Easy Pet Portrait Silkscreen Project

November 22, 2008

If you want to immortalize your own furr-ball on your stuff then this is the easiest and fastest way to get it done. You can save hundreds of dollars and create your own pet silhouette using just a few simple materials and a little creativity. 

Here are the supplies you’ll need:
1. a silkscreen frame (check out the ‘build a frame’ tutorial )
2. some textile inks/ pigments or acrylic paint
3. a squeegee (the plastic end of a spatula or a large plastic dough scraper) 
4. something to print onto (we’ll use fabric for this demo), but it could be a pillow case, a tote-bag, a lunch bag or a t-shirt.
5. some t-pins
6. masking tape
7. heavy card stock
8. tracing paper
9. an exacto knife
10. a picture you love of your pet

Step 1: Find a great picture of your pet

For me this was easy. Tabu, my old cat, was always providing great subject matter for photos. I liked this picture because it showed how he would tend to lean to one side when he sat. And it was typical of him to wait right in the pantry for his food! So the most important thing for you to do when choosing a picture of your pet is to choose one that you love. Some other tips to keep in mind are side profiles or 3/4 profiles or a full body front or side profile make the most interesting silhouette portraits. I find that photos of just pets faces taken straight on do not have enough interesting shape detail to make a great silhouette.You can use the photo as is if you like the size or you can enlarge, shrink it or both if you want on a computer or photocopier. I have done two versions of my cat Tabu. A small one for small cards and invitations I might do in the future and a larger one I can screen onto a pillow. Maybe my favorite cat nap pillow!

Step 2: Trace the silhouette of your pet

Use tracing paper to trace around the silhouette of your pet. In my photo tabu’s tail was outside the frame so I just drew the rest in.


Step 3: Transfer the tracing and cut out the silhouette


Then transfer your tracing onto heavy card stock. You can use regular bond paper but once you print with it and take it off the screen it’s not likely you will be able to reuse it. And also, don’t use a paper that is too think- it will make it hard for you to print.


Now, cut out the shape you have traced on a self healing mat or some other surface you can cut on safely.


Here’s what the cutout will look like. I also save the part I cut out because it can be used for other printing projects.


Step 4: Tape your silhouette to your screen


You now want to tape your silhouette to the underside or the substrate side of the screen. Make sure you tape off the sides of the cut out all the way to the edge of the screen so that the inks won’t squish out onto your work.


Step 5: Set up your print area


You’ll want to set-up the area you’re using to print. If you have an end of a table to use that will work as long as it is completely flat. Ideally lay down 2 layers of felt larger than the screen by at least five inches. Then cover that with two plain sheets. if the table is going to serve as a permanent place for you to silkscreen then staple down tightly the sheets and felt. Otherwise tape them down so they won’t move. FYI, an ironing board will not suffice- it can’t provide the resistance you need when you are squeegeeing your inks.

Then you’ll want to lay down your fabric to print onto. If you are planning to print on a pillow cover or t-shirt or tote bag then you should make sure you insert a few pieces of paper inside your object so the ink doesn’t pass from the topside to the underside. whatever you are printing on needs to be taped or pinned to the sheets and felt. make sure the object os pinned tightly and is not wrinkled.


Step 6: Get ready to print


Flip your screen over so the screen mesh and print silhouette are touching the fabric of your project. Then take you screen printing inks or acryllic paint mixed with a textile medium and put a generous amount along the inside edge of the frame closest to you (this is what we call the ‘well’ area).


Take your squeegee and plunk it down into the pigment ink. With it tilted on a 45 degree angle (more or less) pull the ink across the screen. You might want to keep one hand on the edge of the screen to keep it from moving.


Pull the ink across the screen with firm pressure. When you get to the other side switch the angle of the squeegee to point in the other  direction (towards you) and position it so that the bulk of the pigment is also on your side of the squeegee and pull firmly again. REPEAT this once more in both directions. That would be 4 ‘pulls’ in total. When you’ve finished then lift the screen away from the fabric- one side and then the other.


Step 8: Don’t forget to clean your screen and save your extra pigment


Before you get too excited about your new project clean off the excess pigment from the screen and re-save it. Then remove your stencil cut out and put it aside to dry to use again another time. Rinse out your screen before the pigment dries  and set that aside to dry.


Step 7: The big reveal!


There you have it! It’s a silhouette of your pet! Let it dry completely so it’s no longer tacky and then use a piece of parchment paper or scrap fabric over top of it to iron it for three minutes. Be careful not to scorch the print- keep your iron moving. 

Once you’re finished the print can be washed and dried. 

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Claire 06.29.09 at 7:50 pm

First off thank you for sharing your knowledge!
Second I wanted to get your opinion. When I silkscreen I have to do a lot more than just four pulls. I end up doing more like fourteen which is very tiresome(especialy when I’m doing lots of t-shirts). I’m wondering what I am doing wrong. Do you think it is because I am not using enough ink? Or does it have to do with the brand of ink? Or is it something else?


admin 07.02.09 at 10:01 am

I think your mesh count may be too high. Do you know what it is? You should NOT be using anymore than 110 and you can go as low as 90. If you have to go over it fourteen times then not enough ink is passing through the mesh- if you thin your ink does that help? What kind of inks are you using. Opaque inks and metallics require mesh counts of 83. Hope this helps.

Mariana 03.29.10 at 2:14 pm

So happy to find you! I’m an argentine designer who’s just started to dig into silk screening and fall in love with it. I have some questions (sorry if they sound too silly, I’m just starting!!):
1) Is it ok to use transparency film instead of paper to make the stencil? I can imagine that it would last longer, but not sure if the results are the same…
2) How do you clean the frame w/silk? Any specific products?
3)Can you use the same technique to stamp on paper?
Thank you so much!

admin 04.19.10 at 6:38 am

The transparency film will be hard to cut but you can use it. Check out my tutorial my ultimate guide and the answers to your questions will be there!

Jonathan 08.06.10 at 10:57 pm

Very nice paper stencil “how to” post! I love the subject matter. I have yet to do a video about paper stencils for screen printing. It’s an easy, fun method for home and hobby. Thanks again for sharing!

Natasha 08.22.10 at 12:14 am

What a fun tutorial. I am mainly a henna artist but started drawing my designs on fabric by putting the paint in a henna cone and hand-drawing each item. It’s a lot of fun, but I want to make the process less time consuming so I can produce more work. Which is where silkscreening comes in. I started making screens with drawing fluid and screen filler. This is definitely the way to go!

Have you tried using bleach paste to discharge a design with the screen-filler stuff? I have had good luck hand-drawing with the paste, but am worried it’s going to eat my screen.

admin 08.22.10 at 8:10 am

If you use the proper discharge paste for screen printing then it will never eat up your screen. But if you use other products I can’t guarantee they will be safe.

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