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Using Your Stencil for T-Shirts

Up to 1 hour


Pre-K – 12+

What Will You Learn?

Learn how to apply a homemade stencil to your shirt and decorate it using either permanent markers or acrylic paint.

Video Overview

Watch this video for an overview on how to apply your stencil to a T-Shirt!



Attach your Stencil

Step 1

It is best to wash and iron your shirt before stenciling. If you don’t have time to do so, it’s ok. Just do your best to remove any stray hairs and wrinkles.

You will want to decide how you plan to hold your stencil in place. If you are using craft vinyl or contact paper, the adhesive on the back will do the work for you. If you are using paper, cardstock or cardboard, you may want to use spray adhesive or stick glue to help hold the stencil in place. If you have no way to adhere the stencil, just use masking tape or pins to hold the design in place. You don’t want the stencil to shift while you care painting or coloring.

Step 2

For an adult shirt, the top of your design should sit between 2.5″ and 3″ (6-8 cm) from the bottom of the collar. If you don’t have a ruler, that’s about the width of an adult hand, fingers together, no thumb. However, different sized shirts may need adjustment.

The best way to determine the placement of your design is to simply pull out your favorite t-shirt and use it as a guide. Measure the distance from the bottom of the collar to the top of the design and use that measurement for your Maker Camp t-shirt. You may want to mark that spot with a pencil or piece of chalk.

Step 3

To center your design, grab your stencil on the left and right sides. Gently, fold the stencil without creasing it. Align the fold with the tag of the shirt and lower the stencil into place. Press the stencil down and, if needed, use tape or pins to secure it.

Permanent Marker Tie Dye

Step 4

Place a piece of cardboard or a manilla folder in between the front and back of the shirt. This will ensure that the dye from the front doesn’t stain the back of the shirt.

Step 5

Use permanent markers to trace the outline of your stencil. Then fill in the shapes. If you add a lot of color, you will get more spread and less definition in the final design. If you just less marker, you will have less spread and more definition. Try using geometric shapes, crazy squiggles, and other elements rather than large blocks of solid color.

Think about what colors you place next to one another. They may bleed into one another, resulting in new colors. Have fun experimenting! You may also find that some marker colors, especially darker ones, seperate and create multiple colors when alcohol is sprayed on.

Step 6

Once you are done coloring, fill a small spray bottle with isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). Take your design outside if possible. If working indoors, place the design in a large box or protect your surfaces with newspaper or plastic.

Step 7

Gently spray the design with alcohol. Add a little at a time. The more alcohol you add the more the color will spread. If you accidentally add too much, try using a blow dryer or the sun to dry the area quickly.

Step 8

When you’ve finished, leave the design to dry completely.

If desired, use a black marker to retrace the outline of the stencil to add definition.

Step 9

Remove the stencil. Heat set the ink to the shirt by pressing it with a hot iron or placing it into the dryer on high for 20 minutes.

Acrylic Paint T-shirt

Acrylic paints can dry quickly and be very inflexible when they harden and “cure.” As a result, many people like to use a prepared fabric paint or mix in a fabric medium to acrylic paint before using paint on a t-shirt. However, even if you don’t have these available, you can make your own!

Step 10

In a bowl or cup, combine 1 part white vinegar, 1 part vegetable glycerin and 1 part water. (I used 1 tablespoon of each, which is more than enough for a t-shirt.) Mix well.

Step 11

Place your desired color of paint into a bowl or cup and add a small amount of the mixture Mix well. Take care not to thin the paint too much as it will bleed under your stencil if it is too loose. For craft acrylics, a 1:5 ratio of medium to paint is enough. For thicker art acrylics you may need to go as high as a 1:2 ratio.

Step 12

To apply the paint to the shirt us a foam craft brush or other paintbrush. Use a “pouncing” motion, dabbing the paint onto the fabric rather than using paint strokes. This will reduce the chance of damaging your stencil and keep the paint from going under the stencil. Add a little at a time. You can always let it dry a bit and add more.

Step 13

When you’ve achieved your desired result, carefully remove the stencil, taking care not to transfer paint from the stencil onto the shirt. Don’t let the stencil sit on the shirt for too long, It will become hard to remove as the paint dries and hardens.

Step 14

Allow your shirt to cure — letting the paint bond to the fabric — for several days before washing. When you wash it, wash it inside-out to reduce the chance of transferring paint onto other clothes.

What's Next?

Check out The Big Book of Maker Camp Projects by Maker Camp Coordinator, to create color-changing, spin art, bleached, or soil-painted Maker Camp t-shirts.

Maker Camp Sandy June 23, 2021
Sandy Roberts, has been a certified STEM educator for over 13 years. She shares her love of science, engineering, technology, and maker activities through her business, Kaleidoscope Enrichment, as the 2022 Maker Camp Community Manager, and as the author of The Big Book of Maker Camp Projects. As a scientist, a teacher, and a mom, she loves to learn with her students as they create and innovate. Read more about Maker Camp: Maker Camp Should Be a Part of Your Summer This Year Kaleidoscope Maker Camp: All STEM & Smiles My talk at World Maker Faire 2017, Six Years of Maker Camp: Tips and Reflections. Check out my playlist of activities from last year's Family Maker Camp! Find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.