T-shirt Designs with Stencils and Bleach (updated with robot image for download)

Picture of T-shirt Designs with Stencils and Bleach (updated with robot image for download)
Make your own awesome t-shirt designs using stencils and a simple solution of bleach and water.

This project requires minimal tools, and it comes together fairly easily.

The robot stencil shown is now available for download

Enough talk, let's get started!
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Step 1: Gather materials

Picture of Gather materials
Here's what I used for this shirt (really you can use just about anything for the stencil):

- Sharp hobby knife
- Sheets of cardboard (flattened cardboard boxes work well)
- Spray bottle (got mine from the Dollar Store, though they charged $1.67, what a crock!)
- Bleach (again Dollar Dollar, but was more. Seriously guys, change your name)
- A fun shape (any object will work so long as its silhouette is easily recognizable)
- Plain t-shirts

Mix the bleach and water 50/50, you're going to need a bit so I'd recommend a minimum of 250ml (1 cup) of each. Now is a good time to wash your shirts to get the shrinking out of the way.

Step 2: Design

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Do some homework, figure out what images work, and which ones don't. You can use something from a magazine like people, or maybe something from the internet. Again we are looking for simple shapes that are easily recognizable in silhouette. An easy way to check is to cut out your image and flip it over, if you can still make out what it is without seeing the internal detail you're golden!

For this shirt I used a blue whale I found on the www.

Step 3: Cut it out!

Picture of Cut it out!
tshirt 06.jpg
Yup it's time to play with knives! So once you've cut out your image, you can stick hum to the cardboard and cut it out, or trace and then cut. If you're feeling super creative why not try drawing directly on the cardboard then cut it out.

A word of caution is not to make the shapes too detailed, as this method tends to let the bleach bleed a little and fine detail will not show up.

Step 4: More cutting

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So for this shirt we are going with a whale in the ocean, no aside from the whale I'm going to need something that looks like a waterline for the ocean.

Step 5: Prep work

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Find a well ventilated area to do your spraying in. I'd suggest the garage, or some place outside. Remember folks, you're spraying bleach onto fabric, so doing this on your nice new rug isn't such a hot idea.

Place a sheet of cardboard inside the shirt to stop the bleach from stenciling the image on the other side.

Step 6: The fun part!

Picture of The fun part!
tshirt 12.jpg
tshirt 13.jpg
Composite your cut outs as you want them on your shirt. For this image I chose to do the wave portion first, then placed the negative cut out of the whale afterwards. This is a little more complex than just one spray, but it looks good.

Wait until the fabric starts to turn the colour intensity that you desire, then quickly rinse the shirt thoroughly to stop the bleaching process and remove any excess.

Step 7: Finished!

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tshirt 19.JPG
Your t-shirt is now done!

Wash again to remove that awesome bleach smell, and you're ready to show off your new shirt to your friends down at the library, falconeering enthusiast club, or just wear it around the lab.

I decided to embelish these guys a little more. The one on the left is done with fabic paint applied with a brush, and the one on the right has fabic squares sewed to it with fabric paint directly applied to the squares.

Step 8: Some final thoughts

Picture of some final thoughts
Now you're ready to show off your neat-o new custom t-shirts! You're sure to be the talk of where ever you go!
Remember to make sure your designs are not too intricate so your bleach spray doesn't bleed and ruin the crisp edges of your design.

Pros of this method: Fading effect, and some crisp edges where the spray meets the card.
Cons of this method: Potential for the bleach to bleed under the card, so be careful.

**update** - September 6, 2010
Uploaded the robot image, feel free to download the PDF and make your own!
robot.pdf(1000x1685) 565 KB
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I tried this with ducttape but it didn't sat stuck... too much bleach solution or bleach is too much for the stickiness of ducttape
Pyrowuzzup7 years ago
I never thought of that. It seems to give good results. I bet you could minimize bleeding with a heavier fabric. A new tshirt might work better than a old one.
mikeasaurus (author)  Pyrowuzzup7 years ago
The shirts I used were new ones, but I thought of doing this so some shirts that I could grab at a thift store, maybe turn that thift store staple 'obligatory work team softball jersey' into something interesting.

New, unwashed t-shirts may have chemicals on them. If you have any clothing with a label that reads, "Wash Before Wearing," that's why. Wash your t-shirts first to remove this stuff. Source:


That's awesome! It looks like you paid a lot of money for it, but in reality its really cheap!
Chloe82 years ago
Nozebra2 years ago
Funny idea!
zomfibame2 years ago
I took your idea and ran with it into the mountains of madness... http://digitalerosion.blogspot.com/2012/02/tentacles.html And some nice happy places also... http://www.flickr.com/photos/bluebeachglass/tags/bleach/
Could you use fabric spray paint instead of bleach?
(i dont even know if such a product exists)
go to dharmatrading.com They have all kinds of fabric paints you can use in spray bottles...and you can now get spray fabric paint at Hobby Lobby and Michaels. Oh and Joanne shop. Hope this helps ya.
I've never seen commercial fabric spray paint, but I found an idea in Family Fun magazine (June/July 2011) where you can make your own. Mix 3 parts fabric paint to two parts warm water in a spray bottle and shake to mix. Slip a piece of cardboard inside a pre-washed t-shirt to prevent paint from bleeding through to the other side. They suggested using a design cut out of Con-Tact paper. Firmly adhere to the t-shirt, especially at the edges, and smooth out all wrinkles. Spray the paint onto the fabric all around the cutout. A light spray is less likely to seep under the stencil. When the paint is dry, remove the Con-Tact paper stencil and the cardboard, then set the paint according to the label directions.

I haven't tried it yet but would like to see how it turns out. :)
pdubs3 years ago
anyone know whatd happen if you add fabric dye to the bleach-water solution?
scoochmaroo4 years ago
pictures coming soon. . .
grooooovy4 years ago
This is so neat!
rix_1014 years ago
thats such a cute design ^-^
Whales5 years ago
O_O whale.....
krian135 years ago
I totally stole your design for my project, but here's what I got.


I'm still looking for a good whale stencil or image to make into a stencil, because it looks really cool(and my last name happens to be Whalen), but the fabric paint is probably a bit out of my artistic ability....
mikeasaurus (author)  krian135 years ago
Looks good so far, krian13

By the looks of your design and the artistic flair of the moon you're more than qualified to attempt some fabric paint, you should reconsider not using it. To give you some idea I applied the paint shown here with little effort. Some blue wave peaks and dots for bubbles, easy. Try it, it'll take your shirt to the next level I promise.

When you're done make sure to post your results here, I want to see the finished product. Good luck!

Sorry for the super late response, but i finished it and it turned out really good. Unfortunately, i forgot to take a picture before giving it to my ex girlfriend for her birthday, (It was kind of awesome, she asked me where I bought it. Needless to say, she was impressed) and I still haven't had my camera with me while she's been wearing it
scoochmaroo5 years ago
I love this.
Should you ever make a brains shirt for sale, let me know.
bngbrd6 years ago
is there set bleach solution ?bleach is some pretty scarey stuff .it`s pretty easy to go overboard with it.ayway loved your instructable.plan to try it sooooooooon.peace.
mikeasaurus (author)  bngbrd6 years ago
I agree, bleach is kinda scary stuff. While not as dangerous as some chemicals it can ruin almost any fabric it touches, so be careful! The bleach solution I used was 50% water with 50% bleach. You can play around with that ratio if you like and probably achieve some interesting results, I figured to keep it simple. Glad you want to try it out, make sure to take some photos when you are done and post them back here so we can all check out your design! Good luck!
thanks for your time.hopefully this will be a good way to sponsor our free food kitchen.peace bng brd
This is pretty cool I'm going to try tie-dying with this method. To avoid underspray (Bleach under the cardboard), use some spray adhesive. It's expensive but it lasts awhile and is worth it. Good job!
t1ber1um6 years ago
cool ! I'll try to do sth with this method (t-shirt with robot is awesome)
cutekitten6 years ago
neat :)
stinkymum7 years ago
DELTA3X97 years ago
Illuminati7 years ago
Could you post the stencil for the robot? I'd really like to try this out.
solo.card7 years ago
Thanks for sharing! I'm looking forwards to playing around with this!
DaNerd117 years ago
This is awesome! im totaly doing the whale one, WHALES ROCK!!! SAVE THE WHALES!!!
Hell yeah! Shave the whales!
ahem... shave???? SAVE THE WHALES!!!
this is really cool. i am going to make a shirt of the LP logo of Linkin park, my favorite band
Mmmm! Brains! Robot good! +1 RRRRAAAAARRRR!
That is an excellent robot design! RAR indeed!
Nice Design! I have a ton of old black T-Shirt, I'll try it soon.
coconut guy7 years ago
nice design
jaysbob7 years ago
haha I'll have to try this as soon as I get a chance. I've done screen printing and such in the past, but its a ton of work. this looks like something I could do in an afternoon and still get great results. thanks for sharing!
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