Monday, July 11, 2011

Graphic T-Shirts

My sisters and I go on a trip every year to a surprise location that only the organizer knows.  The organizer is responsible for planning the whole thing, providing goodie bags, and t-shirts, and generally making the trip as awesome as possible.  This year it was my turn to plan things, and partly because our budget was so low, and partly because I wanted to try it out, I made our t-shirts myself.  I thought for a long time on how to do this without investing in a silk screen which would blow the budget, and I was all set to make a stencil out of cardstock and spray paint the things when I happened to mention the project to my very crafty friend, Em.  She told me of the wonders of freezer paper, and set me on the right course.
1.       To make a graphic t, first find a graphic.  I found a clip art set of dice on Google Images. 
2.       Tape your image down and tape a piece of freezer paper over it, tracing the lines.  I did this four times for my four shirts.  I also wanted to add lettering, so I used letter stencils I already had to trace those on.  You could just print that out and trace it as well. 
My four stencils at various stages.
3.      Next, I got out my cutting mat (but a regular cutting board from the kitchen will do), taped the freezer paper down, and cut out all the letters and dice lines with an X-acto knife .  Because I had some floating parts, I used tiny pieces of scotch tape to hold them in place. 
4.       When I had done all four, I took the shirts and the paper to the iron and ironed the paper onto the shirts.  They stick wonderfully, and I managed to get all those bits of tape off without too much damage to the iron (oops).  
Ironed on freezer paper, ready for paint.
5.      Once the freezer paper is nicely stuck, put a piece of cardboard inside the shirt to protect the back, and brush on the paint.  I used two coats.  Let the shirts dry like that for a few hours, or overnight. 
6.       Carefully peel off the freezer paper.  The bottle for paint told me to steam the paint with the iron, and Em told me to iron the paint with a cloth over it, so I did both for good measure.  The results were fantastic!  No one knew that I had made them myself, which I considered a win. 
Showing off the finished product at Tupelo Honey in downtown Asheville, NC.

If you are making a larger number of shirts, I would suggest investing in some thin mylar (a method I found in my research but was too cheap to try).  With that you only cut out one stencil, then tape or lightly glue it to the shirt to paint it.  A six pack of 8 ½ x 11 sheets is $5.99 from Joann Fabric.
T-shirts: Merona basic Tees from Target, on sale for $5.50, down from $8.00 (5.50 x 4 = $22.00)
Paint: Bottle of Tulip Soft White Velvet $5.99 at Michael's.
Freezer Paper: Em gave me some, but Reynolds Aluminum 391 Reynolds Freezer Paper  is $3.37 on Amazon or the grocery store.  
X-acto knife: We had one laying around from my husband’s college days, but as long as it’s sharp, a utility knife would do, too.  X-actos are  $3.99 at Staples.
Time:  It took me around 6 hours to do the whole project start to finish for all four shirts, most of it spent tracing and cutting.
Try It:
4 shirts would come to $44.97 ($11.24 each) if you had to buy everything at full price (which I doubt you would!).  They cost me 27.99, ($6.99 each)
Buy It:
Last year my sister found a silk screener that would do four shirts for $12.00 each, coming to $48.00.
Try it if you have the time.  It took a whole evening and a morning to make them, and my hands were pretty cramped from cutting everything out, but I was very pleased with them in the end, and I had fun doing it.


  1. Great walk-through. The shirts were great, and hold up well in the wash.

    And a piece of glass makes a great cutting surface too, for anyone without a mat.

  2. Hooray! I'm so happy for you with how well these turned out. Freezer paper is so useful!