Introduction: Custom T Shirts

About: Not a hacker, just a hack.
For this holiday season, I wanted to create some T shirts similar to what I've found online. However, due to time and budget constraints, buying them as gifts wasn't an option, so I decided to make them myself.

For example purposes, I created one based on the Self-Repair Manifesto published by iFixit. I believe this is fair use of their idea for a couple of reasons:
  1. I'm not selling or giving this shirt as a gift. It's just for me to wear.
  2. It's an old T shirt that's been given a new lease on life (thus, I repaired it myself).

Step 1: Materials

There are only a few things you'll need to do this.
  1. T Shirts. I used white, but light colours will work too.
  2. Fabric markers. I have Sharpie brand Stained fabric markers. Regular sharpies could work, but will be a lot more difficult (trust me, I've used both).
  3. Scotch tape.
  4. A wide open-top container. I used a "cat litter pan" from the local dollar store (and no, it was never used by a cat!)
  5. A computer and printer.
  6. Image manipulation software. I use Inkscape.
  7. Optional LED work light. It makes your life a whole lot easier to have something to back light while you're tracing.

Step 2: Create Your Design

Use Inkscape to create your design on the computer. It can be whatever you'd like, but here are a few design considerations to keep in mind:
  1. Don't do anything too small. It can be tricky to trace small details.
  2. Leave some space between shapes in case your shirt shifts while you're tracing. A little wiggle room will help keep things looking good.
  3. Stick to only a couple of colours. This method doesn't really work for full-colour images.
I have uploaded a few of the designs I have made. They're available at this link. I like working in SVG because it allows you to play with the size without messing up the resolution.

Once it's ready, print it onto regular paper.

Step 3: Assemble Your Light Box

You're going to use the cat litter pan to create a light box. Stretch two lengths of scotch tape across the box (sticky side towards the interior of the box), and stick the paper to it. Throw your work light inside, then pull the T shirt over the box. Take your time to align things properly here.

Step 4: Trace Your Design

Take your time, and carefully trace an outline of your design onto the T shirt. I try to stay inside the line, and just sneak up on the edge of each shape with the tip of the marker. This lets my unsteady hands do a decent job of creating a good outline. It's pretty easy, just make sure to check that your T shirt hasn't shifted as you're working.

You're not going to be colouring in the design at this stage. Just use the tip of the marker and do a thin outline. If you've shelled out the 15 bucks for a good set of fabric markers, this is where that investment pays off. You'll barely have to touch the marker to the shirt, meaning it won't slide around.

Step 5: Colour It In

Once you've finished outlining the design, take the shirt off the box and flip the box over. Now pull the shirt back over the box so that you've got a solid work surface underneath the fabric.

I've used an empty cardboard box for this, as my cat litter pan has little ridges on the underside that can mess up the colouring in process. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand, but be careful - the ink could bleed through the fabric and stain whatever's underneath.

When you've finished colouring it in, take the shirt off the box and put it on your body. You're done!

Step 6: Now Create Something!

So now that you know how to do it, look for new ideas to create. I like inspirational quotes, nerdy/geeky jokes, or general irreverence. YMMV.

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