A few years ago I was lucky enough to see some professional screen printers in action. I was surprised at the overall simplicity of the process, but also quite impressed with just how cool it all was. As years of brilliant shirt design ideas came crashing back into my brain, I decided then and there that I had to get my very own screen printing gear as soon as possible. The first hurdle was when I realized that the impressive four-screen printing rack and drying machine they were using would set me back roughly the price of a used car and took up roughly the same space. And making matters worse, that wouldn’t even include any equipment for making the screens themselves. The second hurdle, which proved impossible to conquer, was when my wife refused to let me get a small business loan to start my new t-shirt company.
My next move was to scour the internet for any and all consumer level screen printing equipment. What I found was disappointing to say the least, ranging from seemingly random flimsy bits of equipment sold as a kit, to directions on how to build my own setup. We tried one of the highest rated consumer kits on the market and, although it was fun to see our designs come to life on t-shirts, onesies and more, the kit was overly complicated and required us to build our own light kit for exposing the screens. That, as well as having major design flaws that made it hard to secure the screens against the item to be screen printed, made it hard to use and a big mess to clean up afterwards.
Not wanting to waste any more of my time and money with something that may only last through one design, I was absolutely thrilled when a few months later I found the Yudu Screen Printing Machine from Provo Craft. At approximately 32 x 21 inches and at an MSRP of $299, I knew the Yudu would fit perfectly into both our home, and our budget.
Why we love the Yudu:
What set the Yudu apart from the other screen printing kits we tried was that it was actually one well built machine with a great all-in-one design. With high quality pieces that are much closer to the professional screen printing set ups, the Yudu is the only home use screen printing kit I would recommend for those interested in starting out. The Yudu is made up of three basic pieces: an upper frame to hold the screen, a platen for holding the item you’re printing, and the base consisting of a light table with a drying rack underneath. This all-in-one design makes it easy to store as well as much easier to use, all without sacrificing quality.
How to use the Yudu:
The first step to screen printing is to create your image, which you can do in a variety of ways. The simplest way is to use a computer and your choice of design programs and then print it onto a transparency sheet. Other options include tracing your image onto a transparency using the Yudu’s light table, or creating your image with pieces of paper or anything else with a distinctive enough shape. On our first effort, we used our Cricut Expression to cut out a large skull and crossbones with a scrolling design to add flourish. This allowed us to get extra creative with our limited artistic abilities and to get around the fact that we had al overlooked transparency sheets when collecting our screen printing supplies. To add even more distinction to our design, we distressed the edges of the scrolling design which worked amazingly well to soften the hard lines when screen printing later.
Step two is to create the screen using your image and an emulsion sheet. You simply apply the emulsion sheet to the mesh screen of the Yudu with water and then place in the lower drying racks to adhere to the screen. Once the emulsion is dry, it’s time to apply your design and expose the screen to get your image permanently embedded in the screen. We simply laid the Cricut shapes on the emulsion screen in the configuration we wanted and then placed it all in the Yudu for exposing. Once it was exposed, we simply ran the screen under water and the negative image was developed on the screen. All the emulsion that is exposed to light stays on the screen while everything that is blocked by your image rinses away.
Once your newly made screen finishes drying, you are ready for the final step – putting your image on t-shirts, paper, and more. You simply arrange the item to be printed on the Yudu platen – a shirt guide with a tacky or sticky front to keep the object steady. Then you place your screen into the Yudu’s hinged lid, and pre-fill the screen with paint while the Yudu top is raised slightly. Once the paint is applied to the entire design, you simply set the screen down on the object you are branding and then squeegee the design right through the exposed mesh of your image.
If you'd like to see a video of the Yudu in action, check out some great how-to videos here.
At this point you can really make your own rules and go wild with your printing. If you’re anything like us you’ll be running around your house in no time looking for anything and everything that you might be able to print on. After grabbing a wild array of items, our next idea was to stop cleaning the screen between colors and instead just mix them up into one wild sloppy pile of ink (termed “nasty style” by our screen printing masters). It started as an experiment, but this turned out to produce our favorite shirts of all, creating random smears of color and leaving the design rugged and 100% unique.
We found all sorts of things to screen print on, including t shirts, tank tops, onesies, and even thin shopping bags. The only things we weren’t able to get a clean image on were items that were bumpy that we couldn’t get to lay flat on the platen even with assistance. If you are really feeling brave, you can even take the Yudu screen off the Yudu unit and place on larger pieces that won’t fit on the Yudu platen, putting your images on an even wider variety of objects. We aren’t this brave yet, but haven’t ruled this out for future screen printing parties.
Another way to experiment with the Cricut and Yudu together is to screen print your design and then used cut fabrics from the Cricut (or, vice versa if you would like to screen print over your cut images) to add another dimension of fun to your projects. These multi-medium designs are another easy way to add multiple colors to your finished piece and even add in prints and fabric designs that would be difficult to create otherwise. We got to see a sample tote bag that was done at Craftacular in NYC and see an example of a finished piece using both the Cricut and the Yudu. After seeing that, we all decided that this will be our next Yudu project and we're going to be making totes and shirts for all our our family and friends with our new toys.
When we were finished experimenting and all of our items were printed, we had a kitchen and dining room stuffed with objects laying out to air dry while we cleaned up the screen. We decided that we were done with this particular design, having already printed half of our closet with the image and opted to use the emulsion remover the Yudu comes with to reclaim the screen and leave it clean and waiting for the next image we dreamt up. If we had been working on a large project and wanted to use our scull and crossbones design again, we could have simply washed the paint out of the screen and left it until the next screen printing session.
If you happen to make an image you think you may use a lot or just can’t think of parting with, you can always buy extra screens for $19 – $27 to have multiple screens ready to print at any given time. Having multiple screens is also a great way to make multi color images without having to tape off the screen and wash in between colors. As an added bonus, having a pre-made screen ready for printing shaves 80% of the time off your screen printing project and makes it so you can screen print quickly and easily without having a whole afternoon set aside.
Accessories and replacement parts are readily available online and at craft stores nationwide, and I have a wishlist of Yudu accessories I am waiting on my local craft shop to restock. Number one on that list is a few new screens, because I would love to try out some multi color images that don’t involve random experimenting and be able to keep a few choice screens to use over and over again.
A huge thank you to Provo Craft for sending us the best home screen printing kit ever; you have taken craft day to a whole new level and completely changed the way we think about home screen printing kits forever. As always, no monetary compensation was received for this Rave Review.