Teen Librarian Toolbox
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MakerSpace: Teaching Teens to Use Canva to Design their Own T-shirts (Laser T-shirt Transfers)


Our Summer of Shirts is coming to an end (today is our last day) and last Monday was hands down one of my favorites: I taught teens how to use Canva to design their own images and then print them out onto a transfer sheet and make them into t-shirts.

This teen made a tiger t-shirt.

This teen made a tiger t-shirt.

Why Canva?

I wanted to teach teens a few basics of graphic design while also teaching them some basic computer skills. Canva is a free online program that anyone can use. You could also use GIMP, but it has a much steeper learning curve. Canva is not only free but it’s a good entry point because it is easy to use. Canva saves all of your designs so you can use them again and again. All you have to do to set up an account is have an email address and create a log-in.


After I taught the teens on day 1 to use Canva, my teen actually taught several teens the next day how to use it. That’s how easy it is to use.


  • Computer access with a printer
  • Transfer paper
  • An iron or heat press
  • Plain white t-shirts

It’s very important that you pay attention to what kind of printer you have. Most homes have inkjet printers and you must use inkjet transfer papers. The library has laser printers so we had to research and buy special laser printer transfer paper. This paper requires some additional steps and is not, in my opinion, as effective as inkjet transfer paper. If I was going to repeat this program I would ask the library to consider purchasing a cheaper inkjet printer to create crisper images. It’s also important that you pay attention to the color of your t-shirts. White t-shirts definitely work best, and if you are using an inkjet printer there are different types of transfer paper you have to use depending on the color of your t-shirt.

This is the laser transfer paper that we purchased based on reviews and cost: https://www.amazon.com/Laser-Transfer-Printers-8-5x11-Sheets/dp/B005IXG71U

This is the laser transfer paper that we purchased based on reviews and cost: https://www.amazon.com/Laser-Transfer-Printers-8-5×11-Sheets/dp/B005IXG71U

I also want to say that I have used both an iron and a heat press and a heat press hands down works better. A heat press obviously has a higher price point, but it is quicker, easier and creates a better end product. This is the heat press that we purchased and it cost around $200.00. It is both glorious and a pain in the butt because it is heavy and takes a lot of counter and/or storage space (we don’t always have it out in our Teen MakerSpace).

Step 1: Creating Your Image

Step one is more about learning some basic computer skills and talking about graphic design. There is, of course, also some discussion about copyright to be had. For example, one of my teens was incredibly angry with me because I assured her that she could not import someone else’s fan art into her design and print it off. Canva does, however, allow you to upload your own art so you can include copyright free online images or personal hand drawn art. One of our teens is very artistic and she did use her own artwork to make her t-shirt image.


Once you have completed your design in Canva you then can download it and save it as either a .jpeg or a .png. Either one works. I then upload them into Word to size them and flip them. It is very important that you flip your image if the transfer paper instructions say to so that your image comes out in the correct direction.

Some Basic Graphic Design Tips

25 Epic Graphic Design Tips for Non-Designers – Canva Design School

If you are using laser image transfer paper, you will then print your image off onto the page with the red grid on one side. You will want to turn up your brightness before printing.

Step 2: Preparing Your Transfer

Heat your heat press up to 201 degrees Fahrenheit and set your timer at 20 seconds.

Preparing the transfer

Preparing the transfer

Again, these step is only necessary if you are using laser printer transfer paper. You have just printed the image onto the red backed page. You must not prepare your transfer by putting the sticky substance on the red page. To do this, you will put a page of the green backed paper face down onto the red backed page. The red and green grids must be on the outside with the image in the middle like a sandwich. You will then place it into your heat press at 210 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 seconds. You will then IMMEDIATELY and carefully but slowly separate the two images while they are still warm.

Your page will now be ready to transfer onto a t-shirt.

Step 3: Completing the Transfer

You now need to heat the heat press up to 375 degrees fahrenheit and set the timer for 30 seconds.

You’ll want to pre-press your t-shirt to remove any wrinkles and moisture. After doing this, you can then get your t-shirt and transfer situated on the heat press. When your press is at 375 degrees, you then press the image to your shirt with the image facing down onto your t-shirt.


Transferring the image


My first attempt (we worked out the kinks)

You will now wait until your t-shirt is room temperature before removing the paper. Trust me, do not try and do this while everything is still hot as you will lose parts of your image. You will, however, still want to carefully remove your paper using a steady motion.

PDF instructions can be found here: Laser Transfer T-Shirts

A Gallery of Our T-shirts


A teen was inspired by an image she saw online to create this t-shirt. Food was a popular theme.


TMS Assistant Desiree made this t-shirt to celebrate recently becoming a mama bear. She also was inspired by a design she found online to create this image in Canva.


The Teen transferred little donuts onto her shirt and used a Sharpie to write “I Donut Care” onto her food themed shirt.


I turned the TLT Instagram logo into a TLT t-shirt, which I love.


The Teen helped Thing 2 design this t-shirt using images in Canva.


This teen turned his original artwork into a t-shirt.

 Other Summer of Shirts Posts

TPIB: Meme ALL the Shirts! (Heather Booth)

MakerSpace: Mod-A-Tee Making Hot Glue Stencils and Spraypainting T-Shirts

Mod-A-Tee @ Your Library – Fun with T-Shirts

Low Tech, Low Cost “Screenprinting”