Thermofax Screen Printing

thermofax screen printing fabric

A sample of my hand-dyed and screen-printed fabrics.

What would you do if you had a month off and could do any one activity?  If I could take this kind of time, I’d scamper off to some secret destination (preferably a small creekside cottage in Sedona), and shlep plenty of Procion dyes, Jacquard and Golden paints, squeegees, rags, and my thermal imaging machine, one of my new favorite toy, for some screen printing.


An alternative to traditional silk screening, Thermofax screens can be made quite easily with images that have been copied using a copier machine. (You need the ink from a copier machine to successfully make the screen.) There are new thermal imagers on the market, or you can buy a refurbished Thermofax machine from Welsh products or go on eBay and bid against tattoo artists who use them for transferring tattoo designs. If you don’t want to buy a Thermofax machine but want to have something transferred to a screen, there are also people who will provide that service for you.

Claire Fenton gave me a brief, impromptu lesson  on how to make Thermofax screens ths past January at the last QA TV taping, and I’ve made about 100 since. It’s so simple, and I am utterly addicted.

Since I’ve gotten this machine, I’ve become more aware of patterns around me that I want to use to transfer to fabrics. For instance while sorting through my drawer of quilts in progress, I found one quilt block that I had free-motioned with an interesting pattern. I flipped the quilt block over on my copier machine so the back side of the free-motion work would copy, and here’s the resulting printout:

thermofax screen printing design

To make the Thermofax screen from the copy, you need a carrier to securely feed the screen and the photocopy through the Thermofax machine. Put the copy on the bottom, facing up, then with the smooth side of the screen facing down on top of the copy, run them through the machine. It’s the heat from the Thermofax machine that impresses the image onto the screen.

thermofax screen

Isn’t this exciting?

making a thermofax screen

To find out if it worked, carefully lift one corner to see if the Thermofax machine heated the photocopy enough to make an impression on the screen. If not, run it through one more time.

how to make a thermofax screen

Above you can see the impression on the screen as I peel it away from the copy. Now the only thing left to do is secure the screen to a frame or place duct tape all around the sides so the screen doesn’t curl, and it’s ready for use!

how to make a thermofax screen print

Thick fabric paints work really well for this process, and I simply slap on some fabric paint along the top edge of the screen. (To make sure I’ve got the right side of the screen facing up, I put an arrow on the top–another trick Claire taught me.)

Here’s what the screen looks like after you pull the paint down with a squeegee:

how to make a thermofax screen print

And here’s a yard of fabric created from my free-motion screen, using white fabric paint.

thermofax screen printing on fabric

I used this fabric for the base to create some fabric ATCs with a musical theme for the upcoming Long Beach show:


thermofax screen printing atcs

I hope this post demsytified the thermofax screen process a bit. As you can see, I’m having a lot fun with it!