Sep 6, 2012

Gamer Artsy: How to Make a Graphic Tee

Sometimes I go to my closet - stuffed with all kinds of crazy things that I thought looked good on me in the magical light of dressing rooms - and I cannot find a single thing I want to wear. Sometimes I go to movie premiers or special video game-themed parties and I want to stand out or fit in, but my flowery work blouses are not quite the thing. My solution? It's not to hit the stores with the full power of my debit card... instead, I grab my laptop, some fabric paint, and a clean tee and I get artsy!
There are a lot of ways to design your own graphic shirt. When I was in high school, we used iron-on transfers to make club shirts, and when I was little, I used to be big into painting every item of clothing I owned with glow-in-the-dark acrylics (I might still be pretty into that, actually). But my favorite method  for homemade graphic tees is the pinprick transfer method. It's a little more laborious than other methods, but I've been able to make a couple of shirts in one night before a special party. It's also a method that makes the most faithful design images... what you design is exactly what you get, and you can customize colors and layout easily. This is the same method I assign my middle school students to use when they do their visual literacy unit with t-shirt designs. I like to think it's one of their favorites :D
Things you'll need:
  • Clean shirt to paint onto (I like to get a pack of Hanes Boys shirts and use those for my own shirts)
  • Fabric paint (I use a neon kit I got from Joann's Fabrics)
  • Paint brush
  • Palette or plastic plate for mixing colors
  • Cup of water
  • Shirt-sized piece of thin cardboard (I use the back of a cereal box)
  • Print outs of what design you want to use or white printer paper to create your own unique design on
  • Sharpies, any color
  • Pin, safety pin, tack, needle, or clay stylus... 
Start with your design. What kind of graphic do you want on your shirt? What do you want it to look like? It's important to work out what you have in mind before jumping in, it can make all the difference. The shirt I made was for Caleb's video game party. I hopped online and did an image search for PS3 controllers. The one I found was high resolution and large enough to be a good size for my shirt. I edited it in Photoshop to remove the background and isolate the controller in high contrast.
Original image
My print out
Ok, this is the long part. Turn on an episode of Downton Abbey or tune into a Podcast because depending on how complicated or detailed your image design is, you could be doing this for a while. Grab your pin-object and start poking tiny holes around he image. The holes should be about 1/4 - 1/2 inch apart, and go faithfully around the border of the image. Also prick along any details you want to transfer to the shirt.
For my controller shirt, I pricked holes all along the edge of the controller, outlining the buttons and symbols, as well as the different parts of the controller (the raised edges). This took me a little while to get through, but it was worth it in the end. If you don't want to put in so much time, pick a simpler image where you'll prick fewer holes.
it looks like a pretty constellation of stars... in a PS3 controller shape
Once you've pricked all the holes you need, it's time to turn to the shirt. Put the piece of cardboard into the shirt so that it separates the two layers (front and back) - this will keep your paint and sharpies from bleeding through, which would be awkward if that's not what you want.
Layout your design on your shirt based on how you want it to look when it's painted. Tape it in place so it won't move. I set my design kind of off to the side and slanted because I'm cool.
Now, grab your sharpie and get to work on transferring the design. I chose the color of my sharpie to look like the paint I wanted to use. You can use any color sharpie, just be aware that it might show through in the final product. Use the sharpie to marker over all the little holes in the design. It helps to press hard with the sharpie to make sure enough ink is getting through the holes and onto the shirt. You can carefully check periodically to make sure you're getting tiny dots of sharpie onto your shirt through the holes (but try not to move the design on the shirt too much).
When you're done, remove the paper design and save it for later - you can use the same design a bunch of times if they don't get too torn up with the holes. You will have a sharpie dot outline of your design on your shirt. Now it's time to play a little connect the dots. Use the sharpie to create a solid outline of your design, using the dots as guides. You can also refer to the printed design for the more detailed areas (I needed a little help with the buttons part).
With your design outlined, you can leave it as-is, or you can color it in with more sharpies or fabric paint! Follow the drying and wash instructions for your paint to set the image - usually this includes some ironing and some washing. Definitely make sure to wash shirts inside out and with your less than delicates or jeans, just in case the paint and ink bleed in the wash.
Look fab and go out! I was really excited to wear my shirt to Caleb's party, and now it's joined my usual rotation of workout/ lounge shirts XP Here's another tee I made for this year's Brain Awareness Expo:

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