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The Fine Print: Let's talk about tees!

Artist or Designer? The Difference in the Custom T-Shirt Business

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Do you consider yourself an artist or a designer when you approach an idea for new custom t-shirts? What’s the difference? An artist is someone who creates art for the sake of beauty, emotion, reaction, and aesthetics. A designer creates with the intent of fulfilling the vision from whoever has enlisted their services for design.

An artist creates for themselves which is not necessarily to be viewed as selfish, but rather they create because they must, it’s in the blood. The direction in which they take their art is defined by something that comes from within and is usually very personal. A designer is typically given direction, or expected to stay within the confines of some sort of structure. That structure might be defined by the vibe of a brand, corporate colors, and other specific s for brand identity or the message the patron is trying to convey through the designers finished work.

Starting out in the t-shirt design business, you may consider yourself either an artist or a designer. If you are successful, you’re likely to become both as new opportunities are presented. There are wildly successful t-shirt design artists that don’t have to bend to indulge clients. Shepard Fairey is perhaps one of the best known, but his success is certainly one of talent but also a good helping of being in the right place at the right time, with the right messaging. Not everyone is going to have this kind of lighting strike momentum in their career.

Obviously you’ve considering the custom t-shirt business because you’re creative, have vision, and believe in your own ideas. To design a shirt that will resonate with a large enough audience to become profit making is another story. Self-expression through your t-shirt design will be some part of your final product even if it’s created in the mode of being a designer.

What are the tenants of a successful artist? It is drive, passion, and of course talent. Money is probably not your biggest motivation but of course you’d like to be able to make a living by doing what you love. If you’re like many budding t-shirt artists you might be amazed and appalled by what the fashion industry considers t-shirt design. It seems as if established fashion designers can throw anything on a t-shirt and sell it for $80 or more and people fall all over their selves to buy it. This type of “design” is typically to make a political or social statement and they have the branding power to command a high price tag. Their fans want to be seen as trend setting and in the know.

These are the people that have made it and to some degree may be seen to rest on their laurels. But what got them there? True passion for creating art and designing is critical. If you want to get into t-shirt design because it’s an easy way to make money, you’re dead wrong. Without the passion for artistic design, you’re soon going to fall flat and so will your designs. The world only needs so many quippy slogans on a t-shirt. True artistic appeal comes from being able to pick the right font combinations, the right color combinations, playing on an idea thoughtfully combining messages to blend cohesively within the design.

Some artistic abilities can be learned and perfected through practice and repletion but a true eye for design is something you either have or do not. If you don’t have it, you probably don’t have a passion for creating art.

Continuously working and improving upon your craft is going to be essential. Surrounding yourself with similarly passionate people in the design world is a key to keeping up your energy and drive to improve upon your own design abilities. If you don’t currently have a circle of people like this in your life you can take illustration classes, go to Meetup’s for designers, or branch out to other groups of artists like film makers, musicians, even writers. Finding inspiration doesn’t always have to be black and white. A lot of creative mediums overlap and you may find applying some concepts of alternative creative mediums to t-shirt designing invigorating.

Having confidence is yourself is an admirable quality but humility can open lots of doors. When looking to align yourself within a community of artists to share ideas and get inspiration, or perhaps even mentorship from really successful artists, make sure your tenacity doesn’t become a turn-off to making valuable connections.

An appetite for success is coupled with a really strong work ethic. To be any type of designer, let alone a t-shirt designer in an overwhelmingly competitive market, you’re going to need to work at it really hard. Likely that’s going to mean a lot of free work that you do just to get your designs out there. You’re going to need the capability, creativity, and tons of designs to do this.

Breaking into t-shirt design for businesses and brands will require a portfolio. How do you build a professional t-shirt design portfolio when just starting out? You can try to offer your services for free or dirt cheap. With the popularity of t-shirt design contests this might be harder than you think. Plus there are artists that do design work for free already on sites like Design Crowd. But this isn’t the death of passionate artistry. The lucky thing is not every business owner knows about these types of web sites and if you approach someone in person rather than being a random person on the web, you have a far better chance of developing a relationship that could result in referrals and repeat business.

What types of businesses or entities could use a t-shirt designer? Schools always need new designs for a variety of reasons like athletic teams, school council, prom, graduation, clubs, plays, and musical events. If you find that you get the boot from larger schools, try approaching smaller businesses like summer camps, dance and ballet schools.

Breweries are a great business type to approach especially for a really creative challenge. Craft beer breweries especially are looking for designs that are very unique. Churches frequently require t-shirt designs as do gyms, mom and pop restaurants, sororities, and fraternities.

Building your portfolio is going to require an online presence which translates into your own website. Don’t simply depend on Instagram being your portfolio. Never solely depend on any free resource to house your portfolio. Make sure you store your pictures and designs of your work in your own files in case something happens to make accessing your account impossible.

When you begin to have success you may find yourself in the position of recommending a custom t-shirt screen printer to fulfill an order. While recommending a friend that needs the work is a nice thing to do, you don’t want that recommendation to reflect poorly on you after all your hard work. If you have any doubts on their ability to fulfill an order to the client’s expectation, sourcing the perfect t-shirt product, and executing the print flawlessly and affordably, you should look to experts with decades of experience in the custom apparel printing business. Design A Shirt can fulfill any size order from a single t-shirt for a test print to orders that require thousands of pieces. Not only can we print large and small orders, we’re also experts in a variety of print methods that may be required to fulfill the end product including four color process, discharge, spot color printing, and digital printing, all at affordable prices including free 10-day delivery.

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