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The Fine Print: Let's talk about tees!

How to Make the Best Custom Promotional T-shirt Designs

As a professional designer you may be approached to design creatives for an entire business marketing campaign. Even if you’re not a professional designer these tips how to make the best custom promotional T-shirt designs will help you succeed at the task given to you.

The most important thing to consider is the scope of the project. Is it just a t-shirt design or will the design be used in other marketing materials? If so, you must imagine all of the different print techniques that will be used and come up with a design that works with all methods required.

iconic t-shirt

For t-shirts, using full color photograph like images will greatly limit the print method and may force your client to go with a more expensive solution known as direct to garment printing also known as digital printing. Screen printing is the preferred method as its longer lasting and is more suitable for bulk t-shirt printing discounts.

brand t-shirt

Creating a design for a promotional business t-shirt doesn’t have to be restricted to the logo. Obviously the company wouldn’t need you’re design skills for something that simple. A discussion about the concept and what they are looking to achieve with the project should be a priority.

During this initial discussion ask if they have a t-shirt printer in mind and get contact information so you can collaborate with the screen printer. If the design will be used in other marketing material, get the contact information for the other printers as well.

Ask your client to bring examples of past design projects that were successful. Also make sure they communicate their timeline expectations keeping in mind that t-shirt printers will need some production time. If the client needs the project finished for an event, the timeframe is critical. Be sure to figure in extra time for unforeseen complications.

If you’re working with a large corporation they will likely have brand guidelines. Brand guidelines typically consist of what must be included in any replication of the brand images and what is not acceptable usage. Sometimes usage can be extremely specific such as how much space is required between the logo and company slogan. This can be limiting when it comes to design. Ask the client how much creative license can be used. If the client is conservative and hesitant about something very creative, come up with 3 different levels of creatively designed concepts. At least one can exude all of your creative confidence and might surprise and delight the client.

sarcastic t-shirt

Font usage is a huge part of design. If you are required to use a specific font family, ask for access rather than acquiring it on your own. There can be many different versions and you’ll want to use the exact requirement. If you’re lucky enough to have flexibility, then ask the client what general styles they like, as in scripts, serifs, or sans serifs. Better yet, come up with a medley for them to choose from.

jean business t-shirt

Brand guidelines will likely include the color palette. Some are very specific with Pantone colors; make sure the preferred t-shirt printer has the capacity to match Pantone colors. If the t-shirt blank is part of the overall design effect and needs to be a very specific shade, communicate this to them so they can have time to source a suitable product. If the client is vague with color direction and simply states, blue on white, try to coax some detail out of them concerning the hue. Is it electric blue, navy, cornflower, or more turquoise? When creating your designs, remember that some colors are only available for web. Also the different printed products may have some variation in the color contrast. If you’re not limited by brand guidelines, offer variations of color combinations. This is especially pertinent if the client plans to sell or giveaway the t-shirts. Not everyone is fan of certain color combinations so allowing people to pick and choose from a diverse collection could increase the acceptance and resell probability.

creative bird design tshirt

If the client has chosen a red t-shirt, be mindful of issues like dye migration if you’re working with a white design print. The t-shirt printer should be able to discuss these potential issues in detail and offer expert advice. Being a professional, it’s your job to think and ask about these eventualities that don’t even occur to the client. First impressions are everything and making a positive presentation can lead to repeat business and referrals.

Choose graphics with discretion because it needs to work to achieve the purpose of disseminating an idea, feeling, or concept related to the brand’s message. There have been some disastrous instances of designs looking like something completely unintentional. If you’re not sure about it, ask a trusted friend to give their opinion. Sometimes a different perspective can identify design flaws.

It’s quite rare for your first proofs to be accepted by the client with no changes or feedback. In most cases there will be several rounds of adjustments and tweaks. It would be prudent to state the number of edits you’re willing to do without increasing the cost of the job during your initial conversation.

Outputting the final artwork in the correct format is critical. Depending on the design settled upon, you may be delivering vector files or if going with digital, it will be 300 dpi PDF. Covert your fonts to outlines, otherwise your design may print incorrectly. A pro tip, make sure to keep your original version intact in case of last minute edits.

If you’re unsure of the final result, a test print can requested but usually at additional cost. If the final piece is going to be screen printed and you want to see what a screen print will look like, then be sure to communicate that to your printers. Otherwise you’ll likely get a digital print since that’s the most cost effective route for one-off prints. Be prepared to pay a significant amount for a single screen printed sample since there is a lot of cost in producing screens and setting up a press. We deduct the cost of this kind of test from your finalized order.

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