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1. Eight top t-shirt design tips

8 Expert t-shirt design tips for unique designs that sell

Did you know more than 7.2 billion t-shirts will be purchased in 2023? That’s almost enough t-shirts for the entire global population to wear, all sold in just one year! If you’ve recently begun a t-shirt business or have contemplated creating unique t-shirt designs to sell online, you might wonder how to participate in this historic market growth. The answer lies in your designs!

With the t-shirt market expanding worldwide, eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing t-shirt designs are a must to attract and retain customers and establish and scale a successful t-shirt business. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with eight expert t-shirt design tips (and must-have t-shirt ideas!) to help you create unique apparel customers would love to flaunt.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • Before you begin making t-shirts, you must consider the target audience who will be shopping for and purchasing the finished product.

  • An excellent t-shirt design must incorporate vivid imagery, high-quality graphics, and legible fonts with strategic placement across the t-shirt body.

  • Expert t-shirt design tips, such as leveraging color theory and high- or low-contrast designs, are integral to creating a cohesive finished product.

Eight top t-shirt design tips

Eight top t-shirt design tips

A profitable t-shirt business that can attract customers and drive long-term growth relies on the quality of its t-shirt designs. Before you begin drafting new t-shirt design ideas, consider the following best practices to optimize and enhance your design process. Once geared with these eight expert t-shirt design tips, you can begin cranking out top-selling designs in no time!

1. Design with your audience in mind

It’s easy to get so caught up in the glitz and glam of t-shirt design that you lose focus on the bigger (and more critical) picture: your customers! No matter how much you enjoy your t-shirt designs, they won’t sell if your customer base doesn’t love them too. So, it’s essential to design your t-shirts with your target audience in mind. First, do a deep dive into your target audience’s shared interests.

For instance, is your target audience pet owners or sports fans? Are they into pop culture or politics? A thorough understanding of their likes and dislikes allows you to create t-shirt designs that effectively align with their styles and messaging. Next, consider your audience’s demographics, such as age and location, to fine-tune your potential t-shirt design ideas.

The simplest way to create designs with your audience in mind is to take a look at your current customers. Scroll through your social media following and email marketing list to locate shared traits. You can also use your social media presence to run polls on potential design ideas, send out online surveys, and even directly ask for feedback on platforms like Instagram and TikTok.

2. Use high-quality graphics and images

Use high-quality graphics and images

One of the quickest ways to an unsatisfied customer is poor product quality — that’s why the quality of your graphics and images is such an important thing! Low-resolution images and other graphic elements will create a blurry, pixelated, and otherwise unattractive final product. And consistently low-quality graphic elements will result in poor customer satisfaction and retention.

Fortunately, there are many ways to obtain high-quality graphics and images to create high-quality and eye-catching designs! Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, and Unsplash are some of the many stock photo services to browse for design inspiration. As a general rule of thumb, opt for vector graphics (PDF, EPS, AI, or SVG file types), which maintain high-resolution no matter the printed size.

You can also capture your images with a high-quality camera or through a professional photographer for a more personalized design, unlike anything else on the market. Likewise, if graphic design isn’t your strong suit, hiring the help of a professional graphic designer can be a lucrative investment as these individuals can convert your ideas into high-quality t-shirt designs.

Pro Tip: Upgrade to a Gelato subscription to access millions of stock images, graphics, and fonts!

3. Experiment with design placement

One of the most common mistakes in t-shirt design is improper design placement. An off-center or odd-design placement will impact the visual interest of your products (and exhibit poor quality to customers). Successful design placement comes down to the size and symmetry of the graphic or image, so it’s essential to experiment a bit before settling on a final product.

Larger and more intricate designs are often better suited for an entire front or full back placement that begins approximately four inches from the collar to showcase the design. More simplistic designs or a small logo are better suited for areas like the center chest, left chest, or sleeve of a graphic tee. If you’re unsure where to place your design, try experimenting with a Mockup Generator first.

Keep in mind, while symmetrical t-shirt designs are often placed on the exact midpoint of a tee, non-symmetrical designs should be placed by eye to ensure the primary design element is centered correctly. Likewise, remember to consider the number and complexity of the graphics placed across the t-shirt to avoid creating a visually busy and otherwise unattractive design.

4. Be mindful of design size

As with placement, size is a crucial t-shirt design tip to keep in mind when designing a graphic shirt. Effective design size all comes down to the purpose of the t-shirt, the size of the t-shirt, and the elements of the design itself. One of the most common mistakes creators make is oversizing complex graphics and images, which can result in an overwhelming and unappealing final product.

Also, keep in mind that one size does not always fit all. If you plan to offer a variety of t-shirt sizes from youth to adult, the design size must be adjusted accordingly with the increased shirt size to align with the tee’s specific length and width adequately. From slim fit to loose fit, be mindful of the type of t-shirt you’re using and the amount of print area it will allow.

Customer comfort and wearer intent must also be considered when drafting your t-shirt design idea. Larger designs will make t-shirts much heavier and far less breathable compared to those with smaller designs. So, if your t-shirts are to be worn during athletic or outdoor activities, you’ll want to stick to smaller designs compared to larger designs that could make a tee stiff and stifling.

5. Leverage color theory

Leverage color theory

When selecting t-shirt colors, it’s important to remember how your selection can impact customer appeal. Selecting incohesive colors or adding too many tones to one t-shirt can force your design elements to clash — and create a messy finished product. However, not having enough color within your design could also quickly result in a dull, boring, and hard-to-sell t-shirt.

This is where color theory comes in! Color theory is an understanding of the relationships between the 12 components of the color wheel. According to color theory, each color has different effects once paired with other colors. These pairings create color schemes, also known as arrangements or combinations of specific colors that work well with one another, such as:

  • Complementary

  • Split complementary

  • Analogous

  • Monochromatic

  • Triadic

  • Tetradic

  • Square

  • Rectangle

With your images, graphics, and target audience in mind, try experimenting with these various color schemes to help develop an appealing and attractive product. Be sure to consider how each color represents different moods and emotions. For instance, warm colors like red and orange can evoke feelings of comfort, while bright colors like purple can encourage excitement.

6. Choose fonts thoughtfully

If you want to create a statement shirt design with a funny saying or advertise your brand logo and tagline, you must thoughtfully select the typeface or font. Selecting the right font can make or break the profitability of your t-shirt designs, as the look and legibility of your text will also establish the look and feel of your designs. The wrong font can impact your entire brand image.

When deciding on a font style for your t-shirt design, first consider readability. While many interesting fonts are out there, not all are as legible as you may think. The majority can be tricky for others to read, especially from a distance. Consider running a few font options by potential customers to ensure easy readability and proper alignment with your brand.

If you wish to use multiple fonts within your t-shirt designs, stick to a maximum of three different fonts. As you use different fonts, ensure your selections do not clash and remain cohesive across the entirety of the design. Likewise, you may need to adjust the size of each font to support visual hierarchy and ensure the main design elements stand out correctly and clearly.

7. Prioritize simplicity over complexity

When designing t-shirts, it’s not uncommon for ecommerce entrepreneurs and creative hobbyists to get excited… and a bit carried away by the number of design elements they use! Overly complex t-shirt designs with numerous elements stacked on each other are a no-no for several reasons, mainly because the design can quickly become visually overwhelming and unappealing.

This is why it’s vital to prioritize simplicity over complexity. By simplifying your t-shirt design ideas, it will become far easier for customers to understand your shirt’s message and your brand’s overall vision. Simple t-shirt designs are also much more timeless when compared to big, overly complex designs that can come off a bit outdated to today’s more streamlined consumers.

When looking to venture outside of t-shirt design, keep in mind that simple designs are also much easier to print on a range of products.Mugs, tote bags, phone cases, and wall art are some of the many products you can also have your simplified designs printed on without worry about jeopardizing their quality and customer appeal — and they open another revenue stream!

8. Think about contrast

Think about contrast

T-shirts can follow one of two designs: a high-contrast or low-contrast design. A high-contrast design incorporates tones with clear visual differences, like brighter colors against darker ones, often making it easier to read. A low-contrast design utilizes a smaller, more subtle range of tones, often creating a softer visual appearance that can be more difficult to read.

When it comes to high-contrast designs, you’ll achieve the most substantial contrast with polar opposite tones like black and white. For instance, a black design on a white t-shirt or a white design on a black t-shirt will be clearly legible, even from a distance. In comparison, a low-contrast design is most successful with a monochromatic color scheme, like a dark blue design on a light blue shirt.

As you consider the contrast between your t-shirt designs, remember that high-contrast designs are not always the most ideal, even if they are the easiest to read. Depending on the intention or message behind the design, a low-contrast color scheme could be just as eye-catching. Likewise, many consumers may prefer the more monochromatic or simplistic style of a low-contrast design.

Design eye-catching t-shirts and drive sales with Gelato

At a time when the sheer volume of t-shirt purchases is almost on par with the global population, it’s become challenging to stand out from the crowd. Fortunately, effective t-shirt designs can set your business apart from the competition. With the above expert t-shirt design tips, like designing with your target audience and design quality in mind, you can create the perfect t-shirt design!

As you brainstorm new ideas for your t-shirt business, take your finished product up a notch with Gelato print on demand services. Gelato uses direct-to-garment printing for vivid, durable designs that stand the test of time. And with local, sustainable practices for production and delivery, your t-shirt designs can reach your customers faster, greener, and more efficiently than ever before.

Design high-quality custom t-shirts with Gelato's reliable print on demand services today!

T-shirt design FAQs

What not to do when designing a shirt?

There are several mistakes to avoid when designing a t-shirt, including using low-quality images and graphics. As a general rule of thumb, avoid using too many colors and fonts in one design, and steer clear of clashing colors. Of course, be sure not to violate any copyright laws with your design.

What is the simplest way to print a t-shirt design?

The simplest way to print a t-shirt design is through a reliable print on demand supplier like Gelato. With Gelato print on demand, you only pay for the t-shirts you purchase with no inventory necessary. And with tons of t-shirt options, you can print your design on whichever shirt you prefer!


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