Do you want awesomely artistic customized shirts, but you don’t want to buy an expensive printer? One of the easiest ways to decorate your t-shirts with vibrant designs is to use spray paint. Check out this handy guide to learn how to spray paint shirts and what tools and supplies you need!
The most popular method for spray painting a shirt is to create a stencil, attach it to the shirt, and spray paint over the stencil to create an image or lettering on the fabric. Another popular method for spray painting on a shirt is to use an airbrush to create artistic images. Several different kinds of spray paint, including aerosolized fabric paint and regular spray paint like Krylon, will work to paint on shirts.
In this article, you will learn four ways to spray paint a shirt. You will find ideas for spray paint designs to use on a shirt. Finally, you will discover tips for using the right kind of paint on a t-shirt.
Can You Spray Paint on a Shirt?
You can spray paint on a shirt to create artistic and semipermanent designs easily. You can use stencils to block out lettering or designs on the fabric, an airbrush to make your own images, or just add bursts of color for a vibrant style on the shirt!
Choosing the right kind of paint and the right kind of shirt will make a difference, though.
First, you will want to use a white or light-colored t-shirt. It also helps to use a blank shirt, not one that already features a printed design, logos, or embroidery. Those details will show through the spray paint. While you can spray paint on a darker-colored shirt, the colors will not pop or show up as vividly as they do on white fabric.
If the shirt has buttons, you should take them off before painting and then reattach them by hand afterward. Also, check the fabric content of your shirt before you begin. You can find this information printed on the manufacturer’s tag inside the shirt, often at the back of the collar or near the hemline in a side seam.
Fabric paint should work fine on most types of material. But multi-purpose spray paints sometimes contain solvents that could damage polyester or other synthetic fabrics, so you will want to stick to cotton shirts for that type of paint.
You can find fabric spray paints designed specifically to use on clothing or fabric items. These make a great choice for working with t-shirts, as the color will easily adhere to the shirt and hold fast even when you wash it later. The biggest benefit of using fabric spray paint is that it forms a soft and flexible layer on the shirt’s surface instead of becoming dry or crackly.
You can also use multi-purpose spray paints on a shirt. Most spray paint is oil-based and is not designed specifically for use on cloth. That said, you can create all kinds of cool designs using matte spray paint or even try spray paints with fancy finishes, such as metallic versions!
How to Spray Paint Shirts: 4 Methods
You can spray paint shirts using fabric paint, multipurpose paint, stencil paint, or even an airbrush. While you can, make millions of different designs using paint, you will get a step-by-step guide to a few of the most popular techniques here, such as stenciling and taping.
1. Fabric Spray Paint
By far, the most popular choice for spray painting shirts is to use fabric spray paints with an acrylic base. These paints have a soft and touchable texture that keeps your clothes feeling comfortable even after you apply several coats of paint.
Most fabric paint is a kind of acrylic paint made out of a water-based acrylic polymer. This kind of paint has great durability and will look nice on your clothes through multiple washes, though eventually, the brightness of the colors will fade over time.
While you do not want to inhale any kind of paint particles, fabric paint does not have dangerous fumes and will not harm your skin, though you may have to scrub pretty hard to get it off of you!
You can use fabric spray paint to make any design you want on a shirt. This taping method is a great way to create an artistic and intentional-looking design as a beginner, as it teaches you a lot about applying paint to a shirt.
- Wash a white t-shirt to remove any dust, sizing, or other materials in the fabric. Do not use fabric softener, just your regular detergent.
- Iron the shirt to remove any wrinkles.
- Place a sheet of cardboard inside the shirt to prevent paint from leaking from the front to the back and vice versa. If you want to paint the sleeve, you will also need to place a buffer inside each sleeve.
- Next, get a roll of painter’s tape (the blue or green versions often work best).
- Cut lengths of tape and apply them to your shirt. Keep in mind that the tape will block the paint, creating a negative space design. You could place long strips of tape to form vertical strips on the shirt, for example, or make a Christmas tree out of tape, or make many small squares all over the shirt if you prefer a repeating pattern.
- Hold the fabric spray paint can about six inches away from the shirt and lightly mist paint over it, using a slow sweeping motion with your arm to make sure you evenly distribute the color. Do not try to saturate the shirt! Instead, begin with just a light coating.
- Let the shirt dry entirely. The fabric paint should list a drying time on the bottle or package. Of course, you can also poke a gentle finger onto an unobtrusive part of the shirt to see if it has dried all the way!
- Once the first coat dries, use the same technique to apply a second coat. Usually, you will need two or three coats to get vibrant results.
- Let the second coat dry as well.
- Gently remove the tape, and admire your design!
2. Multipurpose Spray Paint
Multipurpose spray paint gives you a huge range of colors, textures, and finishes to apply to a shirt. Popular brands like Krylon and Rustoleum typically contain oil-based paints, so you will want to use this method only on 100% cotton shirts.
You will also find that multipurpose spray paint forms a less flexible and soft finish on the fabric of the shirt. It can sometimes form a slightly uncomfortable, stiff, crunchy texture. This is the unfortunate trade-off for the hundreds of fun different colors you can use if you choose this kind of spray paint.
If possible, try a sample squirt of paint on a hidden section of the shirt and let it sit for several hours. Then check to see if the paint seems to have damaged the fabric in any way before you begin painting your design.
In the art world, “blocking” means laying out various “blocks” or shapes or chunks of color in your overall design. This is one of the simplest methods for spray painting a t-shirt, as you can simply apply blobs, spirals, or shapes of color across the shirt!
- Start by setting up a workspace outside or in a room with open windows. Unlike fabric paint, multi-purpose spray paint creates dangerous fumes you do not want to inhale.
- As always, wash your shirt before you apply any paint.
- Iron the shirt, so you do not get unpainted wrinkles of white shirt scattered through your design.
- Place a section of cardboard inside the shirt to keep the paint from soaking through to the reverse side.
- Shake up the paint can well according to the instructions on the package.
- As you paint, depress the trigger with the can pointing away from the shirt, then sweep it across the shirt and let go once the paint stream has left the shirt again. This way, you will not get those start-and-stop blobs in your design. Try to apply the paint in slow, even sweeps of color to avoid getting a streaky look.
- Let the paint dry completely before deciding if you want to add additional coats of color.
3. Stencil Spray Paint
Another fun option for spray painting a shirt is to use a special kind of fabric paint with a texture, such as a glitter fabric paint, to create a raised, stenciled design on your shirt.
Using a stencil to form designs or lettering on a shirt is far and away the most popular method for spray painting shirts. You can use a stencil with any type of paint, such as multi-purpose or regular fabric spray paint, But it looks extra cool when you use a kind of paint with a 3D element or a unique texture!
- You can buy pre-made stencils online or at any craft store. Or you can use a craft knife to cut out your stencil using cardstock or lightweight pennant felt. For the most professional-looking results, you can design your own fancy stencils using a Cricut and viny or felt, allowing you to easily customize any lettering or logos you want to add to the shirt.
- Next, wash and iron your shirt to prepare it for paint.
- Add cardboard inside the shirt to avoid any color bleeding as you paint.
- For stenciling, you also want to ensure a flat work surface. Spread the shirt out on this surface before you apply the stencil.
- You can attach the stencil to the shirt in two simple ways. First, surround the edges of the stencil with pieces of paper towels so that the towels lie just under the edge of the stencil all around, and use painter’s tape to hold the paper to the stencil. Second, use a light coat of fabric adhesive on the stencil and then lower it into place gently.
- Apply the paint one coat at a time, spraying lightly. Let it dry and then check to see if you want another coat.
- On the final coat, let the paint dry partially and then remove the stencils before letting it finish drying fully.
The most artistic way to spray paint a shirt is to use airbrushing to apply fabric or acrylic paints to the shirt. Many artists who sell custom t-shirts use this method. While this technique can create incredibly detailed designs, it does depend on your own skill as an artist.
Plus, you need an airbrush and its compressor to get started with this method. On the other hand, if you want to break into the t-shirt-selling industry, you may want to learn how to airbrush a shirt as a way to begin selling your own custom shirts!
Also, some airbrush textile paints may require heat setting after application. Make sure you read the instructions on the paint package before you begin.
- Start by applying a clear coat or a fabric medium designed for the airbrush. You can find this online or at many art stores. Brands like Golden sell this product quite cheaply.
- While that dries, plan your design. You can freehand cool letting or even paint portraits using an airbrush. As a beginner, you may prefer to use this simple method!
- Print out a simple design using lettering or an outlined image on your computer.
- Slide the printed page inside the shirt so you can see the black lines through the shirt fabric.
- Using black paint, brush in the outline of the image. For example, outline the edges of letters if you want to airbrush a name onto the shirt, or outline the shape of a pumpkin if you want to paint a cute fall design.
- Next, go back and start to fill sections of the design using colors. You can fill in letters using shades of colors or paint in shading to make an image look more 3D.
- Finally, use a heat press to set the painted design into the fabric and make it permanent. You can buy cheap heat presses like this one for home use. In a pinch, you can also use an iron, but it does not get hot enough to work as well as a heat press.
Spray Paint Designs for Shirts
Check out a few of the most popular designs you can spray paint onto shirts here. Of course, the sky is the limit when you decide what kind of design to spray paint onto a shirt, as you could paint the Mona Lisa onto a cotton t-shirt if you have the time and the skill! But for most people, basic methods like the ones listed here will work for anyone without much time or effort.
- Probably the easiest way to make a spray paint design on a t-shirt as a beginner is to use the taping method. For this technique, you use painter’s tape to form stripes or patterns on the shirt and then paint over the tape. For example, you can make an elegant chevron pattern by placing strips of tape in diagonals across the shirt before painting.
- The most popular DIY method for spray painting a shirt is to use a stencil. Even expert airbrush artists frequently use stencils to create perfect outlines or shapes in a design! You can cut out your own stencils by tracing a printed image and using a craft knife or an electronic cutting machine like a Cricut to make advanced stencils.
- You can also use a silhouette stencil to create a negative-space design. For instance, cut out the shape of a dog’s head or a Marvel superhero emblem and spray it over. The paint will form the outline of the shape in a soft cloud around it.
- For an elegant vintage style, try spreading an old lace curtain across the whole shirt and spray painting through it! You will end up with a lacy pattern over the whole shirt.
- For a multi-media effect, use a spray paint technique and then add details using a Sharpie or puff Fabric paint.
- You can also use spray paint to create a really easy tie-dye style. Start by folding or twisting your shirt into a tie-dye pattern, such as using rubber bands to hold the scrunched fabric in place all over the shirt. Then spray one or two colors in small bursts all over the shirt. Let it dry and then remove the rubber bands to see your faux-tie-dyed design!
- One of the most popular styles of custom airbrushed tees is to paint a graffiti-style name on the shirt. Most artists will freehand this, but you can print the lettering as a guide if you prefer.
Will Spray Paint Wash Out of Clothes?
Eventually, spray paint on clothes will wash out or fade as most types of spray paint do not remain truly permanent. That said, both fabric spray paint and multipurpose spray paint will form a firm hold on the fabric and remain in place through multiple sessions in the washing machine.
You can make designs permanent in some cases by applying either a base coat or a sealant of a special medium, though this may work better with some kinds of spray paint than with others. You can also heat-set your designs if you have a heat press at home, making the design last much longer.
Avoid placing your spray-painted shirts in the dryer, as the heat could make the paint crack or fade even more quickly.
If you need to get spray paint out of a shirt, you can use two different methods. For acrylic fabric spray paint, use soap and water, blotting and scrubbing until the paint fades. For multi=purpsoe spray paint with an oil base, try using WD40 or GooGone.
Can You Wash a Shirt After Spray Painting It?
You can wash a shirt after spray painting it, but it will slowly degrade both the fabric and the image, causing it to fade over time.
The friction in a washing machine causes the fabric to pill, giving it a soft, fuzzy surface and flipping away bits of the paint in the design. Eventually, this will make the spray-painted or airbrushed image look faded.
To avoid this, only launder your spray-painted shirt when necessary. When you need to wash it, turn it inside out and handwash it in a sink with a tablespoon of laundry detergent. This gentle washing will not cause all the friction that breaks down the fabric of the shirt over time.
Do not place your painted shirts in the dryer. Instead, roll up the wet shirt inside a bath towel to squeeze out most of the water, and then hang it up to air dry.
What Kind of Paint is Used for T-Shirts?You can use several different types of paint on t-shirts, including fabric spray paints, fabric paints, acrylic paint mixed with a fabric medium, and even multi-purpose spray paint!
- Fabric spray paints like this rainbow color set provide a soft, flexible layer of color on a shirt. They set fairly permanently as well, though you should handwash the shirt just in case. They also do not use an aerosolized format, meaning they do not cause dangerous fumes.
- For airbrushing, you will want to mix acrylic paint with a fabric medium or water. You can get acrylic paints in almost any shade imaginable or mix your own colors if you prefer. You may also need a fabric medium or sealant to keep the design semipermanent.
- You can get fabric spray paint with lots of cool textures, such as this glitter version. Textured paints look cool when you use them with a stencil to create clear, raised designs on the shirt. You can also get paint that has all kinds of special finishes, like this metallic fabric spray paint set.
- Most of the time, you will want to use matte multi-purpose spray paint for the least crunchiness and the best effect on a shirt. You can find many brands like Krylon and Rustoleum at any home repair store or online.
Custom Spray Paint Shirts
You can buy custom spray paint shirts for anywhere from $20-$50 from most artists. While you can search “airbrushed shirts” on Amazon to see if you find a design you like, you can also order a customized shirt with your name, company logo, or sports team name emblazoned on it from any different custom airbrush companies online.
For example, FreshAirShirts is an online company offering customized airbrushed shirts and hoodies for around $30. CustomInk offers a more interactive online forum where you start with the kind of shirt you want and build the design you want on top.
These companies will usually tell you pricing based on the number of shirts you order (multiple shirts using the same design may cost less). They also list what kind of fabric they use. Cotton shirts typically cost a bit more than polyester shirts.
For basic designs, you can type in what wording you want on a shirt. For more complex designs, you may get a drop-down menu with different styles or font options, and so on.
In some cases, you can even upload an image or photo that you would like to have airbrushed onto the shirt!
You can spray paint shirts using fabric spray paint, multi-purpose spray paint, or special textured paints that have glitter or a metallic finish. For airbrushing, you will want to use thinned acrylic paints and will need a heat press to set the design permanently once you finish. Multipurpose spray paint comes in all kinds of cool colors and finishes but may leave a slightly crunchy and less soft feeling on the fabric of the shirt.
You can use many different methods to create unique designs on a shirt using spray paint as well. The simplest method for beginners is to use either a stencil or strips of painter’s tape to block out a design. You can also airbrush complex images onto a shirt, create a tie-dye-style image using spray paint, or even paint a lacey image by spray painting through an old lace curtain!