Introduction: 69 Cent T Shirt Prints

About: Summer 2012, I moved out of NYC with one goal: find a way to get paid to hike. Since then I’ve been developing my nature inspired ink work, working on my master naturalist certification, and huffing it up and…

Congratulations to Paul @ for winning the first species identification contest from Here's how he did it:

"At first I also thought it might be a regular Turkey-tail (Trametes versicolor). Then, because of the date you mentioned, I wondered if this might be wrong. False Turkey-tail (Stereum ostrea) seems to persist a little later into the Winter. Also your contest would have been too easy if it was the Trametes versicolor!"

Paul just earned three months of Instructables pro service for his shrewd attention to detail, good luck all on the next one!

Ever since college I’ve been dabbling with hand printing T-Shirts from my stencil designs for fun, gifts, and the occasional bit of self promotion. When I really got into stencils full steam, it made sense to to spray paint directly onto a shirt. Unfortunately, as anyone trying this method has noticed, colors besides darks and metallics have a bad tendency of diffusing throughout the cloth without leaving much of a mark. There are fabric spray paints available, but they’re generally expensive with poor coverage per can.

At a certain point I decided to quit being a knuckle head and just screen print it like everyone else. So I drove down to the arts & crafts store, picked up about $40 worth of gear, and immediately ruined a $25 screen.

Not good for an artist on a budget, anyone that doesn’t like wasting $25, or anyone that doesn’t like spending $75 for a three layer aligned print so, moving on….

When making a couple little handmade gifts for friends and family this season as Punk Love Designs, I took a quick look at my methods and realized the following:

* Spray paint methods suffer due to poor coverage, poor washability, price, and limited range of applicable colors.
* Hand painting methods suffer due to bleeding from over application of paint and mechanical stressing of fabric facilitating paint migration.
* The key advantage of screen printing methods is even, metered application of paint, with the profound disadvantage of cost.

So, just use a napkin as a paint buffer, presto chango, hybrid stencil screen prints for 69¢.

Step 1: Step 1: Gather the Materials

  • Stencils, either of impermeable material or treated to ensure strength when wet
  • T-Shirt to be printed on
  • Craft paint (69¢/ bottle on sale!)
  • Newspaper
  • A napkin
   ~ Repositionable spray adhesive optional

Time to complete: 30 minutes

Step 2: Step 2: Prep Your Workspace

  • Make a stencil. If it is cut from paper, spray a few prints with a glossy, flexible paint to ensure it doesn't fall apart when wet. Rust-Oleum metallic paint is like a magic stencil preservative for me. Matte finish anything guarantees a brittle, cracking stencil within 10 or so prints.
  • Spray stencil bottom with repositionable adhesive if desired.
  • You'll need something to straighten the shirt and prevent bleed through to the back. I usually just use my stencil cutting board, here I used newspaper, and you can buy cardboard t-shirt forms at craft stores. If you aren't confident in your ability to align by eye or ruler, go for the t-shirt form.
  • Make sure everything is straight, block off stencil from below as shown to prevent bleeding.

Step 3: Step 3: Ink Your Screen

  • Take a regular napkin or paper towel of sufficient size to coat the stencil surface and apply a generous amount of paint to one side (acrylic used here).
  • Smooth by hand to an even surface with paint available atop napkin and without clumping or streaking.
  • Finger painting is still fun!

Step 4: Step 3: Squeegee on Your Ink

  • Carefully place paint soaked napkin onto stencil. The key to a clean, even print is top down force of paint, as with a screen print.
  • Any sliding motion will force paint into the thin gaps between stencil and shirt and immediately destroy your handiwork. As such, roll your paint on. For that 69¢ you spent on paint you also got a handy disposable paint roller. Roll it 2 passes side to side and 2 passes up and down with a moderate degree of force. Guide it by hand and do not let it slide!

Step 5: Step 4: Remove Stencil and Dry

  • Carefully peel your painty napkin off, check for voids. If present, replace napkin and roll directly over affected area. Remove the stencil and external blocking materials when finished and leave it to dry for 2-3 hours before taking the internal blocking material out.
  • One bottle of paint was just enough to print the logo and text on 3 shirts.

Congratulations, you're finished! Carefully peal shirt from internal blocking and fold it nicely.

Step 6: Results & Observations

  • Ideal quantity of paint is just enough to hide the grain of the napkin.
  • Silver metallic shows much less color contrast than gold metallic on lighter surfaces. This may be remedied by using t-shirt puffy paint. Regular acrylic was used for fear of clogging up stencil paths.
  • Thinner or excess paints may cause sticking to the internal blocking material.
  • No acrylic bonding, cracking, or warping compatibility issues on stencils previously used with Rust-Oleum semi gloss and gold metallic spray paint.
  • As paint is adsorbed into the fibers rather than coated on top, seek high opacity, high contrast colors.

Like to see more of my work? Check my site at I specialize in pen and ink illustration and terrible photography of rare and interesting species, along with the occasional tech hack. I follow the biochemists' mantra structure= function, such that a wrench = a hammer if you swing it right.