Mastering the Art of Lettering: How to Put Letters on a Shirt

Welcome to the ultimate guide on how to put letters on a shirt! Whether you’re looking to personalize your wardrobe, create custom gifts, or start your own small business, this article will provide you with all the knowledge and techniques you need to bring your lettering ideas to life. From choosing the right materials to mastering various application methods, we’ve got you covered every step of the way.

Putting letters on a shirt can seem like a daunting task, but fear not! With a little practice and the right guidance, you’ll soon be creating professional-looking designs that will amaze everyone around you. So, grab your favorite shirt and let’s dive into the world of lettering!

Gathering Your Materials

Before you begin lettering on shirts, it’s essential to gather all the necessary materials. To get started, you’ll need fabric paints or markers, stencils or transfer papers, brushes of various sizes, a palette or plate for mixing colors, masking tape, a ruler, scissors, an iron, and of course, your chosen shirts. Let’s explore each material in detail:

Fabric Paints or Markers

When it comes to choosing fabric paints or markers, consider the type of fabric you’ll be working with, the desired finish (matte or glossy), and the permanency of the paint. Acrylic-based fabric paints are versatile and provide excellent coverage, while fabric markers offer more precision for intricate designs. Experiment with different brands and types to find the ones that suit your preferences best.

Stencils or Transfer Papers

If you’re not confident in your freehand lettering skills, stencils or transfer papers can be a game-changer. Stencils are pre-cut templates that allow for precise and consistent lettering. On the other hand, transfer papers enable you to print your design onto the shirt directly. Choose between ready-made stencils or create your own using stencil blanks and a craft knife. Transfer papers can be purchased or printed at home using a regular inkjet printer.

Brushes of Various Sizes

Brushes are essential for hand painting lettering. Invest in a variety of brushes, including round brushes for thin lines and details, flat brushes for larger areas, and angled brushes for versatility. Natural or synthetic bristles can be used, depending on your preference. Keep your brushes clean and in good condition to ensure smooth strokes and crisp lettering.

Palette or Plate for Mixing Colors

If you’re using fabric paints, having a palette or plate for mixing colors is crucial. This allows you to create custom shades and gradients. Use a palette with wells for each color or a regular plate for mixing on the surface. Remember to clean your palette or plate thoroughly between color changes to avoid muddying your paints.

Masking Tape and Ruler

Masking tape and a ruler are handy tools for creating straight lines and precise alignments. Use masking tape to secure the shirt and create a clean edge for your design. A ruler helps with measuring and spacing letters evenly. These tools ensure your lettering looks professional and well-placed.


Scissors are necessary for cutting stencils or transfer papers to the desired shape and size. Choose a pair of sharp, precision scissors to achieve clean edges. Keep them dedicated to your lettering projects to avoid dulling the blades on other materials.


An iron is essential for heat transfer methods such as heat transfer vinyl (HTV). It helps bond the letters to the fabric effectively. Make sure your iron is clean and set to the appropriate temperature for the fabric you’re working with. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for optimal results.

Choosing the Right Shirts

When selecting shirts for lettering, consider the fabric type, color, and texture. Natural fibers like cotton and linen are ideal for fabric paints and markers, as they absorb the color well. Polyester and synthetic blends work better with heat transfer methods like HTV. Light-colored shirts provide a clear canvas for vibrant lettering, while dark-colored shirts may require an underbase or lighter colored paints. Consider the texture of the fabric as well, as some may be more challenging to work with.

Preparing Your Shirt

Before you start applying letters, it’s crucial to prepare your shirt properly. This ensures a smooth application and enhances the longevity of your lettering. Follow these steps to prepare your shirt for lettering:

Washing and Drying

Begin by washing and drying the shirt according to the instructions on the garment tag. This removes any chemicals or residues that may interfere with the adhesion of the letters. Avoid using fabric softeners during this process, as they can create a barrier between the fabric and the paint or transfer medium.


Once your shirt is clean and dry, iron it to remove any wrinkles or creases. Ironing provides a smooth surface for lettering and ensures even heat distribution during heat transfer methods. Pay special attention to the area where you’ll be applying the letters, ensuring it’s free from any folds or wrinkles that could affect the final result.

Masking Tape Alignment

If you’re using masking tape for alignment or creating clean edges, carefully place it on the shirt. Use a ruler to ensure straight lines or equal spacing between letters. Press down the edges of the tape firmly to prevent any paint bleed or smudging.

Hand Painting Techniques

If you prefer a more artistic approach to lettering, hand painting can provide endless possibilities. Here, we’ll explore various hand painting techniques that you can use to create stunning, one-of-a-kind lettering designs:

Brush Lettering

Brush lettering is a popular hand painting technique that mimics the look of calligraphy. Start by lightly sketching your letters on the shirt using a pencil or fabric marker. Then, load your brush with fabric paint and practice creating thin upstrokes and thicker downstrokes. Experiment with different brush sizes and pressures to achieve the desired effect. Once you’re confident, go over your sketched letters with the brush, following the stroke direction and varying the thickness for an elegant and dynamic look.

Freehand Designs

If you’re feeling more adventurous, try freehand designs for a unique and whimsical lettering style. Begin by lightly sketching your design directly onto the shirt using a pencil or fabric marker. Then, fill in the letters with fabric paint, using a small brush for intricate details and a larger brush for larger areas. Embrace imperfections and let your creativity flow as you bring your design to life. Remember to practice your design on a piece of paper before transferring it onto the shirt to ensure you’re comfortable with the composition.

Blending Colors

Blending colors can add depth and dimension to your hand-painted lettering. Start by applying a base color to each letter. While the paint is still wet, introduce a second color to the edges or certain areas of the letter. Use a clean brush or a sponge to gently blend the colors together, creating a smooth transition. Experiment with different color combinations to achieve unique effects that will make your lettering stand out.

Using Stencils for Precision

If you prefer precise and consistent lettering, stencils are an excellent option. Here’s how you can utilize stencils effectively for your shirt lettering:

Ready-Made Stencils

Ready-made stencils are readily available and offer a wide range of lettering styles and sizes. Choose a stencil that suits your design, ensuring the letters are the correct size for your shirt. Position the stencil on the shirt and secure it with masking tape. Use a sponge or stencil brush to dab fabric paint onto the stencil, ensuring even coverage. Carefully remove the stencil while the paint is still wet, being cautious not to smudge the design. Allow the paint to dry completely before moving on to the next letter.

Creating Your Own Stencils

If you can’t find the perfect stencil for your design, you can create your own using stencil blanks and a craft knife. Begin by sketching or printing your desired lettering onto the stencil blank. Carefully cut out the letters using a craft knife, ensuring clean and precise edges. Position the stencil on the shirt and secure it with masking tape. Apply fabric paint using a sponge or stencil brush, following the same process as with ready-made stencils. Remove the stencil while the paint is still wet and let it dry completely before continuing.

Avoiding Paint Bleed

To achieve sharp and clean edges with stencils, it’s essential to prevent paint bleed. Make sure the stencil is firmly secured to the shirt with masking tape, leaving no gaps between the stencil and the fabric. Use a minimal amount of paint or dab off excess paint before applying it to the stencil. Apply the paint in a gentle tapping motion rather than brushing it on, as brushing can cause the paint to seep under the edges of the stencil. Finally, remove the stencil carefully and let the paint dry completely before moving on to the next letter.

Heat Transfer Vinyl Application

Heat transfer vinyl (HTV) is a popular method forcreating professional-looking lettering on shirts. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to apply HTV to your shirts:

Cutting the HTV

Start by selecting the desired HTV color and design. Using a cutting machine, such as a vinyl cutter or plotter, load the HTV onto the machine and set the appropriate settings for cutting. Make sure to mirror the design horizontally before cutting, especially if your design includes text. This ensures that the letters will appear correctly when transferred onto the shirt. Once the design is cut, carefully weed out the excess vinyl using a weeding tool, leaving only the letters or shapes you want to transfer.

Preparing the Shirt

Place the shirt on a flat surface and preheat it using an iron set to the recommended temperature for the specific HTV you’re using. This helps remove any moisture and wrinkles from the fabric, ensuring proper adhesion of the HTV. Once the shirt is preheated, position the HTV design on the shirt, making sure it is centered and aligned as desired.

Applying the HTV

Now it’s time to transfer the HTV onto the shirt. Cover the design with a heat-resistant sheet or parchment paper to protect it from direct contact with the iron. Apply firm pressure evenly over the design using the iron, making sure to cover all areas. Move the iron in a circular motion, applying heat for the recommended duration specified by the HTV manufacturer. Once the time is up, gently peel off the clear carrier sheet, leaving behind the transferred HTV on the shirt.

Finishing Touches

After applying the HTV, it’s essential to give it a final touch to ensure a long-lasting bond. Place a heat-resistant sheet or parchment paper over the design once again and press it with the iron, applying gentle pressure for a few seconds. This step, known as a post-press, helps set the HTV and enhances its durability. Allow the shirt to cool completely before wearing or washing.

Care Instructions

To maintain the quality and longevity of your HTV lettering, it’s crucial to follow proper care instructions. Wash the shirt inside out in cold water using a gentle cycle. Avoid using bleach or harsh detergents, as they can fade or damage the HTV. Tumble dry on low heat or air dry to prevent excessive heat exposure. If needed, iron the shirt inside out on a low setting, avoiding direct contact with the HTV. By following these care instructions, your HTV lettering will stay vibrant and intact for a long time.

Screen Printing Made Easy

If you’re looking to create multiple shirts with the same design, screen printing is an efficient method to consider. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to screen print your lettering onto shirts:

Creating the Screen

Start by preparing the screen for printing. Choose a screen with the appropriate mesh count for your design. Apply a light-sensitive emulsion to the screen using a scoop coater, ensuring an even and smooth coat. Let the emulsion dry in a dark environment, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Once dry, place your design onto the emulsion-coated screen and expose it to UV light using a light table or exposure unit. Rinse the screen with water to wash away the unexposed emulsion, leaving behind the stencil of your design.

Setting Up the Printing Station

Prepare a clean and organized printing station. Lay down a flat surface or printing table and cover it with a clean sheet or fabric. Place the shirt on the printing surface, making sure it is smooth and free from wrinkles. Position the screen on top of the shirt, aligning it with the desired placement for your lettering. Secure the screen in place using clamps or a screen printing press.

Applying the Ink

Apply a generous amount of screen printing ink to the top edge of the screen, just above the design. Using a squeegee, pull the ink down the screen, applying firm and even pressure. Ensure the ink covers the entire design area. Repeat this process a few times to ensure proper ink coverage and saturation. Lift the screen carefully to reveal the printed design on the shirt.

Drying and Curing

After printing, allow the ink to dry completely on the shirt. This usually takes a few hours or overnight, depending on the ink and environmental conditions. Once dry, cure the ink to make it permanent. Place the printed shirt on a heat press or use an iron set to the recommended temperature for the ink type. Apply heat and pressure for the specified duration, adhering to the ink manufacturer’s instructions. This process helps bond the ink to the fabric, ensuring its longevity.

Clean Up

Properly clean the screen, squeegee, and printing tools after each use to maintain their quality and prolong their lifespan. Remove excess ink from the screen using a spatula or scraper, and then wash it with water and gentle soap. Dry the screen thoroughly before storing it. Clean the squeegee with water and wipe it dry. Store all your screen printing materials in a clean and organized space to ensure easy access for future projects.

Troubleshooting and Maintenance

Throughout the lettering process, you may encounter some common issues. Here are a few troubleshooting tips to help you overcome these challenges:

Paint Smudging or Bleeding

If you notice paint smudging or bleeding, it may be due to the fabric absorbing too much paint or the paint being too thin. To prevent this, apply thin layers of paint, allowing each layer to dry before adding another. If needed, use fabric paint with a thicker consistency or mix in a fabric medium to improve adhesion and reduce bleeding.

Uneven Lettering or Stencil Lines

Uneven lettering or stencil lines can occur when the stencil is not firmly secured or when excessive paint or pressure is applied. Make sure to secure the stencil tightly with masking tape and use a minimal amount of paint. Apply the paint in a gentle tapping or dabbing motion, allowing it to fill the stencil evenly. Avoid pressing too hard or dragging the brush, as this can cause smudging or distortion.

Peeling or Cracking HTV

If your HTV starts peeling or cracking after washing or wearing, it may be due to insufficient heat or pressure during application. Ensure that you’re using the correct temperature and applying firm pressure when transferring the HTV onto the shirt. Additionally, double-check that the shirt is suitable for HTV application, as certain fabrics may not be compatible.

Incomplete or Patchy Screen Printing

If your screen printing results in incomplete or patchy lettering, it may be due to insufficient ink coverage or improper pressure. Make sure to apply enough ink to cover the entire design area, using multiple passes if necessary. Adjust the pressure applied with the squeegee to ensure even ink distribution. Experimenting with different squeegee angles and pressures can help you achieve the desired results.

By troubleshooting these issues and following proper maintenance practices, you can overcome obstacles and ensure the longevity and quality of your lettered shirts.

Now that you’ve acquired the knowledge and techniques to put letters on a shirt, it’s time to unleash your creativity and start designing! Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t be afraid to experiment and try new methods. Whether you’re lettering for fun or pursuing a passion, enjoy the process and let your imagination soar. Happy lettering!