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Make a Back to School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade!

See how easy it is to create a yearly back to school shirt that your kiddo can add his/her handprint to for each grade! Just add their handprint before the school year & watch them grow!

It makes the BEST keepsake and is an annual tradition that your family is sure to love and cherish!

Keep reading to see the full tutorial including a video time-lapse showing all the details…and yearly updates!

Back to school shirt with handprints for every grade.

{Original post & tutorial published in 2015.}

 

Make sure you check out this quick time-lapse video showing how I made my younger son’s back-to-school shirt!

 


 

A Little Note Before We Begin

Before we begin with the tutorial and all the updates, let me first clarify a few things about this back to school shirt that have come up since I first shared this tutorial:

  • It is just a photo prop, like the back to school chalkboard signs I make for him too (and you can grab some FREE printable signs here). Each year, we add Rowan’s handprint, let the paint dry, slip the shirt on him, snap some pics, remove the shirt, then pack it away in the closet until the following school year.
  • No, Rowan is not wearing this to school on the first day each year. Yes, I agree that would (eventually) embarrass him. It would also probably damage the shirt, which would defeat the whole purpose of this keepsake and break my heart.
  • Yes, I know his hands will get bigger as he ages. Yes, I’m okay with the handprints getting a little crowded or covering up some of the grades. No, a little messy is fine with me since, ya know, this is all about and for a kid.
  • If he skips a grade or gets held back a year, as unlikely as either probably are, big deal. It’s HTV so I can just zap off a piece with my iron and add a new number or grade. Or just go with the flow!
  • If the shirt gets too small, so what! It’ll make an awesome Chris Farley impersonation. ;)
  • For Rowan’s shirt, I used Pre-K for all of the preschool years. Chalk it up as a rookie mom mistake. Now I know better, so Brayden’s shirt has that corrected. 
  • We will deal with anything that comes along the way, and let’s not forget, THIS IS JUST A SHIRT FOR A PHOTO PROP. Don’t sweat it, folks.

 

Moving on… :)

My son, Rowan, is starting pre-school next week, and I CANNOT BELIEVE IT.

Ok, it’s not really pre-school since he’s only two-years-old….it’s actually a Mother’s Morning Out program at a church that is only two days a week for half a day.

But still! He needs a backpack and lunch box and other school supplies, so for all intents and purposes, Mommy here is considering it to be his very first day of school.

Y’all know me and how I love my keepsakes, especially for my little man (my Project Gallery is filled with them), so I of course just had to create a keepsake for Rowan’s back-to-school days!

 

DIY Back to School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade!

2018 UPDATE!!: Rowan and his back-to-school shirt were featured on Good Morning America! I KNOW!!!

Exciting News: Good Morning America Featured WTSHB! | Where The Smiles Have Been

 
I’ve seen pins floating around Pinterest showing kiddos in an over-sized shirt that has their high school graduation year on the front that they wear for a picture at the beginning of each school year, and I thought that would be a fun and easy tradition for our family to start.

Well, I wanted to take that idea one step further though and put my own spin on it.

Instead of just taking Rowan’s picture while wearing the shirt, I thought it would also be fun to get his handprint on the back each year as well.

That way we’ll not only be able to document his growth each year based on how he starts to fill out the shirt, but we’ll also have his growing handprints on the back.

I know…so sweet and sentimental!

 

Back to School Shirt Supplies

**NOTE: If you don’t have a Silhouette or a fancy cutting machine, no worries! You can buy iron-on letters from just about any craft store!

 
I bought a plain white men’s t-shirt from Target in size large to accommodate future high school teenage Rowan. I also decided to add all the wording using black HTV instead of stenciling it on with fabric paint.

This was not only because I’m obsessed with my Silhouette Cameo, but also because I can easily remove/reapply the HTV in the highly unlikely event of Rowan skipping a grade or (lawd help me) him getting held back.

I can just sizzle the HTV away with the tip of my hot iron and make any adjustments as necessary.

 

My Back to School Shirt Design

I first did the math and figured out when Rowan should be graduating from high school in order to add his class year to the front. 

I also had my husband double-check me, so if it’s wrong, blame him!

I then created all my elements in Silhouette Studio and flipped them horizontally since I’d be cutting them out in HTV, which gets cut on the back.

Next, I finalized my Silhouette‘s cut settings. I used the default Heat Transfer Material: Smooth settings, except I bumped the speed down a bit since I had a lot of small, intricate cuts:

  • Blade: 2
  • Speed: 5
  • Thickness: 4

Yearly Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been

 

Cutting The HTV

Next up, I pulled out my handy dandy vinyl storage organizer and found a sheet of black HTV.

I then placed it shiny side down onto my 12″ x 24″ cutting mat and loaded it into my Silhouette Cameo, then hit ‘Cut’ in Silhouette Studio….a few minutes later I had all my pieces!

Yearly Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been

 

I trimmed up all the pieces then weeded (or removed) all the excess vinyl, and placed the tiny pieces on my laptop for easy maneuverability.

Yearly Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been

 

Applying the HTV

I don’t have a fancy shmancy heat press or Cricut Easy Press yet, so I’d be applying the HTV with my regular household iron.

I’m also lazy and hate dragging out our ironing board, so this project would be completed on our dining room/craft room table….this is why you’ll notice the cardboard under the shirt.

I first pre-heated my iron to the Cotton setting, then ran it over the shirt to remove all wrinkles and any moisture. Then I eye-balled the HTV’s placement….ain’t nobody got time for measuring!

Yearly Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been
 
For previous HTV projects, I’ve used a spare cloth (usually a pillow case or old t-shirt of my husband’s), and it’s worked just fine, but it does seem to take several minutes and passes with my iron to get good adhesion.

However, this time I decided to test out some multi use paper from Siser that is specifically designed for applying HTV.

I think it’s really for doing multiple layers of HTV, but I was going to give it a go with just a single layer here because why not.

So, I laid the freezer paper-esque sheet shiny side down over top the HTV then started pressing it with my hot iron.

Just a couple seconds at a time was all it took for the HTV to become applied to the shirt…now I swear by this multi use paper!

Super fast and easy to apply HTV…right up my alley.

Yearly Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been

 

I then repeated the process for all the pieces on the back.

Same thing here too…no measuring was done.

All the placements were eye-balled because good enough is good enough for me. I also placed a small flattened cardboard box inside the top of the shirt to protect the HTV I had just applied to the front from the iron’s heat.

Yearly Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been

 

The multi use paper worked like a charm on this side too!

Yearly Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been

 

Getting Rowan’s Handprint

The next morning after breakfast, I kept the small cardboard box inside the shirt (to make sure no paint bled through to the front) then got to applying the blue craft paint onto Rowan’s cute little hand.

I just smeared on a small amount with a foam brush then (with Daddy’s assistance) pushed the blue print underneath the Pre-K (2 Year) spot.

I was a little nervous that Rowan would be temperamental and toddlery during this step since he HATES getting his hands dirty (which made our recent second-birthday art canvas a little…interesting), but he was actually totally cool with it.

Dad did a good job talking him through it by saying things like “This isn’t for you, son. This is for your neurotic mother, so just do what she wants and everyone will be happy.” Happy Wife (and Mom), Happy Life. :)

And sorry for no good pics of this step! Like I mentioned, wrangling a tot for a keepsake art project is a two-person job.

 

Rowan’s Finished Yearly Back to School Shirt with Handprints!

And here’s Rowan’s back-to-school keepsake shirt!

Seeing that 2031 sure makes me feel old, but it will be fun to pull this shirt out of Rowan’s closet each year and add his handprint to the back before taking his annual pic.

I love documenting his growth (just like I did with his monthly baby photos), so this is just one more special keepsake to cherish…and maybe also shed a few tears over at how fast he’s growing. *sniffle*

Yearly Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been

 

And oh, that little handprint! I plan on doing each year in a different color (which is why I stuck with a white shirt and black wording), and I’m sure it’ll be a tight fit getting all his teenage handprints on there.

But, we’ll just have to squeeze them in and embrace the imperfection.

Yearly Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been

Yearly Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been

 

How adorable is he in this super baggy man’s shirt showcasing his graduation year?!? I mean, seriously.

He was a good sport for our photoshoot too, although he was a little confused…“Ummm Mom, this doesn’t fit.”

I’m sure he won’t be very enthusiastic come middle and especially high school…“God Mom, this is so stupid! I’m not a little kid anymore! *Grumble Grumble Grumble*”

I’ll just respond with something like “You’re still my baby…so put on the damn shirt! And SMILE!!” ;)

Yearly Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been

Yearly Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been
DIY Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been #school #backtoschool #backtoschoolshirt #graduation #gradparty #keepsake #handprints

 

This little keepsake shirt will be so fun to display at Rowan’s graduation party…and I’m sure his future spouse and kids will appreciate it too. :)

 

Back to School Shirt Year 2 Update!

Well, it’s now almost time for Rowan to start his next school year (this time in the big 3-year-old class), so we of course had to update his shirt with his older handprint….and snap lots of adorable pictures. You can check out our Year 2 Update here!

DIY Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been #school #backtoschool #backtoschoolshirt #graduation #gradparty #keepsake #handprints

 

Year 3 Update!

And here’s Rowan’s Year 3 Update!

DIY Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been #school #backtoschool #backtoschoolshirt #graduation #gradparty #keepsake #handprints

 

Kindergarten Update!

And here’s Rowan’s updated back-to-school shirt for Kindergarten!

DIY Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been #school #backtoschool #backtoschoolshirt #graduation #gradparty #keepsake #handprints

 

Just look at how much he’s grown!

DIY Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been #school #backtoschool #backtoschoolshirt #graduation #gradparty #keepsake #handprints

 

First Grade Update and a New Shirt for Little Bro!

Rowan is now already in First Grade (I know!) so we updated his shirt recently with his handprint for this year:

DIY Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been #school #backtoschool #backtoschoolshirt #graduation #gradparty #keepsake #handprints

 

Just look at how much he’s grown! His shirt is well above his knees now!

DIY Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been #school #backtoschool #backtoschoolshirt #graduation #gradparty #keepsake #handprints

 

And since my youngest son, Brayden, just started in the two-year-old class at preschool, he got a shirt this year too!

DIY Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been #school #backtoschool #backtoschoolshirt #graduation #gradparty #keepsake #handprints

DIY Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been #school #backtoschool #backtoschoolshirt #graduation #gradparty #keepsake #handprints

 

This has really turned into the best keepsake and annual tradition for our family. :)

DIY Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been #school #backtoschool #backtoschoolshirt #graduation #gradparty #keepsake #handprints

 

2nd Grade Update!

And here’s how Rowan looks in his back-to-school shirt with his big 2nd grader handprint! Look how much he’s grown…the shirt is not so huge anymore!

DIY Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been #school #backtoschool #backtoschoolshirt #graduation #gradparty #keepsake #handprints

 

And here’s Brayden’s second annual pic for his Year 3 photo…so cute. :)

DIY Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been #school #backtoschool #backtoschoolshirt #graduation #gradparty #keepsake #handprints

 

Rowan’s Third Grade Update!

Rowan is now in the third grade (I cannot believe it), and here’s his updated back-to-school shirt!

Back to school shirt with yearly handprints.

 

Brayden’s Pre-K Update!

Little Bro Brayden is in Pre-K this year, and he’s how his shirt is coming along!

Back to school shirt with yearly handprints.

 

Yield: One Back to School shirt

How to Make a Back to School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade!

DIY Back-to-School Shirt with Handprints for Every Grade! | Where The Smiles Have Been #school #backtoschool #backtoschoolshirt #graduation #gradparty #keepsake #handprints

See how easy it is to make a back to school shirt that your kiddo can add his/her handprint to for each grade and watch them grow throughout the years!

Active Time 30 minutes
Prep Time 30 minutes
Additional Time 5 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Difficulty Medium
Estimated Cost $10

Materials

  • Large Men's white t-shirt
  • Black heat transfer vinyl (HTV)
  • Craft paint
  • Foam brush

Tools

  • Cutting machine (like a Silhouette, Cricut, or Brother)
  • Heat press or iron
  • Crafting tweezers
  • Scissors

Instructions

  1. Cut out design elements in heat transfer vinyl (HTV) using a cutting machine
  2. Trim pieces and weed excess vinyl
  3. Arrange pieces on one side of shirt and apply with a heat press or iron
  4. Repeat on the other side of shirt
  5. Apply craft paint to your kiddo's hand and apply it to the corresponding grade on back of shirt, then let dry
  6. Snap an adorable pic!
  7. Repeat every year during back-to-school season to see how much your child has grown over the years

Notes

No machine, no problem!

A cutting machine and sheet of HTV is not required for this back to school shirt project. You can simply purchase pre-cut decals from a craft store or Etsy.

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First Day of School Sign FREE Printable!

Make sure you head over and grab a FREE sign for your kiddo’s first day of school!

FREE First Day of School Sign Printables - THREE Color Versions! | Where The Smiles Have Been #firstdayofschool #firstdayofschoolsign #backtoschool #free #freeprintable

 

Other School Goodies!

Here’s a collection of all of my projects that are great for the school year! Some are perfect for parties, make great gifts, or have useful tips…and many include FREE cut files and/or printables, too!

 

 

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Where The Smiles Have Been | Crafts. DIY. Home. Mom Life.

Stephanie

Saturday 12th of September 2020

Can you share the height and width of the lettering? Also how much space did you leave in between rows?

Ashley G.

Friday 31st of July 2020

This is absolutely adorable! I’ve been following this since the second year update. I’m a teacher so I check at the beginning of every year and now as a mama I cannot wait to do this for my daughter!

Kathryn

Monday 22nd of April 2019

This is adorable! I’m having a hard time finding the right font sizes. Can you please share? TIA!

Lexi

Tuesday 22nd of August 2017

Hello! I read your Mother Load of Tips for flying with a toddler. And holy cow I think it's going to save me so much stress! It's my first time traveling with my daughter and its just her and I so I really appreciate your tips!! Thank you!! Lexi(:

Christine

Tuesday 29th of August 2017

Hi Lexi! I'm so glad you found all this helpful! Happy travels! :)

10 Adorable First Day of School Picture Ideas - One Crazy Mom

Friday 28th of July 2017

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