Sunday, November 17, 2013

How to Screen Print Shirts with Freezer Paper

A friend recommended I try to screen print shirts but I knew that would require a machine and lots of skills I don't have. Besides, I doubt many people have screen print machines just chillin' in their closets. So when I came across this post on Dana Made It, I knew I had to give it a try!

You just need five things:
1. A t-shirt
2. An x-acto knife
3. Freezer paper (found in your grocery store with the aluminum foil and wax paper)
4. Fabric paint
5. Foam brush

My husband has been watching the old 90's TV show, "Hercule Poirot"on Netflix lately and wanted a shirt showing off the main character. After a little Google image searching, I found a great headshot. Now the original post recommends using a program called Picnik but I used Photoshop to crop, make the image black and white, and posterized. Honestly, you don't have to do any of those things if you don't want to. All it does is simplify the image, remove the details, and lets you see a little clearer what should be outlined.

Original trace and copy that has been flipped
Once you have your image, start outlining with a marker. Just like pumpkin carving, concentrate on the white space. Depending on how complicated your design is (this post by Dana Made It just uses goldfish, for example), it could take 2 minutes or 20. After outlining the design, flip it over and go over the lines again on the back. If it helps, color in the image with your marker. Once you've outlined the front and back, take the back image and either scan or take a photo and e-mail it to yourself. This way, you can flip the photo horizontally and then print it out so you have a mirror image.

Next: the cutting. Use an x-acto knife and cut out all the black pieces. Cut out the very small pieces first, then move onto the big pieces so there's less tearing of the paper.

Once your design is cut out, put some blank paper in your t-shirt first, then place your design on the t-shirt and try to iron it on as best you can. However, I found this did nothing. The paper didn't create any sort of seal to the shirt. Still, give it a shot.. maybe you'll have better luck. I didn't have any small pieces because I cut everything in one giant piece but that might not work for your design.

Grab your brush and start painting on top of the design. Because I couldn't get the paper to seal to the t-shirt with the iron, I had a really hard time keeping the paper down when painting. Go slow, be patient, and use as much paint as you need. Just remember do not paint outside of the paper! I accidentally made some drops at the bottom of the shirt and those won't be coming off...

It didn't say how long it would take for the paint to dry but I found it was about 2 hours. The absolute hardest part was removing the paper, especially when it came to the smallest lines. Lets just say, it's not pretty. Maybe with more practice I'll get better, but mine looks sloppy.

Once you get the paper off (as best you can), you need to set the design with an iron. I just took an old dishrag, put it on top, and ironed for a minute or two.

So the moral of this story: choose a simple design to start out with so you understand the process and practice makes perfect!

TOTAL COSTS: About $20
$7.95 for freezer paper at Vons
$5.99 for fabric paint from Michael's
$3.99 for t-shirt from Michael's
X-acto knife and foam brush already on hand

TOTAL AMOUNT OF TIME: Almost 3 hours
20 minutes to trace design
15 minutes to cut it out
15 minutes to iron and paint
2 hours to dry

EASY-PEASY SCALE (1 super easy - 5 very difficult): 3 out of 5
If you have a printer, an idea, and some patience, you can easily do this! Just note it might not look as professional as a screen print.


  1. Why did you trace it on both sides of the paper?

  2. I traced on the printed side first so that the mirror image would come through the back without any unnecessary details (like his cane, jacket, etc). Because the ink from the marker didn't go all the way through the paper, that's why I had to trace on the back. From there, if you want, you can mirror the image =back= to look like the original, it's up to you! Let me know if you have any other questions!

  3. Spray adhesive works wonders for stenciling when freezer paper just doesn't stick. I use it for all of my printing projects!