T Shirts and Contact Paper: A Simple Method for T Shirt Design

positive space/negative space
positive space/negative space

I love contact paper. Well, I do not love trying to get the paper back off it but that is another blog. Anyway. Contact paper can be very handy for many art projects. Especially, t shirt design. It can be used as template. This great, particularly when working with younger children. Children as young as two can do this project,yes two. The younger the child, the more supervision and work on your part is needed, but very worth it.

This project teaches color recognition,color mixing,positive and negative space,design,fine motor skills and creativity .

Now before we get down to the nitty gritty of the how to, I want to over positive and negative space.Why is this important? First your kids they will think you are  super cool when you explain this new art term ( okay no guarantees on them actually thinking you are super cool). Secondly, you will see when start cutting out and using the templates.

The definition of positive space refers to the shapes inside the object. Negative space refers to the shapes around the object.See photo to the right .

When you cut out the design from the contact paper you will have a positive and a negative template. You can use either one of these in your t shirt deign. I will have a couple of easy cute design you can use at the end of the project.


A word about design. If this is your first contact paper project,it is best the start with a simple design. You want simple shapes. The more complex the design the more complex cutting it out will be. If you are working with older children that can design and cut out their own template please emphasis this to them. There will be less frustration and gnashing of teeth if they understand this. This project is suitable for three kids or less especially, if you are doing this project with younger children.

supplies
supplies
things for texture
things for texture

Supplies needed for this project are as follows.

  • Contact paper. This does not have to be clear (This is what I had on hand). It would be easier to have colored or patterned contact paper.
  • Ball point pen or dry erase pen for putting pattern on the contact paper. If you use a ball point pen use a light pressure to draw. The ink comes out better.FYI you can rub away the ink as well.
  • Fabric paint ,any brand will do.
  • T-shirt ( You can also use towels,old pillow cases,bags,etc.)
  • Xato knife
  • Scissors
  • Plate for paints
  • Water
  • Play clothes for kids
  • Small paint roller, to added texture you can use scissors and snip out pieces. You can also buy a textured roller,if you want.
  • Paint brushes different sizes and shapes.
  • You can use some kitchen items like potato masher,whisk,spaghetti spoon,shoe tread,etc, to add interesting marks and texture (Optional). Be creative and experiment.


The first step is to draw a design out on paper.This way you have a clear understanding of where you want to do.

Next you will draw the design onto the contact paper using either a ball point pen or dray erase marker. A ball point pen is handier. A felt tip or Sharpie marker usually will just smear, it will not hold onto the contact paper. A dry erase marker will go on easier and give you bolder lines.

The pictures below are the design we used for this project. I drew them out with a pen. My youngest wanted a cat. My oldest designed and drew his own design. I transferred his "dog" to the contact paper for him. I did some flowers, so I can show you some painting and texture techniques.

Click on the photos to see the design better.

Kitty
Kitty
Kitty-close up
Kitty-close up
Flowers
Flowers
Flowers-close up
Flowers-close up
Dog
Dog
flowers:negative space templete
flowers:negative space templete
Henry's  kitty:positive space templete
Henry's kitty:positive space templete

Here are two of the patterns cut out.

The flowers are an example of a  negative space (space around outside of the object) template. Where the flowers are that area will be left  white.

The kitty and the dog are examples of a  positive space (space inside the object or the object itself) template. The inside of the template will be painted and the outside will be left white.

kitty on shirt
kitty on shirt
flowers on shirt
flowers on shirt
Supplies set up
Supplies set up
Henry working
Henry working
using the roller
using the roller
"finished" painting
"finished" painting

The next step is to remove the paper backing and place the pattern on the t shirt. With the negative space patterns (white on inside,painted on outside), you will have more freedom to in where the template is placed. The positive space template (painted inside,white outside) not as much freedom but easier to take the backing off.

You will want to click on the photos to the side and enlarge them. You will be able to see where I have peeled off the backing and stuck the contact paper to the shirt. This is where patterned or colored contact paper would be useful.

Now we are about ready to paint.

I set the paint up on paper plates.I put cardstock underneath the shirt so the paint does not leak through to the back (you can use anything you have on hand.Henry used the paint roller to apply the paint.

Here is where a young child can do this project easily. All he has to do is roll it through the paint and then roll it on the fabric. You will need to watch younger children and make sure they do not put the paint in their mouth. Younger children love mixing the paint on the shirt and the fun of rolling. If you do not want to have the final color to be brown, you will need to limit the colors to no more than two. Usually one should be white. Do not give them black! It is too strong of a color for younger children.

As you see I stripped Henry's top off and put a smock on him.

You will need to fight the urge to help younger children keep the roller on the contact paper. They will go off the contact paper but that can be an interesting  graphic element,besides you want them to explore and experiment with the medium. The paint may become too thick. You can add water to thin it.

Ben painting
Ben painting

Here is my oldest Ben painting his shirt. I gave him more options for how many color paints he wanted to use. I also let him thin down the paint himself.Ben decided he wanted to use brushes instead of the roller. I asked Ben if wanted to paint the inside or the outside the template. He chose positive space template.


Finished  Dog
Finished Dog
Finished Kitty
Finished Kitty

Here are the boys dried t shirts with the contact paper removed.

Pretty Cute!


Whisk
Whisk
Whisk Texture
Whisk Texture
Potato Masher
Potato Masher
Masher Texture
Masher Texture
Shoe Tread
Shoe Tread
Tread Texture
Tread Texture
Pasta Spoon
Pasta Spoon
Textured Paint Roller-I cut out sections to make my own
Textured Paint Roller-I cut out sections to make my own

Here are some examples of the different textures with positive and negative space templates together. You can use anything around the house you find. Toy cars are great for driving through the paint. Old hairbrushes, rags, string, most anything works great. As you may realize you can use these textures with regular paint as well.

Painted t shirt with templates on it
Painted t shirt with templates on it
close up
close up
close up
close up
close up
close up

I decided the textures that I used reminded me of a stormy spring day. I decided to thin the paint down a little to give it a water color effect. 

Templates removed
Templates removed

Here I have removed the templates after the paint has dried.

Now you have the option of  leaving  it this way if you wish. I decided to go back in and add some more paint to blend the sections.  At this point you can also add other embellishment such as glitter, beads etc. Older kids will love this part,especially girls!

Here is a close up of the individual flowers that added paint to,either the positive or negative space.

I hope you will find this a fun project to do.

It is okay to do it in several steps. Remember the younger the child is more you preparation you will do.

This is a great keepsake when your cild has out grown it.

I also like this a project because you can do it again and again as your child gets older.The more skills he develops, the more they will be able to do on their own. Their art will evolve as they do.

You can add letters,phrases etc. Just use your imagination!

Below is two super easy designs that are good for a first time project.You will need to right click on the enlarged picture to save it to your hard drive. These are 8x11 sheet size.


Beach Ball Design
Beach Ball Design
flower
flower

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Comments 2 comments

JLClose profile image

JLClose 5 years ago from OreGONE

What a neat idea! I am definitely going to try this with my kids!


false_alarm profile image

false_alarm 5 years ago from http://usd100-amazon.blogspot.com/

wow, nice! awsome + up.

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