How to design a t-shirt: 6 Handy Tips from the Pros

by Mar 22, 2021

how to design a t-shirt: 6 pro tips for creating your own t-shirt design

Fancy standing out from the crowd with a truly unique t-shirt design that you have created by yourself? Want to produce customised workwear for your team or maybe you are looking to build brand awareness with a quirky t-shirt print? Whatever your reason for wanting to create a bespoke t-shirt design is, you will need to know some basic rules on how to design a t-shirt to get it right the first time. 

This is why our team of t-shirt printing experts here at Advance Printwear decided to put together this handy t-shirt design tip list for you. From the colours to the details of the artwork to the printing techniques, we’ve got it all covered below. Let’s get started! 

1. design a t-shirt with a personality

Every t-shirt design is made for a reason. If you own a business, you could be looking to create a uniform to enhance the team spirit or you could be trying to promote your brand at an event or on the streets with your new eye-catching branded clothing. If that’s the case, you need to design a t-shirt that reflects your brand – colours, fonts, logo and personality all factor in. Also, coming up with a cool t-shirt design that your employees love means that they’d actually have a reason to wear your branded apparel in their free time too, giving you more brand exposure. 

If you are a clothes retail business and you want to know how to design a t-shirt with the ideas to sell, your brand should be defined by a distinct, recognisable look. This will help you build a loyal customer base that associates with your brand personality. Speaking of your customers, knowing your audience is also a very important factor in creating a successful t-shirt design. The key is in having a clear vision of what your customers would like to own in their wardrobe before they realise they want it.

Your t-shirt designing quest could just as easily be personally motivated: maybe you just want to have a t-shirt you truly love and that no one else has, or you want to make a meaningful gift for someone special, or you and your friends want to have a team t-shirt for the whole crew to wear. Whatever the case may be, the character portrayed in the design is equally important –  a good custom design means you literally wear your personality on the street.

In all of these scenarios, a useful tip to get you started on your artwork is to first brainstorm the personality traits you want the t-shirt to show. Do you want to be witty and sarcastic or maybe self-ironic and easy-going, or maybe you are looking for a hardcore rock & roll vibe? Whatever the answer, write it down and keep writing all the associations that come to your mind, including jokes, things you like and the imagery you think would fit your t-shirt personality. 

2. choose your colours wisely 

Choosing the colours is an obvious thing to do, so how is this a pro tip? Well, when it comes to how to design a t-shirt successfully, it’s not just about mixing up your favourite colours. Here are a few of the main things to consider and why:

  • The colour of the t-shirt: The general rule is to use light colours on dark t-shirts and dark colours on light t-shirts for better contrast. However, individual colour combinations matter even more when your t-shirt isn’t balck or white. 
  • Less is more: Too much colour can get distracting. Usually, a design with just three well-matched colours can make a bigger impact than one where there are dozens of colours. Use restraint to make the design and the message stand out. 
  • The cost of colours: If you are new to t-shirt printing you may not know this but the more colours a t-shirt design features, the more expensive production gets. Also, most t-shirt printing machines will have a set maximum amount of colours they can print in one design. 
  • Not all colours are the same: An exact colour match isn’t a given. T-shirt printer ink will produce the closest shade to what you’ve presented unless you are using Pantone (PMS) or custom CMYK inks. Those can be used to get an exact match but they are a costlier option. 

3. size matters 

There are several ways in which size can influence the final product of your t-shirt design both in the original digital artwork and then on the t-shirt in real life. 

the size of the t-shirt

Are you designing a standard adult t-shirt, a youth t-shirt or a crop top? What size t-shirt are you making and are you making it in just one size or multiple sizes? All of these questions matter at the design stage because the size of the artwork varies based on the size of the t-shirt.  

For example, a size Small adult t-shirt is typically 46 cm wide and requires a design with a width of 24- 26 cm. A Large (L) t-shirt is usually 58 cm and requires a 26-29 cm design. If you are looking at making youth t-shirts, however, the sizes will be slightly smaller. The S will be 43 cm with a 23-25 cm design and the L will be 48 cm with a 25 – 26 cm inch design. 

the size of the digital file 

To be ready for printing, your t-shirt design will have to be prepared and formatted in a special digital file. The size is crucial for the following factors:

  • Print size: Print size or the actual size of the image on the t-shirt (see example above).
  • Image file size: Measured in bytes, image size reflects how much space the image file takes on a drive and it is a good indication of quality. Usually the bigger the size is, the better the quality but some printing systems will have a maximum size requirement.
  • Resolution: Every digital image is made up of thousands of dots (pixels) on the screen. The density of pixels is called image resolution and is measured in DPI (dots per inch) for print or PPI (pixels per inch) for digital images. The lower the resolution, the blurrier the image will be. The recommended resolution for t-shirt printing is a minimum of 300ppi. 

Most printing companies would advise you to create your t-shirt design as a vector (PDF, EPS, AI, or SVG) because vector graphics are not related to resolution, which makes them readily scalable and easy to adapt to any t-shirt size. 

4. the message is not all about the words  

Typography is one of the main stylistic choices you will have to make when thinking about how to design a t-shirt. The font you pick will convey a big part of the character of the t-shirt. Are you after more rounded letters for a toon-style, bubbly personality; sophisticated swirls in the writing for a more elegant feel; or bold, straight letters to make a statement? Whichever style is right for you, one thing is certain – the font style will change the overall look and feel of the design.  

As we mentioned earlier, the choice of colours can help the message stand out but the size shouldn’t be ignored either. If the letters are not big enough when printed, no one will be able to read them and your carefully-designed message will be tragically lost. 

5. composition and placement can make or break it (MOCK IT UP!)

You know what you want your t-shirt design to say and look like, now it’s time to think how to best lay it out. How you organise the different elements of the design and exactly where you place them on the actual t-shirt can also completely change the look of the finished product. 

Composition refers to the way the separate features of your design relate to each other. Text, picture, logo, additional lines – they can all fit together smoothly or end up feeling disjointed and fighting for attention. This is why if you are not sure whether you can pull it off, hiring a professional designer to help you might be a good idea. 

If you are feeling creative and want to go for the DIY approach, it’s best to have two or three different versions of the design layout. Testing those out using a mock-up tool is a great way to find the best composition. Don’t be shy – do a poll and ask your friends or colleagues to vote for their favourite version before choosing the final design. 

While you are on the mocking-up stage, think about the placement of the artwork on the t-shirt too. There’s a difference between a cool t-shirt design sitting proudly at the top of your chest and the same design floating somewhere under your chest (more central to the belly area). 

So, mock up, mock up, mock up before you order a t-shirt design to be printed! 

6. get the right printing company 

You may have wrapped your head around how to design a t-shirt and you may be happy with your final artwork (all designed and sized well, of course) but your job here isn’t finished. The time to choose the right printing company has come and it’s a crucial moment that can completely change the outcome of your project. 

First, you have to think about the printing methods available. From the crazy customisation opportunities that t-shirt transfer printing gives you, to the quick and reliable screen printing for those bulk orders, a good printing company should be able to offer you variety and give advice on the suitable options for your particular order. Also, consider the quality of materials offered. Any respectable printing specialist should work with durable fabrics and quality ink. Be sure to ask about that as well. 

Once you’ve found a printing specialist that offers the service you are after and inspires confidence in you, don’t be afraid to enquire about the cost of t-shirt printing. The dreaded budget question isn’t pleasant but you know it has to be done. It’s a smart move to get quotes and compare prices before you commit to anything. The good news is that often the more t-shirts you offer, the better deal you’ll get. 

And don’t forget –  t-shirt printing is a competitive business, so experienced t-shirt printing specialists, such as Advance Printwear, tend to have affordable pricing. It’s always worth getting in touch to see how you can get your money’s worth! 

We hope our tips on how to design a t-shirt have made you feel more confident about your next apparel design project. We can’t wait to see the results!

 
How to Design a T-shirt