desk lamp with an adjustable swing arm

A piece of clear glass

Black poster board

150 Watt Incandescent Lightbulb

The last few items you can get locally, of course, and may have around your house anyway. And you can use any clean, flexible squeegee – though I would buy a new one and keep it just for screen printing – and any good adjustable desk lamp, as long as it has a dome to focus the light.

You can also get a good starter kit with all the basics, like this Caydo 31 Piece Screen Print Starter Kit, but you still need emulsion, fabric paint and maybe other stuff, and the kit may have some bits and bobs you don’t actually need. 

Better, I think, to keep with the list above, which are the basics and the best values.

A Step by Step Tutorial on How to Do Screen Printing at Home

Here are the basic steps for silk screen printing at home, specifically for a simple, single color print – the best way to learn and practice. Following these instructions exactly will give you excellent results right away, but if things don’t turn out perfectly the very first time don’t be discouraged – it might take some time and practice, but the beautiful end results will be well worth it.

 

Print Image onto transparency

  • Using a good printer for transparencies, print a simple, clean design onto transparency paper – clean lines and basic shapes work best, especially when you’re just starting, and clean, clear lettering also works great.

Prep your screen

  • Combine the two parts of the emulsion, as per the instructions.
  • Run a line of emulsion paint along the top of the fabric.
  • Using a squeegee, spread the emulsion flat and even along the entire fabric.
  • Do the same on the other side of the fabric.
  • Do this in a very dark, windowless room, but with enough light to see.
  • Lay the frame flat (with the wet emulsion up, obviously) to dry.
  • Then completely seal the room from light, including cracks around the door, and let dry for 1-3 hours.
  • If you use a fan to dry the emulsion quicker, be sure it is at some distance, and set to low, so as to not cause holes or gaps in the emulsion – better, though, to just be patient.

Expose the emulsion

  • Set up your desk lamp, with a 150 watt incandescent bulb, to be facing straight down on a non-reflective dark surface – a matte black poster board, for example – using the instructions on the emulsion package to determine distance and exposure time. For best results this should also be in a dark room.
  • Careful not to expose it to direct light, lay the frame on top of the dark surface, with the back of the frame up.
  • Place the transparency with your printed image on the fabric – since the frame is lying back-up, the image should be reversed when you lay it down. Simply look at the image as you would like it to appear on the fabric, flip it over horizontally and lay it down.
  • Put a perfectly clean and clear piece of glass on top to keep the image flat.
  • Expose for the recommended time – probably around 30 minutes, but follow the emulsion paint’s instructions.
  • Remove the glass and then the transparency, and you should see a faint image of your original print on the emulsion.
  • Proceed as quickly as possible to the next step.

Rinse the Emulsion Paint Away

  • Using a fairly high power stream of water, rinse the emulsion from the screen. Where the emulsion was exposed will be cured, and will not rinse away, but the paint covered by the printed image will be rinsed off, leaving a space in the shape of the image.

Paint your Image

  • Lay your t-shirt flat on a work surface.
  • Lay the screen flat, back down (that is, so the dried emulsion is touching the fabric and the recessed part of the screen is up), onto the t-shirt, with the image positioned correctly on the shirt.
  • Put a sufficient dollop of paint on the screen above the image.
  • Squeegee the paint all over the image, without applying pressure, thickly and evenly covering the whole image.
  • Squeegee again, going in the same direction, this time with pressure so as to push the paint through the screen.
  • Carefully remove the screen.
  • Hang the shirt, or whatever you’ve printed on, to dry, making sure there’s no dust, cat hair, etc.

Congratulations! You’ve successfully completed your first screen print! 

You can now either rinse the paint off of the screen to use it again or you can remove the emulsion and start over with a new image. Either way, you can use the same screen many, many times – just make sure, if you are removing the emulsion to make a new image, to do it pretty quickly, since older emulsion can be really hard to remove from the screen.

That’s the basic process of screen printing. 

There are different variations, even some different basic techniques, and of course you can get as creative as you want – lots of colors, more and more complex designs – but this clean single color process is a great way to learn and practice screen printing until you’re ready to branch out.

That said, I think it is worth mentioning that these simple, basic designs – even just with a single color – are often very, very popular with customers (assuming you want to sell your creations), who seem to find them irresistibly elegant and attractive. 

We get, then, back to the best printer for silk screening, because this is especially true if you have a printer which will handle transparency paper precisely and make the most perfectly clean and clear lines, so that your images will be absolutely stunning every single time.

Do You Need a Special Printer for Screen Printing?

It kind of depends on what we mean by “special printer.” Most printers should be capable of printing onto transparency paper, but a surprising number – even more expensive ones – actually have difficulty with accurately and reliably moving the thin, slippery film, and may not give very good results. 

And if you have an older printer, especially one that you’ve run a lot of paper through, its rollers may be pretty tired and have probably lost some tightness and friction, and it may also not give ideal results.

In either case you may get images that are blurry or distorted, and if the print head is not very fine, or again is old and at all clogged or worn, this too can make an image something less than crisp and clean, which will never allow a screen print to look as good as it can.

So if you are planning on getting a new printer anyway, even down the road a bit, you might want to consider doing it now – especially if you can get a really good brand new printer that works great not just for screen printing and transparencies, but for everything else – including beautiful art prints and photos – and at a really good price.

What is the Best Printer for Screen Printing

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Following are a few of the very best printers for printing onto transparencies, which will not just handle transparency paper well but will print a clean, clear, bold and sharp image and help to make your silk screening a major success.

And again, as I have always said, if you are going to get a printer for screen printing you should make sure it is not just the best printer for silk screen, but the best printer for whatever you might want to do – art prints in superb quality, photo printing, crisp, clean drawings and line art, correspondence and general printing, even scanning and copying if you like. 

Value means not just the lowest price (though that certainly helps!) but also choosing an item which will be really useful in every way you might want or need, will give the best possible quality and the best possible results, and will last a long time without problems.

Any printer here will have all of these qualities, and will offer real value, and so you can match your own needs and budget to the corresponding recommendation and make sure you are not just getting the best printer for screen printing, but the best printer for arts and crafts in general and the best printer for you.

Brother MFC-J497DW Multifunction Inkjet Printer

My very favorite budget printer recommendation, the Brother MFC-J497DW may not have the catchiest name, but it is a super-impressive printer for very, very little money.

Great resolution ensures that screen printing graphics come out clean and clear, and a five color ink system makes any art print or craft project really pop, with vivid, well saturated colors and great range. And not only does the Brother MFC-J497DW work well with transparency paper, it will work with pretty much any medium, even up to heavy card stock – a crafter’s dream!

The MFC-J497DW is a multi-purpose printer, which means you can use it for copying and scanning as well, with superb results, and it is designed to be as easy to use as possible, with its great LCD user interface panel, wireless, cloud and USB connectivity.

The least expensive printer on my list of best printers for silk screen printing, the Brother MFC-JD497DW is also one of the best values on the market today, and for almost no money will provide any artist or artisan much more than you could possibly dream of – for screen printing and about a million other things!

Brother MFC-J497DW Specifications

  • Printer Type: All-in-One Inkjet Printer with Scanner and Copier
  • Maximum Paper Size: 8.5 x 14 Inches
  • Resolution: 1200 x 6000 DPI
  • Ink System: 5 Individual Color Cartridges
  • Print Speed: 12 PPM (pages per minute) B&W, 6 PPM color
  • Connectivity: USB, Wireless, Cloud
  • Warranty: 1 Year Manufacturer’s Warranty

Canon Pixma IX6820 Wireless Printer

For a bit more money, you can get a printer which will do quite a bit less – the Canon Pixma IX6820.

Huh? No, really, that’s a good thing! The Brother above is a multi-function printer, scanner and copier, whereas this lovely Canon Pixma focuses only on printing, and does it brilliantly. In fact, whether you are printing onto transparencies or any other paper or stock, the colors, resolution and detail, range of light and energy are absolutely unrivalled at this price. And it is a wide-format printer, with a maximum page size of 13 by 19 inches.

Needless to say, it will print simple silk screen images beautifully. If you want the best printer for silk screening, the best printer for transparencies, and also the best budget printer for art prints, photos, crafting or any type of printing, and for an incredible price, the Canon Pixma IX6820 wireless printer is a great choice and warmly recommended!

Canon Pixma IX6820 Wireless Printer Specifications

  • Printer Type: Inkjet Color Printer
  • Maximum Paper Size: 13 x 19 Inches
  • Resolution: 2400 x 9600 DPI
  • Ink System: 5 Individual Color Cartridges
  • Print Speed: 14.5 IPM (pages per minute) B&W, 10.4 IPM color
  • Connectivity: USB, Wireless, Cloud
  • Warranty: 1 Year Manufacturer’s Warranty

Epson Expression HD XP 15000 Wireless Color Wide-Format Printer

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The Epson Expression HD XP 15000 is probably the printer I recommend most often, and is certainly an easy recommendation for printing onto transparencies and for silk screening – it will give you extraordinarily sharp and clean images, and will handle transparency paper with the same kind of precision that it does with any other paper, up to heavy card stock.

A tough, reliable and extremely well made printer, with superior material quality and engineering, the Epson HD XP 15000 can use paper up to 13 inches wide, and can make borderless prints up to 13 x 19. The superb Claria six ink system provides beautiful and long lasting colors, and resolution is incredible – a full 5760 x 1440 DPI – for noticeably sharper prints and amazing fine detail.

The XP-15000 is clearly in a different league, and gets a strong recommendation as the best medium-priced printer for silk screen and transparency printing – a truly high end printer for a moderate price, and an amazing value!

Epson Expression HD XP 15000 Specifications

  • Printer Type: Wide-Format Inkjet Printer
  • Maximum Paper Size: 13 x 19 Inches
  • Resolution: 1440 x 5760 DPI
  • Ink System: 6 Individual Color Claria Photo HD Cartridges
  • Print Speed: 9.2 PPM (pages per minute) B&W, 9 PPM color
  • Connectivity: USB, Wireless, Cloud
  • Warranty: 1 Year Manufacturer’s Warranty

Canon Pixma Pro 100 Professional Color Inkjet Printer

For our next choice on this list of best printers for transparencies we go right back to the wonderful Canon Pixma line, this time the legendary Pixma Pro-100 professional color inkjet printer.

It may seem strange that this more expensive printer actually has lower specifications than other recommendations on our list, but in practice the Pro-100 will make sharper, more detailed and more accurate prints than any of the already excellent printers above – the high grade mechanical construction, which moves transparencies, or any paper, as well as print heads, with such precision, ensures that anything from simple silhouettes to the most complex drawings or paintings come out with unparalleled sharpness and clarity, and the print heads themselves are so brilliantly engineered and well made as to offer this superior performance reliably and repeatedly over the long term.

And although you may be only printing in a single color for your screen printing designs, you can rest assured that the Pro-100 has stunning, professional quality color reproduction, with a full 8 color ink system, which provides essentially archival quality prints of any commercial or fine art pieces up to 13 by 19 inches.

Yes, this is perhaps more printer than you will ever need for transparencies, and yet the Canon Pixma Pro-100 is still an easy choice for the best professional printer for screen printing, and when you experience the startlingly crisp and precise images it will produce you will understand why. But the Pro-100 is indeed much more, and for an all-around unit for any artist, serious crafter or DIYer, who wants the best, longest lasting prints, and the best, longest lasting printer, this is the obvious choice.

Canon Pixma Pro-100 Wireless Printer Specifications

  • Printer Type: Inkjet Color Printer
  • Maximum Paper Size: 13 x 19 Inches
  • Resolution: 2400 x 4800 DPI
  • Ink System: 8 Dye-Based Color Cartridges
  • Print Speed: 11 x 14 Color Photo: 1.5 Minutes :: 8 x 10 Color Photo: Less than 1 Minute
  • Connectivity: USB, Wireless, Cloud
  • Warranty: 1 Year Manufacturer’s Warranty

Epson Artisan 1430 Wide Format Inkjet Printer

Without question one of the finest inkjet printers on the market today, the Epson Artisan 1430 has resolution, color quality, mechanical precision, material quality and reliability, and consistently perfect results which make it clearly superior to every other printer on this list of best printers for screen printing.

Don’t get me wrong – every printer I’ve listed here is wonderful, and I believe them all to be the best in their price range in so many ways, but the Epson Artisan 1430 is in a class by itself. Even simple silhouette printing, of the type you’ll most likely be doing for the silk screen process, is so much more clean, clear and impactful, and when you get into more complex and advanced images the Artisan is unbelievably good.

Ultra high resolution, stunning color depth, accuracy, saturation and range, incredible range of light and shadow, superb geometry and registration, fast, quiet and ultra-reliable operation – this is easily one of the finest inkjet printers I’ve ever used and, while it is not cheap, customers again and again say it is the best investment they’ve ever made.

The best high end printer for screen printing or for any arts or crafts work on absolutely any level, the Epson Artisan 1430 wide format inkjet printer receives my strongest recommendation.

Epson Artisan 1430 Wide Format Inkjet Printer Printer Specifications

  • Printer Type: Inkjet Color Printer
  • Maximum Paper Size: 9 x 13 Inches
  • Resolution: 2400 x 4800 DPI
  • Ink System: 8 Dye-Based Color Cartridges
  • Print Speed: 11 x 14 Color Photo: 1.5 Minutes :: 8 x 10 Color Photo: Less than 1 Minute
  • Connectivity: USB, Wireless, Cloud
  • Warranty: 1 Year Manufacturer’s Warranty

Final Thoughts: Can You Really Do Screen Printing at Home?

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As I look over my tutorial on how to do screen printing, with its 5 separate phases and 22 individual steps, it actually looks a bit intimidating, but in fact it is simpler than you might expect. If you really follow the directions, take your time and do things carefully, you are likely to have not only a good success the very first time, but really beautiful results and a really beautiful screen print.

I am sure that anybody who has tried their hand at any kind of art or craft project can do silk screen printing, and do it well, and that you will be surprised at how quickly even the many steps become easy to remember and even automatic. And once you have your first successful silk screen, you can print from it over and over, cutting out lots and lots of the steps – of course, you could also do just one print from it, or a few, call it a “limited edition” and sell it for even more!

Indeed, customers always seem willing to pay pretty good prices for screen print shirts, bags and other items, and the relatively low initial investment will be well worth it even in the short term. And if you make a larger investment, and get a good printer for transparencies as well as the other basic kit, you can make sure that printer will be a good choice for all of your printing needs, and a good quality, solid and reliable unit overall, and the investment just makes more and more sense!

Thanks so much for reading my latest article – Best Printers for Screen Printing: A Buyer’s Guide and Brief Tutorial – and I encourage you to visit my blog – Art Side of Life – for other buyer’s guides, online courses, articles and lots of other resources.

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