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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tutorial: T-shirt stenciling with Lettering Delights

This tutorial is for the benefit of my blog readers who are not familiar with this technique. I did not come up with this method of painting T-shirts with freezer paper stencils but I have enjoyed it many times. A question from a reader of this post prompted me to post this tutorial. I realized that while many of us already know how to do this, there are others who are unaware. If you have never made or heard of the freezer paper t-shirts, this tutorial is for you.


My kids love to paint. Paper, canvas, walls, they've painted it all but one of their favorite item to paint on is definitely t-shirts. The Jack-o-lantern patterns on Lettering Delights may have been designed for use with carving but why should that they be used only for pumpkins? They are perfect for stenciling on fabric too and today I will show you how my kids used them to spice up a plain t-shirt.

To start, we got an orange t-shirt (from Joann's or Michaels), fabric paint (we're using black color, Tulip brand), freezer paper (grocery store, ziplock bags aisle), and a piece of cardstock. I washed and dried the t-shirt before starting this project.

To make the stencil, I first add the doodlebat font on Make-the-Cut using Ctrl-Shift-H or clicking on the "Add font from ttf file" button that looks like this: 
If you have already pre-installed the font on the computer, you can skip this step and just pull down on the list of .ttf files and select the font.

To figure the size that I should cut the stencil at, I took a ruler to the shirt and made an approximation of the width of what I want the final print to be sized at. For this kid-sized tee (size s), I cut the image at a width of 7". I double-click on the pattern that I want and resize it accordingly. I only needed to enter the width as the height (or length) of the pattern is resized automatically since I kept the aspect ratio lock on.

Because I will be cutting on the reverse side of the freezer paper, I do a Ctrl-M to mirror the image. Now the stencil is ready to be cut.

To cut the stencil, I lay the freezer paper shiny side up. I set the machine to a 4 for Speed, Pressure, and Blade.

Next, I ironed the stencil to the shirt but before I do that, I have my kid wear the t-shirt. I hold up the stencil and measured the distance from the collar to the top of the stencil. You can also use a piece of sticky tape to mark the spot where the stencil should be instead of using the ruler.

I fold the shirt lengthwise and crease the front to get a center line. Using that crease line and the measurement that I took earlier (or sticky tape) as a guide, I laid the stencil shiny side down on the shirt. I turned off the steam on the iron and used the lowest setting  to press the stencil onto the shirt. I made sure that the stencil is stuck completely so as to prevent any bleeding of paint later.

Before painting, I slid a piece of cardstock or thick paper (eg. cereal box, paper pad backing) inside the shirt to catch any excess paint that might bleed through to the other side.

Then came my kids' favorite part. It's time to paint!

I probably should have waited to peel off the stencil but we were super excited and I removed it before the paint was dry. Even though I was lucky and did not make any boo-boos in the process, it was rather unnerving and I would recommend waiting for the paint to dry before removing the stencil.

There are a lot of variations of this technique and also many video tutorials on youtube. I like Kay's video the most as it was from hers that I first heard about this technique.

If you are doing this for the first time, a simple design is a good place to start. This is also a fun and easy craft for the kids to do. It's always a great feeling to see them wear their art with such pride and even though we have a ton of store-bought printed t-shirts, their favorites are always the ones that they have painted themselves.


  1. Super cute! do you use fabric paint?

  2. Hi Amy, we used Tulip brand fabric paint that can be purchased from Joanns, Michaels, or even Walmart.

  3. Fantastic tutorial Jin. I'm definitly making our shirts this year instead of getting them from Old Navy. BTW, have you ever layered the paint? Does that work?

  4. loved your tutorial, and had to make a one for my baby. I used my rock princess cartridge for the design. here is the link to a picture i took of the tshirt.

  5. Thanks GaTechGal! I've never tried to layer the paint. Perhaps I should try that on my next t-shirt project.

  6. Hi sandy, you did an AWESOME job! Thanks so much for sharing. I love that you used 2 colors. Nicely done!

  7. I have layered paint and it works great. I wait til the first color is completely
    Dry before ironing the next stencil on of course.

  8. This is such a neat cute idea. I need to do something like this with my gang.

  9. I am going to try this w/my grandchildren and my kindergarten class.. The paint bottle says 4 hrs to dry. Do you need to allow this long to wait to take off the freezer paper?

  10. Nope. In fact, if you have steady hands, I might even encourage you to remove the freezer paper before the paint fully dries. Say 10-15mins after you are done painting. I found that if I let the paint dry fully, sometimes it peels off with the freezer paper. Before you try it with the class, work on one at home first. It's a really great project and I love making these with the kids. Have fun!

  11. I love these shirts. I have to try it. So cute and looks so easy.

  12. @Jay Nope. Not with freezer paper.

  13. omg - how cool is that?! I had no idea you could use freezer paper as a stencil. Genius! (off to buy project supplies for my kindergartner!)v