6 Rules For What Makes Good T Shirt Design

My Favorite Good Tshirt Design Mockup

What makes good t shirt design? Obviously, not every t shirt design appeals to everyone. Sometimes it’s just a matter of personal preference or style.

But the next time you’re walking around the mall or through a busy neighborhood, notice just how many people are wearing t-shirts. It’s a huge market! And it’s also a very competitive market. Which is why creating good t shirt designs is so important, because your t-shirt graphics need to stand out against the crowd!

Probably the hardest part of good t shirt design is coming up with fresh, unique ideas that will leave an impact or be significant to your audience…so significant that they want to keep wearing it year after year. I bet you have a favorite t-shirt in a drawer that you’ve had for years. It may be worn, faded, maybe even have a few holes. But you love it! It may not be in any condition for public viewing, so you reserve it for those home alone on the couch Netflix binge watch nights. Ya, you know what I’m talking about! ?

And that should be the goal for every t-shirt design you create…for it to be loved and worn forever. Even though design can be a bit objective, here are some fundamental rules of good t shirt design to help get you started on your creative journey.

1. Considering Your Audience Is Very Important To Good T Shirt Design

The first thing you should do is think about the audience who will wear your new masterpiece. Unless you’re working within a niche, your audience will most likely change for each new design you set out to create. So, you must constantly be switching hats and put yourself in the mind of your audience.

What does your audience care about? Do they share a common thread…something that would catch their attention and resonate? Would a design that captures this common idea cause your audience a great desire to wear it? And not just wear it a few times but never get rid of the t-shirt, ever!

Camping designs that consider the audience and what they care about.

That’s the kind of connection you need to make with your audience. So spend some time thinking about this and brainstorming ideas. It might be the most important step in what makes good t shirt design. Because if you get this part wrong, the rest really won’t matter much. You can create the most graphically beautiful t-shirt design ever, but if no one has the desire to wear it then all your hard work was for nothing.

2. Wise Color Choices In Good T Shirt Design

Choosing the colors for your t-shirt design is very important for a couple reasons. First, consider the printing method that will be used to print your design. Because if you plan to use screen printing, you should limit the number of colors used in the design since more colors equal more cost per item. Screen printers refer to this as spot colors.

Screen printing color separations of t-shirt graphic example.
Screen printing requires each color in the design to be separated and printed in black to create a screen for that color of ink. Registration marks on the artwork separations aid the printer in properly aligning the colors to create the desired outcome.

If you envision a very colorful design, using lots of colors, then full color digital (DTG direct-to-garment) printing is the way to go. And the number of colors will not affect your budget. So, this method is best if printing photographs or a design that you want to look like a full color photograph.

Next, you must consider the psychological impact of your color choices. I’ll leave the details of color theory for another article, but it is important to consider the connection between certain colors and how your audience will relate to it. Again, there are times when it come down to a matter of personal preference and style, but there will be times when designs require the use of certain colors to properly convey their intended message.

Finally, keep in mind that using too many colors in a design just to try and make it look more vibrant can sometimes backfire. As a rule of thumb, try to achieve your design goals using the least amount of colors possible. Sometimes less is more!

3. Balanced Design Composition

Remember back in high school when your art teacher preached about the importance of balanced composition? Sometimes, what makes a well-balanced design can be a matter of opinion. But there are some basic rules that can help ensure balance and improve your design if followed.

First, a well-balanced design should naturally draw your eye to the focal point of your design. Otherwise, you’ll find your eye bouncing around to different areas of the design trying to figure it out and land on what exactly is the point of the design.

Example of how a well-balanced design is important for what makes good t shirt design.
The t-shirt design on the left is well-balanced and clearly conveys the idea behind the JM Rocket Band’s superpower, while the design on the right leaves you scratching your head and wondering what’s going on.

Next, consider the spacing of elements in your design. Are they spaced out too far apart, or too crowded together? Neither is a good option. So, give your eyes a break and don’t make them have to play connect the dots.

Finally, show the design to some friends or colleagues to get their first impressions and opinions. As t-shirt designers, sometimes we can get tunnel vision when it comes to our designs. So a set of fresh eyes can often shed new light and help transform a good t shirt design into a great t shirt design!

4. Readability & Typography

Typography is another area of design that could use a separate article to dive deep into the details, so I’ll keep it simple here.

This may seem almost too basic, but make sure that any text used in your design is readable. That means to check that both the font choice and size of the text are readable when printed. You want your design to be readable from a distance, so avoid using very small font sizes. And if you use all-caps in your design, choose your font wisely. Some fonts, such as scripts, should never be used as all-caps because they are too difficult to read and just look bad.

Examples of typography in what makes good t shirt design. Use of all-caps script font is very difficult to read.
The font in all-caps on the left is very difficult to read and doesn’t look nice at all. The lower case option on the right is much better.

Font choices will convey ideas or evoke certain emotions, intentionally or not. This is another reason to choose your fonts wisely. For example, a serious political campaign t-shirt should probably avoid the use of “Comic Sans” or “Jokerman” for obvious reasons. Were as, those fonts might be very effective when designing for a different audience. (Some argue that Comic Sans should never be used, LOL.)

There are some standard fonts that work well for just about anything. But explore your options. There are many unique fonts out there that could convey your message perfectly and help you stand out from the crowd.

But now, the most important typography rule of all: never use more than three different fonts in a design. Or you run the risk of the typography po po coming after you!

5. Complexity – Keep It Simple

It’s easy to get carried away when trying to be creative. But adding too many elements to a design for the sake of trying to fill up a space can lead to creating nothing but a chaotic mess! So it’s best to keep it simple.

Example of t shirt design complexity and how it relates to making good t shirt design.
The design on the left is way too busy, causing your eye to bounce around the design rather than settle on a main focal point. The design on the right is a much better composition.

Rules of complexity tend to repeat those of composition. Just give the human eye a break…it can only process a limited amount of information at once. And a t-shirt design is usually a moving target, so there’s limited viewing time to get the point across.

If you have many different graphic elements that you want to include in your design, try removing some of them and then creating other similar designs using those elements as the focal points of the new designs. In this way, you could create a variety of t-shirt designs using the same general idea, all with different focal graphics that may appeal to different people, as in the samples below.

Examples of t shirt design complexity and how a main focal point in the graphic relates to making good t shirt design.
These 3 designs were created from all the beach elements removed from the busy design above. By using each individual element as the main focal point we were able to create 3 new designs. Each design will appeal to different beach lovers for different reasons.

6. Mock-ups – The Proof is in the Print

Once your masterpiece t-shirt design is complete, there is one final thing to consider. How will it look when printed and worn? Creating mockups of your design is a great way to see how it will look on final printed t-shirts. Plus, it gives you the ability to view it on different colored garments. And the mockups can be wonderful for marketing your designs as well!

My favorite way to make t-shirt mock-ups is on a website called Placeit. You simply upload your design and place it on any of the thousands of mock-ups they have available in many different categories. Please check it out…I’m sure you’ll grow to love it as much as I do!

Beach dolphins tank top design mock-up created using Placeit.
You’ll love these mock-ups for advertising and marketing your awesome new t shirt designs!

CONGRATULATION! Now that you know all about what makes good t shirt design, I’m sure you will create the perfect design in no time. But, the process of making a great t-shirt doesn’t end with the design itself. There are several other important factors to consider when presenting your masterpiece to the world. Some may seem elementary but overlooking them could prove disastrous. Get the scoop by reading our article…Your Printed T Shirt Design – 6 Factors That Could Make Or Break It.

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