DIY Graphic Shirts (Lithograph Carving)

I wanted to give my mom a customized shirt for mother's day, but I didn't want to pay the crazy prices that online services charge to make just one shirt. So I scour the internet, tried a lot of different shirt making techniques, and ended with this as the final product:

So how did I do it? I used a method of image transferring known as "block printing", where you carve a relief of an image into a block, and then use it to stamp that image onto other surfaces. In layman's terms, I carved a rubber stamp.

Materials (see bottom of page for links to purchase from)

- shirt to print on

- linoleum block

- carving tools

- fabric block printing ink

- ink roller (brayer)

Making the Stamp

My stamp has been stained with ink from repeated use, but you can see the relief image that was cut in the linoleum block. I carved this mostly freehand, but I started by sketching the image I wanted onto the block with pencil. It is important to consider that most DIY block prints use one color, so the image needs to look good in black and white.

When carving, you want to remove enough material that ink will not be rolled into the grooves. For most inks, this doesn't need to be that deep. Cutting into the block too deep will cause the block to be less firm and more likely to fall apart.

Using the Stamp

Before printing on a shirt, it is important to test your carving on something like a piece of paper. This will let you see if the ink will sit like you wanted. To apply the ink, first squeeze out some from the tube onto a rolling surface (like onto a square of cardboard). Then use the brayer to spread the ink across the rolling surface, just enough that it covers the width of the roller for the brayer. Keep rolling until you get a smooth layer of ink applied across the entire brayer. Then roll the ink from the brayer onto the stamp. Roll back and forth in all directions to get an even spread. Repeat rolling brayer between the ink onto the rolling surface and the stamp until there is a film across the stamp. Then line up the stamp, press it to the page, and apply pressure for about 30 seconds.

The brayer and ink I use to print.

If the test print doesn't turn out as expected, clean off the stamp and keep carving until the stamp is fixed. If everything seems as intended though, repeat the ink rolling process as stated above, but switch out the test paper with the shirt you want to print on.

Final Product

Most block printing inks do smear and spread when applied, and can stain clothes if they get on your fingertips, so be careful when handling the ink. Hopefully if all goes as planned, you could end up with a shirt with a print like this.

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