Sandpaper Printing

Tell me if I’m reading your mind …


The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse via Wikimedia Commons

You have had a longstanding fascination with screen-printing.

Am I right?

No giggling. I know I hit the nail on someone’s head.

Ouch—that’s not exactly what I meant.

But, seriously, who among us hasn’t dreamed of making her own t-shirts, replete with favorite sayings and dreamy designs?

And yet, if you’re anything like me, you just haven’t found the time (or spare pocket change) to invest in one more new venture.

Well, I’m here to tell you that there is a super-easy way to print darling, DIY, vintage-style tees using stuff you probably already have around the house.

Want to try?

The technique is “sandpaper printing,” and while it may sound a little juvenile when I tell you that crayons are involved, hear me out. (We can call the crayons “colored wax sticks” if it makes you feel better—never mind that kids go crazy over this project, too.)

Sandpaper Printing

You’ll Need:

  • Crayons
  • Cotton t-shirt (lighter colors work best)
  • Clothes iron
  • Sandpaper (coarser textured paper will yield a more “pebbled” effect)
  • Stencils, if desired
  • Piece of cardboard slightly bigger than sandpaper
  • Old towel

1. Lightly sketch a design in pencil on the sandpaper. If you’re including words, be sure to write the words AND their letters backwards because the printed image will be a mirror-image of your design (stencils come in very handy here).
2. Use crayons to color your design, using a heavy hand to lay down a thick layer of wax.
3. Place your t-shirt on an ironing board or other flat surface, and slip a piece of cardboard inside it to prevent the design from bleeding onto the other side of the shirt.
4. Position the sandpaper design-side-down on the t-shirt.
5. Lay an old towel over the sandpaper to protect your iron.
6. On high cotton setting, iron the sandpaper for about 45 seconds.
7. Carefully lift a corner of the sandpaper to see if the image has transferred well. If it looks a little light, continue ironing for another 30 seconds. The image will be “gritty,” but that’s part of the vintage appeal.
8. Gently remove the parchment and sandpaper to reveal your design.
9. To launder, wash on cold and tumble dry on low.

Here’s a cute video showing the process:

Leave a comment 5 Comments

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    What an amazingly simple process for home! This would be a way to make a few T-shirts for a special birthday or recognition day in a family or with a friend. You could make colors and patters just the way you wanted them to be. I can see how this would be the perfect tee shirt for a child’s older birthday. You know something that speaks to their current interest and something they could wear afterwards and feel cool and not geeky. So middle school perfect in every way!

  2. Terry Steinmetz says:

    Can’t wait to try this! I have a few ideas already rolling in my head.Thanks MaryJane!

  3. Karlyne says:

    I don’t know if you’re reading my mind or not, but I adore the Waterhouse painting so much that I might try to sandpaper paint it…

  4. Eileen says:

    I LOVE ART & I LOVE CRAYONS! (even though I am older in body) This sounds like great fun! Thanks!

  5. Kim Platt says:

    That is so cool! I have so many old shirts around, and what a great way to transform some of them! I will definately be trying this!!

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