HOWTO: guerrilla t-shirt silkscreening with "5t311a"

BBtv guest teen haxxor correspondent 5t311a teaches us how to do guerilla t-shirt silkscreening, as described in Cory Doctorow's novel Little Brother, and as detailed in a recent series of Instructables posts. (Thanks, Charis Tobias!)

About Xeni Jardin

Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email:
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24 Responses to HOWTO: guerrilla t-shirt silkscreening with "5t311a"

  1. Psymiley says:

    5t311a U r0x37s!


  2. aimless says:

    Good overview, but I don’t really get why it’s guerrilla. I learned how to silkscreen in an institution and could have easily been brain washed into making shirts that said “I love having my civil liberties taken away! :)”.

  3. Kebie says:

    Nds mr vd fltr ffcts nd rdcls cts.

  4. Xeni Jardin says:

    @Aimless, it’s absolutely guerilla. The point here is that the told required are cheap and easily available to non-pros, and people who don’t have a lot of experience with art or craft. She’s not in an institution, she’s in her kitchen. It’s an easy, cheap way for young subversives to disseminate counterpropaganda fashionably. Or whatever they want to do!

  5. Anonymous says:

    This is what I thought of when I saw Guerilla silk-screening. I like this tutorial, and I won’t disagree with the “guerilla” name. But the link above is way more guerilla. All supplies available at a well-stocked thrift store.

  6. gladeye says:

    Permanent markers work too. f nly yng sbvrss hd smthng t sy.

    I hope the job on the shirt she’s wearing wsn’t dn sng ths mthd.

  7. Greatmiddlewest says:

    I also feel like the term “guerrilla” is a little out of place here. Is the goal to make screen-printing sound cooler to these young subversives? For us older subversives, maybe “DIY” would be a more suitable descriptive.

  8. Tony Moore says:

    Screenprinting’s a great way to spread an idea, especially with shirts.

    simply placing your transparencies onto your emulsion can sometimes be a little sloppy, because light can seep under the edges and screw up your exposure. i recommend placing a piece of glass on top of your transparencies to weigh it down and ensure the most snug contact to avoid light seepage.

    for an even quicker DIY process, you can cut your image out of wax paper, much like a graffiti stencil, tape it to the underside of an untreated screen and squeegee your ink across it. It really only works well for small runs, but you can set up your image and be underway very quickly.


  9. Cory Doctorow says:

    I’m incredibly impressed with 5t311a’s presentation here. Personalized self-expression is always in order and she makes it look easy and fun. There’s nothing more subversive than a young person with something on her mind.

  10. DogStarMan says:

    Great video! Can’t wait to try it witht the kids. 5t311a is the cutest thing ever.

  11. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Aimless, you learned screen printing in an institution. So did I — but back then, hands-on art was part of the public school curriculum. You can’t assume that now. You also can’t assume that kids have seen small-scale manufacturing processes, or direct image printing.

    Hands-on mechanical work of all kinds is getting rarer. My first car had an engine that looked just like the picture of an internal combustion engine in my fourth-grade science textbook. You could tell what everything did just by looking at it. If the ignition wouldn’t catch, you could take off the oil filter (no screwdriver required) and poke the butterfly valve with a stick to rev up the fuel-and-air mix. My most recent car had computerized fuel injection, and had to be fixed by a professional.

    These days, a short-run t-shirt image is probably printed on a machine that looks like one of these. Even if you got to see one in operation, it wouldn’t give you the idea that there’s a really simple version of the process that can be done in your kitchen.

    GreatMiddleWest, older subversives can correct for linguistic evolution.

    Tony Moore, would you really recommend waxed-paper stencils for beginners? I’d have thought they’d be more frustrating than liberating. If the run’s that short, I’d go with a cardboard stencil plus fabric paint and Sharpie markers.

  12. Eddie Codel says:

    Excellent tutorial, 5t311a! In the era of CafePress it’s too easy to not make your own. You make it fun and simple, which are necessary ingredients to successful subversion. Look forward to more of these!

  13. Tony Moore says:

    Wax paper’s thin enough that it wouldn’t impede the ink from reaching the cloth through the screen, and will resist the moisture of the ink for a short run. The simpler the design, obviously the easier/better this technique works.

    on the prep side, wax paper’s nice, because you can trace onto it with a marker, like tracing paper, before you cut your stencil.

    Photo emulsion is by far the superior way to do it, but between the exposure times and ensuring a good turnout, especially with cheaper DIY setups, achieving the quality you want can sometimes be a hard thing to get a handle on.

    For that matter, with a graffiti-style stencil, you could just as easily pull your shirts tight across a piece of heavy cardboard to keep it from bleeding through and spray paint ’em on with good ol’ Krylon, as long as you let ’em have plenty of time to dry so you don’t walk around stinking up the place with fumes.


  14. Nawel says:

    Interesting discussion here. I’ve seen grafitti stencils made out of discarded X-rays. Also used for printing shirts.

    I used to hand paint my own t-shirts when I was a kid. I remember painting designs by Charged GBH, Cryptic Slaughter, Anthrax, Misfist, even a Helloween shirt for a friend. hehehe. those were the days.

    This video is very instructive, I’ve known the basics of silk-screening since a long time but never really saw someone putting the whole process is such a simple and fun way. Excellent job 5t311a. I think I’ve fall in love.

  15. 5t311a says:

    @gladeye sharpies are awesome but they dont last! its fine if you want to change your logo or slogan every week but for something that will be there till the shirt rips… screen print is still my choice
    also the shirt was a quickie stencil job with spray paint…a bit more guerrilla… but as you can see…not as impressive 🙂

    ~ 5t311a @)-


  16. 5t311a says:

    @Psymiley, @DogStarMan, @Eddie Codel, and @Nawel THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!

    ~5t311a @)-


  17. Gift With Purchase says:

    What’s the name of the music used in this episode?

    Thanks in advance!

  18. Tony Moore says:


    yeah, sheets of acetate like old X-rays, transparencies, printer separation overlays, etc, make awesome graffiti stencils. If you can find something like that, it’s great to set under a silkscreen and print though, and afterward, it’s sturdy enough to reuse for quite a while with whatever kinds of materials you feel like trying. Another benefit to the acetate sheets is that you can clean ’em if they start getting gunked up!


  19. kleer001 says:

    I like the editing and effects. They’re quite mature. That said I have no idea what is available out of the box from contemporary motion graphics software. I estimate the final video took longer than the screen printing its self. Was it all 5t311a or did she have some help?
    I love process documentaries, even micro-docs.
    5t311a, fight the good fight.

  20. unsafe at any speed says:

    Fun stuff, great video. I’ve made a few stickers and signs using the same DIY techniques and few extra items from the hardware store.
    I like the double transparency idea, now I won’t have to darken my graphics with a sharpie anymore. Thanks 5t311a!

  21. Psymiley says:

    And I typo’d my post. Doh!

    Something guerilla:

    Pocket screener!

    Will have to look Instructables up in a sec if one exists, but def’ for on-the-go. =3

  22. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Heh. Acetate sheets were the standard technology when I learned silkscreening, and photo-resist was the hot new thing. I like the idea of just having at the stencil with cans of Krylon. You can get all kinds of interesting effects with that stuff.

    5T311A, some Sharpies claim they’re permanent, and art supply stores have other pens (I forget the brands) that are supposedly permanent as well. They’re good for fine details, if you want to get fancy.

    You probably know this already, but there’s all kinds of nifty technology available at big suburban craft stores. Most of what they do with it is dull enough to make you cry, but the art supplies are great.

  23. Anonymous says:

    How do we clean the screen afterwards???
    Thanks. Neat video btw. 🙂

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