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How to Paint Letters on a T-Shirt

Satya Wimbish

Personalize your t-shirt with stenciled words. Get your message to the masses, decorate for family events, or just for fun.

Painting letters on a T-shirt can be a fun way to express yourself. With the help of stencils, this project can be used as a group activity that all ages can enjoy. You can create shirts with messages and slogans for yourself or use them as gifts.

    Prep Your T-shirt

  1. Pick a T-shirt. Pre-wash and iron your shirt according to the garment instructions. Cut the cardboard to a size that fits inside of the shirt. Insert it in the parts that you are painting. This prevents the paint from seeping through the shirt. It also keeps the shirt from sticking together when drying.

  2. Warning

    Avoid using fabric softeners or dryer sheets when drying your shirt. The paint may not stick to your fabric properly if you use these.

    Prep Your Work Space

  3. Find an area to work in. You will be using paint, so things can get messy. Wear an apron or old clothes. Use a flat surface such as a table, and cover it to avoid paint damage.

  4. Outline the Letters

  5. Select a stencil with letters that are readable on the shirt. The size font you need depends on the size of your shirt. You can also make your own fonts.

  6. Tip

    Fonts that work well on T-shirts include Times New Roman, Impact and Arial. For non-traditional fonts, try Tekton Pro, Segoe Script, Stencil, Ravie or Poster.

    Outline the Stencil

  7. Place your stencil on the shirt. Begin outlining the letters with the tailor's chalk or fabric-marking pencil. Tailor's chalk and fabric-marking pencils leave temporary marks and will wash out of your t-shirt. Use these instead of regular chalk or pencil.

  8. If you are painting your letters freehand, you can still do an outline first. Use a ruler to align your work, and place adequate space between individual letters and words. After outlining everything, make sure your words are not crooked, and correct any mistakes.

  9. Paint the T-Shirt

  10. Place the stencil back over the letter. Put the fabric paint on the sponge, and dab it onto the T-shirt. Continue filling each letter. Clean the stencil on both sides before laying it back down on the shirt so you do not disturb the previous letters. Use the paintbrush for painting without a stencil. When changing paint colors, clean the sponge and brushes with water, or use a different one.

  11. Continue the painting process until you finish all of your letters. Allow the shirt to air-dry for a minimum of 24 hours. Remove the cardboard after the paint dries. Your shirt is ready for wear when the drying process is complete.

  12. Tip

    Some fabric paints suggest setting the paint with heat. You may need to put your shirt in the dryer for 30 minutes to make the paint adhere better. Follow the instructions on the fabric paint.


    Fabric paint is permanent. Supervise children when using it.