"Vintage" Fake-screenprint T-shirt Design




How to make a t-shirt design that easily looks "retro" and "screenprinted" while being super-easy and much cheaper! (The photos are taken with flash and make the colors bolder than they appear in daylight; to the eye they are more worn and washed-out.)

Note: I highly recommend reading the whole instructable before trying it, rather than "reading along." There are tips sort of sprinkled throughout because of my writing style, but it will be beneficial if you get them all ahead of time, causing less trouble for you! =)

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Step 1: Materials

For this project, you will need:

--a t-shirt
--craft/fabric paint
--paintbrushes (most any style will work, though bushier is better at the moment)
--scrap cardboard/plastic
--newspaper or wax paper
--thin cardboard or paper or a cuttable material
--scissors or an exacto knife
--masking or painter's tape (optional)

Step 2: Preparing the Stencil

For this project we are going for a "screenprinted" look for cheap, and the key ingredient here is a stencil. Using the thin cardboard or paper, draw out your design. Islands are possible if you understand that they may be difficult or nearly impossible to re-use.

Using cardboard is sturdier, so the stencil can be re-used more easily; however, later on it may cause some difficulty while painting. I have successfully reused a paper stencil three times in a row without any tearing or warping issues, so that is up to your discretion.

Before you cut out your design, lay out your tshirt (or other cloth you're going to paint on) and double-check that the design will fit and will look okay.

Using the scissors or your exacto knife, CAREFULLY cut out your design. If you have islands that are relatively large and you want to re-use the design, make sure not to ruin them, and set them aside with the stencil.

On this stencil, instead of using islands we used a complete lack of filler or a connecting brace instead.

Step 3: Setting Up the Work Area

First you should lay out some sort of covering to protect your work surface from spills, drips, or other mishaps. I use newpaper and wax paper, but most any big piece of material will do.

Lay out your t-shirt flat and find a piece of cardboard roughly the same size as the area you want to paint. Put this inside the t-shirt, making sure it is centered and the material is not stretched. This will ensure that any paint that soaks through will not ruin the other layers of material.

Take a piece of scrap plastic and pour just a half dozen drops or so of each craft/fabric paint onto it. This sort of functions as a pallette.

Step 4: Getting Ready to Paint

When you set the stencil down to paint, you will have to do one of two things:
--tape it down, or
--hold it down without moving.

This ensures that your design edges stay consistent and you don't end up drifting to one area of the tshirt that you had not planned on working on.

Center the design, and firmly hold or tape down the stencil, making sure your tshirt doesn't stretch. At this time you will want to tape down islands with tiny loops of tape or create an island completely out of tape (if you're willing to throw it out right away).

Make sure your islands are lined up and your design is centered or in the area you want it to be!

Step 5: Painting

With stenciling, the trick to getting it to look screenprinted is a clean, defined edge. The trick to getting it to look "vintage" or "retro" is using only enough paint to make it look faded or worn.

While holding down the stencil with one hand (even if it's taped!), use your fingers to hold down the edge you will be painting right next to. This will help the paint from getting under the edge and making it look a little messier.

Use your other hand to dip the paintbrush into your paint. Using a scrap piece of cardboard, wipe just enough off so that there aren't globs, but there is still enough paint left to make a difference. This is similar to "drybrushing" technique.

Dab up and down with the paintbrush, making sure to keep it as clean or messy as you desire. More paint may be bolder (depending on the material the t-shirt is made out of), or it may soak in. Either way, usually two times going over the full stencil somewhat haphazardly gives a strong enough but still "faded and worn" look. Keep in mind your color will soak in and appear darker on just about any color except white. Other colors will also affect the stencil accordingly.

(I have a video of this to add... I'm working on getting it up for you!)

After you run out of paint each time, you can also go back to the scrap where you "drybrushed" to get some more paint, rather than going back to your makeshift pallette each time.

Step 6: Finishing

When you are finished stenciling, carefully remove the stencil and set it aside. Make sure no paint escaped under the edges when you set it down!

I have had no problem letting my shirts dry in a few hours, ready-to-wear. If you are worried, send it through the dryer before washing it. I've never had any problems with shrinkage, either, but that may be because this technique allows the paint to soak into the shirt more, rather than putting enough on that it sits on top.

Don't forget to clean up your area! Washing your brushes immediately is a good thing, too, in my experience. (I'm no professional, though.)

Step 7: Exploring Other Techniques

These other techniques tend to go outside the clean lines of faking "screenprint," but they still look vintagey/worn and are fairly easy to do. Check the tags of each photo for an explanation.

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    26 Discussions


    8 years ago on Step 7

    Also instead of taping down or holding a stencil... Go to your local grocery store, buy some freezer paper. Use the freezer paper as your stencil, so cut out your pic that you want to print out of the freezer paper. This paper i coated with a waxy layer, so write on the other side. Then line it up on your tee shirt and iron it down. This gives a really close contact with the shirt, and it leaves no residue when you tear it away after you have placed the paint on! If you have a lot of spaces in your stencil, you can either stencil separetly the designs or use a sturdy tape, ducked tape, on the same side you are drawing on. This will allow you to place it correctly on the tee shirt and keep it from loosing its right dimentions in transfering from cutting area to shirt.


    8 years ago on Step 4

    When I stencil t-shirts I often use freezer paper. I draw the stencil on the papery side and put it waxy side down on the cloth. Then I iron it in place. Once the paint dries it is fairly easy to get off and can be reused 3-4 times depending on how careful you are with the stencil.

    Karel Jansens

    11 years ago on Introduction

    Have you tried plastic or cellophane stencils and spray-on glue for better durability and finish of the stencils? Some brands of spray-on contact glue are removable and reusable when the glue is sprayed on one surface only.

    4 replies
    buchdKarel Jansens

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    No, I've never really had the need; the stencils I've made aren't too complicated and I just kind of do it spur-of-the-moment with clean cardboard/paper/plastic out of the recycling bin. I may try it if I do something more complicated, though; thanks for the tip!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Great stuff, love the retro faded look and the fact that you make it from recyled bits and pieces when the mood strikes is cool in my view!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! I end up using a lot of recyclables/trash in my crafts because it's cheap, sometimes reusable, and perfectly functional. =) Plus you don't care as much if you spill paint or something.


    9 years ago on Step 4

    Spray adhesive works well here to hold the stencil down. I have had good experience with that. It does not damage the shirt.


    10 years ago on Step 7

    i think you should try using more than one layer of paint. like put it on let it dry and then addd a second coat.

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Step 7

    just be careful because you don't want the paint to be thick, as it is more likely to crack and is more uncomfortable to wear.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    This looks really easy and fun. My friends and i are trying to find a cheap way to make t shirts and we have decided to use your instructable. Thanks a lot!

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome! The whole idea was to be cheap, simple, and effective... I'm glad it can be put to use. =)

    Arios Schiffer

    10 years ago on Step 7

    Fabulous instructable! I shall certainly try this out. I love the vintage look, dry brushing is such a good idea.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Well, for this instructable, I just used different colored paints in the stencil(s). For actual screenprinting you need a different screen for every color of ink you have. Does that help? =)