Custom T-Shirts DIY - How to screen print on fabric

We’ve all seen it: custom t-shirts. Either for our kid’s soccer team, or we bought one to support a good cause, or we had some made for a special event, you name it. We’ve all come across them at one point or another. And we love it when they’re made well and they last, but we hate it when they’re not and the print cracks or fades after a few washes. It’s so frustrating! But what can be more frustrating is the hassle of when we need to have some custom t-shirts made and we feel like we have to outsource it because there’s no way you could do that yourself! Am I right?

Well, today I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. 

Simple designs, like logos or single color images are easy to print onto t-shirts yourself. Yes, it gets more difficult if you want multi-colors, but we’ll tackle that one in another post. Because first, you have to learn how to do the single color ones and that is actually pretty easy.

  I solemnly swear I am up to no good

What you’ll need

To create your own custom t-shirts here’s what you’ll need:

  • blank t-shirts (cotton ones work the best)
  • water-based fabric paint, 
  • a squeegee (an old credit card or membership card will do too), 
  • a cutting mat or a piece of cardboard that you can insert into the shirt, 
  • a custom silkscreen stencil. 

For the project I did this week I made two custom t-shirts for our daughter who you know, if you’ve read any of my other blog posts, loves anything Harry Potter related. I reused the Hufflepuff stencil I had previously used for her birthday cake and one of last week’s cork coasters as well. For the other t-shirt I had made another silkscreen stencil.

2 HP inspired custom t-shirts

Now, you might have noticed that the two stencils have different colors and there’s a reason for that. The blue one is an All Surface type of stencil, while the purple one is a Fabric/Wood type of stencil. As the name suggests, the All Surface one you can use on any type of smooth surface, whereas the Fabric/Wood one is specially designed for stenciling onto fabric and rough wood. It’s a bit sturdier and a lot more tacky (sticky), making it ideal for fabric and wood surfaces. But I decided to use both because, 1) I already had the Hufflepuff stencil from previous projects, and 2) I wanted to show you guys that you can use the All Surface type of stencil on fabric as well.

Old fox cutting matsI used a cutting mat for one of the prints. Ours is made by Old fox and has a tacky surface ideal for sticking your fabric onto to make it nice and smooth (Cricut and Silhouette users will be familiar with this one). But I used a plain piece of cardboard for printing the other t-shirt, just to show you that if you don’t have a cutting mat you can use this instead.

Where to get your custom silkscreen stencils from

If you don’t know how to make your own custom stencil, don’t worry. We can do this for you! All you need is a (preferably) high definition digital design in black and white. Send it to us through our website with the desired dimensions and we will adjust it and turn it into an adhesive, reusable silk screen stencil just for you. Here’s the link for custom stencils.

How to make custom t-shirts

Okay, so now that you have everything ready, here’s how to make your own awesome t-shirts in 6 easy steps:

  1. Place the cutting matt or a piece of cardboard into your t-shirt. If you’re using cardboard make sure it’s not bent, you really need a smooth solid surface for a perfect print.
    The reason for the cutting mat or cardboard is not just to provide a smooth surface, but also to prevent the paint from seeping through the fabric and staining the opposite side of the shirt. 
  2. Mark the carrier sheet on the back of your stencil with a permanent marker, then peel the stencil off the carrier sheet and stick it onto your t-shirt. Smooth it out, making sure there are no folds underneath. Side note: the Fabric/Wood type of stencil will stick much better than the All Surface one, so you need to be more careful when applying paint if you’re using the All Surface one. 
  3. Apply a dollop of paint on the stencil right next to the design. Then use your squeegee or old credit card at an angle to spread out the paint over the design. You want a smooth layer covering the entire design. 
  4. Take off any excess paint, then peel the stencil off the t-shirt. Your print is done, now let the paint dry while you move on to step 5.
  5. If you’re only doing one print, then clean your stencil using warm water, then place it back onto the carrier sheet on the side you didn't write on. Never let the paint dry in the screen as you won’t be able to clean it properly later! If you’re doing bulk stenciling, then you can immediately apply the stencil onto your next t-shirt (that you have ready with another cutting mat or cardboard piece inside). Do make sure that no paint seeped underneath the surface of the stencil on the backside before re-applying. See my blog post on bulk stenciling for more detailed info on this. 
  6. Once your print is dry, and I mean completely dry, you’ll want to turn the shirt inside out and iron it. This way the paint is set and it’ll hold up in the wash. 

See, I told you it was easy!

custom t-shirt   custom t-shirt

Here's a short video showing you the process as well (minus the ironing part).


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As always, happy crafting!


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