Every good designer knows that design is problem-solving, regardless of the medium. The mission is always to organise what needs to be communicated in the most effective way possible while still keeping it pleasing to the eye. Being in the personalised T-shirts industry means not only to choose the right design but also the most appropriate printing technique for each scenario.
Here at Printsome, many of our team members have a background in design which makes us prone to sympathise with designer problems. When it comes to consulting, we are driven by the quality of the outcome and always try to reach the best design solution possible.
With that in mind, we’ve put together some of our best advice. If you’ve ever found yourself in a clothing store and wondered “How did they make that t-shirt?” then you’ve come to the right place.
Note: Learn about all of the exciting job titles you can get as a graphic designer.
Infallible T-shirt Designs
I heart New York? Smiley? Coca-Cola? We’ve all seen these t-shirts — wait, let me rephrase that. Most of us have probably owned these t-shirts and if we haven’t then we at least know someone who has. These designs don’t become popular by chance. Let’s take a look at some of these well-liked formulas and try to understand why they’re so popular.
As a design student, I was scared of typography. We were continuously told that our typographic solutions were clumsy and lacking the subtleties of the art. After a while, I got frustrated and started using variations of Helvetica — which I think is the case for a lot of designers. Now that I am out of that world, I can enjoy typography a lot more and appreciate the work that goes into creating a good composition.
These types of t-shirts tend to be the “message” or “slogan” t-shirts. Since there is no other element than the written word, special attention needs to be paid to the typeface used to deliver it. Typography can be a complex art, but there are still simple tips you can follow to come up with a harmonious design.
- Pick only one font and use italics, bold, and underline to create hierarchy
- Adjust the space between letters (tracking) to get different effects
- If your text is more than two lines long, try different distances between the two sentences to see what looks better
- Select a typeface that matches the message (if your message is a joke then try a very serious font like Times to create irony)
- Save all-caps for short messages only as they are harder to read
- Look at your design from a distance and squint your eyes, it may sound weird but you’ll have a better perspective on the composition
- Don’t stretch, skew or alter the font in any way that’s not meant to be – it rarely looks good
The font along with the texturised fabric on this Esprit T-shirt create a vintage effect. It is a good example of how typography can be used to evoke an era.
Typographic T-shirts don’t necessarily have to be Didot fancy or minimalist a la Helvetica, some of the most popular fonts, such as this one, are meant to look like they’ve been drawn by hand.
This is a good example of how a font can be used in a graphic way. This “a” has been stretched out in such a way that it almost doesn’t look like a letter anymore. A special kind of printer is needed to do this kind of job.
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Photographic (hyper-realistic) T-shirts
When done well, these types of T-shirts can create a really big impact. A hyper-realistic image, not necessarily a photo since illustrations can achieve the same effect, can draw attention and deliver a message without any words. The best part is that nowadays, you don’t even need to create the pictures yourself. There are tonnes of online stock image banks that can be used for your design. Just make sure you read the small lines to not infringe any copyright. Some tips to handle hyper-realistic images are:
- DTG (direct to garment print) is probably your best bet
- Your images must be at least 300 dpi (dots per inch) in quality – any less and it might harm the final outcome
- Same thing goes for the image mode, it must be CMYK in order to achieve an optimal result
- Use high-quality garments to print your designs – a poor quality fabric can make your beautiful image look less brilliant or even blurry
Regardless of how you might feel about Justin Bieber, this is a good example of a photo printed onto a t-shirt. In this case, special cutouts have been made to show some of the garment’s fabric between the face and the hand of the singer.
The hyper-realistic print on this garment makes it look like there’s a naked woman trapped inside the t-shirt. Yes, it is sexy and creepy at the same time.
When we think of photos for our t-shirt designs, most tend to veer towards an animal or people portraits, but this vest by Zara proves that images from nature work just as well.
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Being an illustrator myself, I love it when brands use them on their products. One of the great things about them is how versatile they are. Illustrations can be for kids, naughty, minimal, complex, hyper-realistic (as we already mentioned) and anything else you can imagine. That being said, the versatility of illustrations can add complexity to the production process. Since they cover such a big spectrum, no formula can be prepared regarding their production. The only certainty is that, and we cannot stress this enough, the files you provide to the printer must be of a very high quality.
This is a good example of a simple illustration since the lines are elementary and it’s composed of only two colours.
This might seem like a simple illustration at first, but if you look carefully this little birdie has got a bit of a texture to it, which means the original file must be of great quality if you want the end result to look just as nice as it does on your monitor.
This amazing illustration requires a good DTG printer in order to get those brush strokes right.
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They stand between the typographic and the illustrated. Not quite as simple as the first, but not as complex as the second. They tend to have a simple design which makes them easier to print than most. They’re perfect for screen printing and cad-cut vinyl. If you have experience with these techniques and a decent equipment, then you can even do it at home. “Less is more” should be the motto here. With the right shapes and colours, you can have an attractive piece, which looks easy to pull off, but that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes creating something simple that works can be harder than the opposite. With a photo-realistic image, all you need to do is find the right one, while the graphic tee needs more knowledge in composition for an optimal result.
- Find a focus – every design should have a focal point
- Use lines to tell the eye where to look at — these can be literal or implied
- Learn about colour theory to use it properly – you can find more information on tone combinations here
- Go for “rising” instead of “falling” – in the Western world we read from left to right, this means that depending on which way we arrange elements they may look like they’re either rising or falling. It’s all got to do with the line the gaze follows. Unless you have a particular interest in making an element “fall” I’d suggest you always go for the “rise” as it is considered more pleasing to the eye.
- Balance your elements – as a general rule “heavier” objects go at the bottom of the composition while “lighter” ones go up
- Stick to compositions made of uneven items as they tend to be more harmonious than those which are made out of pairs
Judging by the composition, the designer of this Topman long-sleeved tee is probably a fan of the graphic design. The elements, while abundant, are perfectly balanced.
The way the graphics have been arranged in this Stüssy T-shirt, in particular, reminds me a bit of Kandinsky. One of the precursors of contemporary graphic design.
As you may have come to notice, some designs lay in the border between two types. In this case, the print on this Nike t-shirt is both a graphic and a geometric abstraction.
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These t-shirts are just what they sound like, garments printed with the sole purpose of promoting a company or a brand. With these types of garments, no major work is required on the creativity aspect (as most of the time it only requires a logo on the middle of the chest), but more attention should be paid to the technical aspects. This is because a botched logo or a wrong Pantone colour would make a very angry Marketing Director indeed. Some things to keep in mind are:
- Get your company’s colours right – as I already mentioned, this might be a Pantone number or a CMYK code. Whichever the case may be, make sure you got the right one and that your printer is on the same page.
- Convert all your files into curves – logos should always be curves (pdf, eps or ai file) because a jpg can always end up looking pixelated.
- Think of a creative way to introduce your brand – just because most brands print a logo and call it a day, it doesn’t mean you have to do the same. If you feature your brand in a creative way then it will call attention for sure.
When music bands reach a certain level of fame, they stop being musical groups and become brands. KISS is one of such instances. What we can learn from this merchandise, is not to be afraid of altering fabric to match a brand’s storyline – this t-shirt has been modified to look like it was bought back in the 70’s when the band first became popular.
If you want your brand’s name to get attention there’s no more direct way of doing it than printing bold white letters on a black garment.
There’s no need to always do the same thing when printing a T-shirt with your company’s name on it. This Polo Ralph Lauren garment is the perfect example of how one can spice it up without losing a brand’s storyline. In this scenario, they maintained the American roots but went for a vintage look instead of the posh one the brand usually flaunts.
By definition, abstract art or design is the one that doesn’t feature any recognisable figures, may these be from nature or man-made. These types of prints encompass a wide range of visual styles. They can be simple like the Composition No. 10 painting by Mondrian, complex like Kandinsky or even organic as shown in Nocturne in Black and Gold by James Abbott McNeill Whistler – the only rule here is that people cannot put a name on what they’re seeing. As with illustrations, all sort of printing techniques can be applied here, depending on the design.
Geometric Abstraction: As the name implies, these are compositions made of geometric shapes that have been placed in such a way that won’t evoke anything.
This T-shirt by Freeclothing is a stylish example of geometric abstraction. The cuboids are represented in an aesthetic way, but they’re not figurative.
What better example of geometric abstraction than a triangle?
Bio-Dome is the name given to this t-shirt by Mollusk. It was only when I read it that a connection was made with an architectural element in my head.
Lyrical abstraction: The concept may change depending on who you ask, but most agree that it is related to expressionism. In this case, the artist or designer wants to communicate a feeling by using abstract, non-geometric figures.
This Adidas t-shirt is a qualified example of lyrical abstraction. It’s lines and colours may remind us of certain natural elements, but we cannot quite identify them.
As proven by this creation, lyrical abstraction can be one of the most artistic types of t-shirt design. This print, in particular, could easily be transformed into a painting and hanged on a museum’s wall.
Even though it is called “geometric print” I personally believe that this GUESS t-shirt is a good example of lyrical abstraction because the lines are very warm and organic. They look like they have been drawn by hand with a pencil or charcoal.
Gold & Silver and other special inks
If you want your garments to call attention, then you should consider adding this special touch. Gold, silver, fluorescent or even glitter can add a special something to your design, go overboard though and you may end up with an obnoxious t-shirt.
This look cannot be achieved with standard ink, instead, a special kind of foil is pasted onto the garment to create the effect. Not everyone can do this and a high-quality kind of foil is necessary to guarantee the desired result.
This t-shirt promoting the web series Cooking with Drag Queens is FIERCE in the best sense of the word. The way the pink glitter contrasts with the black fabric shows why this technique is chosen by so many to highlight their designs.
Holographic t-shirts are made using a special kind of vinyl. What makes this garment different from others is the texture on top which makes it look more like a gradient and less like it was cut.
If you ever want to print anything in gold letters then it should definitely say “ARISTOCRAT”. It would take a very confident person to wear this Hugo Boss T-shirt, but it absolutely has an audience.
As the name suggests, this type of printing is applied ALL OVER the garment — literally, all over — there’s is no piece of the garment that’s not covered. Most printers don’t do these kinds of jobs because they require a specialised machine that’s very expensive and hard to maintain. On top of that, all-over printing it’s a trend that comes and goes so with the possibility of getting stuck with an expensive piece of equipment that won’t be used for months or maybe even years, most companies would rather not make the investment.
Then again, there are some people out there who do these kinds of prints and if you definitely think that your design will benefit from it then it is worth the trouble. All-over printed t-shirts give a visual impact that not many other printing techniques can emulate.
This titled “Botanic Wars Tee” t-shirt features a design of some Star Wars elements like a Star Trooper’s helmet and the Millenium Falcon among flowers and leaves. Aside from successfully joining two opposing elements, the t-shirt is a perfect example of all-over printing.
All-over print can be done with anything. This example shows it can be quite successful with cartoons, this particular garment features Disney characters.
Another example of another all-over print. This time around, a tee by Tommy Hilfiger that’s right in time for the summer time.
Can’t decide on any of these styles? Then mix it up! How about a corporate t-shirt with an illustration of the company’s mascot? Or a typographic design on top of a picture? The possibilities are endless!
This Darth Vader t-shirt is a good example of a mix of different types of designs. It is an illustration, but it is composed of letters that spell the character’s name.
Another example of a mix. This time the suggestive T-shirt by elevenparis features a photo and a text on top of it.
This t-shirt by H&M mixes not just two of the design ideas we’ve covered here, but three. The photo has been printed all-over and a font design has been laid on top.
Resources for T-shirt designers
Now that you know what kind of design you want, it’s time to start producing those t-shirts! Down here, you’ll find a list of resources that will prove helpful in your production process.
Here at Printsome Blog! Subscribe to our awesome t-shirt blog to get a set of unique templates sent straight to your email for no charge whatsoever. These mockups have been designed by our very own design team, are high quality and easy to use. You could also check out our 100 T-shirt Templates for some unique mockups we’ve found all over the web.
Places to hire a designer
Finding a trustworthy designer for any job can be the bane of anyone’s existence. It might seem like the great ones are really expensive, while the only affordable ones aren’t trustworthy or simply terrible. Fear not! Here we list several online platforms where you can find just the right professional for the job.
Upwork: Is an online freelancing platform that connects freelancers with employers. Post the job description and the website will pair you with the ones they think work best. It is free to use, Upwork only charges 10% off the freelancers paycheck.
Freelancer: This is a global crowdsourcing marketplace. In this platform, freelancers bid for your project and you get to choose the one that suits you best. The only downside is that you’ll receive ALL kinds of bids, which means you might have to do some digging before you find the one that works for you.
DeviantART: Unlike the other options on this list, DeviantART is not a platform for job hunting, it is rather a community for artists to showcase their work. But this does not mean that you won’t be able to find a suitable designer or illustrator for your work. DeviantART would be a perfect place to find an artist if you want to print t-shirts of a specific style — like anime and manga, for example. Mind you, this is a place for professionals and amateurs alike so you might have to go through a couple of rough drawings before you find a suitable one.
Behance: Yes, it is pricey, but it is also where la crème de la crème is. Behance starts at $399 for one job post a month, but you if you want to find the best possible person for the job then this is the place.
Krop: Similar to Behance, for a price Krop lets you post a job and you’ll be able to draw from their pool of talent. Their cheapest package is $199 per job post.
EnvatoStudio: This platform facilitates the negotiations between freelancer and employer thanks to a built-in messaging system. Envato takes payment the moment you send the brief to the designer and it is held until the project is completed.
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.