My kids love wearable art. Making it is fun and telling everyone they made it themselves is even better! This DIY t shirt printing method is especially do-able because it doesn’t require any specialty fabric paints or markers, just plain old crayons.
Using sandpaper to print your own t shirt….
Did you guys know it’s possible to heat set plain old crayons to be permanent on cotton fabric? You can! It’s easy and uses up old crayons instead of investing in more supplies that you only use for one project! Grab an old shirt and get ready for DIY t shirt printing..
While you could color straight on to the fabric we’re going to color on sandpaper and then transfer that image to the fabric for this DIY t shirt printing process. If you have ever watched a child try to color on fabric I will tell you it’s not easy. Fabric is stretchy and squishy. Unless you stretch it it’s almost impossible for a little one to color back and forth without the fabric wadding up in a really frustrating way.
Sandpaper doesn’t do that. The scratchy texture adds a nice sensory element to coloring and a textural element to the final print. We used a fine grade of sandpaper. The rougher the sandpaper the more texture will show in the final print. Either will work; use what you have!
Choosing a successful design for your DIY t shirt printing design…
Printing an image reverses it, like a mirror image. This can be a tough concept for kids to get. I discourage words or letters for that reason. (Although my kids were certain they could write their words in mirror image that doesn’t seem like the best idea for new writers!)
Sandpaper is not a precise art. It’s rough which doesn’t allow for sharp, clear lines. (That’s why this is a great project for using up old crayons. Save the new box for another day!)
Choosing a subject that’s large, graphic, and easy will allow for success!
Adding color to your DIY t shirt printing process…
Lay that color down heavy! I like to think of this as a bit of exercise for little fingers. Crayon shouldn’t be fine lines but big, heavy blocks of color. You’re trying to deposit the crayon wax onto the sandpaper, lots of it. All of our Crayola crayons worked for this. These Metallic FX crayons were especially soft and easy to deposit on the sandpaper. But again, use what you have.
We cut our images out when they were done being colored. There were lots of little crayon “bits” floating around. Cutting them out avoided ironing those specks onto our t-shirts.
Print your own t shirt….
Now to transfer the image from sandpaper to t shirt. Turn your t-shirt inside out. Place a piece of cardboard inside the t-shirt and preheat your iron to high.
You want to place your colored sandpaper inside the t-shirt (which is inside out,) crayon side touching the front of the t-shirt. This means your iron will be ironing the wrong side of the t-shirt and directly under that will be the colored sandpaper. Make sense?
Updated: I’ve had some questions on this part! Make sure the crayoned sandpaper is touching the front of the shirt when it is ironed. Where it is touching is where the design will be!
Now cover all those layers with a layer of parchment paper to protect your iron. We ironed all of our individual pieces at once but our designs didn’t need to be too precise. You could do it one piece at a time.
Apply iron moving it very slowly with a little pressure. Feel free to peek and make sure you’re happy with the amount of color transfer before peeling your layers apart.
Turn t-shirt right side out and iron again; still protecting your iron with a layer of parchment paper. Keep your iron on high heat to ensure you’re heat setting your fabric printing.
Setting your DIY t shirt printing project…
One more step to fully heat set your craton fabric printing; the dryer. Throw your t-shirt into the dryer on high heat for a half hour or so. Alone. Do it with just your printed t-shirt just in case any waxy pigment is still coming off!
I also washed and dried this tee by itself the first time. I couldn’t tell that any crayons-y wax came off at all- just being safe!
Wear and enjoy…
This would be super fun and easy to do with a group for a birthday party or Scouts. You could print your own t shirt, pillowcases, bandanas, anything cotton! I’d love to know how your hand printed t shirts turns out!
If you love the sensory elements of this sandpaper printmaking project but don’t have fabric available check out this post on how to do a similar monoprint on paper!