8 Tips to Create T-Shirt Designs That Sell

A lot of people are selling t-shirts today, especially YouTube influencers who sell what they call merch.

This does not mean that you cannot open your own t-shirt business. 

You can. 

All you need is a website and a print-on-demand partner, and you can launch a t-shirt business in less than a week. 

But what kind of designs should you sell? 

Many t-shirt businesses succeed because they have created designs that work. And this is what I am going to each you today.

By the end of this tutorial, you will begin to understand and apply tips to create t-shirt designs that sell

Explore Your Niche

Before going on to the actual designing process, it is important that you have extensive knowledge about the market you want to target.

There are hundreds of different niches for clothing out there. 

For example, you can focus on gothic clothing, steampunk, sports-oriented, comedy, and so on.

Thus, it will be best for you to first gather information about your niche.

This will help you formulate and visualize how you want the t-shirt to look whilst still considering its ability to sell.

Some ways to do this are:

  • Know your concept

Evidently, the first thing you need to do is to determine your concept.

Determining a niche is not enough to come up with a solid structure of your design.

You need to have a concept or theme, so you have something to follow throughout brainstorming.

This concept refers to the character or brand that you want to embody through your designs.

This can also mean an inspiration style that you will use as a guide.

  • Look up niche relevance

On the other hand, if you already have a niche in mind for custom ink, you can start by checking where it currently stands in search engines. 

You can look up results in Google, Bing, Yahoo, and the likes, to see if there are any contents about it recently.

You can also check how frequently a keyword is searched through the use of statistical analytics.

One of the most commonly used is Google Trends. 

With this, you can also view the past and current trends that you can relate to your design.

Exploring your niche is important because this will serve as your primary market research.

It will also save you money from making designs that are not outdated.

Define Your Audience

A t-shirt business is not a one-size-fits-all market. There are specific designs for specific people.

It is important to note that what one person likes may not be that pleasing for others.

For this reason, it is relatively significant to keep your design in line with your audience.

Designs vary from person to person, and t-shirt designers know this. 

You should consider the following demographical data about your market in order to arrive at accurate designs:

  • Age Group

Determine whether the majority of your audience belongs to the young or old side of the population.

This way, you can take note of the trends of each generation and use these trends in your design.

  • Gender

Women and men have different clothing styles.

This is supported by the fact that most stores have separate categories for each gender’s apparel. 

This means that an individual’s gender highly affects his or her choice of clothing pieces.

Patterns and text and play a vital part in your design. 

  • Budget

If you know who your target market is, you can identify how much money they are willing to spend on a shirt.

Teenagers are not likely to spend on a shirt worth $40, but they surely can afford shirts less than $20.  

High budget shirts also cost more to produce.

Even if you are using a print-on-demand company, you will pay more if you print on both sides, or if you use several colours. 

On the lower end of the design spectrum, you can consider minimalistic designs and black-and-white typographies.

This should allow you to create shirts that are easy to make and also cheap to produce. 

Defining the data stated above can help you decide on visual elements like colours, fonts, and placements.

Conducting survey questions to groups that match your market can also help you gain their perspective. 

Know Your Budget and Deadline

Like what is stated in the previous section, the budget affects how your design would look like.

However, take note that calculating your budget is as important as your market’s budget.

When you finally come up with a draft, it will still need to be tweaked more or less once you consider the price it will take from you.

It is evident that the more you spend, the higher quality of design can be made. 

This is also where finance management will come in because you have to come up with the right price that will be buyable by consumers but will still make you profit.

In addition, setting a time frame schedule consisting of do’s and deadlines will help you become more productive.

You can use this to avoid spending too much time on one part of a design and possibly ignore other details.

Setting a deadline for yourself can also help you achieve the desired quantity of the shirts if there are any.

Find a Good Fabric

Not all fabrics are the same.

You may have seen your friends ignoring a shirt because they think it will feel “too warm” or “too flimsy” for their liking. 

There are also words that describe them as “uncomfortable”.

To avoid this, you must choose the right fabric. This decision will depend on how you will print the designs.

Some of the fabric types that are used commonly are as follows:

  • Cotton – this is the most used fabric, thus making it the most popular. You can consider this as the go-to fabric because of its high quality and extreme durability.
  • Polyester – this, on the other hand, is used for a shirt that does not need to absorb sweat. You can commonly see this being used in sportswear like dry-fit apparels. Polyester is also affordable. 
  • Linen – lastly, linen fabric is known for being lightweight. It is often used in summer clothing pieces because this has the ability to cool down the temperature.

Remember that your chosen fabric will greatly affect your shirt’s wearability and will also be the basis of how comfortable it will be to use.

Determine Printer Type and Options

How design will be printed on a shirt is one of the common things that a seller overlooks, thus being a beginner’s mistake.

You should not work with what’s only on your plate. You need to look for options that will fit your design more.

This being said, here are four of the frequently used printing methods:

  • Screen Printing 

Pro: Affordable; Cost-Effective

Con: Involves a lot of work

This method is widely used for bulk printing. To print a design on a shirt, you need to use a screen to transfer the ink onto the fabric. 

This is best used for designs that have few colours. There will be too much work if a very colourful design is to be printed because you will need to transfer one colour at a time.

  • Heat Transfer

Pro: Can work well with detailed and complex designs

Con: Has a higher tendency for prints to crack

Heat transfer, on the other hand, from the name itself, involves the use of heat on a plate. You will need special papers called transfer papers. 

This is where your design will be printed. These papers are the ones that will do the printing process on your shirts.

In contrast to screen printing, this is used more when small quantities are required. This also does not work as effective in dark-coloured fabrics.

  • Direct-to-Garment Printing

Pro: Best method for colourful designs

Con: May fade overtime

Direct-to-Garment Printing requires the use of DTG printers.

This can be compared to a normal printing process because you are transferring your design directly to the fabric without using other resources.

This is very flexible because it provides a good opportunity for multicolour designs to show themselves.

You can use any type and amount of colour, and it will still come out in vivid looks.

Your printing method and the fabric type are two factors that need to work with each other. 

You have to make sure that they both match each other’s requirements to avoid wasting time and money from doing the process all over again.

Use the Right Colors

Colours can affect a person’s mood or vibe.

This will also affect how your brand will be viewed by the market.

For this reason, you have to formulate your design in a way that will appeal to one’s eyes.

Determine whether you will use colour or stay in black-and-white monochromes, depending on the budget and target audience.

If you opt to use multi-colours, keep in mind that everything should go well with each other.

You should still make it look like it’s a put-together design and not a scattered one.

The colour of the fabric will also affect your colour choices.

Using colours that are exactly the same as the fabric will not definitely be seen, and will look like you added nothing to the shirt. 

Study the combination of cool and warm tones and do not be afraid to experiment during the draft-making.

Give Importance to Typography

One factor that makes an impact on a customer’s buying decision is the text that is written.

Surely, they aren’t going to buy something that has inappropriate words written or something that does not match their values.

For this reason, you have to ensure that the texts that come with your design are appropriate for your market.

Furthermore, there are a lot of cases wherein good visual logos are ruined by either unreadable or misread font styles. 

The size and style of the text you are going to use should be dependent on how small or big the design will be.

You cannot use too small font size on big logos, and neither can you put large fonts on pocket-sized designs.

Utilize High-Quality Image Files

The last in our list of tips to create t-shirt designs that sell is to use high-quality images. 

The problems with finished products, or in our case, printed t-shirts, commonly arise in a poor quality of the print.  

Designs are either too blurry or pixilated which degrades the design’s overall look.

The mistake that you need to lock back to is the file used for printing.

The ideal size should be 200 pixels per inch or higher to arrive at a clearer version of the logo.

To avoid this error in custom t-shirt design, refrain from using images from web searches and basically, those that have lower image sizes than the recommended. 

It will also be best to use vector files because they are scalable files and won’t rely on pixels.

The most popular type of vector file is a Photoshop file or SVG file. 


T-shirt printing is one of the best businesses you can get into today.

There are many print-on-demand (POD) companies that you can work with, especially if you are dropshipping. 

With a t-shirt business in a POD partner and a Shopify store builder, you do not have to print the shirt before you sell them.

You just have to create your design, publish your mock-up, and then only pay for an order if a customer already paid you.

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