garment stenciling

Custom T-Shirts by...You!

Garment stenciling is great for creating you own unique fashions or duplicating the same image for group and team shirts.

OK! Let’s Spray Paint Stencils using a Chinese Harmony Symbol on a black t shirt!

Spray paints leave a crisp, smooth finish free of paint brush lines or the splotches that sponges create. However, as easy as it might be to spray paint from a can, it’s not so easy to get good results. There are a number of things you need to know about this form of Stenciling Art.

The challenge with spray paint is getting clean edges and sharp lines. Most commonly the end result is a fuzzy edge. That’s the nature of spray paint.

To get sharp lines, you need to make sure that the stencil is as close to the surface as possible. If any part of the stencil is lifted from the surface, paint can spray under (which is called “overspray”).

One way to make sure that your garment stencil is in good contact with the surface is for the stencil to have an adhesive backing. There are a couple of ways to do that. First, you can copy your stencil onto a piece of full page label paper and cut it out (if you are using one of our Free Printable Stencils, just print it out on full page label sheets). Second, you can coat the back of the stencil with spray adhesive or a glue stick. Just make sure to read all instructions on any products you use and test before doing your project. You don’t want to find that after putting some effort into a project that the material is ruined by an adhesive you used.

Harmony Chinese Symbol Stencil for a T-Shirt

Let’s say you want to work with a glue stick. It’s best to tap the glue around the islands and bridges of the stencil. If you drag the glue stick you will likely get globs of glue around the edges of the islands. In order to get crisp edges on your painting the island have to be clear of glue.

Here are some of the things that you’ll need for this project of garment stenciling with spray paint:

Of course, you’ll need paint. I’m not going to recommend any brands because what works for me may not be what works for you. All I can say is to experiment with different ones until you find a brand you can stick with. There are brands designed for use on fabrics and I would encourage you to use them because a generic spray paint may be stiffer when dried and make your garment uncomfortable to wear.

Some of the qualities you want to look for in a spray paint is truthfulness of color and a consistency that is not too thin. It just needs to spray on a nice color. Experiment with a few different brands until you find the one you like.

You also want to find a brand that can offer some reliability at the nozzle. There is nothing worse than having a nozzle that clogs and sputters out large blobs of paint or worse yet sprays out nothing at all.

I’ve found that just because a paint costs more doesn't mean it's better. A can of discount brand paint may not go as far as a more expensive one so you'll need to buy more but you may still come out ahead in the long run. You'll find that your most valuable Stenciling Ideas come from your own experiences.

Unique T With a Simple Fleur de Lis Stencil

Of course you’ll need stencils! The variety of stencils available is mind numbing. So, it’s next to impossible for me to recommend any kind of garment stencil. My best advice is to experiment and test different stencils and materials.

Here's a comparison of stencils made from thick and thin materials.

When using a stencil made of thick materials (like plastic or thick cardboard) make sure you hold the spray can at a perfect 90 degree angle especially around the edges. If you spray at a side angle, the edges of your pattern will not receive an even amount of paint. On the other hand, a thick stencil which is durable and heavy will cover your surface better and prevent over-spray where you don't want paint.

A stencil made from a thin material (like paper) doesn’t have an edge thick enough to block the paint as it is sprayed. So the edges should be crisp even if you are not holding the can at an exact 90 degree angle from the surface. However, a thin material (like paper) might be flimsy enough to allow paint to get under the edges if it curls or gets blown by the spray. If you are using paper, you may want to consider an adhesive backing option as described above to keep this from happening.

Also, with paper stencils, I always cover the top with a thin protective cover like clear shelf liner before you cut out the image. It preserves your paper stencil for many uses and makes it easier to work with.

Can't Find the Stencil Design You Want...Make One!

If you want to create your own garment stenciling designs check out How to Make a Stencil for some ideas and in depth discussions.

Get some safety gear like a face mask or respirator, eye protection and rubber gloves. You need to be aware that spray paint is very toxic and you don’t want to breathe it in especially over long periods of time. If you are spray painting inside, get a good respirator. Remember it’s always good to be safe than sorry!

Well, on to the garment stenciling!

Garment stenciling with spray paints on fabric is a little more of a challenge because fabric can move and stretch. I coated the back of the stencil with a glue stick. It kept the fabric from stretching and secured all of the stencil edges against the surface to reduce over-spray.

Unless you are using a paint that is specifically made for fabric, the finished image may be stiff and there is no guarantee as to how it will react in washing. Read all directions on the paint you are using and experiment.

I put a piece of cardboard inside the T-Shirt for a couple of reasons. First, is that it will keep the T-Shirt from sliding around or getting wrinkles. Second, it will help prevent paint from seeping through the fabric and leaving an image on the back of the T-Shirt. You want the cardboard to fit inside the T-Shirt without stretching it in any way.

Setting Up the Harmony Symbol Stencil

I lined the edges of the stencil with some masking tape as an extra measure to keep the fabric or the stencil from moving.

Use old newspaper to cover the areas around the stencil from overspray. Spray paint has a way of going everywhere. It gets carried in the wind and lands on any exposed surface. So it’s important to cover anything you don’t want to have a painted haze.

Use masking tape to secure the stencil and any newspaper that you use.

Time to Paint

Find a good place to apply the spray paint. Hopefully you have a room with good ventilation or an open area outdoors. Don’t work in an area where there is a breeze and dust is blowing around.

Hold the can 8 to 10 inches from the stencil when spraying the paint. Use a gentle waving motion, spraying paint in horizontal lines from side to side. Release the nozzle at the end of each row and move down far enough so that when you start to paint your next line in the other direction, you are starting a new line and not repainting over the last line. You are looking for a slow and gradual build up of color with even coverage. Allow the paint to dry thoroughly after each thin layer.

Make sure to hold the can upright at all times and spray toward your surface at a 90-degree angle. Holding the can upright keeps the flow of paint consistent and keeping the flow of paint at a 90-degree angle will help keeping the paint from spraying under the stencil.

Endless Possibilities to Re-Design Your Clothes

Allow the paint to dry completely before removing the stencil. Pull the stencil straight up or hold down at one end and roll it up carefully from the other end. That's it!

Here's another cool example of what you can do with garment stenciling. Read more about how a Dragon Stencil was able to breath new life into an old pair of jeans.

Garment stenciling with spray paint or by pushing paint around with a brush can help you create your own unique style!

Happy Stenciling,