Crafting for Mickey: Custom Stencil Shirts

Finished stenciled shirt

Finished stenciled shirt

I’ve posted one way to make your own custom t-shirts for your Disney trip using an iron-on technique, but today, I’d like to talk about using a stencil technique to craft your own shirts.

plain t-shirt
transparency paper
fabric paint
image of your stencil subject
spray adhesive
sharp scissors (4″ embroidery scissors work very well)

If you will hand-draw your stencil, you’ll also need:
permanent marker with a fine point

If you will use a computer to create your stencil, you’ll also need:
computer with graphics program like Gimp or Photoshop

Notes on materials:
Transparency paper: You can find this online or in office supply stores, but it tends to come in boxes in a much larger quantity than you’ll need. I called a few print and copy places and found one that was willing to sell transparency paper to me by the sheet. If you are hoping to print your stencil lines directly onto the transparency paper, make sure to get the type of transparency paper that matches your printer. (You can’t print onto laser printer transparency paper with an inkjet printer, it won’t set and will smudge as you try to work with it.) If you can’t find matching paper, don’t worry, there’s a workaround for that.

Fabric paint: I found this works best with fabric spray paint. Make sure you read the instructions, and I recommend practicing your first spray on a scrap piece of fabric to get your technique down. Sometimes the spray isn’t uniform right after you press the trigger, so I had an old towel that I began the spray on, then I moved to the shirt once it evened out.

Scissors: Small scissors will work best, and you’ll also need a nice, sharp point. You’ll need to get into a lot of small, internal cuts and small, sharp scissors are the best way to do it.

Dropcloth: No need to get fancy. I just used a large garbage bag as my dropcloth.

1. I started with an image of Big Al from the Country Bear Jamboree for my shirt, as I never have and probably never will see him on an officially-licensed shirt. Here’s the image I chose:

Original Big Al Image

Original Big Al Image

2. I used the free, open-source graphics program Gimp to make the outlines for the stencil. The best way to make the lines is probably to use the Path tool. Create a new layer (Layer menu->New Layer) for your stencil lines, so you keep your original image layer clean. I created multiple layers for my stencil lines as I worked so that I could decide later to eliminate some lines from the design if I wanted to. When you are creating stencil lines, you are trying to make a very basic outline of the subject (you don’t want too many lines) but it has to be enough detail so that the subject will be clear on the final product.

To use the Path tool to make the lines, simply create the path by selected waypoints along the outline you’re making, then click the “Stroke Path” button on the Paths area in the palette.

Gimp window, showing stroked path lines for stencil

Gimp window, showing stroked path lines for stencil

If you are using a permanent marker to make your stencil lines, simply place a piece of transparency paper over your image at this step and carefully outline the important, defining lines of the image. Then skip to step 5.

3. If you can print directly onto your transparency paper (this will depend on what kind of printer you have and what transparency paper you were able to find) then print only your stencil line layers (not your background image) onto a piece of your transparency paper. If your paper and printer type don’t match, just print the lines on a piece of regular printer paper.

(To get only your stencil lines, click the eye next to the background image layer in the layer tool window, which you can bring up in Gimp under Windows->Dockable Dialogs->Layers.)

4. If you had to print to regular printer paper, use some of your spray adhesive on the back of your transparency paper and stick your printout to your transparency paper. If not, skip to step 5.

5. Cut around the outline of your stencil. Then, using the internal lines you made, carefully cut along those lines to expose the inner detail in your stencil. Do not cut your internal lines all the way to the edge, leave a centimeter or two between the end of your internal lines and the outer edge of your stencil. (See below.)


Image shown is of the post-spray stencil, because you can see the internal lines more clearly. Note how they stop before reaching the edge.

If you had to print your stencil lines to a sheet of regular paper, you should now peel the paper off the back of your stencil, doing so very carefully so that you don’t rip the transparency paper.

6. When your stencil cutting is done, use some spray adhesive on the back and stick it to your shirt. Make sure to position it carefully so that the image will fall on the right part of the shirt. You may want to use another shirt you own with a design on it for placement reference.

Shirt and stencil, post-spray

Shirt and stencil, post-spray

7. Place the shirt on your dropcloth and smooth out all the wrinkles. Prepare your fabric paint according to package instructions. Spray over your stencil with your fabric paint.

8. Let the paint dry according to the package instructions. Remove the stencil after the paint is dry. Consult the package instructions for laundering guidelines.

9. Wear your new shirt with pride!


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 Crafting for Mickey, Tips and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Crafting for Mickey: Custom Stencil Shirts

  1. Have you seen the one where they bleach around the stencil – opposite outcome 🙂

  2. Wow. This custom stencil is awesome! DIY concept as its best. Ed of

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