How to Design a T-Shirt (that doesn't suck and sells!)

7 Design Mistakes to Avoid When Selling T-Shirts {How To + Picture Examples}

There are a lot of bad t-shirt designs out there. But yours doesn’t have to be one of them! Creating a stylish t-shirt that sells takes some time to get the right design using simple and clean graphics, composition, font selection, quality images, and contrast. Once you have the design; size and placement on the shirt are key to polishing off a professional-looking product.

In this blog post, we’ll be exploring the top 7 t-shirt design mistakes that you should avoid if you want to boost your sales. With just a few simple tweaks, you can take your t-shirt designs from mediocre to eye-catching! You’ll basically learn how to design a t-shirt (no design experience required!).

Whether you are just starting or you find your sales are subpar, you’ll find tips and tricks to get you on the right path to increasing sales.

T-Shirt Design Mistakes

Designing t-shirts is a fun and creative process, but it can be tricky to get it right. And getting right equates to more sales!

What do I know about designing t-shirts? I’ve been there! I’ve struggled through the challenges of designing t-shirts. The trial and error of size and positioning. Getting the contrast of the graphics and the shirt right.

It takes a lot of work but once you figure out the methods to follow, you’ll be able to create great t-shirts that people will love. Replicate the process and fill your shop with amazingly designed t-shirts!

Pro tip: If this is your first time designing a t-shirt – I highly suggest ordering one of your t-shirts yourself! It’s important to check your work and see how it looks in person. Mockups are excellent starting points, but they don’t exactly emulate the look and feel of the actual t-shirt.

How to Get a Sample T-Shirt?

When ordering a sample t-shirt you’re only going to want 1 sample, not hundreds! And you certainly don’t want to pay for plate fees or set-up fees. These are fees often asked for by print companies to do screen printing.

You want to look for companies that offer direct-to-garment printing because this method has little to no setup fees. It’s perfect for small projects or one-off prints.

A hassle-free way to get 1 shirt printed that is cost-effective is using a print-on-demand company. Printify and Printiful are both free and easy platforms to navigate.

First, sign up for a free account with Printify or Printiful. Next, select the t-shirt you would like to use – there are lots of options! Then upload your graphics and adjust the size and positioning of the image. Select the t-shirt colours you would like to use. Check the mock-ups to make sure you are happy with the overall look.

Then place an order for one of your t-shirts and that’s it! You will have to pay for the cost of the t-shirt plus shipping but it’s at your wholesale cost AND it will be well worth it!

When your sample arrives, have a look to make sure you are pleased with the outcome. Feel the quality of the t-shirt. Are the graphics centred? Does the graphic appear to be too large or too small? How is the contrast of colours with the t-shirt?

Getting a Sample T-Shirt for Screen Printing

Are you screen-printing t-shirts? You won’t be able to see a sample unless you are comfortable paying for the set-up fees. Set-up fees cover the cost to create screens used to make the shirts. Depending on where you go, these fees can be hefty ($50 – $100+ CAD).

The trouble with getting a sample of screen-printed shirts comes when you don’t like the look and want to make a change. You will have to pay the set-up fees again. Ouch!

What you can do is order a sample through a direct-to-garment company like Printify or Printiful. The appearance of the printing will not look the same as the silk screen but at least you can check for graphic size and colour contrast.

To sum it up, ordering a sample is simple and well worth it. It’s an excellent way to make sure you are getting it right before offering your shirts for sale.

Let’s get you on the path to t-shirt success (and learn from my mistakes!). The following are the most common mistakes that t-shirt designers make when creating their designs.

Design Mistake #1: Unattractive Graphics + Colour

The first mistake that t-shirt designers make is using too many colours and terrible graphics.

When selecting graphics, make sure you are selecting (or creating) quality graphics that complement the overall look of the design. For example, if you are going for a retro look, then your elements such as graphics and fonts should have that retro-vibe.

If the key focus of your design is a photo, it’s common to leave the photo with the original edges. This mistake can lead to a boring design. Add more interest by using a border, try a fun frame or use a mask to transform your graphics. You can also remove the background of your photograph entirely for a more professional look.

Colour is a great way to add a pop of vibrancy. But again, a little goes a long way! Select colours that work together…perhaps that are monochromatic or complimentary. Check with a colour wheel to select appealing colours. Try Canva’s colour wheel to find the perfect match!

Design Mistake #2: Composition

Another common mistake that t-shirt designers make is not paying attention to composition. When it comes to designing a T-shirt, composition matters. The way you arrange words, images and decorations are key for creating an eye-catching shirt. You want to create a well-balanced design with a focal point.

Be selective when adding any elements to your design – keep it clean! Busy designs can be overwhelming and cluttered. This results in the focus being lost on the main elements or message of the shirt.

Make sure that the elements aren’t too spaced out nor overcrowded on the shirt; if they’re placed just right, your design will be irresistible!

Identify the main elements of your design and always keep them at the forefront. Will it be a photograph, an illustration, or something else? It all depends on what you have in mind for your project.

Design Mistake #3: Font Selection

Typography, or the way text is presented in a design, has an enormous impact on any composition. Creative font choices and lettering can make a design come alive and have immense visual appeal.

But that’s not all: Typography adds real clout to designs by creating powerful messages with words; they inspire viewers to form connections due to their artful arrangement of characters crafted to amplify its message!

Typography t-shirts are very popular because people connect easily with the hyper-niched messages they have.

Oh, and they are also popular because they are super-easy to make. You don’t need ANY design background whatsoever. Just an idea will get you places!

To create a successful typography t-shirt, it’s important to choose fonts that fit the audience you are targeting with the message you are trying to convey.

Choosing a font that is too small or too large can be distracting and take away from the overall design. Additionally, using too many different fonts can also make the design look cluttered.

Stick to one or two fonts and make sure they complement the overall design. For perfectly paired fonts, check out Canva’s guide!

Fonts with flourishes and embellishments are beautiful but should be used sparingly. Otherwise, they can make a design look cluttered.

Design Mistake #4: Low-Quality Images

Using low-quality images can be a major design mistake. Low-quality images will look pixelated and blurry, which can be a major turn-off for potential customers. If you are using images in your design, make sure they are high quality and clear.

How to Make Sure Your Designs Are High Quality?

First, if you are using a photo, make sure it is high quality and 300 DPI. If you’re designing in Canva, the pictures there will grant you precisely the quality of visuals that your project needs.

For graphics, the ideal standard is to use a vector image. These can easily be scaled without losing quality. You can create your vector graphics in Adobe or find ready-made ones online through Creative Fabrica.

Images that aren’t vector are raster images. These need to be created with the size of the design in mind.

We find Canva can create pixelated images, even when we design them to the exact size we require. There is a way to counter this!

If you want your final design to be 8 inches x 8 inches, we suggest creating your design 2 – 4 times larger than this (while keeping the size ratio the same) in Canva. So for an 8 x 8 inch design, create a Canva file in the size of 32 x 32 inches. You can then reduce the size of your design to fit your shirt and get a better quality result.

Finally, be sure to check the design before sending it off to print. Make sure there are no jagged lines, pixelation or blurriness that would make an otherwise great design look poor quality and unprofessional.

Design Mistake #5: Contrast + Not Choosing the Right T-Shirt Color

When you are designing a t-shirt, have the colour of t-shirt in mind as you go through the process. The colour of t-shirt is essential for making your design stand out (or becoming camouflage!).

In general, you want a light or white coloured design on a dark shirt and a dark design on a light shirt. The most common t-shirt colours are black, white and grey.

You can also work with your design to add colours that are complementary to the shirt colour. So for example, pops of orange in your design would be complementary to a blue t-shirt. Or pops of yellow in a design on a purple t-shirt.

Design Mistake #6: Design Size

The size of the design is important to the overall look of the t-shirt. A design that is too small is difficult to see while a large design can be overwhelming and tacky.

What Size of T-Shirt Design is Best?

First off, the typical maximum size a design should be is around 12″ wide x 16″ high. We know this because the print on demand companies list these dimensions as the maximum. Unless you do an “all-over-print”.

Ideal Shirt Design Size Before and After
Ideal Shirt Design Size Before and After

Now just because this is the maximum, DOES NOT mean we should be designing our shirts to fit the maximum space.

Sometimes a little goes a long way. You’ll look more professional if you stick with modest sizing – because oversized designs will look ridiculous.

Here are some suggested design widths:

  • Adult shirt with centred design: 6 – 8 inches wide
  • Shirts with small left logo: 2 – 2.5 inches wide
  • Kids shirt with centred design: 6 – 7 inches

How to Check Your Shirt Design Size?

There is nothing worse than printing a shirt sample, only to find out you hate the size of the design. A simple way to check is to print your design on paper to the actual size. Cut it out and hold it against the shirt to assess the sizing.

Easy-peasy! If you love your design size – awesome! If not, go back to your design, change the dimensions and print it again.

Design Mistake #7: Design Position

The position of the design can also have an impact on the success of the t-shirt. Placing the design in the wrong spot can make it look awkward and unbalanced. It’s important to decide on the position of the design before you start creating it. This will ensure that the design looks great on the t-shirt.

It can be tempting to place your design so that it is centered on the shirt. But in reality, most designs are positioned at the top of the shirt – just 4 inches below a crew neckline.

Again, you can print a sample of your design on paper and play with the placement on a shirt to get a feel for what it will look like.

Design Mistake #8: Lack of Research

Finally, first-time t-shirt designers often make the mistake of not doing enough research before starting the design process. It’s important to research the latest trends and figure out what kinds of designs are popular. This will help you create a design that is up-to-date and appealing to potential customers.

How to Find Design Ideas That Sell?

There are a few places you can check for design ideas. First, search t-shirts on sites like Etsy and Amazon. Spend some time on Google to look for t-shirt designs as well. Google Trends is a great way to examine the popularity of different themes. This will give you an idea of what kinds of designs are popular in your industry.

You can also check keyword popularity on Ubersuggest, Keysearch or Semrush.

If you are creating your online shop, you’ll want to create enough designs that your shop looks “full”. You’ll also want to develop a style or theme for your shop so that customers can quickly identify it and know what to expect from the designs.

Final Thoughts

Designing t-shirts is a fun and creative process, but it can also be tricky. By avoiding these common mistakes, you can create successful t-shirt designs that will help you boost your sales. So take the time to do your research, pay attention to detail, and you’ll be well on your way to creating amazing t-shirt designs!

So, what are you waiting for? Start designing your t-shirt today and avoid these common design mistakes! Good luck!

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