Screen printing fabric with latex house paint

A note about my experience on screenprinting fabric with latex house paint…

 screenprinting fabric with latex house paint
100% cotton fabric screen printed and stamped with latex house paint.

I have been screen printing fabric with latex house paint for at least 3 years now. I have successfully printed a lot of things: napkins, pillow covers, curtains, t-shirts, tote bags, etc. I have exclusively printed on cotton, linen, and ramie, so I can not speak for synthetic fabrics.

I hesitated sharing this information because

1.) I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing before putting it out there, and
2.) I was not sure how it would be received. In the end, I figured, if it can help someone else, it’s worth the risk of an internet backlash (ha-ha!)

I mostly print on things that will not get a lot of washing, but I have successfully machine washed, and hand-scrubbed fabrics that I printed. I have found that it is best to wait at least a week or so, to let the paint cure, before attempting any washing. 

modified latex house paint on a screen. screenprinting fabric with latex house paint
modified latex house paint on a screen.

So obviously, you can not just glop on some house paint onto your screen and expect a good print. If that was the case, everyone would be doing this already. There are a few reasons this would not work out.

  1. Latex paint, used in its pure form, is too runny to be pulled through the screen.
  2. Latex paint, used in its pure form, dries REALLY fast, and will gunk up your screen.
  3. Latex paint, used in its pure form will leave a nasty haze on your screen, because it dries so quickly.
  4. Latex paint, used in its pure form dries stiff on fabric, leaving a not very pleasant ‘hand.’ Because of this, it also tends to crack over time and washings.
  5. Latex paint, used in its pure form, *may not be* wash-fast. This is debatable.

I call these ‘challenges to overcome’.

In order to make latex house paint suitable for printing, it needs to be ‘modified’ and ‘extended.’

Modifying & Extending the Paint:

Extending the paint simply means diluting it. This means that you are not using the paint at full strength.

You will be diluting the paint with a thickener. Wait, what? Yes, you are thinning with a thickener. It will make complete sense, I promise.

Latex house paint is highly pigmented and can stand to be thinned. Strangely, the color is not noticeably lightened in this process.

Extending the latex house paint solves challenges #1-4. Extending the paint will:

  1. Thicken, duh. Now you can pull it thru the screen.
  2. The extender used will slow down the drying process.
  3. Because it will now dry slower, there’s less likelihood of it drying on your screen, leaving the haze of color, and possibly blocking the holes on your screen.
  4. Because the paint has now been extended, it will dry on the fabric with a much softer hand, and the paint will not crack on your fabric with repeated washings.

Modifying the paint just means that you will add textile medium. This solves challenge #5.  to make the paint wash-fast.

Now, I’m of 2 minds regarding washability. I believe that latex paint is washable on fabric.

Think about the last time you got paint on your clothes while painting. How hard was it to get that paint out? Extremely.

I add textile medium for extra protection. I do not really believe that latex house paint needs textile medium to be wash-fast.

On the other hand, I’m nervous to leave it out.

 screenprinting fabric with latex house paint
latex house paint that has been prepped for printing.

So you want to know what I use to extend my paint, huh? 

I have tried a variety of products to make my paint screen-able. Here are the ones that I have tried.

  1. Shaving Cream. The cheaper the better.
  2. Clear, non-flaking hair gel. The cheaper the better.
  3. Unscented Lotion (yes, lotion) The cheaper (think dollar store) the better.
  4. Mineral Oil
  5. Permaset Aqua Print Paste

So there ya have it.

In the next post, we will dive into more detail about each of these materials. If you have not, subscribe here so that you don’t miss it..

 

13 comments Add yours
  1. Hey so I mistakenly used latex paint in it’s pure form to run some prints because I was rushed and out of ink. SO, I now have a screen that has been blocked and won’t open up despite a few attempts with Speedball screen cleaner. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks a lot!

  2. Oh no!
    So sorry to hear that. I’d say try a paint stripper. I’ve had a little luck with the orange stuff that’s a little less toxic, but I think a straight up paint stripper might be your best bet.

  3. VERY glad to find this… been wanting to try it for quite awhile, thank you.
    btw, you came up #1 on google for ‘silk screen latex paint.
    and you subscribe link didn’t work on the #1 latex page.

  4. Thank you so much for your comment, Lou! I am so happy to hear that the information was of use to you. Thank you for letting me know about the google ranking and also for letting me know about the broken link. I am so sorry that it was glitched. I am fixing it right now.
    I have not tried Elmer’s glue yet. What would you be using it for? That would probably affect how well it would work. As a textile medium, it might work. I suspect that textile medium is probably some sort of glue. As a way of applying other things, like say gold foil or glitter, it would probably also work…to a point. If the glue was a more permanent bond, not something that would re-wet with water.

    I also just tried Liquitex heavy gloss gel to thicken the latex for screen/block printing. Worked like a charm but left the fabric a little stiff. If you are not printing on fabric, that is probably a non-issue.

    Well, let me know if you try anything else!

  5. Yetunde;
    I have used Elmer’s for years for decoupage. I thin it a bit with DISTILLED water and it works weel iand is pretty water resistant dry.
    It occurred to me when I did a search for ‘fabric medium’ and saw Mod Pouge listed. I have replace that with the elmer’s many times. Yo DO have to clean up pretty quick but you can adjust that with the water.

    🙂

    L.

  6. Good Idea. Can I print signs with outdoor water base paints? What screen size do you use? Where is your youtube channel showing the process you use?

    Thanks

  7. Hello!
    Thanks for checking out my post. I’m glad that you found it useful. To answer your questions:
    1. I don’t see why you couldn’t use the water based paint to print signs, however, it depends. Will the signs be subjected to year round weather? the print might fade, I think. I think you could probably use the same process with any outdoor paint.
    2. I use a variety of screen sizes, but the largest I’ve used is about 20×26. I think if you are printing long runs, you might want to add some sort of retarder to slow down the drying of the paint.
    3. I have a Youtube channel, but alas, I have no screen printing videos on it. I just have a couple of random videos, but here it is, in case you still want to look at it: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrXHsBYXvVb4b86sGrt_ieg

    Tootles!

  8. Hi Yetunde, I love it that you are sharing your screen printing tips, I hope to do the same on a blog very soon.
    I came across your blog because I was searching whether anyone else has tried house paint to screen print with. My client saw a house paint colour she liked so I went and bought a test pot, instead of trying to colour match with my other acrylic based paints.

    Basically I am printing onto some leather, it doesn’t react the same as most fabrics because its not at all absorbent, therefore It doesn’t need heat curing and it wont be washed (being made into clutch bags). I will mix it with medium to make flow through the mesh.
    My question to you is whether you think it will crack, have you tried leather at all?

    Thanks. Sam.

  9. Hi Sam!

    Thanks for stopping by, and I’m so happy that you got some use out of my ramblings :).
    I have tried the latex on leather, and it works well, no cracking. I have things I printed years ago that look the same still, so have at it!
    Let me know how it works out for you.

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