Custom Tee Shirt Series 1 of 4 – Freezer Paper Stenciling

Freezer Paper Header

It can be so easy to personalize your clothes. Custom designed clothes are a big industry – just take a look at, or the new places opening in malls where you can choose a design and they will print you a tee shirt in minutes. People want to be able to design their own duds. And doing this is much easier than you might think.

I would love to share with you some methods, so I will be posting a series of four methods to use to personalize your clothes easily, affordably, and in the comfort of your own home. Three of these methods are brand new to me, so you’re going to get the full on beginner’s review of the technique – does it work, what would I do differently, what application do I think this would work best in… And one method is tried and true for me!

The best part about all of these methods is that they are using items that you may already have around the house. And, if not, you do not have to A) spend a lot to purchase them, or B) go to specialty stores or order them online.

So, as part 1 of my series of 4 in how to decorate your own tee shirts, I bring to you:


I bring this to you first because this method is one that I have used before with great results. To do this, you are going to need the following items:


1- An article of clothing on which to stencil. The stenciling area should really be a flat surface of fabric – let’s not go crazy and attempt to stencil over zippers or pockets. You know what? Just get a plain cotton tee shirt. Thanks.

2- Reynolds Freezer Paper. I don’t know if the brand matters TBH – I’ve only ever seen Reynolds. Now, this may or may not be an item you have in your home. I honestly don’t know what freezer paper is for outside of shirt stenciling. Reynolds may not even know and I think they are on to us because the box even touts that it is great for arts & crafts. (Ah – the box says you wrap foods in it to be frozen. Hmm… seems unnecessary to me.) Anyhow – I found this easily in the area of Target that has the other, more heard of cabinet box-roll items like foil and plastic wrap.

3- A sharp instrument with which to cut. I have an exacto knife. You may use whatever you’d like as long as it’s easy for you to do detailed work with (depending on the detail level of your design, this may or may not be important to you).

4- A cutting surface. Yeah, your kitchen cutting board might work. But you may have also cut chicken on that for dinner last night and gross! I’d suggest getting a craft cutting board and leaving it with your crafty stuff.  I have a plastic cheapo board from Ikea. I love Ikea… But I digress.

5- Paint application tool – I prefer to daub the paint on with sponges. So get some sponge brush/pouncer thingies.

6- Fabric paint. I like the type labeled as “soft,” because the finished fabric, while somewhat stiffened from being painted, isn’t as stiff as the non-soft kind. There are all kinds, though. Hard to believe, but you will want to get it in the colors that you want to have on the fabric. Mind blowing, I know.

7- Paint brushes for details at the end. More to come…

8 – Iron & Ironing board (not pictured). You have these, I’m sure. Wait – you don’t? Okay – I’m trying not to judge since 98% of the time mine is in my art room because this is what I use it for, but really? That’s one of those things you first buy when you move out on your own. But really, slacker… if you don’t have one, at least BORROW one for this tutorial. (I prefer the method of just throwing the clothes back in the dryer for a bit to get the wrinkles out, myself.)

So, once you’ve assembled your tools, the only thing left to do is come up with your design.

With it being Christmas time, and with the new Star Wars movie being out in theaters (and being awesome, but I am not going into that here (but seriously – makes up for episodes 1 – 3)), I decided to combine those themes. So, I give you…

Jawa Claus!

Jawa Claus Design

Here’s my design. Now, this is pretty detailed, and while you could actually do a stencil for all of those details, that’s a whole lotta work that I’m not going to blog for you (right now). So I chose to stencil the lettering and jawa robe and hood. The rest I will detail in by hand afterwards.

Step 1 – Draw your design out on the freezer paper. This part is important – draw on the side of the paper that is smooth and papery – not slick and plasticky!!! The slick and plasticky side will be fabric side DOWN! Now, you can freehand this if you’d like, you can send it through your inkjet printer as well, or, you can do what I did, and trace it. Thankfully the freezer paper is rather translucent so you can rather easily trace a darkened design.

Cut your Stencil

Step 2 – Cut your stencil! If you are using an exacto knife, PLEASE BE CAREFUL! I will not be responsible for you being silly and slicing your fingertip off. It’s happened. Not to me, but to people.

Note – this is where it can get tricky – especially with letters. It’s like carving a jackolantern – if you want a shape within a shape – like the circle in the A – you either have to get tricky-dicky and leave little “tails” to connect the inner circle of the A to the outside – or you have to do what I did and decide to detail it back in later. You could also save the cuts and iron them onto the shirt in the next step. Since the stencil is going to stick temporarily to the fabric, as long as you get a good bond while ironing, the pieces that are “floating” on their own really shouldn’t move, so if you’re confident in your hand placing skilils, you could do this!

Another note – in my original design, my red hood and brown cloak touched. Not easy to do with a stencil. My choices were to either decide by hand where to stop sponging brown paint and start red, make two separate stencils (one for hood, one for cloak) and line them up, or leave an area of freezer paper marking the divide and paint it in later. I chose the third method, so you will notice that there is a large-ish band of freezer paper between where the hood and cloak meet that wasn’t on my original design.

Final Cut Stencil

Step 3 – Time to iron the freezer paper onto the shirt! So, get out your ironing board, iron, shirt, and stencil. You’re also going to want something to put inside the shirt between the front and back so that you don’t have any paint bleed through. Here I have used a piece of construction paper. I have found that cereal box or food box cardboard, though, is a really awesome thickness for these types of things to just have lying around (and yay for reusing something before sending it to the landfill!).

Ready to Iron

Okay – you can do this. Piece of cake. Plasticky side down – line up your freezer paper where you want it to go on the shirt. And, ready… IRON! I go with the highest non-steam setting on my iron. I also like to focus on the little bits first –make sure those get ironed down tight using the tip of the iron. Then, once those are pressed, press the whole thing. Rather than making the swoopy iron motions you use on clothes regularly, I use a blotting type method. You want to really focus on the edges here. The goal is to get the edges to stick to the shirt. The plasticky side of the freezer paper is going to bond with the fabric in the shirt, so the goal is to press-press-press until you can see that the two have bonded. It shouldn’t take more than about five minutes. Once you’ve determined that your shirt and paper are bonded besties, it’s time to move on to the fun part!

Step 4 – PAINT!

Using your spongey blotters, it’s time to blot paint. I start at the edges, making sure to get those done. You can absolutely use a paint brush here if that is your preferred method. I just like the speed of blotting. Blot away! Or dab. I guess it could also be dabbing. Whichever. Is there another verb to describe this action? Truly, I’m curious. What do you call this method?

Start of blotting

See me blot!

Blot 2

So here is my fully blotted stencil.

Blot 3

And look at this –


I have done this ON PURPOSE to teach you all a valuable lesson – DO NOT OPEN YOUR PAINT OVER YOUR SHIRT LEST YOU RISK IT SPLOOCHING WHEN IT OPENS AND GETTING PAINT ON THE NOT TO BE PAINTED PORTION OF THE SHIRT… Maybe open it to the side… You know what – it’s art. And this tee shirt is 100% your design, so let’s turn this into a little heart.

Oops Fixed

There. Art. Just try and ask me why there’s a heart on the side of my shirt. It’s because I love Christmas!

Step 5 – Finished?

Peel Stencil

Are you all done blotting? Awesome. Time to peel off your stencil. You definitely want to do this while the paint is fresh, so just grab a corner and gently lift up off of the fabric. How’s it look? Amazing? I thought so.

Step 6 – Add the details!


At this point, I want to add my black outline and the black details. So still using my soft fabric paint, I’m now using a paintbrush to hand paint my details. Again – you could create a multitude of stencils to add these on. Just be sure to let the paint dry fully (24 – 48 hours) before trying to add a 2nd stencil to the painted surface.


All done! Be sure to follow the directions of your paint brand of choice as far as dry times. I like to let mine dry for 48 hours before wearing. Additionally, I usually wash the article of clothing once by itself just in case…

As far as permanence – it’s about as permanent as you can get. You really don’t need to worry about this fading at all.

Ease of application – pretty simple, in my opinion. The cutting is the most technical part of this.

You can go as detailed as you’d like with this method – it’s all up to you and what you’d like to cut. I would say the only risk you run with this is how well you can iron those tiny little cuts to the fabric.

Cost is easily absorbed. Assuming you have an iron and ironing board on hand, your investment is going to be the cost of freezer paper, paints, and any other tools you need. I spent $10 (not including shirt) because I was purchasing the paints at the time. The other plus side to this being I have a lot of freezer paper and fabric paint, still, so the initial cost is even lower if you split it out amongst the projects it will carry over to.

Remember to rinse your sponge dobbers out right away – they can be reused and they really are not as cheap as I thought they were… And your husband will REALLY love it when you rinse them in the bathroom sink he cleaned just moments before 😉

So there you have it – you, too, can create a custom tee shirt. Go forth and create!! Also, Utini Christmas!!

Next up in the series – Sandpaper Coloring Transfers!

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