Creating stencil-art apparel

I would like to adorn my clothes with home-drawn stencil art. First, I don’t know anything about stencils, and secondly, I don’t know anything about dying fabric. Where do I start? What’s a good “how to” book (or web site) on the subject?

If possible, I would like a unified, recipe-style tutorial; I don’t want to pick up one book for every separate technology involved.

We make stencil T-shirts all the time. There’s not really all that much technology involved.

To make stencils, we just use manila file folders. Draw on the folder, or tape on a printout off the computer. It takes a bit of an eye to turn, say, a color photograph into a recognizable stencil, so start with a simple design. Remember to include ribs for unsupported areas (think the inside of an “O”). Then cut it out with a nice sharp Xacto knife.

For paint, you can go a couple different routes. First, you can just use spray paint. Advantage is that it’s cheap and easy, disadvantage is that the color fades rapidly, so you get gray instead of black or whatever. Also, don’t use spray paint on 50/50 or synthetic fabrics. Something like 80% cotton is OK, but synthetics sort of… decompose a little.

The other route is acrylic paint, the stuff from the art supply store. Good, fast colors, but more expensive. Get a nice wide brush (say 1" or so), tape your stencil on the shirt on a flat surface, and go to town.

Does that cover it?

I need to use water-proof dyes, not spray paint; that, I think, is where the “technology” part comes in.

Why do you need waterproof dyes? The acrylic craft paints mentioned above are waterproof once dried. You can also iron them under a sheet of white paper to make certain they stay on.

If you ever got a drop of latex paint on a T-shirt, you’ll realize that years of washing won’t get it out.

Heck, I’ve got a shirt I stenciled in the '70s and it’s still good. (I just don’t quite fit in it anymore. . .)

As long as the paint doesn’t form a distinct surface – it has to look like it’s dyed into the fabric, not something painted on top – and doesn’t crack or fade, that’s fine.

Hum. I dunno so much about dyes. I suppose you could try some sort of batik process – stencil on the wax and then dye the remainder of the garment – but that’s just speculation on my part. I don’t know nothin’ about batik, anyway.

You could still try spray paint. In my experience, spray paint will have a bit of a surface when you first spray it on, but after a couple of washings, the texture of the fabric beneath returns and it looks something like a dye. It still fades, though…

I think you’ll find the dyes won’t work because they’ll bleed. Paint is much thicker than dye and therefore the bleeding is minimal.

Well, if you really want to go with dyes, you’re going to need to airbrush them on. That will work with a stencil, but good airbrush equipment is going to cost you and there will be some learning/practicing involved.

Look up waterproof fabric dyes at any good, large art/craft supply house. They’ll have airbrush equipment, too.


I use ‘Plaid’ ‘Screen Scenes’ ‘No Brush screen Paint for fabrics’.

Works Great!