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1. Best practices for creating effective t-shirt designs

9 T-shirt design ideas that will sell in 2023

If there's one piece of clothing that almost everybody loves, it's the t-shirt. In fact, T-shirt sales are expected to generate sales of $44.56 billion in 2023 alone.

But while offering t-shirts through your online business may be a no-brainer, coming up with shirt design ideas can be trickier. That's why we've put together a list of ideas to help get your creative gears turning.

From events and holidays to brand identity designs, we'll cover what you need to turn any occasion into a prospective shirt design. We'll also cover best practices for turning your creative ideas into lucrative products.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • As an online business owner, it's important to familiarize yourself with the rules and best practices of t-shirt design.

  • The key to a successful print on demand t-shirt business is to understand your audience and what appeals to them.

  • When it comes to T-shirt design, it's possible to find inspiration in everything from holidays and special occasions to your favorite sports or hobbies.

Best practices for creating effective t-shirt designs

tshirt designs

If you're just getting started as a freelance designer, there are several key points you'll need to learn to set yourself up for success. From laws to best practices, here are a few things you'll want to understand before bringing your t-shirt design ideas to life.

  • Copyright and trademark laws: Unless you plan to create your own original designs, then it's incredibly important to familiarize yourself with what it is and isn't legal to print on a t-shirt design. Copyright and trademark laws can protect everything from movies and music to logos and phrases, so if you plan to replicate someone else's work, it's important to get their permission first. However, there are a few notable exceptions, including parodies and public domain (created before 1923) works.

  • Understand your target audience: As any experienced online business owner can tell you, the key is to find ways to set yourself apart from the crowd. Take the time to really understand your target audience and what types of designs, color schemes, and messaging would relate to them. For instance, if you cater to a specific niche, such as business owners, you might consider offering custom on-brand t-shirt design services to your clients.  

  • Use high-quality images and graphics: When it comes to uploading any images or graphics you plan to use on your t-shirt design, make sure to use high-resolution files. You'll want to shoot for at least 300 PPI to ensure your shirt doesn't look pixelated upon printing.

  • Pick the right colors: T-shirts come in a wide range of colors, which is something you'll want to consider when designing your logo, typography, and other elements. Make sure you consider how the colors you use will complement both each other and the background color of the shirt itself. It's also best not to go overboard, as using too many colors or clashing colors can be off putting.

Keep it simple:  When it comes to shirt design, remember that you only have so much space. It's best to keep your design simple so that the aesthetic doesn't come across as overwhelming, cluttered, or difficult to read.

Nine top t-shirt design ideas

Graphic design inspiration is all around us! The key for designers is knowing how to look for it.

If you're just starting out, make it a point to increase your awareness of the type of clothing people are wearing each time you go out. Train yourself to notice examples of different trends, branding, and other style designs that seem to be popular at the moment.

As you identify trends that might appeal to your customers, use your creativity to incorporate the same elements into your own unique designs. Let's take a look at several different places and situations where you're likely to find plenty of customers in search of a fun shirt design!

1. T-shirts for businesses

business tshirts

From restaurants to corporations, businesses can make for great customers. Many businesses have employees wear the same t-shirt as part of their uniforms and will place bulk orders for shirts featuring their logo.

Even high-end corporations often have shirts made for their company retreats, featuring anything from slogans to product-based designs. Others may be in search of designs that highlight their company's culture or value.

Don't be afraid to do a little networking, as you may even find a local business or company that would happily take advantage of your t-shirt design skills. An additional perk of doing business locally is that it can be much easier to get permission to use a logo when you know the business owner.

2. T-shirts for schools

schools tshirts

Schools are a great place to find customers in need of multiple t-shirt designs each year! Students of all ages often love to wear cool t-shirts featuring their school logo or mascot, as do parents and teachers.

If you get into the good graces of a certain school, they might even have you create a new shirt design for each special event or school dance throughout the year. Schools also tend to order bulk orders of shirts for different sports teams or even graduating classes.

T-shirt designs featuring the logos of different colleges or universities can also be incredibly popular among a larger base of customers. Just make sure you get the school's permission to use their branding.

3. T-shirts for events

events tshirts

Who doesn't love commemorating a special event with a tee designed to mark the occasion? Special events come in all shapes and sizes and can include things like:

  • Concert and festival-inspired designs

  • Conferences

  • Family reunions

  • Charity and fundraising events

As you may have guessed, it may be easier to get permission for some event t-shirt design ideas than others. For example, it's highly unlikely you'll face any copyright issues if a customer requests that you create t-shirts for their family reunion.

Things like concerts and festivals can be a bit trickier, depending on the originality of the art and typography you plan to use. When in doubt, reach out to the event's organizers to secure permission to use any design elements that may be in question.

4. T-shirts for causes

tshirts causes

Using fashion as a way to get behind your favorite causes can be a great way to get noticed by customers who identify with the same values. Look no further than the latest movement to find examples of people wearing the same shirt to show solidarity or spread awareness about their favorite causes.

Your next brilliant shirt design could be inspired by the following:

  • Environmental causes

  • Social justice causes

  • Animal welfare causes

  • Humanitarian causes

  • Political causes

When creating shirt design ideas that focus on causes, you may also want to integrate elements that demonstrate your own support. For instance, if your business is eco-friendly, you might consider offering organic shirts or matching tote bags to encourage customers to use less plastic while grocery shopping.

5. T-shirts for special occasions

T-shirt designs are a fun way to mark major milestones and can make great souvenirs for a variety of different occasions. Offering to customize different designs can be a great way to help customers celebrate.

Here are some fun shirt design ideas that your business could offer:

  • Wedding-themed designs for the bridal party and guests

  • Designs for bachelor and bachelorette parties

  • Anniversary and birthday-themed designs

  • Graduation and career milestone-themed designs

  • Baby shower and pregnancy announcement designs

If you already have a design (or a few!) on hand for each occasion, customization is often no more difficult than having your customer choose the message and typography. If you have the time and resources, you can also choose to offer exclusive shirt design options for an added fee.

6. T-shirts for holidays

holiday tshirts

Holidays can inspire plenty of great t-shirt design ideas all year round! Whether you choose to focus on a few of your favorite holidays or create a shirt design for each, it's possible to build a customer base that keeps coming back each year to check out your latest design for holidays like:

  • Christmas

  • Halloween

  • Thanksgiving

  • Valentine's Day

  • Fourth of July

  • Easter

  • St. Patrick's Day

One advantage of holiday t-shirt design is that it caters to an endless range of ideas and approaches. When designing a shirt for a specific holiday, you can use graphic art, bold lettering, or a mixture of both.

While there's no right or wrong approach to developing your own unique idea, you'll usually have a better look if you can find a way to make your design stand out. Humor can go a long way toward making your designs unique, as can catering to specific niches.

For instance, if your brand tends to cater to pet owners, you might consider creating a Christmas shirt featuring animals dressed in Santa hats or surrounded by Christmas lights. Think about your audience and what type of art they might get a kick out of during the holidays.

7. T-shirts for musicians and bands

bands tshirts

If you happen to know any up-and-coming musicians, then offering your shirt design services can be a great move! Printing t-shirts to offer fans at concerts, tours, or other live events can help a band market its music and create a sense of community among fans.

If a band or musician has yet to develop their own logo, you might even offer to help design one for an extra fee. The more people who start wearing their shirts, the more eager your musical clients will likely be to order your services again in the future.

You can offer to keep the fresh designs coming for ideas like:

  • Band logo t-shirts

  • Tour t-shirts

  • Album art t-shirts

  • Limited edition t-shirts

  • Collaborative t-shirts (i.e., with other bands/artists)

If you develop a solid relationship with a musical act, you might even ask if they know any other musicians who are in the market for a shirt design. You might also ask if they'd like you to contact venues where they plan to play to ask if they'd be interested in purchasing merchandise to sell.

8. T-shirts for pop culture

tshirts pop culture

While printing a shirt design based on pop culture can be a great way to cash in on a current trend, it's one area where copyright law can get very tricky. In general, it's illegal to sell a design that directly reproduces art, images, or even sayings from movies, TV shows, or any other type of media without permission.

Printing a shirt design featuring a celebrity's image without their permission is also a big no-no. There are, however, a few ways a designer can take advantage of the latest trends legally.

The best way is to create a parody design that references a common piece of pop culture without actually replicating it. Etsy is full of t-shirt design ideas that artists created by putting a funny spin on pop culture references, making it a great place to get an idea of what this tactic entails.

Another approach is to put a funny spin on really retro pop culture references. Copyright laws don't tend to apply to works created before 1923, so things like Shakespeare quotes or artwork like the Mona Lisa all fall within the public domain.

9. T-shirts for sports

tshirt sports

Sports teams of all sizes are almost always in the market for t-shirts, both for players and fans alike. Don't be afraid to reach out to different sports teams to see if they're in need of a cool new shirt design.

Let them know you can help them print a shirt for a variety of different situations, such as:

  • Sports event t-shirts

  • Team t-shirts

  • Individual t-shirts for players to wear

  • Championship t-shirts

  • Stadium t-shirts

You can also develop a t-shirt around a certain sport in general. From popular sports like basketball and football to niche sports like roller derby or jiu-jitsu, catering to sports lovers can be a great way to scale your brand.

Start selling t-shirts online with Shopify and Gelato

As you can see, it's possible to find t-shirt design ideas almost anywhere. Whether you enjoy creating shirts themed around certain holidays, causes, or events, there's an audience out there for you.

The important thing is to get to know your audience and what interests them. Not only will this help you sell more products, but it will remind you that your clients are always a great source of inspiration for t-shirt design ideas.

Additionally, keep in mind the importance of creating designs that are high-quality and visually pleasing. Ready to get started?

Gelato is ready to help you turn your idea into a fashion trend today. Choose from a full line of t-shirt selections for both women, men, and babies/kids, then sit back and relax while we take care of everything from printing to delivery.

Gelato is the only print on demand supplier that localizes production on demand, partnering with over 130 providers in 32 countries. Our network allows creators and ecommerce sellers to reach new markets and quickly scale their businesses while reducing production costs, product waste, and environmental impact. It's a win-win for business owners and the planet.

Gelato also offers a full suite of APR and ecommerce integrations for sites like Etsy, Shopify, WooCommerce, Wix, Squarespace, and BigCommerce. You come up with the design, and we'll handle the rest! Sign up for a free account with Gelato today!


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