T-shirt design is becoming one of the most popular outlets for creatives. Whether you’re an illustrator, graphic designer or typographer, the thought of having your design on a T-shirt is a pretty cool concept.
1. Take your time and explore your concept
Sketch it out, go for a walk, create a few variations, have something to eat,… see again all seven Star Wars episodes, do a full brainstorming process. Then sleep on it. And do it over again. If it comes to you straight away, great. But explore other options just in case.
2. Imagine the design on a black shirt
Having worked on both print and web over the years. I know the vast difference between design on screen and a printed piece. Don’t be afraid to mock it up on a photo of a model, print it out if necessary and place it on an actual tee, and of course create your artwork at actual size.
Use black shirt. Use for this exactly black T-shirt. All fans love black T-shirts .
3. Detail is king but keep things simple
Everyone appreciates great drawing ability and attention to detail. There is nothing better than seeing a really well executed masterpiece on a tee, that you can study for hours.
But equally, some of the most classic designs have been the simplest and get the message across through their simplest form. Anywhere in the middle and you may struggle to deliver a successful design.
4. Consider your market
This is an important one. Are you designing for male or female, young or old? At the end of the day you’re designing a product that you want people to wear. Like a good marketeer would do, write down the exact person you want to attract to your design – who they are, what they like, what other brands they like and go from there.
5. Keep your humour subtle
If you’re going for a humorous designs you don’t want it coming across as a cheap and low-cost joke shirt. Even the most successful loud and in your face designs have subtle humour.
I’m generally not a fan of 99 per cent of humorous tees, but done correctly it can turn heads! I’m digging Brad McGinty’s designs at the moment because he has a good balance.
6. All about colour!
Use the T-shirt colour effectively and try choosing complementary colours. If you’re using Adobe Illustrator, turn on Global Colours. It’s an absolute life saver and will save you so much time. You can also use Halftones to make the most of the restricted colours you’re allowed to use.
7. Prepare your artwork properly
Use Pantone Colours when screen printing, the printers will love you for it. They’ll also love you if you outline text and expand any strokes you may have. There are plenty of good tutorials out there depending on whether you’re using Illustrator or Photoshop.
8. Source a good printer
So your design is finished and properly artworked, but your tee will only be as ever as good your printer. You can give a shout over to a reputable company like White Duck or you could even give your local screenprinter a call. But it’s important to take time to learn about what type of tee you want to print on.
The weight, the sizes, the labeling options, cost, etc, all affect the end product. This takes a while and will require speaking to various companies, but one thing is for certain… deal with a company who wants to treat your tee as an end retail product and will handle your work with care. Screenprinting is an art.
9. Get Educated
To have a good understanding of anything, you need to study it and understand it’s context. Tees have come out of every subculture phenomenon that has ever existed whether it’s tees from bands, skateboarders, street art, sports crossovers or general pop culture.
Find out about them and and have an appreciation for it all! One good book for reference is this Vintage T-shirt Book below.
10. Be ahead of the game
Be inspired by what the latest trends are but don’t copy them. Chances are by the time you have seen that T-shirt produced, other designers are moving on to something else behind closed doors.
Words: Mike Ng