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Thermofax Screen Printing

11 Jun 2008

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!



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Sharon at Norah'S wrote
on 11 Jun 2008 11:37 AM
No, I'm afraid I am still totally mystified. Your fabrics are beautiful.
Cheryl wrote
on 11 Jun 2008 10:53 PM
Wow, that fabric with the white screening is beautiful! I have a Japanese product called a Gocco that does "mini" screens that are 5x7 inches. You've inspired me to break it out and play with it again!
Maggie wrote
on 12 Jun 2008 7:31 AM
thanks for the tutorial Pokey. Have you seen Spoonflower -you can have your own fabric printed by them. Maggie
Carol Wiebe wrote
on 12 Jun 2008 9:43 AM
I sooooooooo want a thermofax machine. I wrote in my blog about suffering from thermofax envy! I've done traditional screenprinting, but this is so quick and easy--and, as you say, patterns are EVERYWHERE!
Lisa wrote
on 12 Jun 2008 5:42 PM
What a great way to take an okay fabric to fabulous! Your fabric is spectacular, I can see why you are having a good time with your new toy.
Sharon wrote
on 13 Jun 2008 11:33 AM
I have always wanted one of these machines but thought that they costed too much money? Now that I see the actual price, I can save up for one and be able to buy a reconditioned one some day! I love the look and now I know were and what I can do with all of my doodles and things that I have in my sketchbook!!! Thanks so much for the post!
natalya wrote
on 13 Jun 2008 11:53 AM
ah there it is again.. new toy envy.. i'm still trying to resist the embellisher, now i have to resist the thermofax, especially now that i understand how it works... thanks for the tutorial!
melanie wrote
on 13 Jun 2008 7:02 PM
or maybe it could be like the Etch-a-Sketch? a toy that I didn't own but always, ALWAYS, played with at my friend's house. Question -- must the photocopy ink be the powdered toner used in dedicated copiers, or would a photocopy from an inkjet or laser printer work?
Stephanie wrote
on 17 Jun 2008 3:57 PM
Pokey- What is really cool is that you can transfer your own drawings if they are done with graphite pencils (ie an Ebony pencil). You can also do rubbings of texture and use that to create the thermofax screen. The beauty of using these directly is that they have a more drawn quality to them. And man, is it fun to make textural rubbings!!! And I love the idea of craft night with your people!
Pokey wrote
on 17 Jun 2008 3:59 PM
Melanie, your comment cracks me up because my free-motion design *does* look like something from an Etch-a-Sketch! About the toner: One of our copiers in our office works, the other does not. The one that works indeed uses the powdered cartridge. Anything I copy from any source (as long as it's high contrast) works. So if I took a sheet from my ink jet printer and made a copy, it would work. I used to have an ink jet printer that I could take a print-out and directly transfer to the screen through my Thermofax. I do not know what type of ink it used, but it made the impression in the screen quite successfully. I would try experimenting to see if you could make screens directly from your printer. (It can't hurt because if it doesn't take, the screen wont have an impression and can be used later.)
Kathy wrote
on 17 Jun 2008 5:06 PM
Looks fascinating, but what do you call the material that you use to make the screen and where can I get it? I tried searching for thermofax screen without success.
Pokey wrote
on 17 Jun 2008 5:21 PM
Kathy, Here's a direct link to the thermal screens at Welsh Products. I initially purchased by the sheet but because I do so much screening now, I recently bought a roll. An idea might be to go in on a roll with friends and split it up. More cost effective in the long run!
waterrose wrote
on 18 Jun 2008 12:17 AM
That is such a cool piece of equipment. I'm sure I could sneak one into the house and it not get noticed for a few days... And, that resort in Sedona is fabulous...just the place to relax and create.
Robbi wrote
on 20 Jun 2008 4:34 PM
My daughter has a few tattoos, I asked her if she would take along an image with her next time she has a tattoo done and ask if they'll make me a screen. She said no. Then she came home from college to treat me to my own tattoo. The artist that did my ink does other art too, maybe if I get enough tattoos, she'll do a few screens for me. I should have at least asked for the screen from my own tattoo. Let that be a lesson to you. Sam and I are going to get matching tattoos, she is still turning up her nose at my suggestion about keeping the screens... Oh well. Youth. Robbi
melicia evans wrote
on 30 Jun 2008 5:47 PM
Thanks for the link. I recently found a used machine, but have had trouble finding thermal screens for it. Does anyone know of any other place other than Welshproducts who carry them?
Diane wrote
on 16 Jul 2008 10:10 AM
Wow! I love that fabric. Thanks for showing the step by step -- you did make it look easier that it sounds. Your results are great.
Tony wrote
on 19 Aug 2008 1:00 AM
I recently saw thermofax screen printing supplies on a German web site another artist mentioned recently. It is I know a little German, enough to find a selection of the screen, but not enough to sign up for an account and make a purchase.
chris masters wrote
on 28 Oct 2008 11:55 AM
I want to lean how to put pictures on quilt blocks and put it together for family quilts for each person. where can I get a program like this for the computer.
Roberta Nelson wrote
on 19 Feb 2009 11:09 AM
Can you tell me what machine you have and where you bought it, it looks newer. Thanks, Roberta
Lori wrote
on 24 Feb 2009 8:53 PM
I wanted a thermofax too but just today found out there has been a revival and a new more affordable alternative....Yudu. I bought mine locallly at AC Moore but you can get them online at I can't wait to try mine.!
on 30 Sep 2009 8:29 AM

What is the brand that is pictured above?  It appears to be the same machine that Claire Fenton uses in her Workshop, and I have strained to read the brand name or word on it.  

on 20 Jan 2010 8:40 AM

Creating Figures in Fabric; Leftover Dye Pillows; Turning fabric dyeing mistakes into masterpieces; Experimentations

on 6 Oct 2010 2:44 AM

Great information. Thermofax screen printing is very easy way of  screen printing but also there exists silk screening which is a fast and better way of printing available at  . It provides high quality screen printing equipment, supplies, service and education.

fiberjoy wrote
on 29 Sep 2012 12:44 PM

I've been using Thermofax screens for a long time. Here are a few hints I've discovered for making successful prints;

1. Except for very thin fabrics, it's best to make 2 passes with the ink. The first pass is very light, just enough  to distribute ink atop the screen. On the second pass push firmly downward so the ink goes through the screen for an even print. Hold the squeegee at a 45 degree angle. The first pass can be in any direction. The second one should be pulled toward your body. Making too many passes will cause ink to leak under the edges of the design.

2. Before lifting the screen completely, check the print by lifting a corner  while holding the screen it place with your other hand. You can lay it back in place and touch up any empty spots. Also, after you've cleaned the  screen  it can be aligned over dry prints to make touch ups.

3. Always  print and clean the screen from the top ( non shiny side) to avoid  damaging the image.

4.For printing, I tape my fabric to newspaper with a few small bits of masking tape. That way I can pick up each piece to move it for drying without the fabric flapping and possibly off-printing onto itself.

5. Use only water soluble inks. Oil based inks will melt the screen. Some inks and fabric paints work better than others. White can be difficult, but when mixed with a little color to make a pastel, it works great. Check often and clean the screen if it starts to clog with ink. Always make tests of inks and print technique  on your fabric before starting an important project.

Happy printing!


Kae Ko wrote
on 10 Aug 2013 3:08 PM

Can you use thermofax screens to print on tshirts?

Kae Ko wrote
on 11 Aug 2013 1:55 AM

Will thermofax printing work on tshirts?