Another T-Shirt Stencil




I've become overly aware (sensitive) to paying clothing companies to advertise for them by buying stuff with huge logos. I like plain, no logo or design shirts better anyway, so that's what I buy. But every once in a while I want to express myself on the outside, and when I do, I make my own shirts.

There's many ways to decorate a t-shirt. The easiest is by printing your computer-designed graphic onto an iron-on transfer and ironing it onto your shirt of choice. They've come a long way from the mirror-image transfer sheets my mom used to put on my T-ball uniform. Now you print in "positive", the colors are vibrant, picture sharp, and will work on dark shirts (or other mostly cotton textiles). Look for "Dark T-Shirt Transfers" (Avery is one brand). Office Max or Staples should have them where a kit with 5, 8x10 sheets costs about $10. This is how I've done shirts in the past.

As great as those are, you are limited to very simple shapes (although what you print on it is limitless), they don't do too well after being washed several times, and they just don't have the same 'feel' as a professional silk screened graphic. The method that follows is much closer to silk-screening and, because you are using the same inks, are just as durable. This is also the cheapest method, assuming you already have a few things.

What you'll need
-printer paper
-Silkscreen fabric paint - found at art and craft stores. Speedball is the leading brand. ($6)
-Paint brush - it should be as wide as the largest area to be painted ($2)
-parchment paper - used for baking, found at good grocery stores. ($3)
-Freezer paper - also called butcher paper. My market didn't sell it so I begged a butcher for some. (free)
****note: Wax paper won't really work. Freezer paper has one side non-waxy so you can print on it.
-Graphic / Design

-Household Steam Iron and ironing board
-Exacto Knife
-ruler or straight edge
-blow dryer (optional)
-A printer and some way of printing the graphic (i.e. web browser, photoshop, illustrator, word)
*note: You could alternately hand draw the logo

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Step 1: Print the Design / Graphic

First, cut the freezer paper. Unless you are hand drawing the design, it has to fit in your printer. Use a piece of printer paper as a guide, the ruler as a straight edge, and the exacto knife to trim the butcher paper. Print the graphic. The freezer paper has a shinny side and a papery side. Print on the papery side. The design I'm using as an example is is from a local band, Killola. Their blog has a DIY t-shirt thing too. The print should be black and white with distict edges (monochrome).

Step 2: Cut Out the Design.

This is by far the most tedious step. Using the exacto knife, carefully cut the "positive" areas out (where you want paint). Although the picture bellow doesn't show it, I used a stack of printer paper below the freezer paper as a cutting board. My design has a thin outline surrounding the graphic, so my stencil will be in two main parts.

Step 3: Iron on the Stencil

First, pre-iron the shirt. Then iron the stencil, papery side up. I use the highest setting on my iron without steam while I'm keeping the stencil straight and unwrinkled. I started with the outer piece first. Generally speaking, the center of the graphic should fall at the center of the armpits of the t-shirt. I'm really bad at keeping my stencils level--be careful. With all the stencil pieces in place, I turn the iron to high steam and make sure all the corners are pressed down. It helps to lean on the iron. I have real troubles getting tiny pieces of the stencil to stick (like the holes inside Q,R,O,P,D, etc) so sometimes I substitute masking tape.

Step 4: Brush the Paint On

It's a little tricky to get even coverage. I dabbed paint into the stencil and then did long brush strokes to even the coverage out. A problem I ran into was my brush being too small and leaving brush strokes (and uneven coverage) in the face of my design.

Step 5: Remove the Stencil

Immediately remove the stencil. You can't reuse it, so if it tears it's no biggie. It is important, however, to not smear or smudge any paint onto the t-shirt (see to the right of the ear where I goofed)

Step 6: Let It Dry and Then Heat Set

Allow time to dry. Consult your specific paint, but 1-2 hours is good. You can use a fan or hair dryer to expedite drying. Once fully dry, place parchment paper over the shirt and iron. Consult your specific paint, but iron on high for about 3 minutes--everywhere.

Step 7: Finished

You've got a new shirt! ...and plenty of supplies to make more.

Known Issues:
-When choosing designs, remember the resolution is not great compared to regular silk screen. Text should be >1/2 inch.
-Take your time cutting out the design. It's tedious, and errors will be reflected in the end product. That said, masking tape can fix many errors.
-Applying an even coat of paint is the most difficult part. The brush should be as large as the widest solidly painted area to avoid lap lines. Apply enough paint that it becomes opaque, but not so much that it will smear as you remove the stencil.

Unknown issues:
I'd like to figure some type of "application tape" to keep multiple parts of the stencil together and properly located. One large piece of tape will inadvertently move the stencil, but I plan to experiment with several very thin strips of tape <1/8 inch. If you remove them one by one, hopefully the stencil won't move. Suggestions?

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    51 Discussions


    4 years ago on Step 7

    how long does this last?


    5 years ago on Introduction

    is a nice work und i hope tp learn from you soon

    please how can i contact yoz

    thank you


    8 years ago on Step 7

    Good project... I wonder how sticker paper would work. Its kind of expensive, but you can print or draw on it, and you're pretty sure to have it stick to the shirt. I haven't done this, tho I'm gonna try soon. I wonder if it'll be harder to peel off tho. A question for you: how'd you go about washing a shirt like this?

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    The instructions are printed on the label of the ink in this case. Standard T-shirt washing rules - turn shirt inside out, print facing inside. Launder per label. If very concerned wash as a delicate/hand-washable item. This is silk screen ink. Just like that you find on commercially printed Ts.

    He's simply used as a counter-cultural icon. Better Manson than Che Guevara? Maybe that's two for two on individuals the world might have done better without...


    6 years ago on Introduction

    "(like the holes inside Q,R,O,P,D, etc)"
    bowl - The enclosed oval or round curve of letters like 'D', 'g', b', and 'o'. In an open bowl, the stroke does not meet with the stem completely; a closed-bowl stroke meets the stem.

    he term is a holdover from the days when type was printed using physical blocks. The letters were raised, and the areas as you described had to be removed, leaving a "bowl".

    Just a little typographic info for you! Thanks for the ible. Used to do this with sheets of contact paper back in  high school. Feel like I ought to get back to it, make some shirts with my own message to impart to others, once again.


    8 years ago on Step 7

    You can get packs of "printable sticker paper" online. It's about $1.25 per sheet, seems to come in packs of 5,10,20.

    1 reply
    Punk Love Designsjluey

    Reply 6 years ago on Step 7

    I've found Avery brand 8.5x11 printable shipping labels for about $0.50/ sheet at most office & copy stores. They print, tear, & cut pretty much like regular A4 paper, handy for a lot of stuff. But, when they bond to a glossy surface, they bond hard.


    8 years ago on Step 7

    Hola Amigo

    I am glad that you are bringing back some of this old school flavor. Getting dirty fingers and being creative. I want to take a stab at your question. My brother and I used to use stencils like these for airbrushing and the bombest way to keep the silly stencils on was a light coat of 3M magic spray, the best part is if you goof up the alignment, its removable and sticks back on again without having to spray it once more. Good luck! I plan to teach a class with your cool method very soon. I'll send you some pics.

    Cholos Locos 4 ever



    9 years ago on Step 6

    i find it faster to oven heat set this kind of ink. just put your oven to 400 degrees and then turn it off, stick the shirt in on some cardboard and take it out 10 minutes later and its ready to go.


    9 years ago on Step 7

    Awesomerrific! nice ible! ... off to go try it myself, thx


    9 years ago on Step 7

    nice work. i find using a sponge helps with getting an even application of ink when doing stencils.. i like maryrush idea of using sticky paper to hold it down, although i tend to use acetate so i can reuse the stencil (means you cant have any 'islands' in the design though) :-)


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 7

    Um so i use xray paper, from the hospital as a stencil, i cut the design into it and instead of ironing the xray on to shirt as you cant i have made a brace that holds the screen allowing you freedom to use my ruler as a squeegy lol


    10 years ago on Step 1

    Hey, You might want to try printing you image in a light gray. That way you can still get you stencil image printed and you'll save your printer ink as well.

    1 reply

    10 years ago on Step 4

    you may have better luck bouncing or using a stipple technique


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Ok, it looks great but i don`t know where I can get this stuff. Help please!