How To Make Your Own Screen Print T-Shirts

5 min read

Make a re-usable stencil

Making Summer Scouts T-Shirts

In my previous post I mentioned that if you follow along with me, I’ll give you instructions for each of the projects my scouts and I are doing this summer.

Week One:  Making Group T-Shirts

I wanted the scouts to make their own shirts to wear on our field trips, instead of ordering them from a printing company.  Tie-Dye might be the popular route with this one but I needed something more simple, inexpensive, and not as messy.  When instructing a group of excited kids, it seems easier to have as few steps to follow as possible.  After a few different ideas didn’t acheive the look I wanted (bleach pens from the dollar store did NOT bleach anything!), I decided to splurge on craft fabric printing pigments.  I say “splurge” but little did I know:  They were clearanced at 75% off at the local JoAnn Etc!  So I grabbed many colors instead of just the white I intended to pick up.  I grabbed some sponge rollers too, but they didn’t roll well so I recommend getting stamp sponges instead.
Before the big day, you need to make stencils!  You can buy several from a store, but why not make your very own logo?  Here’s what I did:
I took the bird from our Group logo (at right)

SOAR Scouts Logo

I printed it out and used a marker to block out areas into a stencil.  Then I cut them with an exacto knife.  The trick is to cut out negative spaces without cutting out the entire outside of the design.  Also, make sure the spaces are not too vague.  This may take some trial and error so pick a simple design to start.  When I was happy with the stencil, I made a few photocopies.
Next, I sent several blank laminating sheets through my laminator, making plastic sheets.  I taped them (two at a time worked out fine) to the stencil guide I printed, and used an exacto knife to cut out the design.  I made five and rotated the kids between them, which worked out perfectly!  {For another take on making the perfect custom t-shirt stencil, check out this post at Stay-At-Home-Artist.  The reason I did not do it this way is because I wanted reusable stencils – in fact, we use them again for our very next project.}
Now you have stencils, ink, and sponges.  What are we missing?  Oh yes – the shirts!  I found ours at a dollar store.  Everywhere else was at least twice as much, even wholesalers like DharmaTrading.  {Plus, shipping can be a nightmare from them sometimes.  However, you can order larger bottles of ink from them, if you can’t find them on sale locally.  Their website is definitely worth the look.}
Let’s get painting.  We put pieces of cardboard inside the shirts to keep them stretched and taped the stencils down with painter’s tape.  I did not use a glue stick on the back of the stencil first, but I’ve read that doing so can help keep the fine points of the stencil in place and keep the paint from bleeding under it.  I will probably do this next time.  Sponging instead of rolling definitely helped with this.
We let them dry in the sun for a minute before removing the stencil.

The paint dries fast and is very professional looking plus long-lasting, with five star reviews on all websites I’ve seen.  I also had the kids add stamps to personalize the shirts if they wanted.

What do you think of them?
After making the shirts, I had the kids roll Seed Bombs, which we will take on our first field trip to do an innocent and welcome kind of “Guerilla Gardening”.  Speaking of which, as you’re preparing for your first official outing as a troop I suggest picking a location now and sending out the information for it as soon as possible.  As far as Guerilla Gardening goes, for us it was part of a Naturalist/Restoration Badge – basically meaning we chose a park to pick up trash at, after which we “bombed” the area with the clay balls of wildflower seeds we made.  Here’s a quick instructable for the bombs.  You can also find them already made on Etsy and elsewhere, but I think that defeats some of the purpose.  Also, here’s a slightly different approach; you can pick which one you like best.  Next week I’ll share pics of us earning our badge and how-tos on the next project, so come back!
*Feel free to adapt the ideas here however you like to fit your needs – but please be kind and don’t use my images or other creative property unless I have specified they are up for the taking.*

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