An illustrated guide to making t-shirts with the Yudu machine

yudu template.JPG
Remember the screen printing system from the Boing Boing Video episode Mark and I shot at Maker Faire, the Yudu? Well, I wanted to make t-shirts for my personal blog, TokyoMango, so I went over to my friend Ben's house this past weekend to do a test run on the one he bought at the Faire. The Yudu, it turns out, is a great compact home printing machine as long as you don't have high expectations and are armed with mountains of patience. First, Ben mocked up two versions of his design using Adobe Illustrator, one for dark ink and one for light. We printed these out on a vellum transparency using a regular inkjet printer, then put it aside to dry. It took us several attempts to get a perfectly un-smudged transparency, but we finally got one we could work with. (This obviously is no fault of Yudu — it's either the printer ink or the vellum or the compatibility of the two.)
yudu emulsion.JPG
Next step: prepare the screen. We put emulsion on the screen in a darkened room through a wet-and-stick-and-dry process to get it ready for exposure. We wet the screen with a spray bottle and then squeegeed the excess off. Then we put the screen on a drying rack in the Yudu machine. The drying is supposed to take 20 minutes, but we found it took a good hour of manual hairdryer heat in addition to the preset drying cycle. While we waited, we ate pizza and wings and playing Rock Band. In earlier test runs with the Yudu, Ben claimed he had nightmarish troubles getting it to just the right wetness — the tutorials warn against making it too wet, but too dry was the bigger problem for him, leaving parts of the screen patchy and other parts just completely missing the emulsive layer. (Ben: "It was super annoying and I wanted to kill it.")
yudu exposure.JPG
Once the emulsion was completely dry, we burned the transparency onto the screen. We put the vellum transparency with the TokyoMango design on it on the Yudu's glass surface, put the emulsion sheet on top of that, weighted both down with a giant black bin, and then turned on the Yudu's Exposure button for eight minutes. After that, we took the screen downstairs to the utility sink and washed it. The emulsion that wasn't exposed to light simply washed off, the part that was had hardened and stayed put. We hair-dried it once again, and voila! The screen was ready for printing.
yudu puttingink.JPG
We placed the prepared screen on top of the Yudu's lid and secured it in place with clear mailing tape, then put the first test t-shirt on the platen (kinda like a t-shirt hanger for the machine) Note: be really careful to gauge the placement of the design on the t-shirts chest area. Just hanging it from the platen yields potential fashion disaster, with the design ending up at the collar bone.
yudu printing.JPG
Once we were sure everything was in the right place, we closed the top and put a line of ink at the top of the design and then squeegeed the ink over the design with slow, consistent pressure.
yudu done.JPG
It worked! Once that was done, we hung it to dry and then set the design in place with a couple minutes of ironing on both sides. We did nine t-shirts of different shapes and colors total; about half of them came out perfectly, and the other half had slight flaws — uneven ink distribution, an oddly positioned design, barely visible color combinations. In conclusion, we had a fun evening of t-shirt making, but it took a long time (five hours!) and would have probably taken even longer had Ben not diligently tested the machine with several other designs of his own in previous weeks. It's a great all-in-one toy for those who don't have professional screen printing aspirations or facilities. However, the machine itself ($300) and the accessories ($10 for a bottle of ink, $22 for the platen, $28 for a single screen, etc.) are expensive, and for the same price one could basically get a starter pro screen printing kit. Also, we only printed single color designs, but the process gets incrementally harder — virtually impossible, in fact &mdash when it comes to multi-color designs, because you have to line up multiple screens perfectly on a not-so-perfect surface. You can see the finished t-shirt designs and order one for yourself here between now and October 5th.

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  1. I still don’t really understand how this hulking $300 machine is “DIY.” People have been making screen prints for decades using this exact same process (transparencies, photoemulsion, exposure, squeegeeing) using $20 set-ups and $10 supplies. Isn’t that a little more DIY?

    I don’t quite see the niche for this. I guess a store that prints t-shirts would appreciate the slightly less-messy process, but really a store that sells tee-shirts would spend 60 bucks more on a real t-shirt printer, and not deal with all the squeegeeing.

  2. I’m with #1. This is the exact same process I used when screen printing years ago, except without the $300 machine, just using relatively cheap stuff from an art supply store.

  3. Can you expose regular wood-frame screens on it?
    My concern is that the elevated plastic border around the glass might get in the way of burning a decent-sized screen.

    It would be cool not to have to use their supplies ALL of the time, and unless you build one yourself, amateur exposure units are way too expensive.

  4. Nice documentation.
    The problems you’re having with emulsion and transparencies drying are ones you’d run into with any system.
    1) You can’t print with inkjet on most transparencies, you have to get the ones made for inkjet.
    2) The emulsion is totally not supposed to dry in 20 minutes. And you shouldn’t use heat to speed the process, that will mess it up (as you noticed). It looks like you’re using typical Speedball brand photo emulsion, I like to put that on the screens and let them dry overnight in a dark space. You can store them in the dark for weeks before exposing.
    3) There’s no good reason to spend $300 for single color printing. You don’t really even need a rig for that, just put the screen over the shirt and eyeball it. I’ve done 3 color prints this way, though a rig would certainly make it easier to line up the colors and would be essential for large runs.

  5. If you are spending a lot of time trying to print a good transparency, you might consider adding another step.

    Make a good print on paper, then use that to contact print onto litho film. Use that to make the screen.

    Litho film is relatively easy to work with. You can handle it under a safe light. Once you figure out the exposure to use with the paper negative, you don’t even have to run a test strip.

  6. The Gocco can do this too, and the process of creating Gocco screens is a lot easier. You just lay the screen on top of a photocopy of your design and then expose it with the Gocco light. Super easy.

  7. Or print to overhead transparency film using a regular laser printer – no problem with smudgy ink. re registration for four colour prints, a couple of wood blocks screwed to your work surface will let you line a regular screen up perfectly every time..

    Thanks for the review – I’m always interested in gadgetry that makes fiddly / messy / time consuming processes easier, and this clearly isn’t it.

  8. I’ve always hated printing on vellum. I find it much easier to print on regular sheets of paper and rub them with Crisco or any other cooking oil. It makes the paper translucent and perfect for screen printing.

  9. I’m still rooting for the traditional silkscreening methods. a 30-50 dollar kit gives you tons of options, and while it is fiddly at times, doesn’t seem any more so than traditional home printing. I get my transparencies done at a printing place–if they get borked, I get them to redo :)

    BTW, adorable tees!

  10. For really convenient screen printing google “print Gocco”. Instant screen burning with no rinsing and it is easy enough that a kid could do it. You can do a pencil drawing and in less than 5 minutes have 5 finished prints of it. The materials are a little pricey, but it is the best intro to screen printing ever. You can find them on ebay.

  11. Ys gr wth #1

    Ths s stpd pst. Y d nt mk clr wht Yd s thr thn jst V xpsr bd fr xpsng scrnprnt mlsn

    Sv yrslf dy f wrk nd py scrn prntng shp t mk y scrn. Spnd tht tm rsrchng/wrtng psts tht dn’t wst r tm.

    TkyMng

  12. Bre Pettis made a great video tutorial over on MAKE: showing what all of the above are talking about, with the ‘real DIY’ kit as outlined by the commentators…worth a look if you fancy screen printing at home

  13. Jeez, $300 for that? I just took a screen printing class at the community college and even with two pro 24×32 screens and a 100 pg stack of Kimodesk paper and it came out less than that. (Technical Supply in SLC is great, they can even burn screens for you). And I got full use of exposure and print facilities plus expert advice.

    Also about transparencies, ink jet ones are too expensive, scuff very easily, and their frostiness keeps the exposure from being as sharp as it could be. It’s just better to print on normal paper, head to the local library and use the xerox.

    Also dose anybody know of a good halftone pattern maker program?

  14. once upon a time when I was in 6th grade (1990ish), my dad simply printed the image onto some special paper, and then we ironed it right on…

  15. Also dose anybody know of a good halftone pattern maker program?

    In Photoshop: Image->Mode->Bitmap->Halftone Screen… (in the Method drop down).

  16. Another thing I just thought about, regular vellum and transparency sheets are uv-proof coated, keep your sheets in dark archival storage because they’ll fade, paint markers are the best thing to use for freehand doodling but sharpies can make for weird ratty lines, and amber/rubylith is a pain to work with but the excess makes for a dandy gell for camera flashes.

    And even if you use acrylic ink it’s still a good idea to degrease your screens and wear gloves while washing.

  17. Just as easy and much cheaper…
    photoez and/or stencilpro. Expose the screen to sunlight with your printed velum or transparency on top, wash out with water and its good to go. We just started playing with it yesterday and love the simplicity and the great results. If we had the space we would certainly go the traditional route, but we do not.

  18. and then we ironed it right on…

    Iron-on is a different (and inferior) process. And screening is kind of a pain in the ass for the average person, so a set-up that helps the not-so-artistic to do their own printing will pay for itself pretty quickly.

  19. The orange shirt sounds nice, but I am wondering how the logo looks on an orange background? Do you have any pictures of the orange version?

  20. Far out, Fetishghost! This stuff looks great. I *hate* painting emulsion onto screens. Which do you like better – photoez or stencilpro?

  21. @ NOT A DOKTOR: as a production artist for a screen printing company.. i would have to say that Freehand 9 or MX would probably be your best bet for half tones if you wanna see the half tone dots display on screen. illustrator will produce half tones, but they won’t appear as dots on screen.. whether or not it prints as a half tone is up to your printer.

  22. I can’t really say, yet. We started playing with photoez yesterday and it worked great. We just finished “burning” our first screen with the stencilpro and it is drying at the moment. It is hot enough that I should be able to print something up in a bit. I’ll have a better formed opinion later today.

  23. The Yudu, it turns out, is a great compact home printing machine as long as you don’t have high expectations and are armed with mountains of patience

    You should totally be a sales person!

  24. I’ve worked as a screen printer for a few years, and the Yudu seems convenient, but it seems to be quite pricey. Theoretically you could do all this for about 100 bucks; a Speedball kit, some Jiffy Clamps, and a flood lamp. To me, by looking at the YUDU tutorials, it looks like it would be about the same amount of difficulty as a speedball kit. The sticky emulsion paper and self contained exposure lights look pretty nifty, but I’m sure this system takes a while to get the hang of. For a DIY hobby printer this might be O.K. it looks convenient, but it seems to be nearly as complicated as something half the price.

    A few of the questions. O.K. Nobody asked me.
    1. We have a store that screen prints shirts on demand, and we spent way more than $360 on a real press, and still have to squeegee.
    2. For most of the time, instead of using clear transparencies, you can get away with using some type of translucent paper, i.e tracing paper. Not vellum, tracing paper. We have a paper that works on inkjet and laser
    3.Gocco works great, but is small format.
    4. Dude, that “Crisco” trick is totally disgusting. !
    5. Tnky, u r a dk.

  25. They make a much cheaper version of this in Japan. I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s something like Mr. Print or Mr. Screen or Mr. Screeny Print. I bought the Jr version some years back when I first moved here and it works wonderfully.

    The Mr. Print has pre-emulsed screens that you can buy to use with the system that are then loaded onto plastic framed that you tension mount and re-use with new screens. Instead of vellum there’s a special paper used to print the designs onto that’s like a very low weight paper.

    I’ve done screen printing the DIY way before, and honestly a lot of the kids here use the Mr. Printy Fabulous method for their punk goods at shows and I understand why. The system is cleaner to use and with the timed exposure I’ve never screwed up a screen, something I simply cannot say for all the times I’ve goofed up otherwise. Also, as you only have one frame that’s easy to mount screens onto it saves a lot of space in cramped apartments.

    If someone really wants the name, I’ll be happy to find it when I get home, but I know they sell the system at Tokyu Hands and for the $100-odd I paid for it it makes things a lot more convenient. I can’t imagine paying $300 for a system that doesn’t even include ink and emulsion, though. Screeny-Print comes with all materials, including 3 inks, I think 5 screens or so and cleaner.

  26. a great compact home printing machine as long as you don’t have high expectations and are armed with mountains of patience

    Where do I sign?

  27. As far as the problems with the capillary films go, you are not alone. I have seen so many complaints about them. There is a kit so you can coat your screens with liquid emulsion instead. Find it at http://www.diyteeshirts.com/yudu_screen_hack

    As far as needing a good screen burning solution, you can always burn them in the sun.

  28. people using the yudu..I got one and this are truely true story of me..I got a yudu and I dont really use their fabric paints..I use facric paint from speedball is less expensive and alot better ..yudu wants you to think you cant use other inks beside their paint..hahah is a lie..they just want your money.. same with the emulsion sheets..from yudu screww that get a speedball emulsion kit and aply it on the yudu frames and their you go.. saves cash..and more emulsion for more projects to last.. and you can also burn regular wood frames and elimunum frames… some info to you yudu user…

  29. I have a YuDu and it seems to work fine except for useing whie ink on black shirts! it dosen’t cover the black very well and the image dosen’t come out crisp! Black ink on white cloth works fine but not the other way aroud.If anybody has a solution please let me know

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