T-shirt Designs With Stencils and Bleach (updated With Robot Image for Download)




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Make your own awesome t-shirt designs using stencils and a simple solution of bleach and water.

This project requires minimal tools, and it comes together fairly easily.

The robot stencil shown is now available for download

Enough talk, let's get started!

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Step 1: Gather Materials

Here's what I used for this shirt (really you can use just about anything for the stencil):

- Sharp hobby knife
- Sheets of cardboard (flattened cardboard boxes work well)
- Spray bottle (got mine from the Dollar Store, though they charged $1.67, what a crock!)
- Bleach (again Dollar Dollar, but was more. Seriously guys, change your name)
- A fun shape (any object will work so long as its silhouette is easily recognizable)
- Plain t-shirts

Mix the bleach and water 50/50, you're going to need a bit so I'd recommend a minimum of 250ml (1 cup) of each. Now is a good time to wash your shirts to get the shrinking out of the way.

Step 2: Design

Do some homework, figure out what images work, and which ones don't. You can use something from a magazine like people, or maybe something from the internet. Again we are looking for simple shapes that are easily recognizable in silhouette. An easy way to check is to cut out your image and flip it over, if you can still make out what it is without seeing the internal detail you're golden!

For this shirt I used a blue whale I found on the www.

Step 3: Cut It Out!

Yup it's time to play with knives! So once you've cut out your image, you can stick hum to the cardboard and cut it out, or trace and then cut. If you're feeling super creative why not try drawing directly on the cardboard then cut it out.

A word of caution is not to make the shapes too detailed, as this method tends to let the bleach bleed a little and fine detail will not show up.

Step 4: More Cutting

So for this shirt we are going with a whale in the ocean, no aside from the whale I'm going to need something that looks like a waterline for the ocean.

Step 5: Prep Work

Find a well ventilated area to do your spraying in. I'd suggest the garage, or some place outside. Remember folks, you're spraying bleach onto fabric, so doing this on your nice new rug isn't such a hot idea.

Place a sheet of cardboard inside the shirt to stop the bleach from stenciling the image on the other side.

Step 6: The Fun Part!

Composite your cut outs as you want them on your shirt. For this image I chose to do the wave portion first, then placed the negative cut out of the whale afterwards. This is a little more complex than just one spray, but it looks good.

Wait until the fabric starts to turn the colour intensity that you desire, then quickly rinse the shirt thoroughly to stop the bleaching process and remove any excess.

Step 7: Finished!

Your t-shirt is now done!

Wash again to remove that awesome bleach smell, and you're ready to show off your new shirt to your friends down at the library, falconeering enthusiast club, or just wear it around the lab.

I decided to embelish these guys a little more. The one on the left is done with fabic paint applied with a brush, and the one on the right has fabic squares sewed to it with fabric paint directly applied to the squares.

Step 8: Some Final Thoughts

Now you're ready to show off your neat-o new custom t-shirts! You're sure to be the talk of where ever you go!
Remember to make sure your designs are not too intricate so your bleach spray doesn't bleed and ruin the crisp edges of your design.

Pros of this method: Fading effect, and some crisp edges where the spray meets the card.
Cons of this method: Potential for the bleach to bleed under the card, so be careful.

**update**- September 6, 2010
Uploaded the robot image, feel free to download the PDF and make your own!

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50 Discussions


3 years ago

We made similiar shirts at a GS Leaders weekend, and we used contact paper to block out where we. Wainted to blocke out the bleach. Came upcool!


5 years ago

I tried this with ducttape but it didn't sat stuck... too much bleach solution or bleach is too much for the stickiness of ducttape

1 reply

make your own stencil out of freezer paper, and then iron the freezer paper stencil to the shirt before you spray your bleach. after it has dried for a couple minutes, peel the stencil back off and you will have perfect lines.


11 years ago on Introduction

I never thought of that. It seems to give good results. I bet you could minimize bleeding with a heavier fabric. A new tshirt might work better than a old one.

2 replies

Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

The shirts I used were new ones, but I thought of doing this so some shirts that I could grab at a thift store, maybe turn that thift store staple 'obligatory work team softball jersey' into something interesting.


Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

New, unwashed t-shirts may have chemicals on them. If you have any clothing with a label that reads, "Wash Before Wearing," that's why. Wash your t-shirts first to remove this stuff. Source:


animal lover

6 years ago on Introduction

That's awesome! It looks like you paid a lot of money for it, but in reality its really cheap!


7 years ago on Introduction

I took your idea and ran with it into the mountains of madness... http://digitalerosion.blogspot.com/2012/02/tentacles.html And some nice happy places also... http://www.flickr.com/photos/bluebeachglass/tags/bleach/


go to dharmatrading.com They have all kinds of fabric paints you can use in spray bottles...and you can now get spray fabric paint at Hobby Lobby and Michaels. Oh and Joanne shop. Hope this helps ya.

I've never seen commercial fabric spray paint, but I found an idea in Family Fun magazine (June/July 2011) where you can make your own. Mix 3 parts fabric paint to two parts warm water in a spray bottle and shake to mix. Slip a piece of cardboard inside a pre-washed t-shirt to prevent paint from bleeding through to the other side. They suggested using a design cut out of Con-Tact paper. Firmly adhere to the t-shirt, especially at the edges, and smooth out all wrinkles. Spray the paint onto the fabric all around the cutout. A light spray is less likely to seep under the stencil. When the paint is dry, remove the Con-Tact paper stencil and the cardboard, then set the paint according to the label directions.

I haven't tried it yet but would like to see how it turns out. :)


8 years ago on Introduction

anyone know whatd happen if you add fabric dye to the bleach-water solution?


9 years ago on Step 8

thats such a cute design ^-^