You may feel a little intimidated when it comes to personal t-shirt design because you think it takes specific illustration skills and specialized programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, or Corel Draw. While creative design skills and professional programs are helpful, don’t underestimate the power and impact of typography.
What is typography? In its most simple form, it’s the appearance of the printed word. In respect to this tutorial though, we’re going to talk about typography in its most exquisite state, an art form printed on t-shirts and apparel.
The effectiveness of typography is really apparent on sites such as Pinterest where you can find every saying and quote known to humanity lovingly crafted into miniature digital art pieces. For getting custom t-shirts printed, fonts and combinations of fonts, arrangement, and ink colors used can make quite a stunning impact on its own without the inclusion or minimal use of illustrated art.
An actual typographer is a person that either creates fonts or decides on the use of fonts to invoke specific feelings such as elegance for a wedding photographer’s marketing material or the use of the best fonts for packaging and promoting a new product.
Some exceptional examples of modern typographers that take their art to the next level can be found on Behance. Behance.
There are a few basic types of fonts which include serif, sans-serif, monospaced, cursive, and script. Almost all modern fonts are derived from these families.
Some of the most universally known and used fonts like Helvetica, Times, and Baskerville have propagated countless imitations and variations during the last few centuries. For the most part it’s because they are very easy to read. However, enhancing the visual appeal and readability of words in entrenched in history.
Civilization started with what could be essentially described as pictograms. Individual societies adapted these pictograms to embody their visions of what was beautiful and well formed from their perspective. Words were formally inscribed in stone but informally used by scribes on papyrus and animal skins using informal versions of writing known as rustic.
A proliferation of styles began to emerge and in an effort to standardize the art of writing, Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne initiated a movement that introduced non-identical twins of the same letter which is now known as upper and lower case letters of an alphabet.
Translating texts from language to language was mostly done by monks in monasteries in scriptoriums which were cloistered areas dedicated to copying and making new texts using highly specialized calligraphy. Monks also illuminated these texts which as hand painted embellishments could be considered the predecessor of modern typography. The calligraphy styles varied from monastery to monastery and were a point of pride for the monks.
With the invention of the printing press by Johann Gutenberg in the 15th century, the dissemination of content was turned on its head and the first typefaces were introduced. Legibility of typefaces dictated how widely they were adopted and used. Moving into the digital age, typefaces were replaced with fonts which are variations of the same type family.
The proliferation of font development gives modern designers extensive choices and provides a virtual playground for artistic expression. While legibility is still important for conveying a message, the artful composition of words using varying fonts can be powerful.
Some fonts inherently convey a theme as part of their design and may even be aptly named such as these examples:
Here are some examples of how carefully crafted typography can impact the message on t-shirts:
Fonts can create a mood and dramatically alter the feel of your logo or message so experimentation with different fonts is recommended. Check out these samples of the same logo using fonts that contrast dramatically and notice how much the character of a logo can change just through the use of fonts.
When choosing fonts to use in your t-shirt design, you can save yourself time by envisioning the desired final output as a horizontal or vertical layout. Some fonts are exceptionally wide, others are very skinny. It’s not typically recommended to condense or stretch fonts very much because it can change the integrity of the font design. It’s more sensible to choose fonts that will work well within the confines of your t-shirt template and printable area.
You might be familiar with typography terms like leading and tracking and kearning. There are standard recommendations concerning these aspects of design but since this tutorial is about creative typography in t-shirt design there are no hard set rules other than maintaining legibility.
Deconstructing typography is surprisingly complex. Components that make up the anatomy of typefaces and fonts have specific names and personalities all of their own. When you think about the individual segments, it’s easy to understand why they have their own identities because most represent each stroke an ancient writer would need to produce to the letter in an artful manner. Here is an explanation of some of the pieces and parts that make the beautiful characters that express language, thoughts, information, and emotions.
For a more in-depth explanation of typography anatomy, we recommend this resource which will fill you with information from the top of your tittles to the bottom of your bilateral serifs.
Web designing is a valuable skill. It takes time and effort to perfect and learn all the intricacies required to produce first-class creatives for the web. While you may think that designing for the web is the pinnacle of an artist’s career, you might be asked by a client or even a friend to use your amazing design skills for a t-shirt print. Don’t make the mistake of approaching this type of project with the same mindset as web design. Designing, prepping, and delivering art for screen print is an entirely different animal.
DPI differences are critical. Web design only requires a resolution of 72 DPI, any higher and you can impact the time it takes to load an image on a web page in a negative way. Just as with print publishing, producing art ready for screen print requires a minimum DPI of 300 and frankly, preferably a vector file that does not rely on DPI at all but we’ll get to that later. Many online t-shirt design websites will take whatever you upload and print it without counseling you concerning poor resolution. They simply don’t care and have the attitude of garbage in, garbage out. Rest assured we contact our customers that upload low resolution files and coach them on how to improve the art for a screen printed apparel product they’ll be proud to call their own.
As a web designer you’re used to having all the effects under the rainbow at your disposal to create the WOW factor. In screen printing, some of the special effects can either cost you significantly more money or a less than satisfactory result. Some special effects that do not translate well into screen printing are glow, gradient drop shadow, blurs of any type, reflections, displacement effects, lighting effects, and faded edges.
There are some workarounds to creating a gradient effect when using halftones but the expectation has to be that it’s not going to look as seamless as a fade in Photoshop will look.
If color matters, and it usually does for any designer, you’ll need to submit color guides using the Pantone matching system, PMS. The Pantone color guide system is a standardized color matching system created primarily for designers that work in fabrics. HEX and RGB colors vary depending upon the monitor and are not sufficient for a guaranteed color match. Purchasing your PMS guide will only make sense if you will need to use it on a regular basis as they can be pricey. Our customers are more than welcome to visit our Tempe location if they are local.
Another option for a PMS match is to let us do the work. If any component of your design or logo is different than our stock ink colors, you can simply choose “Let us do the work” while uploading your file to our design studio and pick how many colors are in your design. We'll then use your file to pick out the colors on our end using a program such as Illustrator to help us identify the best PMS color(s). We'll compare what the program recommends to our PMS book and standard mixed inks and choose a different color if needed based on how the color looks on our computer monitor.
One issue that we sometimes see is when a customer has a business card printed and doesn't understand that the color matching of CMYK vs. PMS is completely different. For example, a red non-coated piece of paper that was printed using CMYK is going to look different than the same red coated PMS color. We use our best judgement, but certain comparisons like that are difficult to match because the mixing systems are different and not translatable to a PMS color.
When screen printing custom apparel, color is money. There is a huge difference when comparing screen printing to web designing because in web design, colors are limitless. For any screen print job, each color requires an individual screen to be burned. Not only is there additional work there, when the garment is being processed on the press, it requires additional setup. There are techniques we can use to pull up to 3 colors from one color which is done by using halftones. This technique can actually produce some pretty outstanding effects but as a designer you’re probably already aware that halftones are dots. For screen printing, there is a limit to the percentage we can use before losing clarity.
Another issue for large runs and halftones is the probability of dot gain. Dot gain is inevitable in screen printing and is usually unproblematic but has to be acutely monitored when using a halftone method of pulling multiple colors from one ink. Problems are bypassed by either using multiple screens or by halting production and cleaning the screens to continue the run. The timing of this is critical to keep the appearance of the design consistence from the beginning of the run to the end.
Resizing artwork for the web can sometimes be a pain but it’s necessary if you plan to publish on different websites. Facebook requires 1200x630 pixels for a post, Instagram is 1080x1080, Pinterest is 190 x scaled height, and banner ads are all different sizes and so on. Resizing for custom apparel is considerable more work as it requires additional screens and multiple setups on the press. If you have a large order that requires multiple sizes of apparel, from youth to plus-sizes, we suggest you think about multiple sizes of artwork. A single size can work, but you and your client will be much happier if the design looks consistent across sizes. Burning multiple sizes of artwork onto screens requires additional costs.
The web is made up of raster images which work fantastic for the purpose of displaying images. As a designer you’re well aware of DPI, but even a raster file that is high resolution will not translate as well as a vector image. Vectors are made up of paths that are defined by a mathematical formula. The reason why screen printers prefer vector is because no matter how you resize the image, the image remains true and crisp. Since raster images are made up of pixels, resizing the image stretches the original pixels out of shape and you get pixilation. Pixilation is rarely used in design on purpose; it’s usually a regrettable mistake from not understanding the difference between vector and raster.
Personalized children’s apparel is an attractive market that isn’t as saturated as graphic tees for adults leaving plenty of room for growth. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends are eager to offer a unique gift to the newest member of the community. The events that mark the journey of a child into adulthood provide plenty of opportunity for repeat sales and even referral business from community mommy groups and neighbors that notice on your children’s wear designs.
Experiment with different design styles to see which get the most attention. Some popular trends in infant and toddler designs include monograms, slogans, and family status identification like “Big Sister” in text or “My Little Brother is a Cat” in text. Even if you find many instances of your idea already for sale, you can stand apart from the competition with your choice of fonts or combinations of fonts and artistic style.
Typography is the visual representation of your text. There is a ton of opportunity when you play with typography in your design. Although for certain t-shirt or onesie designs plainly formatted words work well.
When designing infant and toddler wear or anything that is intended for children 12 years of age or under, it’s the law that the products you print the design on have a Children's Product Certificate (CPC). This is the portion of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) governing products intended for children. Fortunately, if you’re using the children’s products we feature on our t-shirt printing website, you don’t need to worry about this since our baby apparel products have already been vetted and cleared.
Coming up with outstanding designs is just part of the process. Once you have your garments printed, it’s time to test the market to see if everyone else is just as impressed. Fortunately, you don’t have to print a lot of samples simply to test the viability of the design. Our no minimum required toddler t-shirts and infant onesies are ideal for test printing. We currently carry Rabbit Skins infant and toddler tees plus bodysuits. We offer youth size no minimum required products as well including Hanes, Augusta, and Rabbit Skins.
What’s the difference between these products and products that require six or more in the order? The apparel items featured on our t-shirt printing website are comprised of many different blends of fabric. Some are suitable for both screen printing and digital printing but some are only suitable for screen printing at our facility. Digital printing, perfect for single orders or test prints require apparel made from 100% cotton.
If you believe through your market testing that you’ve come up with a winning design for large scale production, our bulk pricing on screen printed apparel is very advantageous for your profitability. Selling uniquely designed garments online is one way to gain a lot of exposure but taking on the building and maintenance of a website might not be your thing. Here are some alternative options to marketing and selling your design without the hassle of building your own website.
The Etsy marketplace is ideal for uniquely made items. The makeup of Etsy’s traffic is 86% women and since women account for 85% of all consumer purchases, this is a fantastic market. A tremendous amount of the referral traffic Etsy receives is from Pinterest, so make sure to pin your designs and include a generous description of the product in the pin.
Artfire is another indie style marketplace that puts buyers and sellers together. You are able to create an account and sell your decorated apparel as long as it’s your custom design and does not include any licensed imagery. If you are using any licensed imagery there is a commercial option as well.
eBay isn’t just for used stuff, anyone can create and sell on eBay. The beauty of using a site like this is you don’t have to drive traffic yourself. There is a lot of competition of course, so you’re design, presentation, and of course garment pricing needs to be competitive.
Another advantage to using already established online marketplaces is you may be less susceptible to swings in search engine placement. Obviously you can test an established online marketplace and create your own website to see which channel is more profitable.
Partnering with local businesses to display your offerings is another way to generate sales of your designed baby apparel. Independently owned and operated businesses are recommended because they don’t have to go through corporate approval to feature your works. Expect to pay a commission on sales or a small rental space fee. Baby apparel compliments some types of businesses more than others.
When soliciting for a place to feature your clothing, think about the type of foot traffic the business attracts and ask yourself if this is your target audience. Here are some recommendations:
- Coffee Houses
- Flower Shops
- Yoga Studios
- Beauty and Hair Salons
It's hard to say vintage style t-shirts are making a comeback since the design style has never really gone away. Trends come and go but none has stood the test of time quite like vintage styling along with the distressed look. We happily buy expensive jeans with tears and distress already added because it's the look we're after; relaxed and unassuming yet fashionable.
Blame on the hippies in the 60's. Prior to that era, wearing used, poor looking clothing was not something people aspired to do. Those that survived the turmoil of the Great Depression were not keen to continue living the Spartan lifestyle that was forced upon them during harder times. People wearing worn or used clothing were deemed tragic because it meant they could not afford to dress in new apparel.
However, the mindset of hippies in the 60's was to be unusual and original. This meant combing the secondhand stores and combining styles from different era's to create a wholly unique look. Rejecting the modern aesthetic, they looked for throwbacks from bygone days particularly Edwardian fashion.
As with most trends, the popularity of being different made the accessibility of true vintage pieces increasingly scarce and it was necessary for niche apparel makers to make new clothes look old and period correct. This is known as "repro" fashion and it’s the focus of this tutorial.
Defining vintage or retro is typically done by either the condition of the garment or the design. It can also be defined by the color of the garment that the design is printed on. A lot of manufactures identify these colors as “heather” or simply “vintage.”
Adjusting the fiber’s texture is a big part of the vintage movement. To make the look realistic, you can either buy the repro version or do it yourself with some common household tools like sandpaper, scissors and common ingredients like salt and bleach. Here is video that details how to achieve the look on any t-shirt:
Colors in a vintage or retro palette will range from dark browns, oranges, tangerines, soft to electric blues, and mellow reds. Here are some examples of retro color palettes in some of the most desirable eras:
Vintage shirt styles include the Ringer tee, the baseball tee, the crop top, and of course the basic tee. For women only, there’s the spaghetti strap tank top.
There are certain design styles that are more authentic to the vintage look like variegated stripes. Here are a few examples of vintage graphic tees designs:
Vintage style fonts are an important aspect to incorporate if you’re intent is to design a shirt that remains true to the era. Here are some examples available for use in our custom tee shirt design studio:
And finally here are some of our very own designs for repro wear:
Custom hats are a huge deal for a lot of men. They’re as attached to a man’s identity as they are to their heads, or if you’re not a hat guy for pleasure, you might be wearing them for business purposes.
If your hat is a daily fixture, you might be wearing it because it identifies your favorite team with a logo or maybe your favorite designer’s logo. While these hats are available in a lot of colors and styles through licensed resellers, some guys that wear hats for style purposes might be more interested in a custom look that describes the more intimate details of their psyche. In these cases it’s popular to resell these customized hats in a retail environment or to give as gifts to friends and family. That’s where getting a custom hat printed comes into play.
Custom embroidery on hats can be applied to literally tons of different styles of hats which we have access to beyond the products listed on our custom print website. We have access to snapback, fitted caps, 5 panel, 6 panel, structured, unstructured, low profile, trucker, mesh trucker...pretty much anything a customer needs we can get and in all the colors!
We'd recommend embroidery for anything 6 panel or structured, otherwise the ink can bunch at the seam running down the middle and may not lay consistently on structured hats since they're difficult to bend against our hat boards. It's possible, but embroidery would have a much cleaner outcome on this style of hat.
The other option to personalize hats is screen print. It’s highly wearable and durable, and in some cases more cost effective depending on the purpose of the cap. With either option, simplicity is recommended since the available real estate is limited.
But why do men love these types of hats so much and are there any rules that should be adhered to? Functionality has turned into fashion. The original baseball cap style was simply a means to keep the sun out of the player’s eyes. Some men still use it for just this purpose or to keep longer hair contained in the wind. But many men will agree that it’s also a fashion statement which has been propelled not-only by sports, but also by genres of music including hip-hop, and country & western.
To attract the ladies, there are certain fashion faux paus that should not be made. For instance, never, ever, wear a hat on a first date, especially if you’re taking her to a nice restaurant. The exceptions would be if your first date is an outdoor sporting event, or fishing, or hiking. If you asked her on one of these dates and she accepted, well-done, you’ve found yourself a keeper. Additionally, never is a shabby, dirty hat appropriate. Even if it’s your favorite, time to customize a new piece of headwear. Don’t hold onto a style for too long either. If you haven’t seen the style of cap you’re wearing on anyone else for a really long time, maybe check out what the male fashion blogs are saying about the latest and greatest.
The baseball cap is one of American’s most identifiable fashion exports along with jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes. Can anyone say Forrest Gump? In fact, some estimate that at least 80% of hats sold are of the baseball variety or its close cousin, the snapback.
We love them for their promotional product appeal. That’s why logoed caps are the go to for many businesses as a means of providing a functional (and therefore appreciated,) promotional giveaway. Another trend in corporate giveaway and promotional hats are performance wear. This type of hat is ideal for activity related promotions like charity walks, runs, and outdoor team-building exercises. But most important of all, if you personalize a hat that people love, they’ll wear it frequently if not every day. This isn’t going to be the case with t-shirts or polos unless it’s part of a uniform. To increase perceived value of a giveaway, you can combine a custom t-shirt and cap, now that’s the gold standard of promotional giveaways and it’s a unique selling point of the highly versatile custom cap.