Blog > Graphic Design > T-shirt Graphic Design 101: Your Guide to Dynamic Apparel

How to Design a T-shirt in 7 Easy Steps

February 8, 2024
·
9
min read

We’re going to come right out and say it:

T-shirts are awesome.

They give you a chance to showcase your unique style, they let you broadcast your interests to the world, and, if you’re a designer, they give you another blank canvas for your creativity!

But only if they’re well-designed!

So, what makes for great T-shirt design?

We’re glad you asked. Whether you’re a T-shirt-designing expert or preparing for your first T-shirt graphic design project, this blog is here to guide the process!

Today we’re bringing you our best tips for designing T-shirts that your clients love, and their clients can't wait to wear!

The Importance of Good T-shirt Graphic Design for Brands

Having a great design is crucial for any company that extends its branding to garments for its customers to wear. 

Here are some key reasons why!

  • Brand Visibility — T-shirts act as walking billboards, increasing brand visibility as people wear them in different settings.
  • Expression of Identity — T-shirt designs help convey the brand's identity, values, and message, allowing individuals to proudly align with the brand they resonate with.
  • Marketing and Promotion — Customized T-shirts can serve as promotional merchandise, creating a tangible connection between the brand and its audience.
  • Cohesive Branding — Consistent and well-designed T-shirts contribute to cohesive branding, reinforcing brand recognition and recall.
  • Community Building — Branded T-shirts foster a sense of community among customers, creating a shared identity and connection with the brand.
  • Engagement and Loyalty — Unique and attractive T-shirt designs engage customers, fostering brand loyalty and encouraging repeat business.
  • Affordability and Versatility — T-shirts offer a cost-effective yet versatile canvas for brand promotion, suitable for various events and marketing campaigns.
  • Social Media Impact — Branded T-shirts often find their way onto social media through user-generated content, providing free and authentic advertising.

How to Design a T-shirt in 7 Steps

T-shirt graphic design tools, like pencil, ruler, pen, and computer screen.

If you’ve got a T-shirt project coming down the pipeline, refresh your memory with our best tips on how to design an effective and dynamic T-shirt that looks good and turns heads!

1. Determine Your Project Essentials

Before you dive into the fun part, take a moment to establish your project essentials.

Nothing is worse than having to restart or scrap your great ideas because they’re not feasible for what you’re working with!

Here are some project essentials you should consider before firing up your design tool of choice:

  • What is this T-shirt for? Understanding the purpose of your T-shirt design is crucial! Whether it’s for personal use, promotional events, or retail, knowing your client’s intended target audience and context helps guide your design process. For example, a T-shirt for a corporate retreat will have a much different tone and style than one designed for a punk rock festival.
  • What kind of shirt will it be? The type of T-shirt also guides your design. Different styles, fits, and fabric types convey a message just as much as the design itself. For example, a V-neck has a way different vibe than a classic crew.
  • What’s the project budget? Budget constraints could play a big part in the complexity of your design. Knowing your budget right off helps you make informed decisions about printing methods, ink colors, and embellishments to prevent unexpected costs when your client heads to the printer.
  • What are your printing options? Different printing methods offer different results. DTG printing (direct-to-garment), screen printing, vinyl transfer, and heat press each have their strengths but also have their limitations too. Consider your print options early to make sure that your final design will look as intended and meet any tech requirements of your client’s printer. 

2. Choose Your Font

Now that the legwork for your project has been set, it’s time to start choosing your visual elements.

We’ll start with fonts and typography.

The most important thing you’ll have to consider, of course, is legibility. After that here are some other points to consider while you make your decision:

  • Client’s Branding — If your client has an official brand font, then use that to maintain brand consistency for them. Just be sure it is legible and works with the text you’re going to use! If it isn’t, keep reading.
  • Style — Choose a font style that complements the overall theme, purpose, and messaging of your T-shirt. A playful font might suit a casual event but definitely not a more formal one.
  • Versatility — Make sure the font you choose can adapt to different sections of your design, like headers and body text.
  • Shirt Color — Make sure your font and font color look good and remain easy to read when combined with the color of the shirt. You don’t want your text to be washed out or blend in too closely. Check to see if the shirt is going to be available in more than one color and make sure your print colors will look good on all of them!
  • Alignment — Pay attention to the alignment and spacing of your text for a polished and professional look.

3. Brainstorm Initial Design Concepts

It’s now time to unleash your creativity and start brainstorming initial design concepts for your T-shirt!

This is the phase where you get to explore different ideas and draw inspiration from different sources to create the most visually captivating design. If you need some ideas to spark inspiration, here are some places to look:

  • Company Logo — If your shirt represents a business, then you may want to incorporate their logo or at least some elements of their logo into your design. This helps them to reinforce brand identity and recognition.
  • Events — If the T-shirt is for a specific event or occasion, then tailor your design to that! Whether it’s a corporate event, a family reunion, or an occasion to commemorate, aligning your design with the theme gives it more relevance.
  • Quotes and Slogans — Using quotes or slogans that resonate with the shirt’s purpose is also a great way to add impact. The words you choose can convey a message, evoke emotion, or reflect the values of your client’s brand of their event.

4. Lay Your Design Foundation

Once you’ve got an idea of the visuals and text you want to use, it’s time to start putting it together.

Play around with the best placement and size of your design. Will it look best as a small pocket print? A center design?

Will your design be front only or front and back?

If you have design and text, how can they be best combined?

Experiment with what looks best and resonates well with your client’s intended audience!

5. Choose Your Color Palette

A set of color samples on a keyring.

Selecting the right color palette is a huge step towards creating an aesthetically pleasing T-shirt design.

The colors you choose not only make your shirt look good but can evoke emotions and convey your messaging. Here are some factors to consider when deciding on your color palette:

  • Brand Identity — If your T-shirt is for a business, make sure your color palette maintains its visual identity for consistency and recognition.
  • Audience — What are the tastes and preferences of the target audience? Tailor your palette to resonate with them!
  • Contrast — Your design needs to work well with the colors you choose, especially if it includes text. High contrast between text and design background keeps the text and design clear and legible.
  • Shirt Color — Take into account the color(s) of the shirt itself and choose colors that complement its shade.
  • Shirt Printing Limitations — Certain print techniques or your client’s budget may limit the number of ink colors you can use or affect the vibrancy of the ones you can. Adjust your palette to accommodate any requirements or limitations you’re working with.

6. Put it Together

This is our favorite part.

Now that font, design, placement, and color palettes are chosen, it’s time to lay it all out together. Add your visuals and your text and lay them out, paying careful attention to the hierarchy your design and text need to follow.

Something off about it? If you need to, adjust placement of your design, text, and any other element to find the combination that works best!

7. Look for Honest Feedback

There’s no reason to go it alone!

Sometimes you need a fresh set of eyes, so mock that baby up and send it to friends, family, and other designers to see what they think about your design!

Gather up their feedback, good and bad, and see if there are elements that can be improved upon. When your shirt is the best that it can be, hand it over to your client to let them print your design!

Designity’s Favorite T-shirt Designs to Inspire You

If you’re in need of shirt design ideas, then Designity is here to give you the inspiration that you need!

Check out the following examples of great T-shirt design gathered up from our very own Designity community!

Forge & Flame

Creative Director: Simon F.

Designer: Nicolle G.

 Forge & Flame, a pellet stove company, needed a T-shirt that summed up their mission in a simple, creative way.

The end result was the shirt design you see above, featuring their flame logo and pitch-perfect catchphrase, “It’s Warmer Here.”

Here is what designer, Nicolle, has to say about the process:

The T-shirt design process for Forge & Flame was fun and challenging. The client wanted us to utilize their logo but, at the same time, they wanted us to create something unique and “wearable.” We tried a variety of badge and stamp-style graphics that highlighted the recognizable parts of the client’s brand, such as their logomark and tagline. In the end, I believe we were able to successfully create some T-shirt graphics that were “on brand” but also unique in style.

Ridezilla

Creative Director: Brian P.

Designer: Natalie F.

Ridezilla is a power sports dealership offering exciting recreational vehicles like motorcycles, ATVs, and snowmobiles. Their brand is rugged and bold, and they needed a shirt design to match!

The result was the T-shirt you see above, depicting the Ridezilla logo along with a helmeted rider tearing it up on an ATV.

Here is what designer Natalie F. has to say about her process:

Creating these T-shirts was one of the first projects of my professional design career, and it was an awesome one to start with. I created these designs for Ridezilla, a subsidiary of Outdoor Network, to be handed out at dealerships when purchasing an ATV. The gritty subject matter and style allowed me to play into my love for textures and illustration. The client liked these results so much, that we continued working on another set of shirts for their other subsidiary, Partzilla!

Designity Art “Dance in the Rain”

Designer: Rachel R.

This T-shirt, an offering from Designity's sister site, Designity Art, offers some words of inspiration from Designity founder and CEO, Shahrouz Varshabi!

Rachel R. designed this entry (as well all of the other shirts on the site!) and here is what she has to say about her process:

We wanted to create a concept that felt universally relatable and personal to every creative while still Designity at its core. So when creating the projects, Shahrouz loved the organic handwritten look of the concept sketches that I created and then I just refined the designs, and we had our collection!

If you’d like to purchase this Designity Art shirt or another one of Rachel's designs, check out Designity Art’s entire T-shirt collection!

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Looking for a Place to Use Your Talents?

If you’ve already got plenty of design experience and T-shirt design is a cakewalk for you, then that’s wonderful!

We also have a suggestion for you.

Why not join the Designity community?

Designity is made up of the top 3% of US-based creative talent and we’re always on the lookout for fresh, new talent to join our ranks and start designing for our team! As a Designity Creative, you’ll enjoy a flexible schedule, consistent work with a variety of different industries, 100% remote environment, and the ability to do what you love without having to chase clients!

Sound like a dream come true?

If you’re ready to start designing T-shirts, marketing collateral, ads, and so much more, then this could be just the place for you.

Apply today and let’s see where Designity can take you!

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About the author:
Sara Lopez
Sara is a Texas-based copywriter.
Interested in content collaboration? Email at press@designity.com
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