Block Printing T-Shirts with a Linocut
One of the most common questions I get is how I print my linocuts on fabric, particularly t-shirts. I wrote a short blog post about printing linocut t-shirts last year but I wanted to expand on that and give a lot more details and tips.
Linocut Supplies and Fabric Ink
Okay, here you can go the relief or screen printing ink route. Lately, I've been using Speedball's Fabric Block Printing Ink (like in the rattlesnake shirt pictured here) and Gamblin's Drive by Black Textile Ink, both oil-based and washable when dry. Many people use screen-printing textile inks for block printing and there are lots to chose from including Speedball, Jacquard, Versatex, Permaset (not a big fan) and Blick. These are generally water-based inks but washable after heat setting.
Oil-based inks have worked the best for the majority of my applications and I tend to get the crispest and most consistent impressions with them. If you do give screen printing inks a try I've found that foam brayers can improve the results, as can letting the ink sit on the glass slab for a few minutes to dry (and thicken) a little. My recommendations for textile inks is based on a big review of the best and worst block printing inks for fabric that I did.
In terms of the actual blocks for carving, I use battleship gray linoleum, purchased in large sheets that I then cut down to size. Sometimes I glue and mount them to sheets of plywood.
If you're interested, I've also posted information on buying linocut supplies.
Linocut Videos - Block Print T-Shirts
Here I show the process of printing on fabric - making a block print t-shirt with a linocut. I'm using my print titled, "Adventure Awaits," and printing on a 100% cotton t-shirt with the Gamblin ink I mentioned above.
- Ink the block with a slightly thicker layer of ink than you would if printing on paper.
- Print it a couple times on paper first to 'prime' the block.
- Put a thin press blanket or lay a flat piece of old fabric underneath the t-shirt.
- Pre-wash the t-shirt or fabric you're printing on.
- Put some paper inside the t-shirt or under your fabric in case the ink bleeds through.
- The inked lino block gets put facedown on the t-shirt. Mark where you want to place the block on the fabric with blue painters tape.
- When I'm printing pretty big blocks, I use my etching press to print rather than hand printing. If you don't have access to a press, exert as much pressure as you can down on the block with your hands, baren or even a rolling pin.
- While the manufacturers of the oil-based inks say that heat setting is not necessary, I hang the t-shirt to dry and then heat set in a dryer on hot for 20 minutes. The water-based inks generally must be heat set prior to washing - usually done by ironing.
If you looking for more information about the process of making linocuts, check out my page about designing, carving and printing a linocut on paper.