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DIY Fashion: How to Spray Paint a Stencilled T-Shirt

I love developing a wide variety of creative DIY projects—everything from fashion to beauty to crafts!

How to spray paint a t-shirt

How to spray paint a t-shirt

How to Use a Negative Space Stencil to Spray Paint a T-Shirt

This tutorial will show you how to do a one-color print. It's the best way to start out if you're a beginner!

If you're looking to do a multi-color shirt, that's fine too. You can still follow the steps of this tutorial, but you'll need to create an extra stencil for each color you use. Let each color totally dry before adding another!

Materials you'll need

Materials you'll need

Materials You'll Need

You'll need a few things to get started, but it shouldn't cost too much!

  • A piece of thin cardboard, like the kind shoe boxes are made out of. This is for making your stencil, so make sure it's big enough to fit your design.
  • A box cutter for cutting your design out.
  • T-shirts for spraying! I suggest going simple - black paint on a white shirt, for the most contrast. I always buy plain cotton shirts in packs of 4 or 5.
  • Montana Colors Alien spray paint is imperative. I know it's a pain going out and finding specific stuff, but you don't want to screw up a shirt like I did by buying cheap spray paint. Initially, I picked some cheap paint up from Walmart. When I tried to make my shirt, it was so watery that it bled through and ruined the whole thing. I consulted an arty friend, who led me to this Montana Colors Alien stuff. It's $6 a can, which isn't so bad. You can find it on Amazon or search in your local art stores. If they don't have it, just ask the people working for a good spray paint that will work on a t-shirt!
  • Double-sided tape is needed for adhering the stencil to the shirt. You need clean lines!
  • Newspaper for stuffing inside the shirt and protecting the areas that you don't want to be painted.
Mozzarella box stencling - like a boss.

Mozzarella box stencling - like a boss.

How to connect the space inside of the letters to the space outside of them.

How to connect the space inside of the letters to the space outside of them.

Step 1: Make a Stencil

I free-handed my stencil onto the back of a flattened mozzarella sticks box. I made my stencil to utilize positive space, meaning that the spray paint will fill the positive space of the letters I've cut out.

Another method of stenciling utilizes the negative space. This is created by spray painting around the silhouette of something - this is what I did with the Star Trek shirt.

If you're not the best at freehanding, you could print out the logo or design you're trying to replicate and tape it to the cardboard. Then, just use your boxcutter and cut out the design - like carving a pumpkin!

Keep in mind - any letters that close (A, B, D, O, P, Q, R, a, b, d, e, g, o, p, q) need to still be connected to the stencil somehow. As in, the negative space on the inside of an "O" needs to be connected to the negative space on the outside - or else you'll just have a giant, filled-in circle when you go to spray paint. You can do two different things in this case: 1) cut out a middle piece for the "O" and place it on the shirt when you lay down the stencil, or 2) leave the middle piece connected to the stencil by a thin line of cardboard.

Gettin all up in yo shirt.

Gettin all up in yo shirt.

Step 2: Get Ready to Spray

Once your stencil is ready, gather your other materials - newspaper, double stick tape, your t-shirt, and spray paint. Go outside to spray so you don't suffocate and die.

Take a relatively thick bit of newspaper and lay it flat inside of the t-shirt, under the area where your design will go. This will prevent the design from bleeding through to the other side of the shirt.

Lay your stencil down. Use double-stick tape to secure it to the shirt. Additionally, you'll want to apply the tape in places where the stencil may not lay flat. My Vinyl Countdown stencil has lots of detail, so I used a bit of tape between some of the letters to make sure that the design would come out sharp. The better contact between the stencil and shirt, the sharper the image will be.

Once your stencil is taped down, use the rest of your newspaper and cover up the exposed parts of the t-shirt.

Try not to drool while you look at the pizza. It'll ruin the spraypaint.

Try not to drool while you look at the pizza. It'll ruin the spraypaint.

Live long and prosper.

Live long and prosper.

Step 3: Grab Your Negative Space Stencil

Like I said before, there are two different types of stencils. The negative space stencil requires a different preparation process.

You'll still have to stuff the shirt with a newspaper, but other than that, you don't need it. Throw the stencil on the shirt, tape it down with your double stick, and you're ready to spray.

Shake it like a polaroid picture.

Shake it like a polaroid picture.

Then spray like a cat during mating season.

Then spray like a cat during mating season.

Step 4: Spray

Once you've double-checked the stencil and made sure no other parts of the shirt are exposed, it's time to spray! Shake up the can for about 30 seconds to a minute. Then, using long, sweeping motions, spray over the design. Keep the can about 10 inches away from the shirt. If you spray too close, you run the risk of the paint bleeding.

After you've gone over the design once, give it a minute or so before doing another coat. If you're cautious, do 15 minutes. I'm impatient, and I usually can't go thirty seconds before I do my second coat. So far, it's turned out fine!

When you're done spraying, let it sit. You don't want to risk smudging the paint on anything. Come back to it in 10-15 minutes, and remove all of the newspapers. Be careful not to get any paint on your hands. Carefully remove the stencil, and set it somewhere that it can dry.

If you've done all of these steps correctly, you should have a nice, crisp image!

Negative space stencil

Negative space stencil

Spraying With a Negative Space Stencil

For this kind of stencil, I tend to spray further away - about 15 inches from the shirt. I sprayed more heavily around the stencil and more lightly as I got further from the stencil.

When you're done spraying, let it sit for a few minutes, and then remove the stencil.

They see me rollin'.

They see me rollin'.

Shaving off mistakes

Shaving off mistakes

Step 5: Add Finishing Touches

You have to do a few things before you're done! Once your shirt has sufficiently dried, roll it up so that the spray painted portion is facing outward. The painted parts should not be touching any other part of the shirt. Use a few rubber bands or string to keep your shirt rolled up. Throw it in the drier on high heat for at least 15 minutes. This will help to set the color in!

You'll probably want to do one shirt at a time. If you do more, then the paint from one could stick to the fabric of another and leave stains on it.

If you happen to get paint somewhere it doesn't belong, don't fret! Grab a clean razor and shave that junk off.

Congrats, You're Done!

Now that you've finished, you can sell them, give them away as gifts, or hoard them all to yourself.

Finished products

Finished products

Benefits of Making Your Own Shirts

Making your own shirts is so much cheaper than buying them from a printing company. Companies are already trying to make a profit - so their prices are pretty high. If you're looking to make a profit as well, you'll have to jack up the prices even higher. Pretty soon, people end up spending $25 on a simple t-shirt.

If you're into saving money like I am, you'll be a big fan of making your own shirts. You can purchase two packs of five shirts from Walmart for $20. A can of spray paint is $6, and double-sided tape will run you about $4. That means that your overhead for the first batch of shirts will be $30 - and there will be more than enough tape and paint to last you for several more batches.

I've been making shirts for my radio show. I charge $5 a shirt and $10 if the buyer wants it bedazzled. This guarantees me at least $20 in profit for the first ten shirts. For my next ten, the overhead will only be $20 (since I'll have paint and tape leftover) - yielding $30 in profit. If I get a few bedazzled orders, I make a little more money.

Cost of Home-Made vs. Ordered T-Shirts

No matter how you cut it, it's always cheaper to make your own shirts.


1 shirt



10 shirts



Spray Paint



Zee Marriage from Australia on February 10, 2014:

Neat idea- spray paint seems a lot more durable than those iron-on ink jet printer sheets that you can use for T-shirts. Thanks sharing nice hub .

Leslie A. Shields from Georgia on January 28, 2014:

You are sooo smart! I have to pass this along; first to the Youth Department at church! Thanks

CS Drexel from Earth on January 27, 2014:

Very cool Hub, this could be useful in a lot of ways. I bet you could apply this to a lot of stuff other than shirts as well. Thanks for the sweet idea!

Chin chin from Philippines on January 27, 2014:

Great DIY tutorial. I would like to try doing this too.

Celiegirl on January 26, 2014:

Great idea and tips, i will be using them. Thanks for the tutorial.

Stephanie Henkel from USA on January 26, 2014:

Congratulations on you Hub of the Day! I've tried to do hand-painted t-shirts with acrylic paints with varying success, but never thought about using spray paint. This looks like fun! Thanks for the easy to follow instructions and photos. Voted up and pinned!

Alex Rose (author) from Virginia on January 26, 2014:

I thought of doing acrylic first, but i was worried it'd be too difficult to get a sharp image, and it'd coat on too thick. I started looking into using spray paint, and it works really well!

Gracie L Sprouse from Virginia on January 26, 2014:

It has never occurred to me to use spray paints. I've always used my acrylic craft paints because they are permanent as soon as they dry.

This will be great for an outdoor activity this summer.

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on January 26, 2014:

"...spray outdoors so you don't suffocate and die." LOL Great advice, not to mention avoiding re-decorating your furniture and carpets and possibly an errant pet. ;-)

This is a great tutorial, and I want to offer my congratulations on HOTD!

Voted up, useful and interesting.

Alex Rose (author) from Virginia on January 26, 2014:

Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it :)

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 26, 2014:

Great hub! The instructions are easy to follow, and I can see all kinds of possibilities for using this. Congratulations on the HOTD. Voted up and more, and pinned.

Alex Rose (author) from Virginia on January 26, 2014:

Well, if you let the paint dry before throwing it in, you'll be alright. The hot air from the dryer actually sets the paint in so that it won't bleed or anything. If you're still worried about it, you can use a blowdryer on high heat instead! Then after that, wash and dry as you would a normal graphic tee.

Jimmy Gent from California on January 26, 2014:

Cool idea! Totally creative and affordable solution to add fashionable style to one's wardrobe. One question, however, can I expect paint to bleed off and damage the inside of my dryer?

Alex Rose (author) from Virginia on January 26, 2014:

Thanks for the comments! Spray paint is definitely something to consider if you're making more than one :)

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 26, 2014:

What a great simple tutorial! I love the detailed steps. Thanks for sharing! Congrats on HOTD. :)

Mackenzie Sage Wright on January 26, 2014:

Nice! I've used fabric paints and brushes to paint clothes, I haven't tried spray paint. this looks great and easy for when you're doing group shirts. Nice work, thanks for the tips!

Kuzto from Virginia on January 26, 2014:

Very nice hub and images!

poetryman6969 on January 26, 2014:

Definitely a cheaper way to go.

Dr Penny Pincher from Iowa, USA on January 26, 2014:

Neat idea- spray paint seems a lot more durable than those iron-on ink jet printer sheets that you can use for T-shirts.

Sp Greaney from Ireland on January 26, 2014:

You instructions are great and your finished product looks very professional. It's great you turned something your good at into a business. Voted up!