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
-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
-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.
-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.
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?