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Updated 1-16-23

Creating your own custom t-shirts can be a fun and easy process, especially when using design software. With the right tools, you can bring your ideas to life and create shirts that are truly one-of-a-kind. Whether you are creating a custom t-shirt for a special occasion, work event, or “just because”; it may be easier than you think! Most people begin with asking themselves the discouraging questions of: Where do I start? What programs should I use? How do I learn how to use those programs? What if I absolutely cannot draw? Rather than quitting before you even begin, take a moment to read our tips and tricks below!

Where To Start?

The first thing any designer must consider is the print process you would prefer to use. These options could include vinyl transfers, embroidery, screen printing, or digital printing! With all quality prints, it is most important to use computer programs that can yield high-quality art files. First, choose a design software that suits your needs. There are a variety of options available, including free and paid programs. Popular programs used by graphic designers include: Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, Corel Paint Shop Pro, Adobe Photoshop, and even Canva.
Corel products are significantly less expensive in comparison to the household name “Adobe”, however, most designers prefer the familiar capability of Adobe products. If you are unsure of which one you may prefer, both companies offer free trials at their websites. This is a great perk if you only need to use it for a one-time design! Canva is popular due to their pre-existing clip art and design templates if you are struggling to get started creatively.

How Do I Use These Programs?

The basics of computer drawing programs are not hard to learn and have come a long way in being user friendly. To draw in Illustrator, you can use the pencil tool or the more accurate pen tool for tight, crisp lines. There is also the type tool to easily insert text, as well as the shapes tool to apply interesting shapes to your design. Both Corel Draw and Adobe Illustrator tutorials are available on numerous websites, some even offer free tutorials within their software! With tutorials from basic drawing to complex rendering to make understanding these programs in-depth exponentially easier. If you prefer to start with something that is super user-friendly, Canva is a great starting place. They offer online walk throughs to optimize their website and make creating as fun as it was to learn MS Paint when you were younger! Canva is extremely limited in its capabilities to create a solely unique design from scratch – but is a great jumping off point for creativity, not to mention you can always share artwork between programs! Take it out of Canva, upload it to your Adobe or Corel program and make line edits or more!

Basic Design Steps

Now that you know how to run the program you are using, how do you know what kind of design you want to create for your custom t-shirt? Keeping basic design principles, that every accomplished designer uses, in mind can help you in copious ways.
1. The first step is to decide what your message or crowd is. Is this for a charity/ fundraiser? Are these business shirts for your company? Are you gifting every member a “Family Reunion” Tee to wear?  The list (and possibilities) are endless!
2. Once you have decided on the message or event of your shirt, you need to decide on a theme or concept for your artwork. Do you want a certain image or text? Maybe you want to create a unique design that incorporates both?
3. Consider the crowd. Who is wearing and who is viewing your shirt? Do we want the family reunion tees to be brightly colored with a single color image and text so we are easily spotted? Is this for a serious event of only adults? Does my business have a specific color pallet?

Basic Design Principles & Tips

The design process may still seem overwhelming so here are a few tips and tricks:
-T-shirts for children can easily be brighter with fun fonts and shapes. If your target audience is adults, try to keep the colors limited and the font easier to read.

-Colors that are dependable and inoffensive include blue, black, and white. If you want your design to catch eyes in an anything but subtle way, go for red, orange, or even yellow.

-Consider if you want the shirt to be more functional or more fashionable – how frequently would you expect this to be worn?

-It’s is always okay to ask for a second opinion, you are learning and putting a lot into this! Outside feedback is important and should be taken in willingly.

Remember the creating custom t-shirts can be a fun and rewarding experience, and with the help of design software, the possibilities are endless. So go ahead, let your creativity run wild, and create shirts that truly reflect your unique style.

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