I recently wrote about the Silhouette and Cricut electronic cutters over on the blog of the Craft Industry Alliance, here, so when I came across these photos on my computer, I thought I’d share them and let you know how to make your own T-shirts.

Cutting the Stencils

These are science-themed shirts that one of my kids needed for a project for science class. Silhouette sells sticky-backed stencil material for just this kind of thing, but ironically, my Silhouette didn’t cut it very well. (Perhaps I needed a new blade but didn’t realize it, or maybe the settings were wrong.)

What worked really well for me was clear Contact Paper. Contact Paper is sold at the grocery store and hardware store near the shelf paper. You can cut stencils out of it on an electronic cutter or by hand, with an X-acto knife.

Using the Silhouette to cut a stencil for printing on T-shirts.

There’s a picture of what it looks like loaded in the machine, I cut the Contact Paper to 12″ x 12″ so it would fit on the cutting matt for the Silhouette.

Here’s what a resulting stencil looked like:

Anti-Down Quark cut out of Contact Paper on Silhouette.

Inking the shirts

Then we inked the shirts using silkscreen ink and an inexpensive squeegee, as shown in the photo at the top (that’s a picture from a class).

Here’s what the supplies look like that you’ll need to complete a project like this:

Ready to Print – Silkscreening.

The T-shirt insert is from the craft store, or you can buy them online. They come in child and adult sizes. They really do work better than just any old piece of cardboard – the sleeve-y bits help hold the T-shirt in place and one side is slightly water resistant.

The inks we’re using are Speedball Silkscreen inks for fabric, look for the little picture of a T-shirt on the jar to make sure you’ve got the right one. (They also make ink for paper.)

The offset spatulas in the picture are for taking the ink from the jar and applying it to the appropriate spot on the shirt.  The baby wipes are for cleaning up when teaching or working in areas where a sink is not available.

Allow the ink to dry. You can speed drying by using a hair dryer on the ink. Contact Paper stencils are single use, in my experience.

Once the ink is completely dry (overnight usually does the trick – look for shiny spots, shiny means wet), you can remove and throw away the stencil.

Now iron the printed area for a minute or two, keep the iron moving, iron directly on the shirt, don’t put a cloth or anything between the iron and the shirt. This helps make the ink permanent.

That’s it! Now the shirt is fully washable and the design will last for years!

Gluon Shirt, Inked. The shirt has been inked and the stencil material is still in place.

Where to buy supplies

You can buy supplies for silkscreening at a good art supply store such as Blick, which is your best bet for one stop shopping.  Blick has the most colors of ink.  A big box craft store, such as Michaels, tends to sell mostly silkscreening kits and silkscreen ink only in primary colors plus black.

You can also find everything at your favorite online store.  The squeegee pictured at the top costs about $6.00.

Questions?  Feel free to ask in the comments!