You can create your own t-shirts easily and cheaply by using a freezer paper stencil.
This was my favorite technique before personal cutting machines existed! I’m going to show you how to transfer your custom creation to a t-shirt or other fabric.
I’ve always liked funny phrases or puns on clothes, especially kid’s clothes. However, shopping options are very limited where I come from (before Amazon existed anyway.) When we lived in China, buying sizes that fit my husband’s chest or my butt was just impossible.
Download an image, or just use a fun font from DaFont.com.
Use whatever program you are comfortable with, such as MS Word or Google Docs or Photoshop, to create the design.
But…. how do you transfer your creation to clothing?
The secret, must-have material is freezer paper.
In the US, it’s sold very cheaply at the grocery store in huge rolls. I bought one roll in 2008 and it came to China and then Belgium with me. If you live outside of the US, you are able to buy it in printer-friendly sheets from sites like Amazon.
Freezer paper has a thin, waxy side; this enables it to stick to fabric when attached with a warm iron. Then, you paint over your cut-out design and the fabric paint only goes where you want it to, leaving a nice crisp edge. It’s easy and looks great!
Clear as mud? Let me show you how it works.
Materials needed to create your own freezer paper stencil shirt
- printer – either InkJet or LaserJet work
- a design to use (you can use my “Believe” Unicorn design if you want -> it’s in my Free Files Folder near the bottom of the page)
- freezer paper – cut to size or use pre-cut sheets
- craft knife
- fabric paint
- blank shirt or other item
- parchment or baking paper
Step By Step Instructions to create your own custom t-shirt
First, print your design onto the freezer paper. If you have an inkjet printer, simply trim your freezer paper to letter or A4 size and stick it into the printer.
It’s very important that you print on the matte paper side, NOT the waxy side.
If you have a laser printer, tape the freezer paper to another sheet of regular paper first. The laser printer uses heat to print, and if you send the waxy paper through without a backing, it may ruin your printer.
Next, use a craft knife to cut the design out.
Remove the part that you want to color on the fabric. In the example, I want to paint where the black lines are.
I need to remove all of the black, but leave the white in the middle.
It’s easy to change the design slightly. For example, I wanted the letters v and e to connect, and the curve of the v to be smaller without the white space in the top… so I just cut it out that way.
Save the middle of all letters such as e, a, o or the middle of any script font, such as the l in the example. If you mangle something, just cut another out of some scrap freezer paper.
Smooth lines look the best, so I sliced the outside of the B off and then used small paper scissors to cut around the three pieces of the inside of the B. Those pieces are set back on the freezer paper (which is shown on a red paper for contrast below.)
Next, iron the freezer paper stencil on your shirt.
It’s a good idea to use baking paper or parchment paper between the freezer paper and iron, as the ink or toner can easily spread to the fabric.
Iron on the biggest piece of the stencil first, then add each small piece (such as the inside of the letters) one at a time. Put the small piece in place, then carefully iron the piece exactly where you want it.
Iron over the whole custom design again to ensure all of the edges are stuck down well.
Insert a piece of freezer paper between the front and back of the shirt. This is important so the paint doesn’t soak through to the back of the shirt.
It’s ready to paint! I used regular acrylic paint with fabric fixer. You can also use fabric paint. Mix colors and get creative!
After you finish painting, let it dry completely. (If you’re in a hurry, use a hair dryer to speed up the process.)
Remove the freezer paper stencil. It should tear off fairly easily.
If you have very thick coats of paint, the stencil will tear more. Use tweezers to remove the small parts of the stencil such as the inside of the letters.
Finally, iron the design one last time to set it.
Turn your iron onto high heat, use parchment paper between the paint and your iron, and press firmly to set the paint. (Some fabric paint lists specific temperature and time instructions.)
It’s ready to wear, but wait 24 hours before you wash it.