How to put pretty art on t-shirts at home the EZ way.
July 31, 2010 12:51 PM   Subscribe

I want to put artwork on t-shirts at home. I can probably print out iron-ons on my printer, but I don't know how breathable those things are. Any other options?

I want to do this at home because I want to be able to churn out t-shirts at a reasonable cost because I wear them out quickly. I know I can use or something to have shirts printed and sent to me but it is too costly.
I am basically thinking that I download artwork I like in all of its multicolour glory (rules out screen-printing?), print it out onto iron-on paper and iron it on. Do they make breathable iron-ons? What is my best option given my parameters?
posted by GleepGlop to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My wife decorated a couple of my T-shirts with hand-cut stencils and screen-printing ink. Takes more doing, and not suitable to complex many-colored art pieces. And it definitely has a funky homemade look. But I haven't noticed breathing to be a problem.
posted by adamrice at 1:02 PM on July 31, 2010

How many do you want to make?
posted by k8t at 1:06 PM on July 31, 2010

Why is breathability an issue? Are you planning to run a marathon in this shirt? Unless you want to completely coat the shirt in iron-on graphics, that really is not going to be an issue.

One concern, however - I find printable iron-ons to be sort of cheap looking, and certainly not durable for everyday wear.

Are you looking for lots of interesting t-shirts at a good price, or do you specifically need to custom print something for a project? If the former, check out Threadless. Unique designs (for all flavors of unique, from witty slogans to cute illustrations to some relatively avant-garde stuff) on high quality shirts at extremely affordable prices. And keep an eye out for their occasional $5 t-shirt sales if $10-15 is still too expensive for you.
posted by Sara C. at 1:08 PM on July 31, 2010

k8t: about 7 different shirts at a time every few months lets say.
posted by GleepGlop at 1:18 PM on July 31, 2010

Price breakdown for custom iron on vs. something like Threadless:

Hanes Beefy T: $9 or 2 for $16, for 7 shirts = $57

HP Iron-On Transfers For Colored Fabrics: $11.15 for 6 transfers, for 7 shirts $22.30.

Total project cost before shipping*: $79.30

7 Threadless Tees, assuming an average cost of $15: $105, but they would last much longer than the custom printed designs and require no additional work on your part**. You also get higher quality t-shirts.

*and assuming printing and ink costs are not a factor, and that you already own an iron.

**do not underestimate the work of creating and assembling each shirt, especially compared to the lack of longevity of the shirts - it is unlikely that a printed iron on is going to emerge from the first wash/dry intact.
posted by Sara C. at 1:33 PM on July 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

phunniemee's guide to t-shirt stenciling

-blank shirts (here's a good source), washed and dried first to prevent shrinkage later
-freezer paper (MUST be freezer paper)
-fabric paint (I really like Jacquard, available at any decent art supply store)
-regular old printer
-exacto knife

-Find an image you like
-Print it onto the matte side of the printer paper
-Cut out your design
-Iron it onto your t-shirt (slick side down)
-Let dry, turn inside out, and iron to heat-seal

The image will last for years this way and produce professional-looking results.
Examples of some I made here.
posted by phunniemee at 1:43 PM on July 31, 2010 [10 favorites]

My brother tried the home-iron-on route (I think it was HP paper) - it only succeeded in ruining the t-shirt. Since he's generally very good at all things DIY or clothes making I've had to conclude that the idea itself is a bad one.
posted by Coobeastie at 2:16 PM on July 31, 2010

I tried the printer paper one and managed to mess it up as well. It's easy (for me at least) to get the iron temperature wrong or muck up the ironing if you don't have ironing experience. The part of the design that I managed to transfer properly cracked and peeled after half a dozen washes; not sure if it's related to the problems I had with ironing.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 2:40 PM on July 31, 2010

How many colors in each design? If it's only one or two (or you can make them only have one or two) it's worth silkscreening yourself.
posted by wayland at 4:09 PM on July 31, 2010

Oops, missed you saying they were multicolor. It doesn't exactly rule out screenprinting, but it makes it harder.
posted by wayland at 4:12 PM on July 31, 2010

phunniemee: that is nice, it gives me hope!
posted by GleepGlop at 4:17 PM on July 31, 2010

Provo Craft makes a home screen printing machine called a Yudu. The full kit is pricey, but it appears to come with everything you need to get started. I've also seen them advertised on late night infomercials. I don't know if you could get a better deal that way as the advertised kit comes with some extras not pictured in the linked item.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:13 PM on July 31, 2010

Have you searched through for ideas? There are lots of DIY T-shirt embellishment ideas there, including at least one (on quick search) with multiple-color screenprinting.
posted by galadriel at 7:07 PM on July 31, 2010

Would Fabric Crayons do the trick? Simply draw your design on paper and iron it on.
They're available at most craft stores.
posted by misspat at 3:30 PM on August 1, 2010

You can get plain T-shirts at AC Moore's in almost any size for about $3 in a variety of colors, a pack of iron-on transfers for an inkjet works out to $1 or $2 per sheet. It's not very expensive at all. Cheaper than a pre-made shirt usually.

If you're concerned with iron transfers not breathing, pick a design idea that lets you cut the sheet up. An example from my own experience: I couldn't find a Devo T-shirt in a T4 size for my son when he was three years old, and a full size iron on would have been way too much for the entire shirt. So I put three separate designs on the same sheet (a small pocket sized DEVO hat, the name DEVO vertically, and then the remaining space was the Freedom of Choice album cover). Once printed, I just cut the iron up into three pieces, put two on the front and one on the back.

The biggest problem I've had with transfers, is to make sure you get the right ones for the shirt. There's iron-ons for white t-shirts, and iron-ons for dark t-shirts. I've used both without many problems.

When I first tried making them, I used an old t-shirt I use for working in the yard and put some small test iron-ons onto it in different spots. They lasted through dozens of washing, a lot longer than the t-shirt did.
posted by inthe80s at 11:47 AM on August 2, 2010

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