Fonts can make or break a t-shirt design. It all comes down to how you want the t-shirt design to impact the person wearing it and viewing it. Does it effectively communicate the message or the brand’s perspective? Will the wearer feel proud of the design? Do you want the t-shirt to be worn for years or will people use it to wash their car next month? Choosing the right font or combination of fonts can have a huge impact on how your t-shirt design will be received by the person intended to wear it.
It’s well worth your time to be choosey when making a decision about what font(s) to use. If you’re a seasoned designer, you’re likely familiar with many fonts and have amassed a library to choose from but keep in mind, what translates well in a digital sphere doesn’t necessarily translate as well on a t-shirt design. If you’re new to t-shirt design, taking the time to review and apply lots of different fonts to your design is worth the trouble to find the perfect combination.
Fonts can vary moderately or dramatically and they influence the readability and comprehension of the message. The size of font you use in your t-shirt design can also impact emotions and feelings of connectivity. Your choice of font can even impact how people perceive the credibility behind the message. For example, a serious message delivered using Comic Sans is going to feel less legitimate than if you used Ariel. This is something that should be heavily weighted if you’re designing for a nonprofit, hospital, or government agency.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule. If the message is meant to appeal to or represent a specific segment of society the font can be fun even if it’s representing an entity that is normally conservative. Some examples are, a design for children’s hospital event, a nonprofit that is putting on event to raise funds for a children’s cause, or a government agency looking to communicate to children.
In some cases, even familiarity with a font can impact how the message is received. It makes sense, if someone is familiar with a font, it’s easier to read and digest the message, so keep that in mind if you’re design needs to be text heavy.
When choosing a font, the majority are designated in two distinct ways, serif and sans serif. There is also cursive and brush, and the last category of decorative. The decorative segment houses every font outlier that is non-traditional. Use of these fonts is of course personal preference. Serif and sans serif are traditionally used for smaller text but are not attention grabbers. Script, brush, and those that fall under the category of decorative are more popular for t-shirt designs because they are more stimulating as a headline. That’s not say you can’t incorporate serif and sans serif into the design. They are often used in conjunction with decorative for some elements of the design. This is a traditional standard when designing across all types of print and display channels.
In many cases though, using serif and sans serif fonts alone can have a stimulating effect. This is true particularly when the message is brief and therefore can be printed very large on the shirt. There are many famous examples of designs that use only one basic font printed large across the t-shirt. Nike, Choose Life, Frankie says RELAX, Keep Calm and Carry On, and the Helvetica list shirt are a few examples. In fact minimalist design offers a soothing aesthetic that is typically associated with newer brands.
There is something very calming about plain lettering surrounded by negative or white space that allows the viewer to focus simply on the message. Simple design can transmit an expectation for the experience with the company or brand that conveys the relationship will be easy, accessible, and honest. Fat round serif fonts can emulate cheeriness or and sense of fun.
Ask yourself the following questions to help narrow down your font choices. Who are you designing this t-shirt for? If you’re designing for a sorority, look for fresh, modern, and creative fonts. If you’re designing for a tech company, stick with clean and easy to read fonts. If you’re designing for a construction company, look for bold and rugged font that will convey solidity and reliability.
What is the end goal of this t-shirt design? Are you trying to gain trust? Avoid overly decorative fonts and stick to Plain Jane’s. Are you trying to be fun or cute? Decorative and rounded fonts can communicate this sentiment.
What is more valuable, the design aspect or the ability to read the message? This will dictate whether you use script and decorative fonts or serifs. Not that all script fonts are challenging when it comes to legibility but to go super scripty, a person may need to have a few seconds to process it. Depending on all the elements that need to go into the design, you could find a compromise by making the script a larger font than other aspects of the design.
We offer t-shirt designers a good selection of fonts to use in their designs but with all the fonts available on the web today, you may find others you can use if you have access to design software like Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator. Here are a few of our favorites available in our design studio that we commonly see used in our customers designs.