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

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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.)

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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.")

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.