Introduction: How to Make Your Own Clothing Labels

 Starting a small company? Can't meet the 1000 piece minimum from tag-printing companies? Not a problem!  Make your own labels on the cheap and never worry about wasting that hard-earned cash.

What you'll need: 

1. stencil of your logo
2. spray paint (and gloves)
3. grossgrain ribbon or some other tape 
4. scissors
5. iron

The way it works:  Once you have a stencil and your ribbon, you'll be spray painting through the stencil to get your tags.  It's easy!

Step 1: Making Your Stencil

 I used a laser cutter to create my stencil.  Now I know laser cutters don't grow on trees, but there's a couple of ways to snag some cutter real estate.

1. Get your stencil custom cut.  There are a bunch of custom laser cutting businesses out there that aren't too pricey.  Ponoko is a nice one.  Their interface looks pretty user-friendly (and I hear there are Ponoko prize packs for some of the Instructables contests!) click here for pintro to 2D laser cut file-making.

2. Phone a friend!  Know anyone who works as an engineer, designer, architect or any other kind of maker? Ask if they have access to a laser cutter.  I find that people usually are willing to cut something for you, as long as you repay them in truffles.

3.  Look up your local maker space.  A laser cutter could be right under your nose!

4. If all else fails, grab an x-acto blade and some cardstock and cut your stencil by hand.

Now if you are running the laser cutter yourself and do not have a website that converts your files, you'll probably be using CorelDraw.  CorelDraw isn't the most friendly interface, but after a little nail-biting, teeth-clenching, head-shaking while, you'll probably end up with something useful.  Try out the program and don't doubt your intuition.  Don't forget to re-attach your islands if you are cutting letters or an intricate design!

Choosing materials is also important.  I chose a 1/16 " acrylic sheet.  It worked really well for the first batch of labels, but since I was painting outdoors and had no running water, the stencil got clogged very quickly.  If you have some cardstock, try cutting a whole bunch of the same stencil, and using a new one if it gets too full of paint.  

One last tip if you are painting on ribbon:  cut some little slots on either end of your stencil paper to slide the ribbon through.  This will help you center your design.

Once your piece is cut, careful about separating the scrap pieces, it's easy to pull out the islands!

Step 2: Spray That Tape!

Gather all the materials you need (ribbon, spray paint w/ nozzles, newspaper to protect your painting surface, scissors, gloves, and something to clean the stencil with if you aren't using disposable ones.)

Set up somewhere well ventilated, like outside!  If you want to look cool while painting, tie a bandana around your face.  It'll smell better.

Test out your spray.  If you have a few nozzles, use a medium pressure one.  The heavy-spray tip will saturate your stencil and bleed onto your ribbon.  The light spray takes a lot longer (but still works).  Check out how the colors work.  If you are painting light onto dark (with the exception of metallic), you may need a primer too.  Do some tests.

Once satisfied that you do have the right paint, nozzle and color selection, slot a piece of ribbon through your stencil (make sure it is on a flat surface!).  Put on your gloves and spray away!

Some spraying tips:  Always keep your arm moving.  Stay at a constant distance (usually about 10-15" directly above your stencil).  If you spray directly down at your stencil instead of at an angle, you will get a cleaner transfer onto the ribbon.

Cut the ribbon so that it slides out without touching the back of your stencil.  Check to see that your stencil doesn't have too much paint.  If it does, clean it or grab a new one, and repeat.

Step 3: Make Them Into Tags

 Once your ribbon is dry, grab some good fabric scissors and cut into lengths.  These tags are folded over and the cut end is sewn into a seam.  Make sure you cut enough room to fold your label in half!

Grab an iron and make that fold nice and crisp, and tada!  You've got a whole pile of hand-made, custom colored tags!

Time to sew!  I decided to use the grossgrain ribbon because the edges will not unravel.  If you'd rather use fabric, you can use zigzag scissors or liquid thread to keep the edges from fraying, or just fold them over and sew them down.  The ribbon will spare you this step. 

If you are serging a seam, stick the tag into your fabric with the cut ends on the garbage-side of your blade.  If you are using a home sewing machine, just fold the cut ends inside and sew them together into a seam.  And if you are taping the edge, just sew the tape over the cut ends.  

Happy tagging!