Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How to Make Your Own Personalized T-Shirt

I enjoy the occasional crafty project but don't really have the time to do it. I also enjoy saving money, and try my best to find time to do that. So if I can save money AND get my crafty on? I am so there!

Back when the kids' birthday was coming up, I really, really, REALLY wanted personalized shirts for them. The way I saw it, since the kids had mostly been kept at home, people might mix them up. Personalized shirts would be helpful...and well, just plain cute!

But when I searched for personalized shirts, I just couldn't find any in our budget range. The cheapest I could find were about $15 each. If I had a singleton, I would have bought one and been done with it. But with four kids, $60 on shirts they would quickly grow out of was just too expensive.

So I went another route. I decided to see how hard it would be to make my own. It wasn't too hard and the shirts turned out so cute!

The Babies' Birthday Shirts (Sorry there is a glare!)
Front                                                   Back

When their cousin Aly's birthday was coming up, I decided that she needed a personalized shirt too! And I decided since it was inexpensive, cute, and pretty special for the recipient, I would share it with you!

What you need:
  • A shirt (I know, surprise, right?)
  • Freezer Paper (Walmart sells it. Check by the foil and ziplock bags.)
  • Cardboard Pieces
  • Templates
  • Tape
  • Razor Knife
  • Tweezers
  • Paintbrush (I use a round stencil brush.)
  • Fabric Paint (There are several types of fabric paint. I have used the puffy paint and the flat paint. Puffy paint can be cute with it's glittery tint, but the final ironing flattens it out so that the edges aren't crisp. The flat paint looks like you had it professionally screen printed on. In my opinion, even though the flat paint is about $1 more per bottle, it is worth it for a nicer finished product.)

Ready? :-)

First, wash and dry your shirt to make sure it has done all of the shrinking it's going to do. Then iron the shirt (or at least the part that you want to paint) to make sure that you have a smooth surface to work with.

Next, pick out the template that you want to put on your shirt. For this shirt, I did two templates. I typed out "Alyvia" in Microsoft Word and then played around until I found a font I liked. I settled on the "First Grader" font because it looked like fun kid lettering. I also found a butterfly that I really liked. I copied that twice on my copier so that I had a template I could cut. Alternately, you can Google for images that might look good on your shirt. Try: bug, flower, train, etc. (You can see the template I ended up with in the above photo.)

Once you have your templates, tape them to the pieces of cardboard. Keep the tape away from the template lines. Now tape a piece of freezer paper on top. You want to tape the freezer paper shiny side down. Again, keep the tape away from the template lines. You should be able to see the template coming through the freezer paper so that you can see where to cut.

Now take your razor knife, and get cutting! Be careful to only cut on the lines. Any extra cuts will allow the paint to seep through.

Once the freezer paper is cut, carefully remove it from the original template and cardboard. Save any pieces that are needed for the inside of your stencil, such as the inside of letters. Trim around your new stencil so that it fits on the shirt. Make sure you leave a decent edge around the stencil for when you are painting.

Now iron your stencil on your shirt.

Position the freezer paper shiny side down. Once you have everything where you want it, iron the stencil on the cotton setting WITHOUT steam. In other words, dump all of the water out of your iron before you start.

It should be well stuck to the shirt at this point. Make sure that you have all of the edges firmly affixed to the shirt paying special attention to little pieces.

Now add back in any extra pieces. Below you can see that I've added back in the middle of my "A's." Again, make sure that you are ironing these pieces shiny side down!

Now take a second piece of freezer paper that is big enough to cover the entire area that you are painting. Slide it inside the shirt, shiny side up, and iron again. That second piece of freezer paper will protect the paint from bleeding through to the other side.

Once your template is ironed on, then you are ready to paint!

Take a paper plate and squirt a little of the color you want to use on it. Use the paint brush in an up-and-down motion to apply the paint to your shirt. Do not swipe it side-to-side as that will push paint under the edges of your stencil. The first coat will take the most paint, but you don't want to glob it on. It's better to do several thinner coats than one thick coat. For this t-shirt, I did 3 or 4 coats over two or three days. For the black t-shirts that I made for the kids' birthday, it took about 10 coats over a week. Those dark t-shirts are hard to cover! Make sure you start this project at least a week before you need them (or longer if you are going with dark t-shirts).

At this point, I kind of forgot that I was documenting the shirt making process. Oops! I also had the privilege of making Aly's first birthday cake and cupcakes for her party, so I was a little distracted. :-)

But then I remembered!

This is what your shirt should look like once all of the paint is applied. (Ignore the part where I already removed the stencil around her name.) You can see that I've used different colors but been careful to keep the paint on the stencil. Make sure your paint has dried for at least 12-24 hours before removing the stencil.

Use your fingers and tweezers to very, very gently remove the stencil from the t-shirt. It should easily peel off of the shirt, but you may have to coax it a little bit in narrow areas such as between letters. I also occasionally use a cuticle stick along with the tweezers if I get a particularly stubborn spot.

Don't forget to carefully remove the center of the letters as well!

Oh, by the way, this is a one-time use stencil, so don't worry about ripping it.

 So cute! About now, you should be very proud of your work! Your shirt looks adorable! :-)

Now we are going to set the paint. Go back to your iron that is on the cotton setting without steam. Take a fresh piece of freezer paper and place it shiny side down on top of your newly painted design. Iron it on.

You should be able to see your design pressed up against the freezer paper once it's adhered. It really doesn't take all that long.

Once the paper is cool, peel it back off your design. Your colors should be a little more vivid and your design a little flatter than it was before!

This is the finished project with the skirt that I bought to go with it. Adorable and professional looking, and more than that, something special that the birthday girl wouldn't be able to find anywhere else!

One last thing, these t-shirts hold up surprisingly well in the washer! Just make sure that you wash your shirt inside out with cold water. I let mine air dry but I have thrown them in the dryer in a pinch. If I have to dry them, then I leave them inside out and dry them for a limited amount of time on low.

Ready to try your hand at a Homemade Personalized T-Shirt? :)

I linked up to:

Artsy Play Wednesday with Capri +3


  1. YAY!! Aly loves her shirt :) She actually just wore this outfit yesterday!!

    1. Glad to hear she likes it! :) And now you know how easy it was for me to make her birthday present! :)

  2. I'm impressed! Can't wait to see the quads' shirts!

    1. I added a photo of the kids' shirts, but it's a little blurry. :( I think it comes across though. Thanks for reminding me to include those photos!

  3. Adorable!! I have never had any luck with stencils (I think I am too impatient), but if I love this project ... you did a great job!!

    1. Thanks! I cut the stencils out in the evening while watching a movie. It goes a lot quicker when the kids aren't "helping" me. Lol!

  4. That's adorable! Thank you for the idea!! :)

  5. SO cute! I love this tutorial. Pinning so that I'll hopefully remember to use it one day. :)

    1. Ooo! I'm totally excited that you pinned it! Thanks! :)

      Definitely try it at some point! It's easy! (I love easy!)

  6. What I found fun and although messy, especially with 4 little ones, were hand prints. I am the grandma so that also made it more fun, but we would take an ink pad and place the little fingers and toes on it, then we pressed it on shrinky dink material, shrunk it and punched a hole, we had key chain charms, we put those little finger onto picture frames and later when he was older "we painted" a coat rack with the same ink pads. With a little speed (you have to catch them from putting finger prints everywhere" and soap and water you are done. Just imagine how much fun that would be to let them "paint" their walls when they are a little older and you have reached the "super human" state of being everywhere at once. ;0)

    1. I love the hand print idea! We did foot prints for some thank you gifts last year. I wonder if I'm brave (and quick) enough to try hand prints this year? I'm sure the grandparents would love it!

  7. I love this! You did such an amazing job with them, too! I know those customized shirts can be quite pricey, especially when you have to buy more than one. This is really great idea! Would you mind if I pin this?

    Kelly @ Our Everyday Harvest

  8. oooh how awesome! I love DIY stuff! Found you at the wkend blog hop! I'm about to follow you on Twitter & facebook, too! Have a lovely weekend :)

    Daydreaming Realist

  9. Cute prefect gift idea for my 4 adorable grandchildren. Stopping by on the blog hop. Really cute idea.

    1. Coordinating shirts would be so fun and make such a great photo! Hope it turns out well for you!

  10. So super cute!!

    New follower from the Harvest of Friends Blog Hop.


  11. Wow! That is a great tutorial. I would love to try that. I will pin this to my crafts board. Your results are so professional...You could have a side business (if you had time...which I know you don't!)

    1. Haha! If only I had time for a side business! :)

      But it's still fun to get to do stuff like this for my kids! Thanks for the nice compliment about the way it turned out!

  12. I also pinned it on the Creative Ideas From Moms board at Circle of Moms. Please link this to Artsy Play Wednesday too. Older kids could help pick out their own designs and assist with the painting.

    1. Thanks for the pin and invitation to link up on Artsy Play Wednesday! I really appreciate it! This would be a really great craft for kids who are a little older. They would be so proud of themselves! :)

  13. Thank you for the tutorial! After cutting out several letters, my AMAZING 11-year old son suggested using the Cricut. It worked awesome with the freezer paper! So happy and much easier!


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