custom t-shirts

7 Steps to Design T-shirts


Fashion trends are one of the most fragile things—no trend survives a considerable period. Each year some new fashion trends, styles come and older fade away.

But when we talk about the t-shirt, it is forever. T-shirts have become an essential staple of everyone’s wardrobe. The popularity of the t-shirt has gone beyond the barriers of age, and social-economic status, etc. Many people use shirts as a canvas to showcase their creative flair, thoughts, or to convey some message. And this has opened up a massive scope for custom clothes.

Creating custom clothes such as custom shirts, hoodies, etc. and selling them online has turned into a mainstream business today. Entrepreneurs, big or small, find it an easy-to-start business. You don’t need considerable investment.  But with the growing popularity of custom-made clothes and easiness to start a business, the custom cloth industry has become a fierce competition. And to break through the competition, you will have to come up with unique design ideas that successfully connect people. To help you out, here are some key steps to design a t-shirt.

Top 7 steps to design t-shirts   

  1. Identify why you need a shirt

Why do you need a custom t-shirt? This is the most prevalent question one should ask before anything else. There are plenty of reasons why people custom-create clothes—all with slightly different designs, but they all involve a bit of branding.  But if your purpose is promotion, then branding becomes your main objective. You’ll need to have a consistent brand theme in your every product, even if it’s strictly fashion. And when it comes to creating custom shirts for commemorating events such as family get together, bachelor’s party, etc., the t-shirt design must clearly communicate the intended message.

Here is a guide that will help you understand why you need to design a t-shirt.

  • For employees: When you give away your employees shirts having your company’s logo and name, etc., they will take it as a token of appreciation and proudly wear; and thus, promoting your brand. The purpose will be similar to a promotional gift.
  • For promotional gifting: Many companies through away custom t-shirts for free to make people aware of their products. You can take this tremendous promotional means by creating an eye-catching t-shirt design and giving away at events such as conferences, conventions, business meetings, etc.
  • Merchandise: You may be planning to enter into a t-shirt business, and for that, you want to design t-shirts that can stand out. You need to make sure the design is trendy, unique, and marketable.

Besides, you should also research the market to find your shirt’s place in the market, discover your target audience’s choice. Don’t include your own taste in the design as you’re not creating t-shirts for yourself, but a wide range of customers.

  • As an event remembrance: You may need t-shirts for giving away your guests appeared in a special event as a souvenir. This can serve as many of your purposes (appreciation, solidarity).

Whatever your purpose of design t-shirt is, but they all are promotional in some way. Now that you have identified your goal, you should prioritize the different facets of the shirt design.

  1. Define your budget for the project

The next step you’ll have to take is to identify your budget and quantity. This will help you focus on the design better. For example, you can determine how many colors you can use. Based on the type of printing method, you’ll have to pay additional charges for additional colors. Therefore, if there’s a budget constraint, it’s better to conserve colors.

Also, the number of t-shirts that you’re planning to create will influence your printing method selection as some particular methods are ideal for bulk printing, decreasing per piece cost.

  1. Identify the appropriate printing method.

Various factors can determine your printing method—appearance, cost, turnaround time, and material, etc. So, you need to know each of the printing methods with their pros and cons to determine which one is ideal for your project.

  • Direct-to-garment or print-on-demand: Direct-to-garment (DTG) is the latest printing method that uses inkjet’s freedom but prints directly on the garments.

Pros: highly customizable designs with extensive color choices and maximum details

Cons: Not ideal for dark-colored fabric, suitable for small batches or a single sample.

  • Screen printing: Screen printing is the most preferred printing method for t-shirts. It makes original screens of designs, one for each color, making it an ideal choice for bulk printing.
  • Vinyl graphics: This method of printing uses more durable vinyl and not just ink. It gives your design durability and high quality, making it ideal for designs that need to stand out. On the other side, additional color costs more, which makes complicated designs expensive. It’s not an excellent choice for bulk orders.  
  1. Ideate your design concept

Now it’s the time to brainstorm your design concept—what is actually going to be printing on your t-shirts. You need to put ample time and effort into it for a better result because this is the primary element of your whole exercise.

The direction of your design may go in several directions. Therefore, while brainstorming your t-shirt design concept, pay heed to the following tips that will help you focus on your creativity.

  • T-shirt type: There are various types of t-shirts. Think about the targeted audience and goal to choose the right kind of shirts.
  • Style & Imagery: This is where your creative juices need to flow. You’ll have brainstorm which design, image, or message would best communicate your message.
  • Color in the design: Color is the best element in your design that instantly stimulates your target audience. So, pick colors wisely.
  • Typography: The typography says a lot about your brand. You can play with fancy fonts, but make sure they are readable.
  1. Find a t-shirt designer

Are you a graphic designer? If not, you should hire a designer who would create a professional t-shirt design. But if you’re tight on budget, you can take the DIY route, which needs little creativity to design a shirt. You can find plenty of online t-shirt maker tools using which anyone, irrespective of their design know-how, can create t-shirt design on their own.

But if you want your design to stand out, we would suggest you hire a graphic designer because a professional designer knows designing nuisances that you may not know.  So, rather than involving yourself in marketing, branding, and learning graphic designing together, give designing to someone expert in it.

  1. Get the right design files from the designer.

Now that you have got the right design for your t-shirt, it is time to get the appropriate design files from your designer.

You’ll need:

  • Designs in vector file format: They will likely be a PDF, EPS, or Adobe Illustrator. You will require one file for each different shirt design.
  • Color codes: If the printer does custom colors, you’ll need the Pantone or CMYK color codes for making everything turn out what you want.
  1. Find a fantastic printer.

It’s the time to get the design printed—the last step to your incredible t-shirt design journey. There are a lot of printers in any given market—find out one that meets your needs. Check if they match your printing method, price, and delivery time. List down some printers and negotiate with each of them for extra features and discounts to sweeten the deal.


T-shirt printing is getting more and more accessible with each passing year. The technological advancement has further fuelled the industry. Go through these design steps to design t-shirts. I hope they will guide you through the process of a fantastic t-shirt design.

Have you got any questions? Let us know in the comments below.

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