Speedball Fabric Screen Printing Tool Kit Review
I've been a fan of stenciling for a while, since I rarely like the cheap t-shirts that companies put humorous slogans on, but I prefer something on a t-shirt rather than it being a solid color. I've heard many times that screen printing is the better way to go, but have been hesitant since it takes more of an initial investment than stenciling and I will only be making 1 of a t-shirt at a time.
When I finally decided to take the plunge, I thought a kit would be my best bet for getting everything I needed economically. When I ordered the kit, I knew little about screenprinting, but was reassured by the "instructions included" and didn't bother to seek out a tutorial first. The kit I chose was the Speedball Fabric Screen Printing Tool Kit though Speedball offers a few other screen printing kits, such as the Speedball Ultimate Screen Printing Kit and the Speedball Glo 'N' Dark Fabric Kit. The price tags on all of them were enough to make me wince, but the price tags on individual screen printing components are hefty too so it seemed fair. The Speedball Fabric Screen Printing Tool Kit was the cheapest kit of those that Dick Blick offered. It's possible to find cheaper kits that don't offer the stuff for photo emulsion, but I thought I'd want the photo emulsion and avoided those.
Why the Kit Sucks
It does not come with everything needed to screen print even one shirt. After receiving the kit, I had to break out the instructions and go shopping again (spending nearly 40$, which is only slightly less than I spent on the original kit). Things I had to buy included a spare toothbrush for cleaning the screen, dishwasher powder (trisodium phosphate), screen printing fabric ink, and water-resistant masking tape. Because I want to try photo-emulsion, I also have to buy a 150W clear incandescent light bulb, a disposable pie tin, acetate sheets, and a cheap Goodwill desk lamp (though many people might already have this one). I also had to go to Kinko's to make the copies on acetate, since the instructions implied it wouldn't be possible with my ink jet printer. Some of these items could easily have been included in the kit, such as the toothbrush, masking tape, and acetate sheets, for relatively little expense (remember that this is a kit with a suggested retail price of 50$). Others I realize couldn't have been reasonably included (such as the lamp).
I'm still waiting on some of my materials, so I haven't tried it yet, but I'm slightly leery of what goes into the photographic emulsion method. The sheer bother of getting a print on acetate, mixing things, spreading things, timing things and hiding the screen from the sun means that this method of screen printing is not a good shortcut for making moderately detailed screens such as those with a paragraph of text. My complaint here isn't with Speedball, but rather with my not knowing enough about photo emulsion before thinking I wanted it. Even with the work involved in hand-tracing fluid onto the screen, I think that will end up being my method of choice, unless trying to use some technique that is somehow impossible without photographic emulsion.
My final complaint is that the kit is a bit stingy on materials. It came with one paintbrush (too large for detail work), and one screen. If I want to save a screen to make again later, I'll need to buy more screens, and with the amount of work that goes into making them I think I'll be reluctant to destroy them right after use.
Why the Kit Rocks
I know it's possible to make your own frame with a picture frame and a stapler, but this frame is nice enough that I'd consider it worth buying.
The price was high, but the kit was still cheaper than any of the competition I could find. This is probably partially because the other kits seemed to be aimed towards commercial customers looking to sell t-shirts.
Finally, there's all the traditional arguments about why screenprinting is better. I've heard it lasts longer, is much easier to make multiple copies of, and since you can save the screens you can make it again later. Unfortunately, I haven't worn my t-shirt enough to vouch for the lasts longer bit, but I will say that hand-drawing my screen and preparing it did take a tad longer than preparing a freezer paper stencil, but the finished t-shirt looked a bit neater around the edges.