Colour is just one of those things that when you get right it can make the entire composition, but when you screw it up, it can ruin it all, even if the rest of the design is flawless. Anyone that works with personalised t-shirts or anything design related must deal with colours on a daily basis. Any arts or design career will include colour theory in their program, but can it really be taught? I mean, I’ve met professionals who’ve made major painting blunders and amateurs who use it flawlessly. Is it something that’s innate in some people and either you have it or you don’t?

Whatever the case may be, there are still tips and tricks that we can learn along to way to help us in our daily jobs – or just simply, to decorate our lives.

Types of colour combinations

Let’s get the academic stuff out of the way first. Colour theory is a collection of principles that aim to explain how colours work and why we see them the way we do. The colour wheel is by far the most popular. When we’re children they try to teach us that when we mix red and blue we get purple, red and yellow turn to orange – you get the point. But did you know that by keeping this formula in mind you can create awesome colour combinations?





These is the name given to the combination that consists of shades and tints of the same hue. Shades are achieved by adding darker colours like black or grey to the primary hue and tints are the opposite – adding white to get a lighter effect. When we combine monochromatic colours, we can end up with a very elegant or peaceful combination. But some people can also consider them boring so we must be careful when using them.





Also known as opposite colours, complementary colours are hues that lay on opposite ends of the colour wheel. These particular combination is very hard to pull off because the result can be very “clashing” for lack of a better word. Experimented designers can create successful compositions using them (they’re used particularly to demand the viewers attention), but they’re hard to pull off. If you’re a beginner, I’d suggest staying away from them. Examples of complementary colours: Yellow and purple, red and green and blue and orange.  





As a variation of the complementary combination, the split-complementary combination uses the two adjacent colours of the opposite hue. If you looked at a split-complementary combination at a colour wheel, it would look like a triangle with a very narrow base. It is a bit safer to use than the complimentary combination because it is not the exact opposite colour therefore not as clashing.

Note: Check out more tips for graphic designers here ‘How to prepare in Photoshop an artwork for DTG printing.’


Also known as Tetradic, because it looks like a square on the color wheel, it’s the same as the complementary combination with the only difference being that it uses two pairs of hues instead of one.


An Analogous combination is one that includes only colours that are adjacent to each other. These are created by picking one “main” colour and then the rest, by default, are just the ones that are next to it on the colour wheel. Some may confuse it with the monochromatic combinations, but the difference is that here we’re not altering the hue.





A triad is a combination of three or more colours evenly spaced on the colour wheel. As the name suggests, the three hues shape a perfect triangle on the color wheel.

[content_band bg_color=”#E8F6D2″ border=”all”] [container]Are you looking for a professional way to sell T-shirt designs? ? Printsome can print garments in no time and send them to you polybagged, ready to be sold. Visit our website to find out more.[/container] [/content_band]

Best Practices

If you choose the wrong palette, nobody will lose their eyesight, but it might make them squint. Using shocking colours might work for a provocative poster, not if your ultimate goal is to sell. I can’t think of many people who would buy a t-shirt that gives them a headache. If you’re a newbie in the world of design, the following tips should help you avoid any mishap.  

Choose a “main” colour

Having to create a palette from thin air may sound a bit daunting, so instead just pick one colour. Pick one hue you’d like to work with and from there, choose the other colours that will support the “main” one.

Choose no more than four colours

This might seem obvious, but it is important to point out, the more colours there are, the more complicated it is to coordinate them all. When creating a palette for the first time, try to stick to no more than four colours. These do not include black and white.

Use an online platform for palette creation

Luckily for us there are many platforms out there that can help us create a good palette. My personal favourite is Adobe Color CC, which not only lets you create a palette using the compositions we mentioned above for free, but also allows you to browse countless combinations that have previously been created by other users.  


Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 3.54.03 PM


Create a palette from a photograph

Ever done this before? It can be quite fun. Platforms like Pictaculous can help you easily create a palette. All you need to do is upload the photo you want to use as reference and then voila! the colour combination has been automatically generated. Or, if you’d prefer to do it manually, you can also use a design program like Photoshop that allows you to pick colours from a picture using the eye drop tool.  


Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 3.52.07 PM


Colour Combinations for different styles

Looking to expand on your t-shirt repertoire? Do you want to venture into new types of garments? (I’m starting to sound like an infomercial, again) Then you’ll need to start with the base of any style and and/or trend – yes, you guessed it – the colours.

Note: Check out more tips for graphic designers here ‘How to design an authentic promotional T-shirt.’


In order to achieve a vintage palette, pick colours that have very little saturation. This is different from pastel colours. Aside from the “soft” colours, pick one to accentuate where necessary.




Timeless Elegance

For a timeless look that would look good on almost anyone, stick to neutrals like white, grey, beige and black. Another palette that’s “harmless” is one composed of earthy tones: browns and deep greens.





A palette for this style will mostly consist of copper and metal colours that are reminiscent of the steam machines that inspire the subgenre. Another hues could be burgundy, navy blue and mustard. Generally speaking, no bold colours are allowed.  





Think of your favourite superheroes. Now squint your eyes (and use your imagination). What do you see? Probably bold colours. That’s because superheroes are anything but subtle. They want people to know they’re there to save the day. If you want to print superhero inspired apparel, stick to the primary colours blue, red and yellow, and use black for contrast.





University t-shirts more often than not go for a “timeless” look. This means they tend to stay away from hues because they look more new and pure than a shade or a tint. Mix these colours with some cool college fonts and even the students will believe they’re legit.

Got any more tips on colours we didn’t cover? Then let us know, we love hearing from you! Leave us a comment below or drop us a message via any of our social media networks. For more awesome content, keep reading the Printsome blog!

T-shirt Printing for Designers

Thanks to our five years of experience in the apparel-printing industry, we are able to offer a service catered towards the needs of designers and creative directors. Printsome’s apparel-printing services are perfect for streetwear collections, T-shirt lines and merchandise, among many other possibilities.

From the moment you get in touch, one of our ‘printing experts’ will answer all of your questions and find efficient solutions to your needs. It is our mission to help your career flourish. Thanks to high-quality garments and cutting-edge printing techniques, we can produce almost any design. Printing T-shirts has never been this easy.

Why worry about inventory or logistics when we can take care of that? We deal with the boring stuff so you have more time to do what you love. To find out more, simply visit our website.

t-shirt designers, banners, printsome


Harald is one of the founders of the Printsome-Insights blog! Previously, Senior Content Writer, with over five years experience writing about garment printing, he's now been whisked away into entertaining other audiences with his fabulous words. For over seven years he has been proofreading, blogging, copywriting newsletters/landing pages/social media + editing. Whilst also bringing Printsome brand to life with voice and soul. He is also well-versed in enforcing content styles and content strategies for B2B businesses.

Write A Comment