How to Design a Custom T-shirts for Your Company in 8 Easy Steps
Creating credible advertising can be very challenging in today’s information-saturated world. People tend not to place much credence in (or even give much attention to) most of the ads they see on phones, tablets, and desktop computers, because there’s just so much of it, every minute of every day. Yes, digital advertising can be effective, but it can also feel cold and distant. Some of the best brand awareness a company can garner is the personal kind, where customers tell their brand story for them. This is why custom t-shirts can be very effective advertising tools; when an employee or customer promotes your company by wearing one of your branded tees, they are making a subtle but personal testimonial statement to everyone who sees it. So let’s jump in and learn how to design custom t-shirts.
But how do you tackle t-shirt design? How do you decide which style of tee to print it on? Which printing technique is best for the design you’ve chosen? This article provides a nuts-and-bolts guide to finding the right design, style, printing option, and a few other things you may not know you need to know.
Table of Contents
- What’s the Purpose of Your Custom Company Tee?
- How to Evaluate Your Custom Tee Costs
- T-shirt Printing Techniques
- How to Design A Custom T-shirt
- Who Will Create Your Tee Design?
- T-shirt Style Considerations
- The Importance of Proofing the Design
- Custom T-shirt Graphic File Types
1. What’s the Purpose of Your Custom Company Tee?
Branded t-shirts are very versatile advertising tools, walking billboards on humans that make a strong, personal statement about your brand. Let’s take a look at the various ways you can put custom tees to use for your organization.
Gifts at Meetings
If you want to make an impression at your next sales meeting, leave some t-shirts behind for the prospect. Everyone likes free stuff, and the gift of a company tee sets you apart from your competitors. They’re also a great fit for board meetings, partner meetings, and investor pitches, when you want people to remember the event in a positive light. And of course, the biggest benefit is that you are leaving your logo behind to circulate and be seen, maintaining top of mind awareness, long after you’re gone
Well-designed company t-shirts are more than walking billboards when you and your staff are wearing them; they encourage people to ask questions about your company—sort of a visual elevator pitch. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself fielding questions from complete strangers (= potential customers) when you wear your organization’s t-shirt.
Staff Goodwill and Solidarity
There’s something inherently fun about t-shirts, compared to other garments. We associate them with fun times, recreation, and casual Fridays. Employees like wearing them because they’re lighter and more comfortable than other kinds of apparel. If it’s appropriate to your workplace, consider having a t-shirt day, one day a week, when employees can wear their branded tees. In this context, company shirts engender an esprit de corps among the ranks.
And, yes, it makes your brand more visible when customers come into your establishment.
Sell Your Company’s Custom Shirts
Every now and then, you may cook up a t-shirt design so good that people just want to own one, even if they know very little about your company. Maybe the design is so beautiful that it stands alone as a piece of wearable art. Maybe you just have one of those logos or brand personalities that people like to be associated with, like a club known for great, local music; or a motorcycle dealership with an edgy tagline; or maybe you’re one of those businesses that has become such a staple in a specific community, market, or industry that people want to share their enthusiasm for your brand.
If you come up with a t-shirt design so popular that you can’t keep them on the shelf, consider selling them to your customers, in local curio shops, in your place of business, and online. It gets your brand out there even further and puts a few extra bucks in your pocket.
Printed tees make excellent memorabilia giveaways for people who participate in company-sponsored events. This type of design often includes the company logo and the name of the event, possibly accompanied by the event date. Here are a few examples:
• Volunteer staff activities like Habitat for Humanities home-builds.
• Trade shows (giveaways make a long-lasting impression on booth visitors)
• Golf tournaments or other sporting events sponsored by your company
• Company picnics, barbecues, and retreats
2. How to Evaluate Your Custom Tee Costs
If you’ve never explored the world of apparel printing, you may be surprised at how many options you have in terms of aesthetics—and in terms of cost. Let’s take a look at the factors you’ll need to consider when estimating custom tee costs.
What’s the Quantity?
Some printing methods are cost effective for small quantities, and others for large quantities. And not all designs can be applied with every t-shirt printing technique. The next section will cover this in depth, discussing the pros and cons of each method.
Setting a Budget
Only you can make an informed decision about how much to spend on t-shirt marketing, and you may not be able to afford 10,000 t-shirts with a photo realistic image on them, or a small run of silk screened shirts because of the high setup costs. But there are so many ways of getting images onto garments that you’ll certainly be able to find a balance that fits both your budget and your goals.
The best advice we can give about budgeting is that it’s important to start thinking about this during the design process. After reading our primer below on “t-shirt Printing Techniques,” you’ll know how to come up with a design that can be reproduced with the printing technique you intend to use. This will inform your decision and how to apply the budget.
Think Ahead to Keep Custom Tee Costs Down
If you’ve never delved into the world of printing and graphic design before, you may be surprised at how long it can take. Graphic designers sometimes need days or weeks to work your project into their queue. Once they begin, the design process itself can take time. A busy printer may not be able to work your order in for a few days, and the printing itself takes time. If you’re in no hurry for your shirts, you’ll be fine, but if you’re trying to hit a specific event date, it’s wise to talk to your printer and get the process underway several weeks in advance of the deadline.
3. T-shirt Printing Techniques
With current technologies you can put almost any kind of visual art on a t-shirt, from striking, embossed flashes of color to photographs so real you could frame them. Every method has both strong points and limitations. While one method may give you the type of image you want, it may not be cost effective for the quantities you need. Again, it’s important to know what you can do with your design before you start designing.
Screen Printed T-shirts
Screen printing involves more elaborate equipment setup than other techniques, so it’s not a great option for small quantities. But once the screens are made, the printing itself is faster and cheaper than other methods, so this is a great choice for large quantities.
Heat Press Shirt Printing
Heat press is popular for team jerseys because it’s very durable, and it can be applied in multiple, bold, opaque colors. It’s an excellent option for small runs with few colors, and no minimum quantities required. It’s not the most affordable method for designs with lots of colors because each color has to be applied individually, which takes more time.
Direct to Garment Printing
This technology is a recent entrant in the custom shirt world, and it can render unprecedented photo realism in garment images. This is another excellent option for small quantities and one-of-a-kind designs, but the cost-per-unit can add up quickly on larger runs.
4. How to Design A Custom t-shirt
Now that you have an idea of what you can do, let’s talk about the actual t-shirt design.
Size and Format Considerations
Start with the size and proportion of your design. Work inside an 18 by 18 inch canvas in your graphic software. Try to view the design at near its actual size on a computer screen as it’s being developed because not all designs scale up and down well. US Logo provides life-like, digital, on-the-garment proofs that show how your design will look on different colors and shirt styles.
Remember also that your design will be hanging around a person and not flat on a wall, which means that shapes and details may be distorted. Keep the design as simple as possible.
Coming Up With the Design
A good company shirt design usually incorporates the logo colors. The shirt itself may constitute one of these colors, but it doesn’t have to. Try to keep the look consistent with the brand you’ve already established. Do you have other promotional materials like brochures or ads? What does your website look like? If your current marketing materials are doing a good job for you, carry some of the same themes into your shirt design. By keeping your brand consistent across media in this way, you’ll reinforce a broader sense of consumer awareness.
Think about your target audience. Are they mostly serious or fun-loving? Young or old? Male or female? Your choices of colors, graphics, and message should be geared to the people you hope to attract to your business.
What is the purpose of the shirt? To grab attention with an edgy graphic, promote camaraderie with a buoyant phrase of inspiration, or personify the stout dignity of a trustworthy brand? Each of these purposes calls for a different design style.
Typography (Fonts) for Shirt Graphics
The cardinal rule of font choices is readability. Most people will see your shirts at a glance, as the wearer is walking past them, and over-stylized fonts can make the message more difficult to read.
But your font decision goes deeper than that; the typography used in your marketing says a lot about your brand. Serif fonts are generally easier to read that sans serif fonts, but they often indicate a traditional brand. Sans serif fonts usually feel more casual, even fun, compared to serif fonts.
If you’ve already found success with certain fonts in your marketing, it’s probably best to start with those for the sake of brand consistency. If the shirt is for a specific event rather than solely a brand statement, consider using fonts that bridge the gap between the look of your brand and the tone of the event.
Using Color in Shirt Design
The human eye is naturally attracted to color, and color influences the emotional reaction of the viewer more than any other element of a design. Subdued color schemes are more relaxing than raucous, psychedelic schemes. Beyond this basic, universal wisdom, the design and colors of your shirt should be fine-tuned to fit the personality of your specific brand and message.
A cautionary note: graphic designers work with different color definitions: PMS, CMYK, and RGB. Without going into the science of inks and color creation, suffice it to say that not every color on a computer screen can be accurately reproduced on a t-shirt. You may have to settle for slightly different hues than the ones shown on your computer mock-up, in order to reproduce the design on fabric. It’s best to work with your shirt printer as early as possible in the design process, to make sure you’re designing with colors that can be accurately reproduced.
Adding Dimension to Your T-shirt Graphics
This is where shirt design gets really fun. Certain printing techniques offer design options that aren’t available in other types of art media, like raised text, holographic images, and glitter. Here are some specialty printing methods you may want to employ:
• Fuzz: Exactly what it sounds like. Go ahead, touch it.
• Glitter: You know what glitter is … a party on your shirt.
• Hologram: Yes, we can put these on shirts. Very eye-catching.
• Gel: This raised, rubbery texture in the design catches the light in a whole new way.
• Foil: Look, on that shirt: It’s a mirror. It’s a hood ornament. No, it’s Supershirt.
These options aren’t right for every shirt design, but when they work, they really shine.
5. Who Will Create Your Tee Design?
Maybe you already have what you need for your design, or maybe you’re just brainstorming it. If you have design skills, great. If not, you can hire a designer or take advantage of US Logo’s design department.
Creating Your Own Shirt Graphics
If you have the time and the design skills, this option certainly saves money. It also keeps you in complete control of the work. If you don’t have design experience and hope to do this yourself, you may soon learn that using graphics software is not the same as using Facebook. It’s far too difficult to pick up over a weekend, so be realistic in your expectations.
Working with a Professional Graphic Designer
This is often the best option. Yes, you’ll have to pay the designer, but they’ll work much more quickly and efficiently than you possibly could as an amateur. A professional artist can help you translate your ideas into an effective design very quickly because this is what they do all day, every day. The designer will ask you for some basic things like brand fonts, a logo graphic, and maybe some other reference materials from your marketing arsenal. This will assure that your shirt graphics are consistent with your overall brand.
You can put your design on a variety of t-shirt styles:
- Crop top
- Crew neck
- With or without a breast pocket
This decision should be made before you create your design because things like pocket placement and lower necklines can affect the composition of your graphics.
Finally, consider your target audience when choosing a shirt style. V-necks tend to look a bit classier and less casual than crew necks, for example. US Logo can mock up any design on any shirt style, so if you bring us into the process early, there will be no surprises in the finished product.
When you think your shirts are ready to be printed, take a minute to do a final evaluation. You’ve been buried in the details of the design as it was being developed, but now it’s time to pull your mind back up to “20,000 feet,” and take an objective look at the work from a marketing perspective.
Think back on your original purpose for making the shirt. Does it:
- Communicate its message quickly?
- Fit the target audience?
- Fit your brand colors and image?
If it’s not right, work with your designer to try some variations. Maybe a slight change in color scheme will make it right. Maybe a new composition or a different shirt color. Let your instincts lead you, but also listen to your designer’s ideas—they do this all the time.
Let’s get technical for a minute because you’ll have to get some basic materials to your designer before the graphic can be translated to a shirt design. If the designer has already done the work, you’re past this stage. If they’re just getting started, they’ll need your logo (at the very least) in a vector format like AI, EPS, or some PDF files. Vector art stays crisp when you zoom it in and out, while other formats become pixelated and may become unusable for shirt graphics.
Let’s Get Started on That Shirt Design
If you made it this far, you’re ready to have a quick and productive conversation with a US Logo customer service representative. Check out the US Logo website, then give us a call early in the design process; you’ll save yourself time, and position yourself for the best possible execution of your custom t-shirt idea.