Ben Barnhart

Ben Barnhart

May 7, 2021
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May 7, 2021
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In this article, we’ll dive deeper into how you can create a profitable custom t-shirt design using vector graphic design software. We will also discuss TeePublic, one of the top places to sell your custom t-shirts online.

Image Source: SandrasCreaturs

Vector vs. Raster Graphics: Which One is Correct?

When making a new t-shirt design, you should always use vector graphics. Why? Because vector graphics will never lose their quality when resized, and they take up a lot less file space than raster graphics.

There are several other big reasons why you should use vector graphics instead of raster graphics for your t-shirt concept (or any graphic design project, really).

First, with vector graphics, it’s easy to adjust and separate colors. Your illustrations will be clear, crisp, clean, and vivid when printed on clothing, including any custom fonts you use. And it’s easy to change the colors if you want to create different versions of the same design.

Second, vector graphics are infinitely resizable. You’ll always be able to resize your t-shirt design no matter the size of the garment.

What's The Best T-Shirt Design Website?

So, what’s the best t-shirt design website to use for making your vector artwork into t-shirts?

Many t-shirt design websites allow you to upload your own custom designs onto a t-shirt and sell it online, such as Zazzle, Cafe Press, and Custom Ink.

While some websites require you to upload an image of your chosen artwork, others might have built-in tools to help you with your creative process. Obviously, it’s quicker to simply upload an image of your artwork, but these sites can be helpful if your concept is quite simple.

Image Source: SandrasCreaturs

But if you want to create a custom t-shirt with a bit more of a complex personal design, you’ll need a more professional tool to do so. There are many apps, tools, and platforms out there, but for the reasons we outlined earlier, you’re going to want to use a platform that specializes in vector graphics.

There are a few different options, but you obviously don’t want to pay a lot of money for a program.

You’re not editing raw video here. You’re just making your design come to life on a t-shirt. So, you don’t need a program built to edit a feature-length film. You need a vector graphic program that's built for accessibility and speed.

If you’re thinking about creating a custom t-shirt design, you should give Vectornator a try. It’s the perfect tool for creating vector graphics, even if you have no previous experience with graphic design. We designed the interface to be simple, intuitive, and precise. You can download it here!

What Is Screen Printing?

Screen printing is a printing method that uses a squeegee to transfer ink through a mesh layer onto a surface, usually a garment or a piece of paper.

Image Source: Unsplash

A stencil is used along with the mesh to create an image. Multiple screens and stencils can be used one at a time to layer different colors on top of each other.

Screen printing is one of the most common methods of printing custom t-shirt designs. It also tends to work extremely well with vector designs, as the sharp lines create very precise stencils.

If you plan to do your own traditional screen printing, you’ll need to create mesh screen stencils. There are many tutorials you can find online to help you accomplish this, but there’s one tip you’ll need to keep in mind.

If you want to create more than one screen printed shirt from your custom vector design, you'll likely need to change the ink color depending on the color of the shirt.

In some cases, you might even want to switch the stencil so that the shirt itself contains the main color of your artwork, while the screen-printed part holds the frame, using negative space to your advantage.

In either case, it’s a good idea to create an inverted version of your stencil in black and white.

It’s helpful to have a stencil where the design is created via positive space and an added one that uses negative space to achieve the same effect.

What's The Difference Between Screen Printing And Inkjet T-Shirt Prints?

One of the other most common methods of printing custom t-shirt designs is via Inkjet printing, which is the type of printing most often seen in paper printers. It uses black and multi-colored ink cartridges to propel droplets of ink onto a paper or plastic surface.

Image Source: Unsplash

This printing method can be used to print custom t-shirt designs as well, though designs can’t easily be printed directly onto the fabric. To get around this, a flexible plastic surface will usually be applied to the fabric first, which can then be used as a viable surface for printing with Inkjet.

Alternatively, an Inkjet printer can be used to print a mirrored image onto a special kind of paper known as “transfer paper,” which can then be cut out and transferred to the garment via heat, such as with a hot iron.

So which one is better? Well, that’s a complicated question.

Neither screen printing nor Inkjet printing can either be said to be strictly better than the other in all circumstances. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on the needs of your project.

In general, screen printing is the more complex and challenging method. Still, the durability and quality of the finished product are usually much greater than projects printed with Inkjet or other printing methods.

This is because the screen printing method binds the ink with the fabric fibers directly, versus the inkjet method, which typically requires an added layer of bonding agent to ensure that the design remains bound to the t-shirt’s surface.

With the screen printing method, the ink is much more durable and will stand up to repeated washing and wearing. With Inkjet printing, it’s a lot more likely that your ink will chip or wear off of the garment from repeated use and cleaning.

However, Inkjet printing also has some benefits over screen printing. First, you can print more colorful and complex concepts with Inkjet since it’s using a standard printer’s method to combine three ink colors into a variety of different shades.

But with screen printing, you must print each color layer individually since only one color of ink can be printed at a time. This drastically increases the amount of time that you need to take to create each individual shirt.

If you are printing many copies of a custom t-shirt, it makes a lot more sense to just create a whole other frame and mesh setup for each color since it’s just not workable to clean and change the ink each time you want to print a new T-shirt.

So while it’s more time- and cost-effective to use inkjet printing, the end quality of the printed garment is lower.

You’ll usually get a higher-quality print from using the screen printing method, but the processing time and cost make it a more complex method for most people to use for their custom t-shirt designs.

But what about alternative options? There are multiple ways to create a custom t-shirt other than these main two, of course.

First, iron-on stencils are a good choice. These are like heat-transfer Inkjet designs, in that they use heat to transfer the design to the garment.

Another great possibility is embroidery, which forgoes ink in favor of colored thread to create designs.

Image Source: Unsplash

These methods are all great, but they share a common thread. All of them use stencils!

You can use Vectornator to easily create your own custom stencils. Any custom t-shirt idea can be turned into a stencil; it’s just important to do it correctly.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that your artwork will be created through the negative space that will be cut out of the paper or plastic that you are printing on.

Therefore, any details inside your design need to have some connection to the exterior of the design, which will be the paper itself. Floating details like eyes or shapes will be lost unless they are connected to the frame of the stencil.

It’s a good idea to create a black and white inverted version of your stencil - not only does it allow you to see the way your design will appear once it’s on a garment, you can also print a positive space version of your stencil which will allow you to paint a negative-space design!

Custom T-Shirt Design Ideas

Creating a custom t-shirt can be a long process. But before you can begin to create your own custom t-shirts, you need to work on your designs.

When you begin this process, it’s important to take your concepts seriously and put the necessary time into developing your own style. Take your time, and make sure your concept is well thought out.

A strong design is the most important aspect of this entire process. You need to have a custom t-shirt that people will actually want to buy!

Before you can create a concept, you’ll need some inspiration. We recommend browsing Pinterest, Instagram, and other similar sites that focus on visual content. With the internet at your fingertips, there’s no shortage of inspiring content to get your creative gears turning.

Image Source: Unsplash

It can be difficult to start with a blank canvas. Luckily, if you use a design tool like Vectornator to create your new design, you’ll have a wide variety of tools to help you get started.

Our pre-built design templates will help you start with the correct document size, and our Iconator feature puts thousands of royalty-free icons at your disposal. If you’d like to give Vectornator a try, you can download it here!

How To Make A Custom T-Shirt Design

The first step when designing anything is to create a rough sketch for your concept. Use broad strokes and get the basic idea down on the page. This sketch will create the foundation for your artwork and can be done on paper or digitally.

Then, analyze your rough sketch. What parts of it are working? Are there any parts that aren’t? Use this feedback to draw a second sketch, making any adjustments necessary. Then do it again.

Keep your sketches simple and be willing to update your design during the process. This will give you time to explore your concept.

You can even attend meet-up groups for artists and get feedback on your designs from other peers or use social media to share your design templates with the world. Sometimes getting unbiased peer feedback can make all the difference in your creative process.

Image Source: Unsplash

Online artist meetups, email lists, and Discord channels are becoming more popular as well, which means you no longer need to wait until you can meet like-minded people in person to share your artwork and get feedback.

It’s generally more beneficial to get feedback from other creatives as opposed to only your friends.

Friends and family are more likely to tell you what they think will make you happy, while creative peers are more likely to be objective and offer up solutions to make your concept better.

Meeting other artists and sharing your designs with them can also be a fantastic way to start collaborating with other creatives, which can be an immensely rewarding experience.

Collaborating with another artist can be a wonderful way to get inspiration.
Image Source: Maiki

Here’s an example of a clever design! We thought Maiki's artwork would look incredibly stylish on clothing. This piece has a hip cool look and would create an impressive fashion statement!

Finally, once you’ve iterated on your concept, received feedback, and then iterated some more, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Make Sure The Design Is Balanced

This is the most important aspect when creating a design for a custom tee. Well-balanced graphics tend to sell better, since they are more appealing to the eye. With that being said, you still can experiment with your designs, since rules are made to be broken.

Be sure to choose a color scheme that aligns with the base color of your t-shirt. You want the colors to contrast and complement each other, but not clash.

Next, you’ll need to make the decision whether to print your idea on soft cotton t-shirts or hard-wearing polypropylene.

There is a significant difference between the two in terms of wearability and comfort, but there is also a price difference as well. You’ll need to decide what balance between the two is right for your project.

Image Source: Maiki

Take this design for example - Maiki's final design saved as high-resolution PNG allows it to be printed on almost any color t-shirt.

Think About How Your Design Would Look On A T-Shirt

This is an especially crucial step, as not all ideas translate well onto clothing. So, imagine what your Vectornator creation would look like on a t-shirt before you get too far into the design process.

Will your design work on several assorted colors of t-shirts? You should also consider how it will look on various apparel styles and print locations, such as classic tees, tank tops, crewnecks, baseball shirts, etc. And what about hoodies?

The more versatile your artwork, the more products it can be sold on. With a good art concept, the possibilities are endless.

The wonderful thing about creating a t-shirt design with a design tool like Vectornator is that the colors can easily be adjusted. Thus, you can create variations of your concept and then upload them to your TeePublic shop as separate products.

But keep in mind that every color you add to your custom t-shirt might cost extra. If you can design your custom shirt with just one color of ink, you’ll save a lot of money.

If you need more than three colors, things might start getting expensive. So be sure to create your custom graphics with this in mind.

Next, think about where on the shirt you’d like to put the design. Design placement is key to an effective shirt. There are many options, including belly prints, chest prints, and sleeve prints.

But be careful! Some concepts don’t work for all shapes. If you’re designing for a fitted women’s t-shirt, for example, you’ll need to create your artwork with the shape of the garment in mind.

How Much Does A T-Shirt Designer Cost?

What if you want to make t-shirts, but you aren’t confident in your abilities? There are professional designers available that specialize in t-shirt designs. But these projects can range from $5 to over $200, depending on the skill and experience of the designer you’re hiring.

However, there’s a lot of cost and variability that comes with hiring a designer. In-house designers or design teams come with the risk of the project taking more time than you want to spend. And after the work is complete, the delivery of the product can take added time.

While hiring a premium designer is a legitimate choice, consider trying to make your own t-shirt first. With an intuitive vector design tool like Vectornator, you might be surprised by the quality of your own creations.

Use a design template to get started fast. And with a host of online t-shirt printing websites with fast delivery times, it’s simple to try out a few samples before you decide on a course of action.

How To Sell Your T-Shirt Designs

Finally, once you’ve finished your custom t-shirt design, it’s time to upload your work to TeePublic.

Uploading to TeePublic is quite easy. First, make sure you export your print file as a PNG. This is simple to do in Vectornator.

Usually, we like to save our PNGs at a high resolution and around 45 inches by 45, for example. This allows your artwork to be printed on many different products. Also, we recommend that you set your PNG to a resolution of 300 dpi.

This is a great example of how easy it is to manage your custom designs using TeePublic. Please note, this is just a mockup featuring Maiki's artwork and we do not sell any t-shirts or artwork.

Experiment With Your Shop

Highly detailed shirts can be amazing, but sometimes it’s better to go with a simple idea first. Once you set up a store on a custom t-shirt site such as TeePublic, you’ll be able to see which types of apparel sell better and then create an online shop that has similar concepts.

Use the front page to see what are the most popular t-shirt designs these days! If you have a design or two that are really selling well, consider offering additional shirt colors or alternate versions of your amazing design.

Promote, Promote, Promote…

Once you’ve created a shop on TeePublic and uploaded your first design, it’s time to promote your premium t-shirts!

You should promote your custom designs on social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Check out our Template Hub for more information about the perfect sizing for your social media posts.

But be patient. Your online shop might not be an overnight success, but if you continually promote it, and keep adding new offerings, your fan base will grow over time and you will see your sales go up!

Use Vectornator to make your custom t-shirts, then share your creations with us on Instagram and Twitter and tag us in your post with the hashtag #vectornator! We’re always looking for new artists to feature.

And if you create a TeePublic shop, share the link with us. Our team is always looking for trendy t-shirts to wear during the summer.

Follow us on social media and use the hashtag #Vectornator to tag us on social media for the chance to get featured:

Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |

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