Bleach Stencil Shirt




About: The answer is lasers, now, what was the question? If you need help, feel free to contact me. Find me on Reddit, Tumblr and Twitter as @KitemanX

Intro: Bleach Stencil Shirt

Isn't it odd how things come together?

I was trailing behind my wife in a clothes shop, not really paying attention (yes, I'm one of those husbands), idly running future plans through my head - planning activities for the next Cub camp, wondering what to do for my next instructable, and wondering why all the shirts on sale were pastel or white (I hate white shirts!).

Suddenly, my eye fell on one particular shelf, and something went click - I was looking right at my next project, and knew exactly how to do it!

This is how I went from that moment to a nice new shirt to wear at camp...

Step 1: Needful Things

The thing my eye fell on whilst shopping was a plain black t-shirt, for only £1.80!

I also used ...

... masking tape.

... a baking tray (any flat piece of metal will do)

... domestic bleach in a small spray bottle (I used one that came in a set of bottles small enough to take on a flight - make sure you label it as hazardous).

... a bucket of water.

... scrap cardboard.

... a sharp knife.

I also used a laser cutter to cut out my stencil, but you can use whatever cutting device you prefer.

Step 2: Making the Stencil

I wanted a Batman logo, as my Cub leader title is "Mang the Bat", so I drew one up in Inkscape and transferred it to my laser cutter.

Whatever design you use, keep it relatively simple - this is not a technique for fine details (check out the difference between the ears on the stencil and the ears on the final image).

I stuck a strip of masking tape on the bottom of the tray and cut out the shape at just 20% power.

I peeled the outer, disposable parts off first, which left a small tag (easily trimmed off with a sharp knife), and then prepared the shirt.

(A word of warning - lasering your stencil will damage whatever is under the tape. Make sure you put it away quietly in the kitchen drawer before your wife notices that you've accidentally branded her baking tray!)

Step 3: Prepare the Shirt

I didn't want the bleach to go through to the back of the shirt, so I put a piece of scrap card inside the shirt.

(It turns out that large pizza boxes take a medium in t-shirts...)

I peeled the stencil off the baking tray and stuck it onto the shirt, positioning it by eye and pressing it down firmly.

Step 4: Bleaching

I took everything outside at this point, partly to save getting bleach on anything else, but mainly to avoid the cat helping.

(Note - I had mixed the bleach 50:50 with tap water first, purely because other people bleaching shirts had done the same.)

I misted bleach onto the shirt, wetting a diagonal line across the shirt. The colour began to change within a few seconds, and I left it to "develop" until I liked the colour, at which point I plunged the shirt into the bucket and quickly rinsed the shirt to stop the bleach. The stencil came off as I rinsed, and revealed a promising sign...

Note: many sprays are made cheaply, so don't have properly-circular holes in the nozzle - when I was test-spraying on card, I discovered that the spray I used actually sprayed in a large crescent. Bear that in mind if you are aiming to bleach a small patch

Step 5: Rinse.

I wasn't convinced that the bucket-rinse got rid of all the bleach, so I threw the shirt into the washing machine by itself, and ran it through a rinse cycle. You could, of course, simply replace the water in the bucket several times, or rinse it in the sink, but I'm lazy.

It looked so good as it came out...

Unfortunately, the shirt is non-tumble-dry, so I had to hang it up and wait to wear it...

Step 6: Wear!

Once it was dry, that was done - thanks to Conker-X for the portrait shots, I've never been able to do decent selfies, not even when Neptune the cat comes to help.

I have seriously impressed myself with this project - relatively simple, but textiles are usually outside my comfort zone as a maker. I am so impressed with the result, though, that I'm now going to buy a bunch more plain shirts...



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    26 Discussions


    Answer 4 months ago

    Ever done chromatography and seen the way black ink is actually a mixture of other colours? Most black dyes are the same - a mixture of other dyes, each removing part of the visible spectrum from reflections.

    If you ever see really old writing (say, war-time letters from the trenches), you will see that the ink looks reddish-brown. That's because inks and dyes that reflect the blue-green part of the spectrum tend to be less stable (see how jeans fade easily?). So, the blue-green dyes will fade or get bleached more easily than reds and browns, so most black shirts will fade out to reddish-brownish-orange shades. Pure-coloured (single chemical) dyes will bleach out completely, and leave white.


    Answer 4 months ago

    Black is usually just really really dark blue or red, so it kind of depends on which dye they used. You can get lighter colors by applying heat while the bleach is on the shirt, usually with an iron that you don't care all that much about, but you have to be careful to not let the bleach eat all the way through. Thicker fabrics with a very light misting on the very surface combined with heat can give you something pretty close to white. Check out to get an idea of what kinds of colors and styles are possible.

    Also it is possible to do layering, where one area is exposed longer than another area, so you have different shades of color. Some of the technique can get really advanced.


    Answer 4 months ago

    "Black" dyes (and inks) are usually a mixture of colours - I assume the red tint was just the dye that was most resistant to the bleach. I had no idea in advance what the final colour would be.

    (I wonder if a green shirt would go yellow, or blue?)


    4 months ago

    Nice nice instructable! Thanks for sharing.

    I was just wearing a local band's shirt yesterday, that I was thinking of bleach tie dying. I may try this instead, to protect their logo.


    As far as the Bat-Ears go, you could get a very fine black Sharpie pen, and simply draw them on. (Professional artists often employ simple cheats, to a finished peice, too hide minor mistakes, or for details.) The color might not match the black exactly, but they are so tiny nobody will look that close to even notice. I have used Sharpies on white t-shirts before, and they hold up pretty well in the wash.


    Also, I wonder if you could carve a makeup sponge into a logo stamp, and use it to use to "sign" each of your T-shirt artworks, on a sleeve, with bleach. It would have to be a simple design, but it might work!


    I seriously love this shirt! :)

    1 reply

    Reply 4 months ago

    Oh, I love the idea of "signing" them"!

    I'll have to buy a sponge and try it!


    Tip 4 months ago

    For more ideas and inspiration, as well as tips and stencils, check out

    This is the one I made for my wife, with a combination of bleach and fabric paint. You can see that it bled under the stencil at first. Be sparing with the bleach!

    I applied the fabric paint in the original design, and I'm fairly happy with the result, and so was my wife. She's a big Daryl Dixon fan.


    5 months ago

    My wife came to me (years ago) with her favorite brown cotton dress ,that got accidentally damaged by bleach when doing the laundry. She offered it up to me for rags for the garage. I took it outside to the garage, and I noticed the bleach made an interesting pattern. Since it was already trash, I couldn't hurt it, right? I hung it on a hanger, grabbed an old paint brush, and a mason jar with a bit of bleach, and proceeded to fleck/spatter paint the bleach onto the dress, both front and back. Yes, I wore safety glasses, and did it over the garage floor. Since it was so finely distributed, it didn't run or make large blots. Came out like the Milky Way across the dress - and was her favorite wardrobe item for years.

    1 reply

    5 months ago

    I went a bit OTT with my last bleach t-shirt, using freezer paper which you can iron onto t-shirt and a cut'n'scan to cut out design. Masking tape and simple design looks just as effective. Time to get the bleach out again!

    1 reply

    5 months ago

    I wonder if cutout/shaped stickers would work. Have you tried them?

    1 reply

    Reply 5 months ago

    This is actually my first foray into bleaching, but I imagine they would work.


    5 months ago

    I usually tear up my old tshirts and use then for staining wood, this might give them extra life.