How to Make Your Own Awesome Comic Con Fan Shirts

By Rae Gun Ramblings


One of the best parts about going to comic cons is finding people who share your love of the same fandoms. If you’re not one for full out cosplay why not try your hand at making yourself an awesome comic con fan shirt. As a bonus, fan shirts are perfect for identifying your fellow fans out in the wild, or… you know… on Trax. Here are two different techniques you can use to make the perfect geek-a-licious shirt that can’t be found in stores:

Picking (or creating) a design

For both of these methods, you’ll want to start by coming up with a design. When you’re first trying out a technique I recommend keeping the design simple just so there’s less room for error. Here are a few tips to start with:

  • Avoid anything with skinny lines or intricate fonts, as those are harder to make work.
  • Test the technique out on something you don’t care about first – some scrap fabric, something from your pile of clothes headed to the thrift store, etc. These methods aren’t necessarily hard but they each have a learning curve, so it’s best to expect that your first couple times will be mostly practice.
  • You can find many premade designs by searching your topic and the word silhouette or stencil.
  • A word, phrase, or quote can make a fun and easy shirt.

Freezer Paper stenciling

Tris Dauntless Shirt-001 copy s

Tris Divergent Shirt

This method holds up great in the wash but it can be tricky to do detailed designs. Also it takes some practice to learn how to apply the paint so that it doesn’t seep under the stencil. Even then it’s hard to get things perfect, it’s very inexpensive and I’ve been wearing shirts I made with this method for years.

You’ll need:

  • Freezer Paper (found by the canning supplies at grocery stores on a roll like foil paper – it’s like one-sided wax paper)
  • Cutting machine (my favorite is the Cricut Explore) or an X-Acto Knife and a steady hand
  • Fabric paint
  • Foam brush
  • Something to put in between your shirt to hold its shape and to act as a barrier so paint doesn’t go through to the back. They sell boards for this at craft stores, but another piece of freezer paper placed wax-side-up does the trick.


The Mortal Instruments Shadowhunter Shirt

What to Do:

  1. Cut your design out of Freezer Paper. You want your paper to be wax-side-down when you cut out the design. You can do this on paper cutting machine like a Cricut or use an X-Acto Knife and some tracing skills.
  2. Next, iron your freezer paper to your shirt (wax-side-down). The wax will make the paper stick to the shirt.
  3. Insert a barrier so your paint doesn’t go through to the back of the shirt.
  4. With fabric paint (I like this stuff), use a thin layer to blot (not brush) the paint onto your stencil. I like to use a foam brush for this.
  5. If it needs to be a little darker, apply a second layer.
  6. Allow to dry for 30 minutes then pull off the stencil. The paint will still be wet so be careful when you pull off the stencil as not to smear any of the paint.
  7. Allow to dry fully until it is dry to the touch (I recommend at least 12 hours before wearing).

If you want to see more detailed pictures of each step I’ve got a super-long, flushed-out tutorial for how to Freezer Paper stencil on my personal blog. I love making fan shirts, so if you want to see more examples of both of these techniques visit me over at Rae Gun Ramblings.


Heat Transfer Vinyl


Hogwarts Class of Baby Shirt

This is currently my favorite technique. The benefit of this method is that there’s no guessing how it will turn out. If you succeed in cutting out your design that’s exactly how it will look on the shirt. Unfortunately, the stretchy nature of t-shirts makes it so that the vinyl sometimes pulls up after a while. I recommend using this technique on shirts (0r locations on shirts) that don’t stretch much like the hem. Usually, even if it does pull up, you can re-iron it down and you should be good to go.

What You Need:

  • Heat Transfer vinyl
  • Iron
  • Cutting machine (my favorite is the Cricut Explore) or an X-Acto Knife and a steady hand
  • Thin scrap of fabric


Vampire Academy Shirt

What to Do:

  1. Cut the image out of the vinyl. I like doing this on a cutting machine since you can set it to the vinyl setting so that it only cuts the vinyl and not the plastic it comes on. That way, you don’t have to spend time aligning all the pieces like you would if you cut through both layers with an X-Acto Knife. It is possible to do this without a cutting machine; it would just be more annoying. When you cut your image out, you need to make sure it’s a mirror image and that you are cutting on the vinyl side – NOT the plastic side.
  2. Next, weed the image. Simply pull away the negative space so that all you have left is your design.
  3. Iron the spot where you are putting your design.
  4. Lay the design vinyl-side-down on your shirt and then iron the vinyl through the plastic. You want to hold the iron for 10 seconds and then move it to another spot, as opposed to rubbing the iron back and forth. I like to do each spot a few times to get a good, strong hold.
  5. While it’s still warm (but not hot), pull off the plastic. Do this slowly – if it looks like the vinyl is coming up with the iron,  repeat the ironing process.
  6. Lay a thin scrap of fabric over the vinyl and iron again through the fabric.

If you want a slower, more detailed explanation, check out my How to Use Iron-on Vinyl Tutorial.

Visit me at Rae Gun Ramblings for more crafty geekiness.



Rae Gun Ramblings is an Official Salt Lake Comic Con Blogger.

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