Mar 11

Bleach Shirts.

Yo dawg, what does Snoop Dogg use to wash his laundry?


I found a really fun sub-reddit: /r/bleachshirts. I’ve been dabbling in the technique(s), and I made a few shirts so far. So far, I’ve made a ruined test shirt (before getting the correct materials), one x-mas present shirt for my pal Narumi, Valentines day shirt for Mel (will show below), and finally… the greatest shirt of all time.


As a quick primer, a bleach shirt is basically taking a (darkly) colored shirt and using a stencil to mask off a pattern, and then abusing bleach to make a pattern. The Stencil is generally created with Freezer paper, which is sort of like a one-sided wax paper. Except the wax is kind of like plastic.


My first “legit” attempt at a bleach shirt. This one didn’t bleach very evenly or brightly. I suspect it was due to the dye of the shirt. Pro Tip: Wash and dry the shirt at least once before bleaching. A virgin shirt doesn’t tend to take bleach very well, as there may be coating or lots of loose dye on un-washed threads. It also improves absorption.

Design explanation: Narumi is Japanese (if you couldn’t guess by the name), and in Japanese culture, you add suffixes to the names of people you talk to depending on their social status relative to yours. Narumi is younger than me, so she gets the -chan suffix. Equals (age, status) get the -kun suffix, -sama/-san for older/respected individuals. Thus: Naru-chan.

Narumi is also notorious among the group of friends which I know her from to partake in another Japanese pastime… The Kanchou pastime. If you’re too lazy to click the link, it’s basically a game primarily played by children (from what I understand) where the objective is to jab each other in the butt. It’s not pleasant. An example of Kanchou in popular japanese media.

Keeping all the above in mind, I always thought it was funny how Naru-chan was so similar to “Maruchan,” a popular brand of instant noodles. Thus, the idea was born for a very personalized (albeit sub-standardly executed) Christmas gift. I did a minor modification to the Maruchan logo, and added in a pair of Mickey Mouse style hands in the position of a “Kanchou” giver.

Yeah, that’s my story. Cool story, bro.

 Second Attempt Results (and Overall Process Example):

After looking up resources and “debugging” my methods, I set out to make a very ambitious shirt. Valentine’s day was coming up, and I decided to make Mel a Corgi themed T-shirt Valentine. I made her a Corgi card last year, so I decided to stick with a proven formula for success. Enter: The Corgi.


Step 1: Select a “stencil.” I selected the below picture after looking for “Corgi Butts” on Google Images. I proceeded to chug eight beers, and fought a bear to reassure my ego with regards to manliness. I know Mel loves Corgi Butts, and she (now) prefers Tri-color Corgis, so I had to make some on-the-fly modifications to the below image.

The pup was standing in the grass, so I had to improvise paws. I “mapped out” color zones in the image after figuring out what common color patterns were on Tri-color pups. This wasn’t easy, but it turned out OK. See below image (repeated later) for an idea of how I mapped out XYZ portions w.r.t. color.

I knew I wanted the T-shirt to be a Valentine’s gift specifically, but I didn’t want to limit how useful/wearable it was. I decided it would be best if the Corgi had something heart related instead of Valentines specific. The above was a mock-up of the speech bubble concept I ended with.

Mockup #1 Above

Mockup #2 Above, which is the one I ended up with. This was actually the concept I originally had in my mind, but when I cut out the speech bubble (as seen in option #1), I actually thought it looked really nice. After some consultation and an informal poll, I went with my original plan, Option #2.

Above is the original (black) shirt with the stencil ironed on. This was the basis of my design.

I applied one layer of bleach to lighten the background of the shirt. I was actually planning to do something more like a diffused oval shaped frame around the cutout, but since the design was so big, I just applied a light layer to the shirt.

This is the color-mapped stencil that I used to lighten specific portions of the Corgi Pup’s body. I don’t have a picture of the white portion, but the above shows the areas that were supposed to be brown. I added some curves to the butt/behind the front leg portion to indicate/give the sense of curves.


Final product of the Corgi Shirt. I’m happy with the way it turned out, since I had NO IDEA from the beginning if it was going to be presentable.

Blog Post on Corgi Addict.

Result 3:

Finally, my favorite shirt to date. I ordered a (ok, actually two, one girls, one guys) 3-pack of random (color), Blank, American Apparel T’s on Due to a shipping error, I only received a single guy’s Small. Disappointed, I e-mailed customer service, and explained the issue. They shipped me two more pronto. Thanks Woot! On the negative side, they sent me two of the same color… Come on. It was a maroonish red, which I rarely wear. I actually bought the shirt packs to bleach, so I started thinking what I could do with them. Due to some other related image searches, the answer became clear to me.

I concluded that the only thing I COULD do in this case was make the most stupendous shirt ever seen by mankind.

Cutting this stencil out was extremely tedious. It took me roughly two hours of work… partially because I wasn’t really focused. I’m pretty happy with how clear it turned out, though. Above shows the final stencil minus the lettering. I masked off the entirety of the rest of the shirt and focused on lightening this area first. Once that was done, I peeled back (and moved back) the masking freezer paper, and then added a faint border around the strip’s panel.

The final result: The greatest shirt ever. I’m wearing this to work tomorrow. Luckily, Engineers have a pretty casual dress code.

Anyways, that’s what I’ve been up to lately.