Effective Screen Printed T-Shirt Design:
a guide to making a killer t-shirt for your next promotion.
What makes for effective t-shirt design? Think about your favorite t-shirt, the one you wear all the time. It has stains, it has tears and it is full of holes . . . but you just can not throw it out. Chances are that shirt was screen printed, as screen printing is the gold standard for t-shirt printing. Our favorite shirts have a way of becoming a part of us. That tee you love is often what other people first notice about you. For a lot of us, t-shirts are a part of our identity, and for others, FREE advertising! ArtLab T-Shirts in Palm Bay / Melbourne, Florida understands effective t-shirt design so we can design and print that special, killer design just for you. But don’t take our word for it, read on . . .
Do you have an awesome t-shirt idea and suspect that others will love it too? Are you looking for an alternative and effective way to promote your business, or maybe making some some side income selling merchandise? Perhaps you want to celebrate a special event, like a family reunion, or an annual trip? Whatever the reason, the basics of effective t-shirt design remain the same, it’s what you do with them that counts.
In this guide to making a killer t-shirt, ArtLab will discuss each step of the design process, from coming up with the idea to mass producing your design. No matter how much you already know, or how little, these t-shirt design tips will help you reach your goal of creating someone’s favorite shirt.
Here are ArtLab’s seven steps to Effective Screen Printed T-Shirt Design; and coming up with that killer t-shirt, that will become someone’s favorite!
1. Figure out why you need a t-shirt
No matter your reason for making a shirt, it will always come down to branding. If your shirt design is for promotional purposes, branding is your main goal. Even if the design is strictly fashion, you will still want to incorporate consistent brand themes into your products. For personal use – like commemorating an event, for example – you want to be sure your t-shirt design communicates clearly.
If you have not already done so, write out a list of the main themes, style and personal traits you want your brand and your shirt design to convey. Will it be playful or serious, edgy or conservative, high end or affordable? A well constructed t-shirt design results in effective screen printed t-shirt design and can answer these questions at a glance.
For the most effective design, move away from your personal preferences and rely on real quantifiable data. Who is your target audience? What brand traits do they want to associate with?
Here is ArtLab’s list of four of the most basic t-shirt end uses to help guide your design process. Therefore helping you to understand why you need this t-shirt design and what you hope to achieve with it.
Your shirts will become something that you want to give away for free and therefore keep your brand in the minds of prospective clients / customers. This could be something given away at conventions, conferences or other promotional events or even a leave behind at a business meeting.
Internal Company / Organization Usage
Your employees / associates will get a shirt for moral boosting, appreciation, achieving a goal, or firing up enthusiasm for the next big project. Or the obvious reason, to create an inexpensive uniform to identify your people on sight. The goal here is similar to promotional gifts because there is a strong need for branding.
Maybe your t-shirt design will become a product that you plan on selling. So make sure you factor in style, marketability and business strategy. You will need to understand your t-shirt design’s place in the market, so consider doing some research to pinpoint the tastes of your target group. Your own personal tastes are a good start, but when it comes down to reaching others, research always beats guesswork.
Special events need special souvenirs and a killer t-shirt design is always a great option. Event shirts share many of the same goals as t-shirts for internal company usage, but for a more casual, less restrictive audience.
Irregardless of their use, most t-shirts are indeed promotional in some way. Even if your designing t-shirts as merchandise to sell, include your brand logo so that everyone who observes it will know who made the design. That way if they want something similar, they know where to go. Your t-shirt design should have a strong, even dominant, branding presence on the shirt. Incorporate the same design quality and cleverness as you would on a billboard advertisement. T-shirts are more than just clothing, they provide exposure every time a person wears one in public. This is especially true if you have designed someone’s favorite t-shirt and the owner wears it often. Once you have determined your goals, you can then give priority to the various aspects of your t-shirt design. As an example, fashion may not be a high priority for an employee t-shirt, but it certainly would be factored into a merchandise t-shirt design. You will want to customize your design in a manner that helps you best attain your goal in creating that design in the first place. In review, for effective screen printed t-shirt design, you must determine why you need this shirt in the first place.
2. Determine your budget and quantity
All right, we know you are itching to start work on your new t-shirt design, we get it, but first we need to settle some little details so you can focus on that new design. Mainly, what is your budget and quantity needed? How much you want to spend and how many t-shirts you need are factors that will impact your design. For example, budget and quantity will determine how many colors you can use. In screen printing, additional print colors may cost more money. If you have a conservative budget, a good way to save is by limiting the number of print colors. The number of shirts you need will also influence your costs. In screen printing, discounts are offered for higher quantity orders. The amount of labor to set up a screen print job, as well as take it down, is the same for 12 shirts as it is for 1200. Therefore, the more shirts, the cheaper the unit cost per shirt imprint. For effective screen printed t-shirt design, determine your project budget and quantity of shirts needed,
3. Brainstorm your design concept
Now for the fun part, . . . now you can start figuring out what is actually going on your screen printed t-shirt. Resist the urge to jump to this step first. The more time and effort you put into the concept, the better the results will be. Your design could go in a thousand different directions, the possibilities can be overwhelming. As you are considering these possibilities, here are some tips to help you focus.
These days there are so many different t-shirt types. Basic tees with a crew neck, v-necks, short sleeve, long sleeve, henley collar, tank tops, hooded, pockets, ladies cuts and unisex cuts, just to name a few. Check out the ArtLab online catalog to see a myriad of styles and colors. Think about your target group and your intended goal before deciding on the type of shirt. A revealing ladies tank may not be the best choice, for example, as the shirt choice for a church group outing. As you start sketching out your ideas, make sure it will translate to the actual size of the print on the garment of your choice. Most screen printers have a maximum size of 12” wide by 15” tall. Oversize screens and all over prints are available, if you are willing to spend more. That does not mean you have to fill the entire space. These days the trend is toward “less is more” with simple and smaller designs sometimes being the most effective. Knowing the size you have to work within will help you get your proportions correct.
Once you have your design in mind, consider how it will look on larger and smaller shirt sizes. In screen printing, a screen (like a stencil) is made for each color in the design. Economically this set up will be used for all sizes, therefore a design that fills the entire front of a ladies cut tank, may look small on a full size XXX-Large t-shirt. It is possible to make different size screens to accommodate for this, but that will mean more costs to you. So plan ahead for all of your needs.
Style and imagery
This is where you need to rely on your creative and artistic instincts to communicate the message you want to convey. Don’t forget the questions we discussed before:
What is your brand?
Who is your market or target audience?
Why are you designing this t-shirt in the first place?
Put all of your thoughts together and you are ready to start dreaming up that killer t-shirt design, that everyone will love. Keep in mind that your design will be displayed on bodies. The human form is not always the same shape and not always as symmetrical as we would like. Think about uncomplicated designs, as there is no telling where the nooks and crannies of the human shape will land on your image. For similar reasons you may want to avoid detailed imagery, subtle color gradients and intricate lines. Always err on the side of simple.
Type / Fonts for T-Shirt design
The typestyle or fonts that you choose for your design say a lot about your brand. Serif fonts (the ones with the little arms) or script fonts have a more classic look. Sans-serif fonts look more modern. T-Shirts offer more of an opportunity than other areas of graphic design to play with with fun, crazy display fonts, but do keep readability in mind. If the words on your design are important to communicating your message, then make sure you don’t get carried away with swirly, grungy, fancy typography.
Color in T-Shirt design
The element of design that is best at instantly communicating personality is color. Every shade, hue and tint of color evokes an emotion from the viewer. Color can act as a shortcut for you to portray something about your brand with just a glance.
T-Shirt designs have two sets of colors to consider: the fabric color(s) and the print color(s). You want to make sure these two compliment each other, always consider your fabric color as the background color in your design ideas. Also note that the surrounding color (background) will affect the visual colors as they are laid over the background color. At ArtLab we are often approached by a client who has spent good time and money on a great design on a white background, yet they want it on black, red or some other color. The design now, will not work as it was designed for a white garment. Make sure you talk to your printer about shirt color.
Because of the way t-shirt inks work, printing colors can be a little tricky. The least expensive way to get your design printed is to approximate the colors. Just know that your “teal” might not match the printed teal exactly.
Exact color matches are possible but can add expense to your finished product. Some experimentation will have to be done to insure a color looks the way it is intended when printed on a dark shirt for instance. Printers can order in pre-mixed Pantone(PMS) color matched ink – but they are expensive. Also PMS colors are based on a white background. On a colored fabric, all of that changes. Check with your printer and accept their knowledgable advice on printing colors on color for your best results.
For effective screen printed t-shirt design, think through your design concepts beforehand, taking into account shirt types, style and imagery, typography and color.
4. Find a knowledgeable designer
Do you have design skills? Then get going, if you do not, then don’t worry. There are a lot of pros out there ready to turn your design ideas into reality. ArtLab T-Shirts has our own in-house art department with decades of experience designing and creating effective t-shirt designs. Great ideas come from ArtLab!
The DIY route – maybe you have the design skills to do it yourself. Design freedom is huge advantage here, but do not forget that professionals know the technical concerns of t-shirt design, plus a whole lot more.
Hiring a pro – Rather than teaching yourself marketing, branding and graphic design, why not hire someone who knows them already? You can work with a printer like ArtLab that has an in-house art department or you can work with an outside designer. Do your best to find a designer that thinks like you and understands what you are looking for. Consider the designers personality, design style and expertise. Then pick the designer that best matches your vision. Hiring a free lancer can be tricky, but it can also be a lot of fun. An outside designer may be more expensive, as art work is all they do to make their living. But in the long run, finding the right designer will produce a design custom tailored to your wishes. An in-house art department at your local printer may be more cost effective as they also will be making their money on printing as well. Therefore they may charge less for the design work, knowing they will also be printing the design and selling you the shirts.
Once you have made a decision on the designer, you need to clearly communicate your vision. Tell them your design ideas, messaging and target audience. Include details about color, logos, visual style, t-shirt type and printing specifications. Show them images of designs you like in the style you are looking for. Give them everything needed so they can create the perfect t-shirt design for you. Unless you know all there is to know about this subject, you will need the advice of a competent designer for effective screen printed t-shirt design.
5. Evaluate your design
As you review the design(s) your art professional submits, don’t forget your marketing and technical requirements. Will your design fit on a tank top? Is the amount of color within your budget? Is the message right? This is not just about the art, it is a business decision. Communicate your feedback clearly to your designer to make sure your next set of options look even better. Avoid being vague as poor feedback can lead to multiple design revisions and add on to the costs.
Once you think you have the design you desire, run it both by your key stakeholders and also someone who may have no connection to what you are doing. People not closely associated with your t-shirt design may notice things you never did. Consider asking them these questions:
What is the key message you get when you look at this shirt?
Who is this shirt for?
Their answers to these questions will help you determine if the design is communicating what you intended, If not, then go back to your designer and figure out what needs to change.
Remember, effective screen printed t-shirt design takes time and sometimes many revisions. Allow ample time to get through this stage by planning ahead. Also avoid add on costs by having a clear vision of what you want when first meeting with your designer.
6. Get the right files from your designer
Now that you have the perfect t-shirt design, you are ready to roll, right? Not so fast, now is the time to make sure you have the right files a printer will need. You will need:
Your t-shirt design in vector format. This will likely be an Adobe Illustrator (AI), PDF, or EPS files. Design professionals and printers use these file types exclusively. Any other file types may lead to delays and additional costs.
Color codes. For custom colors, make sure you have Pantone or CMYK color codes so that everything turns out looking as you want.
7. Find a bad-ass printer, like Artlab T-Shirts in the Melbourne / Palm Bay, Florida area.
Once the design is finalized, it’s printing time! A printer like artLab offers the methods you need and a price that you can afford. Of course there are other printers too. Sorting through printers to find the best one for your project takes experience and time, . . . but we are going to offer suggestions to help in that decision now.
Does your printer have an in-house art department? Not only does it mean your printer does in-house prints, but it usually means these folks do good work. Only successful printers can sustain an in-house art department.
Request finished samples of completed jobs from your printer. Stop by their shop, they should be glad to show you samples and should have many on display. Touch and feel the the finished shirts. Remember a printers job is to translate the design idea into a finished shirt. Only a finished product can show that.
Start building a working relationship with a printer you can grow with. Does your printer do multiple colors, do they print a few or thousands of shirts? Even if you do not need these things on your first project you may need them later.
If you are doing a larger more complicated order, will your printer do a production sample? You won’t know exactly how things will turn out without an actual print on the garment of your choice. This will be an additional cost but in the case of a large expensive outlay, it will be worth it.
Beware of hidden charges, particularly with screens, films or color matching. Just like with any other industry, there are a few rotten apples in the barrel. Go over ALL the charges before production begins to make sure your printer is totally up front with you.
Now it is tee time!
Each year t-shirt design and printing are becoming more and more accessible. Whether you need a dozen or even thousands of shirts, this is something every business and organization can use to their advantage. As long as you know what you are doing. We hope our guide to effective screen printed t-shirt design has been a help in that regard. Got questions? Contact ArtLab T-Shirts in Palm Bay / Melbourne, Florida today . . .