Whenever I do a screen printing tutorial, I often get the comment from readers or friends that it looks complicated and they’d rather use a stencil. I couldn’t agree more that screen printing is a much more involved process with lots of steps, even with the handy kits that are available these days. And it can be intimidating, especially when you’ve never done it before or (even seen it done before).
I think that screen printing is fun once you get the hang of it and I love the results when it turns out right! But I love stenciling as well. I believe each has its place, and sometimes either one would be suitable.
Here are five things I think about when I’m deciding if I should
Stencil or Screen Print on Fabric?
1) Is your design very detailed, or made of solid shapes? If you’re using an image that has more detail, or you’re hand-drawing a design, screen-printing might be best. It would be very difficult to cut out all those fine lines.
But if your design is made of solid shapes, you could go either way.
2) Do you want to make a lot of the same design? If you created your own stencil on freezer paper, for example, it might not be as durable as creating your design on a screen. And passing over your screen with a squeegee is so much faster than using a stencil brush. And while you can also purchase plastic sheets and cut your own stencils, it might be easier to burn the image onto a screen than to hand-cut out your design (unless you have a fancy cutting machine).
3) How do you want your design to look? And will you have more than one color in your design?
Stencils can be bold with neat, clean lines.
Stenciled Quatrefoil Footstool by Infarrantly Creative
Or with the right tools and skill, stencils can help you create a blended, layered, or more rustic look.
Painted Fall Leaves by Mural Maker and More
But screen prints can be bold too, but a little more organic looking. And screen printing is definitely easier with just one color.
Screen Printed Geometric Jersey Scarf by Studs and Pearls
4) Is it something that will touch the skin? And will you be washing your design? Screen printing paint tends to feel smoother and lasts longer in the wash. However, you could use screen printing paint with a stencil, and you can add fabric medium to acrylic paint to make it more suitable for fabric.
Screen Printed Tiger T-Shirt by Always In Wonder
5) Do you have the right paints and equipment handy? Do you have enough time? Screen printing paint and screens are often harder to come by, can be pricy, and paints come in fewer colors. Many screen printing kits are huge and hard to store. And as mentioned, screen printing takes longer to create and burn your design, plus it’s trickier to get it right. If you could go either way, stenciling is cheaper, more convenient, quicker, and acrylic paint comes in tons more colors.
My paint stash: Lots of acrylic paint…
…but not too much screen print paint (for now…heh heh heh)
So…there’s not always a cut-and-dry, black-and-white set of rules when deciding between stenciling and screen printing, but you can consider the above five things to help you choose.
If you have both on hand and you have the time, try both! Experimenting is part of the fun of creating, and how we learn what works and how we develop our crafting skills. Enjoy the process, and figure out what you like for yourself!