Crafting for Disney: Making Custom Iron-ons for One of a Kind Shirts

JAMMitors custom t-shirt

JAMMitors custom t-shirt

Of all the things you can make yourself to use during your trip, home-crafted t-shirts might be one of the easiest projects. Some people like to make the same or similar shirts for everyone in their group, or you can make custom shirts for different people with each person’s shirt featuring something about the parks they particularly like.

I like to make shirts spotlighting the more offbeat stuff in the parks, like Sonny Eclipse or the JAMMitors. You know, the kind of Disney stuff you can’t find any merchandise for around the parks. It’s really fun to walk around in the parks wearing a completely unique item and it’s a nice way to show your love for the things you can’t find Disney-made products for.

There are lots of crafting techniques you can use to make custom shirts, but we’ll only be talking about iron-ons today.

Things you will definitely need:

  1. Some kind of iron-on transfer paper. There several kinds to choose from depending on your project. (Take a look at some of the different types on the Joann’s Fabrics and Crafts website.) Make sure to buy the right type for the method you plan to use (inkjet printer, color copier, etc.) and read the packages to see what the recommended uses are. For example, there are different types of transfer paper for use on dark-colored fabrics and light-colored fabrics. So know what kind of shirt you’ll be using, what kind of art you plan to use, and how you plan to put it on the transfer paper before you buy your iron-on transfer paper.
  2. A blank t-shirt, pre-washed.
  3. A clothes iron
  4. A nice, sharp pair of scissors
  5. Any other supplies called for in the instructions for your iron-on transfer paper.

Other useful items:

  1. Stickers, photos, buttons, pins, or paper handouts featuring art you’d like to use on your shirt.
  2. Graphics software for your computer. Depending on your project type, you’ll need different tools. I like the freeware imaging program GNU Image Manipulation Program, aka “Gimp”, which is available for Mac, PC, and Linux. For some simpler projects, though, you may even be able to use the default paint program that came with your computer.
  3. An inkjet printer or color copier.
  4. A camera or an image scanner.

Starting your project

Depending on the type of art you’ve chosen, the method you will use to put it on the iron-on transfer paper will be different.

Using your inkjet printer

So if you’re going to print your art on your iron-on transfer paper using an inkjet printer, you’re going to have to get that art into an image file on your computer. If you’re starting with a digital image file (say, if you are using a picture you took with a digital camera, or if you are using an image you found on the internet) then you are ready to move on.

If you are using a physical object like a sticker, photo, flyer, or something like that, then you need to use a digital camera or a scanner to get your art into an image file your computer. If you are using your camera, I recommend going outside to take your photo when there is plenty of natural light available. Using your camera’s flash or even bright indoor lighting tends to cause glare or make the colors on the item look unnatural.

Once you have a digital image file ready to go using your camera or scanner, open your file up in an image processing program. I’m going to give a couple of quick tips if you decide to download and use Gimp, the tool I recommended earlier.

Open that image file using Gimp. And then…

Trimming unwanted stuff

Click the Paths tool on the Toolbox.

The Gimp Toolbox

The Gimp Toolbox

(It looks like a fountain pen with a dotted line next to it on the left, in the middle of the second row from the top.)

Click carefully around the outline of the area you’d like to keep for your iron-on. Each time you click, Gimp will put a dot and then it will continue your outline to the next time you click. Your progress should look something like this:

Selecting a path around the image

Selecting a path around the image

When you’ve gone completely around it, with the Paths tool still active, click the “Selection from Path” button near the bottom of the Toolbox.

Paths Toolbox options

Paths Toolbox options

Then choose Invert from the Select menu on the image file window, followed by Cut from the Edit menu on the image file window. This should white out all the sections of your art’s image file that you do not want to print. Then choose None from the Select menu to clear your selection.

Now you want to crop the image file down a little so you can control the size of your printout a little easier. Click the Rectangle Select Tool on the Toolbox.

The Gimp Toolbox

The Gimp Toolbox

(It looks like a rectangle, and it’s in the upper left on the top row.)

Select the area right around your art, making sure to get close to the edges but not to go inside the art with your selection box.

What a selection box around your art should look like

What a selection box around your art should look like

Then choose “Crop to Selection” from the Image menu on the image file window.


Now you want to resize the art to the size you want it to print. Choose “Scale Image” from the Image menu. You’ll get this dialog:

The Scale Image Dialog

The Scale Image Dialog

Change the Image Size width/height pulldown menu to “Inches”. Make sure the chain link next to the width/height fields stays solid. (Don’t click on it, changing it to a broken link, or your art will not be resized proportionally and it will look squashed when you’re done.) Change either the width or height number to the size you were hoping to print your art, and then press Tab. You should notice the other dimension change as you press Tab, as Gimp calculates the correct size to keep your image proportional. Make sure you keep your art image size within the constraints of the printable area on your iron-on transfer paper, probably within 7.5 inches wide and 10 inches high at the most.

Reversing your image

Carefully read the instructions that come with your iron-on transfer paper. Some types of paper require you to reverse the image before you print it, and some require you to leave your image un-reversed. It all depends on how the transfer paper is meant to be ironed onto your t-shirt. Check your instructions before you print, or you will waste ink and expensive iron-on transfer paper! (Can you tell that I’ve done this before? And I was running low on ink in my color cartridge, too!)

If you need to reverse your image, choose Transform -> Flip Horizontally from the Image menu. This will reverse your image for you before you print it.

To prepare for printing, determine whether you need to print your art portrait or landscape. (If your image is wider than it is tall, choose landscape. If it is taller than it is wide, choose portrait.) In Gimp, choose Page Setup from the File menu and select the appropriate orientation, then click OK.

You will also want to make sure the transfer paper is loaded into the printer tray facing the correct direction, depending on the way your printer works. If you’re not sure which way it’s supposed to be facing to print on the correct side, draw an arrow on a regular sheet of paper on the top of the paper and pointing into the printer. Print a text file using that sheet of paper, and you’ll find out what side of the paper your printer prints to. Load your transfer paper accordingly to make sure the image prints on the correct side of the transfer paper.

Skip forward now to “Finishing your project”

Using a color copier

If you have access to a color copier, buy yourself color copier iron-on transfer paper, place your art item on the color copier, load your transfer paper into the copier, and copy your art onto the transfer paper.

Finishing your project

Follow the directions that came with your iron-on transfer paper for ironing the image onto your shirt. Your instructions will probably tell you to cut around your printed image on the transfer paper, so make sure you keep a steady hand and cut smoothly along the edge. Pay close attention to the recommended heat settings given for your iron, and if the instructions ask you to put a cloth between the transfer paper and your iron, make sure you do so. Follow the instructions as closely and carefully as you can, and you should be ready to go!

Oh! Two final notes. First, there may be special laundering instructions given to care for the iron-on, especially for the first few washes. Make a note of those instructions as well to keep your new shirt looking great.

And second, enjoy the oohs and aahs you’ll hear as you stroll through the parks in your custom gear!

This post is part of the Disney Blog Carnival. Head over there to see more great Disney-related posts and articles.


About Kathy

I'm a lifetime Disney Parks fan who recently (and coincidentally) found herself relocated to Central Florida. These are our adventures visiting the many attractions and exhibits that are all too easy to overlook in favor of the headliner and super-headliner attractions.
This entry was posted in Budget, Crafting for Mickey and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Crafting for Disney: Making Custom Iron-ons for One of a Kind Shirts

  1. Pingback: Crafting for Mickey: Custom Stencil Shirts | Mickey's New Neighbors

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s