T-shirt Design In the Computer Lab!


Art and Computers
Every year the 8th grade students create a design for their class t-shirt.  For the most part these are usually scanned drawings or signatures with the school initials and a “Class of 2011” etc. listed on the front.  This year, the parent in charge of the screen-printing process asked me if I could be in charge of helping the students create their designs.  I was delighted to accept the request.   As the middle school fine-arts teacher and the technology coordinator, I saw a wonderful opportunity to have students work on a project that would directly impact their reality.  Thus far, this has been the process…

1.    During art class we discussed how screen-printing works (placing the ink in layers upon the surface of the shirt)
2.    We visited websites such as www.threadless.com to examine how modern artists design t-shirts that have high impact with students their age
3.    Then the students were asked to create a rough sketch of an idea they had for a t-shirt

Now, this was great for an introduction in the art class… but I also teach their technology class.  Enter the wonderful world of open source!

In the 7th grade students were introduced to GIMP and Inkscape.  These lessons were basic lessons to familiarize the students with the operation of the programs and their uses. During the next computer class we reviewed the difference between bitmap and vector drawings and how Inkscape could be used to help design their t-shirts.

Perhaps one of the best aspects of Inkscape is its ability to have students work with different layers during the creation of their design. Demonstrating the layering process helped the students to understand and visualize exactly how the ink would be applied to the selected t-shirt.

Today’s lesson was great because I was able to demonstrate how to take a portrait and convert it into a single color rendition for screen-printing… if you’re interested in this process… then read on…

Step 1. Demonstrating the process

Because this was an introductory lesson and I wanted to generate a great amount of interest I began the lesson by demonstrating to the class the process of converting a portrait of a person into an image that could work for a t-shirt.  – The students became very excited and were ready to jump right in…

Step 2. Locating an Image

I wanted the students to get used to the process before working with their actual photographs of themselves, so I asked them to use the Internet to find images that they would like to try to convert. I advised them that a close-up of a face with a light source from an angle would work best.

Step 3. GIMP Begins it all!

After locating the image, students opened it in GIMP… I will now demonstrate the process:

Here is the image opened in GIMP:


Next, we used the Lasso-selection tool to outline the background and then pressed the delete key to delete the background from the image, and then used the square selection tool to draw a square around the entire picture.


Next, we selected the “Color” Menu and Selected “Desaturate” and clicked “OK” on the menu that opened up.  This resulted in a desaturated version of the image (basically a greyscale appearance).


Now we need to adjust the contrast and brightness. To do this select “Color” then select “Brightness-Contrast”.  This opens up a menu with two slider bars.  Move the contrast slider all the way to the right and adjust the brightness until the image looks right. Click “OK” and save the file.  Next, click on “Edit” then “copy” and you can close GIMP



Open the Inkscape program.  Now that Inkscape is open use the rectangle tool on the left to draw a colored rectangle on the first layer and rename the layer “t-shirt”  This represents the actual shirt color. I chose Red.


Once this is done add a new layer above the shirt layer  you can do this by clicking on the plus sign in the Layers window.

Paste the image you put on the clipboard in GIMP into the new layer you created


Click on the “path” menu at the top of the screen and select “Trace Bitmap”  This opens a new window in which you must click on “Update” then “OK” After you click on “OK” close the window.


It looks like nothing happened??  Oh… but it did….

Now use your “select and transform objects” Arrow tool on the left Click on your image and drag it to a blank area of the canvas.  You have now created a screen-printable version of your photo!



The students loved this lesson and began working with drawings as well as photographs.  As they continue their progress on this lesson I will post some images of their work.   We also had a great discussion about Open source (that’s right GIMP and Inkscape are Free) and Copyright issues.

So, what is your experience in working with GIMP or Inkscape?  Have you used these in your classroom?  Have you found any other methods that work for designing t-shirts? I try to keep most of my classroom software open source so the students can download and use the same programs at home. Have you used any other open source programs that work for this type of project?  Have I missed anything? I’d love to hear your thoughts!