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The Fine Print: Let's talk about tees!

Online Custom T-shirt Printing – The Story of Why Came to Be

DesignAShirt early years

To round up the last of 2017, we want to share with our customers why we exist as a service, how the design studio came into being, and why we do business in the manner in which we do it. The story of is rooted in the idea of a kind of service that was needed, but few, if any were offering. Particularly at the level that was envisioned by John Anton, DesignAShirt’s creator and owner. That service was the capability to design a shirt online in the comfort of your office or home and have the custom printed t-shirt delivered to your door anywhere in the U.S. faster than any local printer could consistently deliver.

John Anton began his screen printing career in the 1980’s after he completed a Master’s degree in Marketing at ASU. Upon joining the corporate world after graduation, he quickly realized that was not his destiny. Being an entrepreneur with the freedom to innovate and operate a business defined by his personal convictions of how to treat customers and employees was the only path that made sense. He was going to make a mark on the world on his own terms.

At that time John already had great interpersonal skills which made it easy to establish relationships and networks to promote the value of custom apparel for advertising and building communities. But what he didn’t possess was the skill to actually produce the custom clothing. Becoming dissatisfied with length of time he sometimes had to make his customers wait for their orders using the services of a local printer, he decided to take matters into his own hands and produce the orders on his own.

The first screen printing press he purchased for this venture came recommended by a former business colleague that didn’t want the competition so his recommendation was a defective press. Once John realized the boards of the press were warped, he decided the attempt at sabotage wasn’t going to hold him back. Instead he adapted his screen printing method to negate the issues the warped boards introduced and engineered mechanical fixes to ensure his prints looked just as high quality as any printer operating a state-of-the-art press.

That first hurdle actually catapulted John’s artisanal screen printing skills since he had to work harder and think creatively. In the early days he was also working out of his home’s garage working to expand his business. Once the HOA found out, he had to find another location to fulfill his hard-won customer orders. The economy was in poor shape so banks downright refused to offer the 26-year old a loan.

Fortunately his family knew his determination and character and gladly risked co-signing for loans on a warehouse where he could grow his screen printing business. He strategically chose a location close to a major Phoenician thoroughfare, the 202, and ASU campus to make local order pickups convenient for his customers. John also called this warehouse home as he put in a shower and a bedroom. The former bedroom is now his office.

Two big customers changed John’s life and shaped the future which would lead to One was former ASU basketball coach, Bill Frieder, who trusted John to produce 5000 shirts. The other was Mike Carter of the Thunderbirds who needed sweatshirts for the Phoenix Open. These two influential customers allowed John to prove that he could produce high quality custom printed apparel, in large numbers, and deliver on time. It led to an order from Phoenix Children’s Hospital of 50,000 shirts, the largest order to date during the early years.

In 1987 John bought a fax machine which of course seems antiquated now, but at the time is was unheard of for a screen print shop to utilize this kind of technology and it quickly set him apart. By researching and implementing better ways to produce high quality printed t-shirts quickly, he revolutionized the Phoenix area screen printing industry by having his art department adopt the use of Corel Draw to produce digitized art ready for screen printing rather than the old school method of hand cutting art.

While screen printing equipment and methods evolved, the manners in which customers were able to interact with screen printers hadn’t changed much. This was so, even though the Internet was changing how people exchanged ideas and information. Placing an order for custom apparel was a laborious chore. Running a business efficiently and offering convenience to his customers is one of the core tenants of John’s business ethic. Consistently streamlining processes and recognizing the value of the pioneering spirit, he decided to commission the development of an online custom t-shirt design studio, one of the very first in North America. This was the birth of It was a risky investment, just after 9/11, but John’s business instincts guided him to the course of the future and that was ecommerce.

In the early 2000’s, software development was not anywhere near as prolific as it is today so to find people with expertise to develop this vision was a struggle. John and his team went through many developers trying to produce software that was intuitive and allowed users to creatively fulfill expectations for, customized apparel with the greatest convenience. The expense was staggering but it made John and early employees of DesignAShirt many of whom are still with the business today, all the more determined to make it work. made its debut online in 2003.

While online t-shirt printing websites are more common now, what has never changed about John and his staff at DesignAShirt is the belief in the importance of never disappointing customers. Care and pride of workmanship goes into every custom print. Even on our automatic presses, screen printing experts, some with decades of experience continuously review the process to ensure each and every print is perfect. Bulk orders may have the same design on each shirt but each shirt is an individually created work of art with the understanding the product has purpose for one our customers.

It remains essential that we make our customers look good and we produce t-shirts and other apparel products that are good for family, good for business, and good for team building. That’s the story of in 2017. We will continue to strive to innovate and make ordering custom t-shirts from our website an experience for our customers that remains memorable.

Why Limit your Custom T-shirt Order to a One-Size-Fits-All Mindset?

Conformist mindset

People order custom t-shirts from Design A Shirt for a lot of different reasons. We print t-shirts for family reunions, fundraisers and events of all kinds. In these situations, purchasing a single type of product is usually okay since the t-shirt fulfills a singular purpose for an event. But what if the purpose of ordering custom t-shirts is more for branding and promotion of a business?

Imagine this scenario. You own a local restaurant and have carefully curated a loyal following of locals that love your food and the atmosphere. They’re proud of your business and appreciative of the contribution your restaurant makes towards the enrichment of the community. Here is an opportunity for you to gain even more notoriety at a very low cost. Offer a way for your customers to support your brand by offering logoed apparel for sale.

Making branded apparel available to your customer base is a great way to engage your customers in a very personal way. Plus, when they wear your t-shirt, it’s as good as a word-of-mouth endorsement to their friends, neighbors, and family. When offering this type of promotional product, you should consider the value of offering different product types and here’s why.

Size and fit matters. A passionate customer might buy a piece of branded apparel from you but what good is that if they get home and don’t like how they look wearing the garment? If people don’t like what they see in the mirror, they’re not going to wear it no matter how much they like your business. Or worse, they could return it for a refund. People love t-shirts, and probably always will, but offering a variety of styles on different products ensures you’ll have something for everyone.

Bella unisex tee fit

There are different types of fits when it comes to custom apparel and it’s an important thing to consider. T-shirt manufacturers don’t all share the same pattern. There is a difference between unisex, men’s, women’s, juniors, and youth t-shirt products, and it’s not simply the size, it’s cut and fit. Some products offer more length as well for taller people.

When considering what types of t-shirt product to offer, consider who makes up your customer base. In the restaurant scenario, that’s going to be all kinds of people unless you operate in a hyper specific niche like vegan cuisine. If that is the case, offering you logoed apparel printed on an organic cotton tee would be a customer conscious decision. A gym might offer some choices for performance apparel. A salon operating near a college campus might offer some high fashion, trendy products from Bella or Lululemon.

You’re an expert in your business but you may not be an expert in what types of apparel products have the potential to appeal to your customers. Having been in the t-shirt printing business for over 14 years, we have the collective knowledge to offer many recommendations based upon your customer base and budget allowance.

T-shirt size and fit differences

Some t-shirt products may be marketed as unisex but that does not mean they will all fit like the Hanes Tagless Tee which a very well-known t-shirt product. An example is the Next Level Premium Fitted Crew. The key to understanding the fit is in the terminology used, “fitted.” Fitted tees taper from the shoulder to bottom hem to fit more snugly around the torso creating a slimmer silhouette. The style is considered more fashionable than the classic tee which is roomier in the torso area. However the classic fit can appeal to wider variety of body types.

Some of our customers may not be aware that mixing and matching products and even different product colors does not usually increase the cost of the print job. If the exact same design and ink colors are used, printing on a variety of different products is normally not a problem. Where it may become an issue is if mixing and matching products that are very different in product fabric content like performance wear and 100% cotton. In these scenarios, a screen of a different mesh would need to burned and used to execute the print which would incur an extra screen charge.

Blending a large variety of sizes can introduce the need for second size of art too. For example, if you wanted shirts that varied from youth size extra-small to adult 3 XL, the same size of art would not translate well across all of these sizes. Sized art that looks great on the youth size would appear undersized on the extra-large adult version and vice versa.

If you have a display where your custom apparel is shown, think about seasonal offerings as well. Offer several types of hoodies or sweatshirts in the fall and winter and men and women’s tank tops in the spring and summer. Classic t-shirts work year round for promotion.

The next time you think about promoting your business with branded custom tees, think about your customer and what types of clothing products would appeal to them. Also think about how you want your brand to be perceived. This should influence your choice for apparel products.

The Best Way to Prepare your Artwork for Custom T-shirt Printing

t-shirt idea

We offer tons of t-shirt design ideas as templates to show our customers what is possible to create for print in our design studio. But most of our t-shirt printing website visitors come to us with their design already in mind or prepared. Although we have artists that review each and every art submission to ensure the image will print perfectly, we realize the importance of educating our customers on the best way to prepare artwork for a custom t-shirt print. Here is a rundown of our professional knowledge on art preparation that will make you look like a rock star of t-shirt design.

Design using PMS colors

Most professional graphic designers work primarily in RGB or CMYK for web or printed publications, however to ensure spot on accuracy of your chosen colors, design your t-shirt using specific PMS colors. The reason behind this is Pantone colors are developed using precise formulas. These formulas were created with consistency in mind. If a screen printer is worth their salt, they will use this matching system and not “eyeball it” to match what looks close. CMYK colors are simulated to create the final output and will not be consistent to PMS so if you are creating a design that will be used across all types of advertising platforms and consistency matters, use PMS colors. Another advantage of PMS colors is a screen printer can simulate multiple colors through the use of halftones with one PMS color. If you’re looking for the biggest bang for your buck, talk to us about this method.

Pantone colors

Design your art as actual size

If you have a specific output size in mind, why not design it with these specs from the beginning? If you know the t-shirt product you’ll want for the print it doesn’t hurt to print out a full-sized image, cut it out, and stick it on the shirt to see exactly what it will look like when printed, that way there are no surprises. We’ve printed millions of custom t-shirts over the course of 14 years and always use our best judgement if we haven’t been given explicit instructions.

Vector art rules

We print a lot of t-shirt art that is submitted in raster format, meaning the image is made up of pixels but for a serious t-shirt artist, vector is the only way to go. Vectors consist of lines that are controlled by points and nodes. The beauty of vector art is that it can be scaled up or down to any size and never lose its clarity. Raster or bitmap images lose information each time the image is resized because it’s being recalculated to adjust to the new size. If you must use raster art, for a photo t-shirt as an example, it must be submitted at 300 dpi or higher to provide a high quality final t-shirt print. If you found the perfect foundational piece of clip art for your t-shirt design but it is in raster format to start with, it can be converted to vector, (we do this all the time as part of our printing services,) but be prepared to clean it up quite a bit in Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW.

Vector graphic for t-shirt

Always convert text to outlines

Awesome t-shirts designs will often feature a signature font that might represent the entirety of the design or be a critical part of the integrity of the design. When outputting your file from Adobe Illustrator or a similar vector program, always convert text to outlines so there is no chance your font is corrupted when digitally transferring the file. Converting to outlines turns your font into an image that cannot be altered. If you’re worried about the necessity of altering the design at a later date, like changing the year for future reprints, simply save a copy before converting your text.

Convert strokes to paths

This is similar to converting text to outlines except it has to do with objects in your t-shirt design. This ensures that your design stays exactly the way you created it without the worry that another program will handle strokes differently. Expanding the strokes before converting to paths is also beneficial to keep your design precise.

Be specific in your design and printing instructions

A perfectly executed t-shirt design is just part of the submission. Our design studio offers a great preview of what the final product should look like but specifics that cannot be visually represented should be communicated in the note areas of your order form. Some examples are an unusual placement, if you intend for the design to be off center, if you need a color replaced with another color, if the final print needs to be specific size, specific PMS color requests, two sizes of art for youth and adult sized blended orders, and removal of background. Basically anything you can think of that could possible impact the final print. While we don’t hesitate to reach out to our customers if we’re not clear on something, we don’t know what we don’t know and depend on your communication to provide a product that you’ll be delighted with.

Graphic desing programs

Designing custom t-shirts can be a rewarding experience whether you’re a seasoned designer or just starting out. Some t-shirt designs have become part of our culture and define periods in history. When you design a shirt, it has the potential to be seen by many people and hopefully will fulfil its purpose whether it is about advocacy, business promotion, or a fashion statement for a clothing brand. Submitting great artwork is the first step towards realizing the goal you have in mind for your t-shirt design.

12 Days of Christmas T-shirt Giveaway Design Ideas

We get really excited around the holiday season just like most people. Finding ways to delight our customers and make our brand the type of brand people can feel a connection with is an authentic goal for us at DesignAShirt. This is the 2nd year we’ve ran a promotion called The 12 Days of Christmas T-shirt Giveaway and although it’s not over yet, we want to give all of our readers an opportunity to see the designs we’ve come up.

Over the course of several weeks we went through hundreds of designs to settle on the 12 we’d use this year. Last year we came up with designs that we’re from all walks of life, events, and careers. This year we chose to stick to holiday only themed shirts. We hope you like them and if you get a chance follow us on Facebook and Instagram to be notified of your chance to win one!

Don't Open 'Till Christmas

The first t-shirt design we used for the 1st Day of our Christmas T-shirt Giveaway is really special to us because our Customer Service Manager, Jessie, is due to give birth this December to her second child. A Christmas baby is something very special and although we had some initial misgivings about using the design because it’s very specific, it’s turned out to be one of the most popular thus far in the giveaway. Who knew there would be that many expectant mothers due this December? One of our artists created several different versions of the bow that drapes across the belly and the Christmas tag all which are available to use in our design studio clip art. We added “Don’t open ‘till Christmas” using one of our standard fonts available in our custom t-shirt design studio. We can’t wait to meet Jessie’s new baby later this month!

Staching Through the Snow

Our second design for the 2nd Day of our Christmas T-shirt Giveaway is a mustache themed Christmas t-shirt. The facial hair phenomenon doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon and the waxed mustache has become an iconic symbol in the hipster culture. We also like to show our customers how using our design studio clip art in surprising and creative ways can lead to a very unique design. We copied and pasted the same piece of clip art and enlarged each copy just bit to build out a cascading mustache Christmas tree with a star topper. The added text, “Staching through the Snow” is a play on the lyrics of “Jingle Bells.”

It's the Most Wonderful Time for a Beer

Our third design for the 3rd Day of our Christmas T-shirt Giveaway is a beer theme. Obviously beer has been an important part of culture throughout history with roots as far back as the ancient Egyptians who primarily brewed it for its nutritional value. Today, beer brewing is diverse and many breweries strive to create unique, artisanal based recipes to stand out from the behemoths of the industry that often buy out smaller companies to keep their hold on the market. Craft beers are very popular in the Northwest United States but there are many thriving local breweries where our warehouse is located in Tempe, AZ. Some of which we proudly print custom t-shirts for. Understanding the cultural love for a good brew, we included this design because truly, the holiday season is the “Most Wonderful Time for a Beer.”

Oy to the World

Our fourth design for the 12 Days of Christmas T-shirt Giveaway is not Christmas themed at all but rather in recognition of non-Christian cultural systems and beliefs. We strive to be all-inclusive and wanted to provide a spotlight for our Jewish customer base. Embracing diversity is a core value at DesignAShirt. We debated whether to use a dreidel or the Star of David in the design and ultimately settled on the Star of David because we thought the dreidel was too commonly used to represent Hanukkah. The play on “Joy to the World” reading “Oy to the World” is simply our designer’s sense of humor.

The Christmas Cheer is Strong

Our fifth design for the 12 Days of Christmas T-shirt Giveaway is all about Star Wars and the release of The Last Jedi in mid-December. The Force is a metaphysical description of the power behind both good and evil in the Star Wars universe. Darth Vader stated “The force is strong with this one” in the very first Star Wars movie as he’s trying to blow up Luke Skywalker in an epic dog fight. We altered it to provide a holiday cheer twist and asked our biggest Star Wars fan to model the tee. Obviously she was delighted to do so since she got to keep the tee as compensation for modeling.

Best Gift Ever

Our sixth design for the 12 Days of Christmas T-shirt Giveaway was created for anyone with a newborn around the holiday season in mind. The photo opportunity alone is priceless. Imagine using this concept for Christmas greeting cards. One that family, especially the grandparents would love to receive. The design could also be used by people of all ages as a gag gift.

Let it Grow

Our seventh design for the 12 Days of Christmas T-shirt Giveaway is homage to the wild popularity of beards. A play on the Christmas song, “Let it Snow,” Let it grow is ideal for anyone that’s proud to be a member of beard culture. Our particular model has been growing his for more than three years so he’s the perfect person to represent with this tee.

Lit AF

Our eighth design for the 12 Days of Christmas T-shirt Giveaway is a joke t-shirt about drinking. For a lot of us the holidays are about having a good time. Good times can be enhanced with a little help from alcohol. We decided on this design because it incorporates the concept of holiday Christmas lights and drinking. The term, “AF” is somewhat socially acceptable replacement for words that many of us love to use and is pretty popular in custom t-shirt design currently.

Joyful, Merry, & Blessed

Our ninth design for the 12 Days of Christmas T-shirt Giveaway is a girly concept. “Joyful, Merry, & Blessed” is perfect for anyone wanting to exude the holiday spirit. We used three different fonts and Christmas coordinated colors to show how even simple words can be transformed into a fetching t-shirt design.

You Sit on a Throne of Lies

Our tenth design for the 12 Days of Christmas T-shirt Giveaway is based upon the massively popular Christmas movie, Elf, starring Will Ferrell. We are all big fans of the film so we created elf shoes and added them to our design studio along with a quote from the movie. Will Ferrell’s character, Buddy, is dismayed that a mall Santa is trying to impersonate the real deal and trick children into believing he’s the authentic Santa. He whispers to the mall Santa, “You sit on a throne of lies.” It’s just one of many memorable quotes we could have used but decided this one is unmistakable and will go down in the holiday movie hall of fame.

Wine Christmas

Our eleventh design for the 12 Days of Christmas T-shirt Giveaway is a play on the song, “White Christmas” but with wine as the dominate theme. We’ve added ugly Christmas sweater elements to enhance this fun Christmas t-shirt logo. Our model was an enthusiastic participant!

Gingerbread Boy

The final design for the 12 Days of Christmas T-shirt Giveaway is a funny shirt designed with photo opportunities in mind. Imagine seeing this post in one of your friend’s feeds this holiday season. It’s also a great concept for Christmas greeting cards. We created a gingerbread boy and gingerbread girl both of which are available in our design studio for your own personalized gingerbread child photo shoots.

Check out all of our Christmas themed holiday t-shirts in our Christmas T-shirt idea gallery. Customize your own by changing fonts, colors, and custom apparel products.