Introduction: Make a Sweet Stenciled T-Shirt

Picture of Make a Sweet Stenciled T-Shirt

This is how to take an image, turn it into a stencil, and then put it on a t-shirt.

Here are some photos of the t-shirts I've made:

Step 1: Gather the Materials

Picture of Gather the Materials

  • t-shirt
  • textile paint
  • tape
  • foam rollers
  • a rag
  • some cardboard to use as a palette
  • translucent mylar, not too thin, not too thick
  • a cutting board
  • an Exacto knife
  • an iron

Step 2: Acquire the Image

Picture of Acquire the Image
  • Find an image on the interweb. High contrast/high res is best. This one isn't very high-res, but it will have to do.

Step 3: Crop and Adjust Image

Picture of Crop and Adjust Image

  • In your favorite image editor (The Gimp), crop the image down to what you'd like the stencil to actually be.
  • Then, using inches, size it to the actual size you want it. I made mine 7" but in retrospect I should have made it a little bigger.
  • Duplicate the layer so you always have the original to go back to. Then use the Brightness and Contrast tool (Tools->Color Tools->Brightness-Contrast in The Gimp) to create a two-color image (black and white).

Step 4: Make It More Like the Final Stencil

Picture of Make It More Like the Final Stencil

  • Once the contrast is adjusted, select by color and choose a black region of the image (at this point the there should be very little grayscale).
  • Create a new layer and fill the selection with red. Hide all of the other layers or insert a white layer between the new red layer and the others.
  • Use white and red "ink" to fill in spaces and connect all of the white. In the final stencil, everything that's white will NOT be painted. If you were to stencil red on a white t-shirt, this is how it would look. Make sure to connect all of the white. Leave no white islands. Also, I use a drawing tablet for this step instead of a mouse.
  • Notice I'm doing all of this with completely free and open source software.

Step 5: Print Out Then Cut Out the Stencil

Picture of Print Out Then Cut Out the Stencil

  • Print out the stencil and glue it face-first to the mylar w/ tiny little dabs of glue. Press it firmly and add some tape. If the paper moves, it can be a drag.
  • Use the Exacto knife on the cutting board to cut out all of the dark areas. Take your time with this part because it's hard to fix mistakes. I use an exacto with a flat blade and press and lift to make cuts. This step can take a while.
  • Once all of the dark is cut out, You should be able to carefully peel the paper away from the mylar. Then cut off the extra Mylar (you'll use it later) and tape paper around the outiside of the stencil to make a frame or a shield to keep things cleaner when it comes time to put the stencil on the shirt.

Step 6: Cut Out Some Words

Picture of Cut Out Some Words
  • With the extra mylar, draw some words by hand. I use a pencil and some engineering paper to keep things sized well. I also remembered that the stencil was 7" wide, so I made this the same.
  • Cut this out as you did the previous one.

Step 7: Put the Stencil on the Shirt

Picture of Put the Stencil on the Shirt

  • Place the stencil you just cut out on the shirt. Put something (like some newspaper) inside the shirt, behind the stencil, so the paint doesn't bleed through. A little tape won't hurt.
  • Roll and mix the paint in the palette with the roller. Uniformly cover to whole roller and make sure it is thick enough that it only takes a couple rolls, but not too thick so that it doesn't roll.
  • Hold the stencil on one side, pressing down hard, and roll away from where you're pressing a couple of times, covering the entire stencil area.
  • I like to layer colors. It adds depth to the design. But be sure you leave plenty of time for the paint to dry before applying the next layer.

Step 8: Finish Up and Enjoy the Fruits

Picture of Finish Up and Enjoy the Fruits

  • Once the shirt has dried overnight, dry iron the back side of the stencil full-blast for a minute.
  • That's it.
  • Notice some of the other shirts I've made with this technique


alpal (author)2011-05-21

Here`s a couple I tried. Noticed a bit of fade after washing! But did use spray paint for football shirt. Wendy was fabric paint but still loses detail after washing.

khenre (author)2011-03-08

how do you get the fine parts of the stencil to stick to the shirt?

grrroundhawk (author)2010-12-15

:) A+ for subject matter. I love Blonde Redhead. <3

Invincible steel (author)2010-08-17

hey dude ... i have one idea will that be ok just tell me.. i will print the photo of which stencil i wish to want then i will make its xerox on transparent paper and then after will go for cutting the black part of the xerox..

Zzzwaap_guitar (author)2007-03-19

my t shirt,only 1 layer of acrylic paint....i need to give it one more layer but it turned out nice after drying.

love this!

Sweet shirt! :)

Nice... that DID turn out awesome!

the.mk95 (author)2009-07-30

try using threshold, its much easier.
But great instructable! :D

to take it to the next step see: silk screening

robbs (author)2009-05-07

Since you made some duplicates, will you be selling them? Also, where do you get your pictures from? Thanks!!

Potaterchip (author)2009-04-04

What is mylar? (is that a stupid question?)

arty26bact (author)2009-03-15

Thank you! I thought I need to get frames and some other items to do screen printing. You made it simpler.

PartyInMyShower (author)2009-02-12

I shed no tears for broken me...

irishfreak213 (author)2009-01-09

where can you get the mylar?

Hey there... you can get mylar at an art store. They sometimes sell it in books of 8 1/2 x 11 inch pieces, or in big sheets.

krowii (author)2008-09-16


jimihendrix4753 (author)2008-05-09

I bes makings an awesome kidrobott-shirt. Just putting that out there. I wills probablys puts on picture soon.

sstargel (author)2008-01-21

does the original image have to be in black and white or do you make in black and white?

bballantine (author)sstargel2008-01-21

Nope. But high contrast helps and, in my experience, darker, b&w; photos are easier to amp up the contrast.

hannahelastic (author)2007-12-14

1. You can also use the thresholds tool in photoshop or gimp to make the stencil. 2. If you cut freezer paper to 8.5x11 and print the stencil onto it you can then iron it onto the tshirt after you cut it out. That way you dont have to worry about the stencil moving or lifting up. It just peels off, no harm done to the shirt.

Thanx for the tips!

Slitwrist1 (author)2007-12-24

if i do everything you said can i wash it and dry it and the paint will not come off?

bballantine (author)Slitwrist12007-12-28

That is correct: use textile paint; let it dry; iron it good and hot; wash inside out the first time.

psychoswan17 (author)2007-11-04

wow thaks a lot

x_joinmeindeath (author)2007-09-21

how long will it stay on there? will it fade?

In my experience, they do fade very very slowly over time and many washings. I like to layer the colors, so when the top layer starts to fade and the bottom layer slowly comes through, it looks cool. But the fading is nothing to worry about and you probably won't even notice it.

To make sure your design lasts years and years, definitely iron it good a day after the paint is dry, before the first washing.

Oh, and I specifically use these textile paints (Jacquard the brand my local arts supply uses, and the opaques seem to work and look best):


shutdown_exploded (author)2007-09-21

is lifting the stencil up without disturbing the wet ink something I should worry about?

Good question. Ideally you wait a minute or so, but I typically work on a couple of t-shirts at once and so I lift the stencil off as soon as I roll the paint on. I think the key is to not have too much paint on the roller.

XxAmberxX (author)2007-05-03

THANK YOU!!! This was REALLY REALLY helpful.. I was stressed for a while because I couldn't figure it out and I needed it to do band merch and stuff..

Zzzwaap_guitar (author)2007-03-19

I just finished up a native american eagle stencil and printed my shirt with turned out awesome

elies (author)2007-03-14

Cool! i made three shirts today, when i Iron them and everything is done i will be sure to post a link here! Thanks!!!

Aestheticxtattoos (author)2007-01-15

I like this. I made shirts a similar way with a screen printing kit. this seems more money saving.

Thanks... Stencils are by far less exact. I've made shirts by screen printing, but I like the randomness of the stencil. I also completely enjoy the process of cutting out the stencil with the exacto knife.

onemisterchristian (author)2007-01-12

Great band, and great instructable...very clear.

Thanks for the feedback!

kurren (author)2007-01-12

Do It Yourself Sonic Youth Cloth Dye And More - A visual how to:

bballantine (author)kurren2007-01-12

Cool... thanks!

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