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The Fine Print: Let's talk about tees!

2018 Digital T-Shirt Printing and Design Predictions

2018 promises to be a very exciting year for graphic design as concepts continually push boundaries. As with all art, influences come from every angle including politics, scientific advancements, sociological upheaval, and popular culture. 2018 will be anything but tame when it comes to visual representations across artistic mediums including t-shirt graphics.


The glitch effect is sizzling hot right now in graphic design. Distortion used to be something that a designer would avoid but an appetite to recreate the glitchy look of 80’s and 90’s VHS tapes has hit the graphic design world by storm. Maybe it’s the desire to celebrate imperfection or maybe it’s a fascination with all things retro. It could also stem from the world of video games and the explosion of eGame spectatorship. Whatever the root of this trend, we think it’s pretty cool if executed right. For t-shirt prints featuring this effect and almost every other design trend we’re outlining in this post, we recommend going for digital t-shirt printing all the way.


Deconstruction is a big part of design aesthetics being experimented with right now. Revealing what lies beneath the skin and breaking out components of a composition to incorporate surprise elements will be seen in full force. Tattered and ripped collage ensembles, paint splashes, the application of doodles or graffiti, or other layers that add interest and depth will be on display across all types of design.

Color Channel

Color channel manipulation is shifting the red, green, or blue channel of an image while leaving the composite channel intact. It can easily be done in Photoshop by making a copy of the original image then double clicking to access the channels and deselecting the R, G, or B channel then selecting all, choosing transform, alt and drag from one of the anchors. The artistry comes from choosing a photo that will translate well using this manipulation.

Double Exposure

Double exposure will still be going strong in 2018 and who can doubt the powerful impact this graphic design style has on the viewer. Complex concepts can be translated into imagery using this sophisticated trend.

Duotone Double Exposure

Duotone double exposure is a heady hybrid incorporated both color channel manipulation and double exposure to create dizzying effects. The effect is reproduced by combining two photos of the same subject or even combining a single subject with an animal.


Typography is just about as old of an art form as it comes. Making the written word in and of itself, art, is a trend that is still going strong in 2018. For this type of manipulation, making the typography style representative of the word it’s spelling out has high impact.

Cropped Font

Cropped fonts continue to be intriguing this year requiring the viewer to do a double take to read the message. In minimalist design scenarios, the effect goes a long way to influence the message.

Negative Space Typography

Negative space typography mixes background elements with the text while leaving lots of clean areas around the design to bring the focal point to the message.

Illustrations Over Photos

Illustrations blended with photographs are going to elevate the look of photography and extend the horizons of how brands communicate concepts and products.

Hand Drawn Illustrations

Hand drawn graphics will never really gone out of style but in 2018 rustic throwbacks to classic illustration will be making a big splash.

Geometric Design

Geometric design continues in influence this year with bright colors and patterns particularly low poly designs like this colorful squid example.

How Pantone’s Color of the Year Influences Designers

Pantone color of the Year

2018’s Pantone Color of Year was announced last December and it’s beautiful! Meet Ultra Violet, 18-3838. While having a color of the year may sound ostentatious to some, it’s amazing just how much influence Pantone’s Color Institute and Matching System has upon all types of designers, whether it is interior design, product design, or fashion.


If you’re at all familiar with the pitfalls of color translation between different production mediums like t-shirt printing, business card printing, or outdoor sign manufacturing, you’ll recognize the value of the Pantone Color Matching System.

Ultra-Violet t-shirt design

The system was established in 1963 in response to the difficulties experienced with color management in the printing industry. Colors, tints, and hues were coded by number in a fan book of swatches with the percentages of Pantone colors required to reproduce specific colors.

The Pantone Color Institute helps brands decide how to convey core concepts through the use of color. They’ve famously collaborated with Tiffany’s for Tiffany Blue and A&E Network for Bates Motel Blue. They do a lot of work in regards to market research to learn how people respond to colors and particularly how attitudes change over time. Understanding color perceptions and trends is their business.

ultra-violet dress

The first Color of the Year started at the end of 1999 as a way for the Pantone Color Institute to provide a creative compass for designers around the globe. It sheds light upon mood and sentiments discovered in their research and are meant to bring definition to these points of view.

Not surprisingly, the announcement of the Color of the Year is regarded as an impetus for creatives all over the world to produce, manufacturer, and design using this color. Pantone further inspires with the release of complimentary color palettes conceived to flatter the core color.

ultra-violet shoes

What does the Pantone Institute say in regards to the inspiration behind Ultra Violet? It’s the usher of “What is to come.” It conveys the demand for uniqueness, a depth of meaning, and luxurious spirituality. It is representative of a time and place where science and mysticism come together to fascinate and inform.

The color purple has historically been associated with royalty and exclusivity. It was derived from small mollusks that only live in a distinct area of the Mediterranean Sea and vast quantities needed to be harvested to produce even one gram of the dye. Producing shades of purple in the ancient world was exotic and exorbitant.


It was typically only worn by the very wealthy and became associated with rulers. Because ancient rules in Egypt, Rome, and Persia presented themselves as gods or anointed by God, the color likewise became connected to mysticism and spirituality.

Even into the Elizabethan era, the color was restricted to the ruling class through sumptuary laws that defined your level in society by what colors and materials could be used to create a person’s garments.

Science paved the way for all classes to garb themselves in this seductive color in the mid-19th century. A chemist discovered a synthetic compound that could be used to dye fabric opening an affordable way to commercialize the color.

The color is still known as signature for late rock and pop icons, Jimi Hendrix and Prince.


How can you use the Color of the Year in a meaningful way that’s relative to your business? Try incorporating the color within design elements of your next business t-shirts order. It can either be the focal point or appear as an accent to the overall design. Checkout some of the color palettes developed for Ultra Violet that might trigger inspiration. Be sure to add the exact Pantone code in printing notes so we can print using your specified colors.

How Colors Hook, Convince, and Persuade


Colors can cause emotional triggers that help your custom t-shirt message stand out in an environment where sensory overload is experienced almost constantly. Colors have such an impact on people that it can persuade, convince, and hook observers to feel what you are attempting to make them feel, and persuade them to take action. The wrong colors and color combinations can negatively impact you message to such a degree that your message will be ignored by all but the most observant of individuals.

To delve into the mysterious psychological impact of color, we have to start at the beginning which is color theory. The foundations for all colors are the Primary Colors, red, blue, and yellow. From this origin all other colors and hues are derived.

primary colors

Tertiary Colors are the result of combing unequal parts of a Primary Color to a Secondary Color resulting in a hue that is close to, but not a pure rendition of the Primary Color.

Colors are also defined by temperature such as cool (blue, green, and purples) and warm (yellow, orange, and red) colors.

color wheel

Contrasting colors are colors that are opposites on a color wheel. The level of contrast will dictate how easily your message can be consumed and can be one of the most debated topics when it comes to designing with a professional graphic artist. High or low contrasting color combinations define how well your image or message stands out from the background. The background can be another design element or even the color of t-shirt you choose to print on.

The level of contrast is not dictated simply because your design features two different colors, what matters for contrast is the level of variation in the tone. For the most important elements of the design or message on the t-shirt, use high contrast color combinations. However when the entirety of the design is high contrast this can cause the opposite effect. If everything is important, nothing is important.

Similarly if everything is low contrast or tone on tone, the message becomes hard to read even if it makes an attractive piece. While good design warrants you’ll have an attractive image, you must insist your designer comply with the rule of contrast for the most important elements of the t-shirt.

Picking winning color combinations is simpler than you might think. It’s because people actually respond better to simplicity especially when absorbing a message. Each color conveys meaning and emotion so overindulgence in colors could cause unnecessary confusion.

Opposites attract both in real life scenarios and in design. Complementary colors are on the opposing side of the color wheel and exude contrast naturally. Choosing complimentary colors creates a complex balance that supports the need for contrast and the ability to consume. However 100% complementary colors making up the entirety of the design can have a jarring impact. You can include two opposites and a single additional hue (this is a split complimentary color) that is similar to one or the other to find a harmonious symmetry.

An analogous pallet is one where the colors sit next to each other on the color wheel. While this color scheme does not have high contrast, it can be used in a design as long as the power words or graphics are in a high contrasting color for punch. Analogous color combos can be soothing and relaxing.

Monochromatic palettes are derived from a single color represented in varying shades, tones, or hues. While probably the most subdued of all color combos, when married with a primary of high contrast, it can produce a design that is both impactful and attractive.

The colors we choose have a direct impact on the psyche and behavior of the observer. When you think about it, where do we look when our eyes are tired and need to rest? Likely blue, gray, or soft white is a calming choice. While how a person perceives colors is informed by past experiences and associations, the science of color psychology can be generally interpreted as the following:

color red

Red is a strong color which is an attention grabber and can also invoke feelings of anger, power, excitement, and even aggression. When used sparingly, it draws the eye and makes the observer keenly aware of the focal point.

color orange

Orange imbues the strength of red with the cheery impact of yellow. It’s well known to have an impact on the appetite and is commonly used for restaurant menus and logos to stimulate hunger. It’s also one of the least favorite colors when people choose apparel so be careful when considering it as a t-shirt background for your design.

color yellow

Yellow is the color of joy and happiness. This color invokes positivity and possibility. Its brightness makes it a great choice for high impact on a dark shirt. Use this color for the main crux of your message.

color green

Green is one the most common colors of our native environment so it’s no surprise it’s perceived as harmonious and natural. Any design that’s looking to invoke a feeling of connection and belonging should feature this color.

color blue

Blue is another color that exists in vast quantities in our environment and has a de-stressing impact on moods. The tranquility of blue lends itself to be used widely in business messaging because it conjures emotions of trust and relaxation.

color purple

Purple is an exotic color that is historically related to royalty and mysticism. While it can make a powerful statement in contrast to white, orange, and yellow, use this color in small doses or as a background since it can be distracting.

color pink

Pink has the psychological impact of tenderness and love. It’s most notably used as an identifying color for breast cancer awareness. While feelings of love and tenderness may be what you’re looking to express, too much can be seen as childish.

color brown

Brown is probably the least desirable color for graphic design unless you’re looking to appeal to the need of stability and constancy like the ground we walk upon.

color black

Black is the absence of light and is frequently used for luxury messaging. It provides a fantastic background for almost every color due to its potential for high contrast. It can also be overpowering so use with caution.

color white

White is an antiseptic color for feelings that make it okay to be vulnerable. It relates purity and innocence and can be successfully contrasted with almost every color. The danger of white is that it can be perceived as too sterile.

What could possibly go wrong with event swag?

timing for promotional products

Getting your swag in order for a big event is just one of the numerous moving parts that are involved in event planning and execution. It’s easy to assume many vendors of such marketing material will be able to produce your order in no time but custom event swag actually does require planning and providing lots of detailed information to your vendor to turn the order around flawlessly and most importantly, on time for show time. To avoid becoming a statistic of bad planning here is our guide to avoid missteps when ordering custom t-shirt giveaways, business gifts, and promotional items for events.

Look for promotional product companies and t-shirt printers that can offer solutions to your marketing swag needs. You need to be confident that your high end embroidered items will be legible and any screen printed items will do your company proud. These items will represent your company and will also be an indication of how you perceive the recipient. Who wants their company to be viewed as cheap or their gifts to be seen as last minute and thrown together? Promotional products can be last minute but if you’re working with a true professional company, no one needs to know that.

embroidery thread

Embroidery is a service that requires more time than screen printing so if you’re considering this as an option for decoration for your event swag, give yourself and your vendor enough lead time. Embroidery can actually be quite complicated and here’s why. Not all logos are easy to translate into stitches especially when reproducing on small areas. Some of the details may become illegible and in some cases, there simply is no other alternative than to adjust the logo to exclude some details or to make the logo bigger. Look for a company that does their embroidery in-house and request a “sew out” or proof of the product before ordering numerous pieces. Listen to your sales representative. If they caution against the product you want to have embellished or tell you something’s probably not going to work or look good, it’s because they have experience in this decoration method.

We have our own on site embroidery department with many years of collective knowledge to be able to offer expert advice and suggestions to ensure your embroidered promotional items will be sought-after giveaways.

Timing is everything for custom promotional products like t-shirts, totes, and hats. Under ideal circumstances you would have all the time in the world to plan for your event but sometimes surprises or opportunities come up like a last minute deal for an expensive or sold-out trade show. If you ever find yourself in a hurried situation to get event swag produced first look for a vendor that offers rush order options. For example we offer three different shipping options, one in as little as 3 business days. If it’s at all possible, we’ve offered even quicker turnaround but it depends on where in the U.S. you’re located and if we can get blank product from our vendor same day. While it’s not idea for anyone, we try to bend when we can to make our customers love us.

Sizing expectations have the potential to cause issues because not all sizes are true across product lines and manufacturers. Even the same product sourced from two different countries can produce unexpected inconsistencies. Fits vary quite a bit depending on the cut of the product as well. A fitted medium will look and feel different from a standard tee so pay attention to the product description. If it mentions fitted, fashion, slim, or junior, this is not going to be as roomy or as universal as a standard fit.

event planning

When possible, it’s totally worth your time to ask for samples of the product in question. These do not usually come free but can be sent at fraction of what it would cost to buy the product in a retail environment. Seeing samples of the product beforehand can make the difference in how much your promotional apparel actually gets worn.

Your logo or slogan may present problems you would never have thought about when getting ready to have custom t-shirts printed for example. If you had the logo produced primarily for branding on paper or website marketing collateral, colors and special effects are no problem. However when printing on apparel, these can be expensive or problematic. Be sure to work with a printer that can offer alteration suggestions or logo redesigns to save you money and ensure your final product looks great on the product you pick.

Many companies have strict branding guidelines they need to adhere to for consistency and marketing integrity. Working with a professional screen printer should ensure you logo colors are translated properly for clear branding. Screen printers use the Pantone Matching System to professionally mix colors via formulas. Through use of this method, your logo colors will be precise on order after order. Beware of screen printers that do not use or are unfamiliar with this concept.

Some final recommendations on how to avoid last minute situations that can cause panic and stress are to start early. The more time you allow yourself, the more likely you will be okay in the event that a snag is hit like a product being discontinued or damaged products being shipped to the printer. Check any proofs sent diligently to make sure you and your printer are on the same page. Reply quickly when proofs or questions are sent to you. Hardly any screen printer will proceed with an order if there are unanswered questions on placement of design or design changes from year over year. Lastly review your receipt or invoice to check for things like shipping address and time of delivery. Will someone be available to receive the goods if shipping straight to an event?

Some issues are unavoidable or unforeseeable, but if you work with pros for your event t-shirts and promotional products, they should be able to guide you through the roughest of waters to pull it off in the end.