Creating your own t-shirts is a great way to brighten up a wardrobe with one-of-a-kind pieces. T-shirt printing is great fun, and it’s also a good rainy day activity for kids (with supervision, of course!). The materials needed for t-shirt printing are now very affordable and easily sourced. If you’re an artist, printing t-shirts can be a great way of getting your work seen by more people.
Here’s a guide to making your own customised t-shirts using the transfer, or direct printing, method.
What you’ll need
- Your image/design work
- A printer
- A scanner (if your artwork isn’t already digitised)
- Transfer sheets
- A t-shirt or other fabric item
- An iron and heat-proof surface
(Some craft shops sell transfer kits with everything you need, including the t-shirt!)
What kind of fabric works best?
There’s no restriction when it comes to the type of item you can apply your design to. Printing onto tshirts is a great way to start, but you can create customised aprons, tea towels, or other items. The only limit is your imagination! Cotton or cotton blend fabrics work best for iron-on transfers, but if in any doubt you can do a small test piece first. Some fabrics won’t be able to take the high heat from the iron.
How does image transfer work?
The transfer method is basically going to take what you have printed on the transfer paper and transpose it onto the fabric using heat.
Transfer paper comes in two different variations: transfer sheets to be used on pale fabrics (white, yellow, pale grey, etc.), and transfer sheets to be used on dark fabrics. For the best results, use the right kind of sheets.
Remember, most printers don’t print the colour white – any areas of your image that are white will end up as blank space once ironed onto the t-shirt. Whatever colour your fabric is, this will show through here. Also, if you use very pale colours in your design, these can end up looking quite different on the finished piece if the fabric colour underneath is a lot darker.
Bold, darker colours printed on a quality printer will give you the best possible results when using the transfer method.
What should I print on my t-shirt?
If you can print it, you can transfer it onto a t-shirt. You could scan one of your kid’s paintings and use that; you could use a computer programme to create some original artwork; you could use photographs, or text, or a mix of the two.
If using an existing image that isn’t your own, make sure you have the right to reproduce it, especially if you are planning to sell the end result! Google allows you to search for images that are free to use: search in Google images for your keyword, click Tools > Usage rights > Labeled for reuse.
Apart from the limitations using white (as mentioned above), there really are no limits. If you’re stuck for inspiration, have a browse on Pinterest, or try some Google searches. There are some funny/daft designs on boredpanda.com that made us laugh 😉
Transferring your image onto the fabric
- If your image isn’t digitised, you’ll need to scan it first. You need a good quality scan that’s at least 300 dpi. Once you have a digital file of your work, you can change it/add to it and resize/crop it using a design programme.
- If you’re transferring onto light coloured fabric, you’ll next need to mirror the image. With some printers, there is a setting in your printing options that will allow you to do this, or your image editing software might give you the option. If you can’t do it this way, there are plenty of online tools that will let you flip an image.
However, there is no need to mirror your image if printing onto dark transfer papers.
- Make sure the image will fit onto your paper by checking the print preview, then print at best quality.
- Cut out the image carefully. Cut right up to the edges of the image, and remember to cut away any areas inside the image that haven’t been printed. For example, if you have text on your design, you’ll want to cut away the space inside letters like O and B.
- Now you’re ready to transfer your image! You need a hard, flat surface to iron on, and it must be heat resistant. You can use an ironing board, but if you do it’s best put something behind the fabric that will stop the heat from dispersing – such as a wooden chopping board. Lay out your tshirt completely flat and place your design face down where you want it be. Set your iron to its hottest setting, but without steam. Now iron the design onto the tshirt, applying uniform pressure across the whole image, making sure to go past the edges so that they are firmly on. How long you need to keep the iron there will be on the instructions that come with your particular transfer paper.
- Allow the transfer to cool for a few minutes, then peel off the back of the transfer paper gently and slowly to reveal your design.
Some final tips
Once you have your t-shirt flat on a hard surface, it’s a good idea to slide a piece of cardboard inside it to protect the back (the site that isn’t being printed) from the heat of the iron.
If you want to print quite a few t-shirts, shop around for some great deals on bulk purchases. In the Dublin area, companies like caramba.ie sell t-shirts in bulk.
If you have a laser printer, make sure to buy transfer paper that’s specifically for laser printers.
Some people like to stitch around the edges of the finished design to make sure it doesn’t lift off the fabric. While you’re at it, you could add ribbons, buttons, sequins or other decorations to complete your design!
Have fun printing your t-shirts!