DIY Monday – Boys Skull Shirt

Good Monday everyone. TIme for our next installment of DIY Monday. Today we are doing one of my favorite projects. Spray painting a shirt! In fact, in the spirit of Halloween, we are spray painting this shirt. Sorry it is fuzzy.

skull shirt

Austin loves skulls, our compromise is that if it has one skull and it’s not too gross, he can wear it. However finding a shirt with those requirements is difficult. Time to take matters into our own hands. I first spray painted shirts last year, before school started. Austin wanted a robot and a rocket shirt. I couldn’t find one that didn’t look too stupid (I have very high design standards for my kids) therefore we made them ourselves.

Each time I do this, it turns out differently then expected. That is part of the fun. So how do you do it? First let me warn you, this is NOT for the faint of fingers. You WILL end up with the claw.

Another thing to keep in mind with spray paint shirts is that it DOES fade with each wash. Not entirely if you use the right paint. I go into that below. I actually like it because it gives it that vintage nice worn t-shirt effect.

Also keep in mind that as I do these projects, I have no idea what I am doing, so you get to learn along with me! I literally made this up last year, and am still trying to improve on it. Well, I am sure I am not the first person to spray paint a shirt, I just have not looked up or googled how to do it, so I am referring to the process, not the idea.

You will need the following supplies.

  1. A t-shirt
  2. your artwork
  3. x-acto knife
  4. cutting board or mat
  5. spray paint
  6. cardboard
  7. stencil blanks
  8. Sharpie – not shown

All of which is available at Hobby Lobby or any other craft store. I finally bought the cardboard shirt form, because I do this so often now. But any type of cardboard or poster board will work.

Now you eagle eyes may have noticed that the paint I have on the photo is black and red. Well the red isn’t supposed to be on there. That is for a train shirt I am doing for Logan next. I will post that when it is complete. The black is supposed to be there. “But Tannie,” You ask, “The skull is so obviously gray.” Yes it is good reader. The reason is that I originally wanted to do a black on black shirt. I was hoping that a high gloss paint would stand out. Well it does not. So I had to make a paint switch half way through.

However make sure you DO use a high gloss spray paint or the paint washes out. Austin’s rocket shirt was half gloss (the booster fire) and half matte (the rocket.) The rocket washed away and the fire stayed. Now it just looks like a weird gory blood stain on his shirt. So HIGH GLOSS paint is the key! His robot shirt is going strong a year and many washes later.

First step is discovering your artwork. You can draw it yourself, or buy a stencil (cheating) or be inspired (copy legally) something online. I did a little of drawing and copying. First I found some free vector skull art. It had way too much going on. So I deleted everything but the skull I wanted to use. Then I used illustrator to flip it, move it, arrange it, until I was happy and had this.

Now a really important thing to remember about creating your own stencil, is making sure it all fits together in one piece. You can’t have what are called islands. For example if I cut this out as is, the skull would not have eyes or a nose or most of his teeth. So I had to fix it some more. Allowing it to be one solid stencil.

Here is a print out of the two showing the difference.

Can you see the difference? Everything is now connected. I used “cracks” to allow for pieces to connect. I also moved the teeth so they joined the skull, I also deleted some white spots.

So once I was happy with the skull, I printed it out to use as a guide in making my stencil. I got out a sheet of the stencil blanks, I taped the image down to the cutting board and taped the stencil blank on top of that.

Once that was taped down I could trace it onto the stencil blank. This is a great chance to fix any mistakes or add to it. For example I made the printout too large, so as I traced I corrected that by drawing a more shallow skull and chin. I also fixed some troubled teeth.

Now it’s time to cut it out with your X-acto. I removed the tape from the stencil so I could rotate it as needed. This is the hardest part of this project. The amount of detail in your stencil will dictate the length of claw you have and recovery from said claw. Mine lasted until dinner. :-(

Here is the first section cut out. I always keep my negative, because they come in handy on other projects. Like what if I want to spray a board and leave a skull on the natural wood. Phew good thing I kept my negative!

But be careful with your cutting because…

Oh no! I cut something that wasn’t supposed to be cut. Never fear, now you get to learn how to fix a mistake.

You take some tape and place one underneath and on on top. Making a sort of laminate type thing.

See, all surrounded by tape. Then you trim it with your X-acto.

See, all better! Now none will be the wiser. Moving on, once you are done cutting your stencil out, you should have a positive and negative stencil.

We will be using the positive for this project. So lets store the negative. I use Glad Press ‘n Seal to hold the pieces in place. I wrap it up and then store it.

Next we prep the shirt. This is where I fail in the picture department. Actually Dan failed. He took photos of me placing the cardboard in the shirt. But apparently not really, as I have none. So imagine me placing the cardboard in the shirt. DO NOT FORGET TO DO THIS! This prevents the paint from bleeding through to the other side.

The next step is using a combo of newspaper, paper and tape, to place the stencil and block where you don’t want paint to go.

Again, those pictures are missing as well. And as we practice equality in The Smithocracy, I will claim the blame for that one. But if you look at the photo below, you can see how I taped out the curve of the sleeve. Also notice that the entire shirt is covered. Spray paint will get everywhere. So make sure you have everything taped and covered well.

Next spray! Just do it as directed. Evenly and 12 inches.

Here is a handy tip that I did not do this time around. I usually do this, but the stuff was in storage. What I SHOULD have done was spray the back of the stencil with re-positioning spray adhesive. This gives you a more secure stencil that won’t shift or allow paint to cloud under. All my spray adhesive is in storage and I refuse to re-buy something I have three of. So I did the best I can, but there is some fuzzy lines. If you don’t want fuzzy lines, then get the spray adhesive.

Once the paint is dry, usually about 15 minutes, you can remove the tape, paper and stencil. Prop the shirt up somewhere, with the cardboard still in, to dry completely.

You can see how the teeth got a little fuzzy. That wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t so cheap. Anyway this is a fun project that garuntees my kids have original shirt wear. It is also pretty fast. Only a couple hours.

Once your stencil is dry, you can store it as well. I never wash it. I am sure someday that will be an issue. But so far it has not affected my work.

This project cost me $35.94, but only because I bought in bulk this time as I am planning on making a few more. So if you are doing just one, you should spend WAY less than this. In fact the two shirts I made last year, just cost me the price of the shirt. Everything else I had on hand.

You can do this to! In fact here is the skull art you need.


If you do this please share it with me on our facebook page!

I would love to see what you come up with!


14 thoughts on “DIY Monday – Boys Skull Shirt

    • Thanks Leilani! I agree, freezer paper is really great, but I re-use my stencils over and over. So I need the heavier stuff. But for sure, if you just want a one time stencil, then freezer paper all the way! Plus you avoid THE CLAW!

  1. Tell Austin his shirt looks real scarry!!!! Grandpa Alabama/Utah
    All mom’s should be as creative as you Tanni, great project. ;-)

  2. Do you sell these? I want one for noah! :)
    If not can you sell your skull as an SVG file? I can use my cricut to cut it out of vinyl or freezer paper and use it as a stencil. I stink with the exacto knife!

    • I am planning on selling shirts in the future. But not right at this moment. I can totally send you an SVG file. I don’t know what they are worth these days. I will get back to you through email.

  3. You can also use contact paper as the stencil, depending on the design, then peel the backing off and stick it to the shirt. I’m going to try to do one for Lincoln for Halloween. I’m doing the skeleton body and arms, spray them white or cream, then use a glow-in-the-dark spary paint over top. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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