If you’re looking for a fun, easy and inexpensive way to create a design on a piece of clothing, look no further than the hiss and rattle of an ordinary can of spray paint to realize your vision. A little rougher around the edges than traditional printed varieties, a spray-painted shirt, jacket, pant or canvas shoe or bag results from a project that can add a pop of DIY style to any existing wardrobe.

six spray cans with stencil numbers

Why Spray Paint?

Unlike silkscreen-print methods, spray paint offers an easy, accessible and affordable option for anyone looking to create a look with minimal materials. Because spray painted clothing is done with a stencil, more control is allowed than when you hand paint DIY-designed clothing, resulting in a cleaner look and overall style that’s machine washable and designed to stand the test of time.

What You'll Need

To create a clean-looking design, you’ll first want to cut out a stencil of the image or phrase you plan to paint onto your shirt. Draw your design into your stencil material and cut out with a box cutter or X-Acto knife. A thick and sturdy material is going to be your best bet because it will prevent lift or flyaway and reduce the risk of creating a gap between the stencil and your fabric, which can result in runny paint or messy lines. A poster board or other heavy material works great, but thinner varieties can work too, as long as you’re able to press or tape the stencil down firmly when spraying. In addition to a stencil, you'll need a fabric to spray your design on, a can of acrylic clear-finish spray and any colors of spray paint you wish your design to be adorned with. Resist the urge to opt for a cheap variety of paint. Those tend to be watery and can result in colors running down or collecting into pools on your fabric.

How to Do It

Start by setting up in a well-ventilated area. Place a sturdy board under the layer of fabric you wish to paint to avoid transferring the color onto the back of what you’re working with. A piece of cardboard, a folded newspaper, a magazine or a thin piece of plywood will all work just fine. Next, be sure to put on a pair of gloves to protect your hands from any paint splatter. Position your stencil exactly where you want your design to rest, and prime the area to be sprayed with a layer of protective clear finish to reduce soaking or running and to prevent paint from cracking down the road. Allow to dry completely before moving. Once dried, apply your spray paint colors as you wish, taking care to shake the can well before applying. Remove the stencil and allow this coat of paint to dry fully before washing or wearing.