How to Make Stenciled T-Shirts

Every year my art club students choose what type of t-shirts they would like to create.  The t-shirt design is a collaborate effort between myself and several art club students.  We work together to base the design off of their interests and trends from the current fashion world.

My middle school students love to splatter paint (who doesn’t ) but this is sometimes hard to control when you are wanting it to go in the correct spot.  My students also requested we used neon paint (a little bit of Pop culture).  So when I found fabric spray paint in neon colors I knew we had found our match and that stenciling t-shirts would be the right fit for this year’s design! The fabric spray paint would give my students the effect of splatter painting that they wanted while keeping it controlled enough to create a great t-shirt that they would be proud to say they had made.

Stencil your Own T-Shirts with this Easy Tutorial!

Creating your Design & Stencil

Students worked together to create a design on paper first.  This is important because when you stencil you design with the negative space.  Students tested out their image by cutting it out of the paper.

Once you have your image designed then trace it onto a big piece of heavy tag board.  Then carefully cut out the design by using an X-Acto knife.   I always remind students to be very careful when cutting and give them a quick talk reminding them to keep their non-cutting hand always above the hand they are cutting with.

Since you will re-using your stencil several times, you want to make sure it holds up to water.  Simply coat it with a layer of clear packing tape to waterproof your tag board.  I would highly suggest that you make two or three stencils if several students will be working on this project at the same time.  This will allow the stenciling process to go smoothly.

Taking Orders

I purchased a few t-shirts in various sizes for two reasons; first middle school students are right between youth and adult sizes- so sizes can vary. Secondly, telling others what size you are can be an awkward thing for adults, just think of how a Middle Schooler might feel!  This allowed students to try the t-shirt before they decided what size they wanted.   You can decide on what is the best t-shirt for your money.  T-shirt quality varies based on the material and pricing.

Stenciling Your Design

1) It is important to pre-wash your tees, this takes off any chemicals and allows a clean tee for stenciling.

2) Flatten cereal boxes to put on the inside of the shirt, just in case the spray paint bleeds through.

3) Next, place your design where you want it on your t-shirt.  It is a good idea to grab a buddy at this point to help you hold down the stencil so it does not shift or move while you are using the fabric spray paint.

4) Make sure you are wearing an apron since it is fabric spray paint, it will not come out of clothing.

5) Then grab your fabric spray paint and spray away!  Once you are happy with the looks of it, then simply lift your stencil off and Voila!

6) If you would like to stencil on the back side, wait 24 hours before stenciling again.

7) Let dry 24 hours for permanent color before machine washing

8) Wear your stylish stenciled t-shirt and proudly say you made it!


Art club students truly enjoyed stenciling their own t-shirt!  Seeing their collaborative design walking around on 20+ t-shirts was a very empowering experience.  We would wear our t-shirts on the days we had art club.  The best moment to showcase our stenciled tees was when we went on our end of the year art club field trip! They truly made us feel connected and help to distinguish us as a group.

Have you ever tried stenciling t-shirts with students?  Tell us about it!

Does your school have an art club?

Chelsie Meyer

This article was written by former AOE writer and technology guru Chelsie Meyer.


  • What an great lesson plan for middle school students! I ordered some neon paint this year as well. Where did you get the neon spray paint and what is the cost per bottle? How many bottles did you buy? You could also laminate the stencil.

    • Thanks Cassidy! I got Tulip Fabric Spray paint from our local Wal-Mart orignially, but they no longer carry it.  So I found it on Amazon  It is $11.39 for a 4 pack.  I used 2 packs to do about 20 tees. 

      We laminated them with clear packing tape.  It was faster then sending them to our AEA, but I’m sure a copy place or your local AEA could laminate them too :)

  • Vicky

        I too have used the spray paint on T shirts with my kids.  Instead of the cereal boxes, I used wax paper to put inside the shirts.  Also, we used masking tape and taped on the front of the shirt in the desired design, then spray painted over the tape.  After the paint dried sufficiently, we just pulled the tape off.  Presto: a cool design!  Another technique we used is:  I bought a variety of flat wooden shapes from Joann fabric and crafts (could also get them from Michael’s or Hobby Lobby).  We used stars for example.  We rolled a piece of tape up to stick the stars down all over the front of the shirt.  We used stars of different sizes.  Then we spray painted over the stars.  After the paint dried, we gently pulled the stars off and presto: another cool design!  We mixed a little red and blue paint on a white shirt to make a patriotic design.   One person asked us where we bought the shirts!  A bonus is that the wooden shapes can be used indefinitely.


    • Hello Vicky,
      Thanks for sharing! I would never have thought to use wooden shapes! What a great idea, and I love the fact that you can reuse them.

  • Marie Blocker

    Great Idea! We made tie Dye Last year, but need a new idea this year for middle school!  I may have them splatter all over, then stencil on top….hmmm thinking.

    Marie Blocker
    Stafford Middle School

    • Thanks Marie! There are so many fun ideas when it comes to making t-shirts!

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