xTool Screen Printer Review and Project Ideas

I loved learning the xTool screen printer and want to share what I learned, a few projects, my top tips, videos, and even a few mistakes so you don’t make them. If you’ve never tried screen printing, you will have an absolute blast and be amazed at what you can create!

This really has been a fun addition to my craft room and even my daughter got in on the crafting. Today I’ll share a couple of the projects I’ve been able to produce, along with the frustrations and wins.

Horizontal image of a set of thank you cards made with the xTool screen printer in front of colorful background.
Learn about the xTool Screen Printer!

RELATED READING: xTool S1 Review and Tips for Beginners

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xTool Screen Printer Accessory

Here at Ruffles and Rain Boots, I’ve added laser crafts to the mix. One of the lasers I have is the xTool S1 40W, but also have many other pieces of xTool equipment and countless materials. I know the quality of the machines they produce and hope that my experience with the brand helps you as you consider any of their tools.

That said, I have ZERO EXPERIENCE with screen printing. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. And if that’s you, please keep reading because I learned a lot (the hard way). Today, I’m going to share what I learned using the xTool Screen Printer multi-color kit.

Vertical image of a wine bag with a Texas ornament cut on the laser with text which reads xTool screen printer review and projects.

Still Considering an xTool Laser?

If you’re investigating which laser to buy, it might help to read through my introductions to each of the lasers I use. Both are amazing tools with a focus on safety, however, they do serve different people and interests.

Takeaways and “Just the Facts”

If you’re someone who just wants to know whether I recommend it, this section is for you. This is a game-changer for most of us who want an easier process and I do recommend the xTool screen printer accessory.

My main takeaways using the xTool Screen Printer kit:

  • it’s a lot of fun to learn the process and make a myriad of crafts
  • everything you need is in the box (except a laser and clean up supplies)
  • the quick release frame clamps allow me to use the frames for multiple projets
  • the laser does all of the heavy lifting and the pre-sets work well (can adjust)
  • count on about an hour to engrave a large (7-9 inch), single color design
  • the documentation is lacking (99% of my frustrations pointed back to this)
  • wash engraving-heavy screens before use to dislodge any emulsion goo for better results on the first printing

If you have a compatible laser, I would recommend the multi-color kit screen printer over the single color. If you don’t have a compatible laser, I would recommend the xTool S1 40W and multi-color kit screen printer.

RELATED READING: xTool M1 – The Best Crafter’s Laser

Traditional Screen Printing vs Laser Screen Printing

Screen printing is a very old process of removing some goop from a mesh screen so colored ink can pass through and transfer the design to a substrate (shirt, towel, etc.). There are terms like photo-sensitive emulsion and press through / pass through, but all I needed to hear is that adding a laser to the process what going to speed it up A LOT.

Preparing the screens for traditional screen printing can be arduous and time-consuming. The pre-loaded screens from xTool take all that work out of the equation. And the laser provides an intense level of detail vinyl may not match. I think that’s why the Kickstarter campaign for the xTool screen printer raised more than a million dollars for the launch!

xTool Screen Printer Kickstarter promotional image of a screen printer, inks, and projects including totes, bags, t-shirts, cards, and wall art.

Ways to Use This in Your Small Business

Many of my readers and viewers are small business owners, so I’d like to highlight a few ways you can use this set up.

  • Print care cards for your existing product line.
  • Print thank you cards or social media cards to tuck into packages.
  • Create custom t-shirts for you and/or your employees to wear at shows, at markets, or in promotional images.
  • Make product mockup stations with your branding for promotional product images.

xTool Screen Printing Options and Machine

There are a couple of options for you to choose from: the single color or the multi-color kit. I received the multi-color kit from xTool and would definitely recommend it: nearly everything you need is in the box.

I’m not a girl to list out the contents of a box, friend. You can read all about the screen printer options here, but the important parts are:

  1. nearly everything needed (other than a sink and cleaning supplies) is in the multi-color box to get started (even some materials)
  2. frames and pins hold the screens and attach easily to the machine
  3. screens come pre-loaded with emulsion and allow for a simple start up with pre-loaded settings which require extremely minimal testing
Four image square collage of totes, wine bags, and thank you cards made with the xTool screen printer.

Knowledge Section: What You Need to Know Before You Begin

As I mentioned in my takeaways, I was disappointed only with the documentation which came with the printer. Here is a rapid fire of what I learned:

  • remove the xTool S1 from the riser if using the multi-color positioning tool (per xTool support, however some have been able to make it work)
  • the system might throw an error if the screws aren’t PERFECTLY positioned so take your time and potentially, place the multi-color positioning tool differently (I now put it on the right side of the machine)
  • reverse the image (MIRROR / flip horizontally) AND turn it 90 degrees toward the part of the screen nearest you (see note below)
  • if using the positioning tool, there is no need to reframe the second screen
  • when designing in XCS, set the Processing type to Screen Print first
  • start with a small, single color project on paper to avoid waste
  • place material on the board and adjust height easily
  • if you have part of a design which didn’t work as well as you’d like, just put ink and drag over that one section again (you run the risk of making the rest fuzzy)

Note: This might be common knowledge to some but I didn’t know to turn the image so that the top of the image is nearest to me when I PULL the ink toward me. The first time I tried to put a t-shirt or tote bag in there, I figured that out.

I’ve made designs that worked that didn’t follow this “rule,” of course, and I’ll share some below. That said, if you’re working on a large, single color or multi-color piece, keep this in mind. Always consider the substrate or blank when positioning the ENGRAVING.

RELATED READING: Cut White Acrylic with the xTool S1 Diode Laser

How to Stretch a Screen with the xTool Screen Printer (Prep Work)

It was ridiculously easy to prepare the machine and screens. You can watch this first project come together here in this xTool Screen Printer review video and thank you cards.

First, add the knob to the actual machine. You will also place the wood board with magnets onto the machine. You’re done.

To stretch a screen, make sure each lever is “unlocked” on the frame and place the pre-emulsified screen with the cardboard side face down into the center.

Horizontal image of a crafter putting the pins into the frame to lock in the xTool screen printing screens.

At about a 45 degree angle, slide in a pin over the screen, and press it down towards the frame. That locks in the screen to the frame – talk about an easy stretch frame!

Repeat on the other three sides. Next, remove the cardboard from the other side and lock each lever. The screen should be as tight as a drum.

How to Design in XCS for Screen Printing

As a reminder, each of these steps is shown in the video tutorial. Open XCS and select the Screen Printer from the menu at the right. I like to select this before designing, because it does change the layout of the canvas. Additionally, select “Coated Screen” from the material drop down menu and you’re ready to start designing.

Horizontal image of the XCS screen showing to choose the Screen Print and Coated mesh screen options within the software.

Drag in, import, or design your image. If you’re working with a single color, it should all be on the same layer. If you’re working with two or more colors, each should be on their own layer so you can process them separately.

Horizontal image showing the single layer for a single color design to use the xTool Screen Printer.

Rotate the image 90 degrees AND mirror or “flip horizontally.” This is because you’re putting the screen into the machine upside down for engraving. The way you flip is going to depend on your project, but the general idea is that you want the design set to have the ink PULLED towards you and away from the join at the machine.

Finally, select the “Engrave” processing type for all of the layers to load the material settings. I do adjust DOWN my speed slightly when working with heavy-engraving designs because I find it produces a cleaner product.

Horizontal image of the XCS screen showing the material settings to engrave the xTool Screen Printer coated mesh screen.

Load the screen into the S1 laser bed with the open side facing DOWN. Now, you’re ready to auto-measure distance, frame, and engrave. This is just like any other project for the xTool S1, so if you’re new to that, check out my step by step tutorials. For the screen printer projects, keep reading.

How to Screen Print a Single Color (Thank You Cards)

If you’re a visual learner, click to watch the how to screen print a single color design using the xTool screen printer video tutorial. This portion starts at 00:00.

My goals were to set up the machine, let the laser engrave a simple design, and work create a paper project. I didn’t need the multi-color tool so I just slipped it into the machine (while on the riser) and made sure to set my processing area and frame it. 

Lessons Learned

I learned “horizontally flip” in xTool speak is “Mirror” in what I’m used to crafting, so we have two steps when rotating the image: 

  1. turn the design 90 degrees (toward the open end of the frame) and
  2. mirror the design (flip horizontally on the canvas). 

To remove the emulsion dust (and there is quite a bit), have a brush, vacuum, or air blower handy. I have since learned to wash the screens immediately after burning and you’ll have a better first pull.

Thinner joins on letters won’t do great, so measure them before you engrave the screens. You can fill them in with a toothpick, if you’re so inclined, but it shows.

Vertical image close up of a thank you card made with the xTool Screen Printer and the S1 40w laser.

Blending on the screen works very well and is great for left over inks! We had a lot of fun with this part of the process. Speaking of ink, I still don’t know the “correct” amount to use for the multi-color screen printer kit but I put excess back (if unblended).

Horizontal image of crafter blending paint on the xTool screen printer set up.

One final thing I learned was that you need to have time for this. It is more of an afternoon project than a quick crafting win. There will be quite a bit of clean up, even for a single color project.

How to Stack Screen Print Designs (Wine Bag)

One of my goals was to see if I could stack multiple projects on the same screen. I also wanted to test a heavy engraving design (with a large block cut out) to see how they performed.

Because I knew thinner joins weren’t going to show up from the previous experiment, I decided to go bold with the boldest font choice. I did add some variation inside the state shape to test the detail.

Vertical image of a wine bag with a Texas ornament cut on the laser.

Lessons Learned

Put the design facing the side you’re standing when pulling the ink. This allows you to position the wine bag, shirt, etc. without seams getting in the way. Note: you do have some adjustments with the knobs on the front, including moving the base away from the screen join.

Stuff something inside any blank with thick seams or joins. xTool suggests only doing flat items but we like to push through barriers around here. Stuff it with something that can withstand pressure and heat while holding its shape.

Putting smaller projects on the same screen not only works, but is ideal for repeating projects. For example, I now have an ornament and a wine bag I can whip up quickly for a quick hostess gift.

How to Screen Print a Two Color Design (Tote Bag)

This was probably my most frustrating portion of the screen printing process, however, I learned the most from it. My goal was to actually just to try a two color design.

It was during this time I learned from xTool support that I shouldn’t use the riser for the positioning tool. After removing the riser, the software kept throwing errors about the base plate not being in the correct position, so I believe the manual could share more here.

Close up image of the multi-color positioning tool placed in the xTool S1 machine.

NOTE: put the positioning tool on the right side of the machine and don’t worry about the different screws and sensor on the left.

I also learned that the design should be placed so I can pull toward me. That said, the raised seams of the tote (at top and bottom) were easily overcome by placing something inside the tote (I used a pressing pillow, but a towel would work).

Lessons Learned

If you wash the screens before the first print, it will dislodge any emulsion or dust. It made a BIG difference in this project with the heavy engraving.

Two Color Design on the Same Screen (Tote Bag, Towel, & Shirt)

My goal with this one was to answer the question: could I put a two-color design on the SAME screen printer screen? I was thinking that if the design was small enough, I could put some sort of registration mark to be able to align the design.

WORDS OF WARNING: this technique can only be used on some substrates because things without the ability to be manipulated cannot be moved into position. T-shirts will work; large framed canvases will not.

Vertical image of a tote bag on a rock which reads dress for the job you want and an astronaut sitting on a moon in black and yellow.

Lessons Learned

This works on lightly colored substrates better. The black t-shirt was a nightmare to position! Though neither the red (magenta) or yellow turned out vibrant after drying, my daughter and friend loved it because it “looked vintage.” I learned I can lay down a layer of white first to help the colors pop but haven’t tried that yet.

The canvas bag and white substrates were easy to position and the colors were vibrant. Seeing the previous print through the screen made it go much faster and the placement was much more accurate.

Vertical image of a failed screen printing project with two colors placed on the same screen.

It was on this project I used the fine-tuning positioning adjustments for the first time. I was able to slightly and very easily adjust left and right, as well as forward and backward after positioning my material.

What Do You Think?

Overall, this is a very, very fun way to extend the use of your laser. The xTool Screen Print kit was easy to set up, use, burn the screens, and come up with some creative projects.

I recommend the xTool Screen Printer multi-color kit because it’s stocked with frames, screens, and fun extras to get you started. If you’re looking to start a screen printing business, this is likely not the set up for you, but for those of us who want to add to our small business or crafting repertoire, this is a fun way to do it.

Vertical collage of tote bags, wine bags, and other projects with text which reads xtool Screen printer review tips and projects.

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