How to Take and Edit Photos for Custom Photo T-Shirt Gifts

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Custom photo t-shirts are a popular choice for Christmas, birthday, and gag gifts. But even if your t-shirt idea is just for fun, you still want it to look as nice as possible. Editing photos for professional production used to take quite a bit of expertise, but with the development of photo editing apps and software, just about anyone can produce a high quality, print ready photo.

custom photo t-shirt

Beginning with a great image is the most optimal start. One of the most important things to take into account for photo t-shirt printing is the resolution of the photo you want reproduced on the shirt. A high resolution photograph will reproduce the best result. But what does high resolution mean?

Digital photographs are made up of pixels. Each pixel represents the smallest unit of a digital image that make up the entire photo. If you have a high resolution image to start with, you can increase the size of the image to print nicely on a shirt without degrading the quality. If you start with a low resolution image and try to increase the size to print on a shirt, there simply aren’t enough pixels to maintain the integrity of the photo. That’s when you get a grainy, blurry reproduction.

pixelated photo

Almost any cell phone has the capability to take pictures nowadays and newer models typically offer pretty outstanding quality. But to take the highest quality picture on your cell phone, check the resolution settings of your camera. Typically you’ll find settings on most mobile devices via a gear icon. High resolution photos result in larger file sizes though. Take a few test shots of anything and see if you can still email them to yourself. Most popular email services set a limit on the file size you can send. Play around until you find the highest setting that still allows you to transfer the image and upload it to our
custom t-shirt design studio

Make sure your phone’s camera lens is clean; a microfiber cloth will work fine. Taking pictures of your subject in natural outdoor light is best, but that’s not always possible. If you shoot indoors, make sure it’s in a well-lit area, but be conscientious of shadows. The light source should be in front of your image, not behind or you’ll have issues with silhouettes.


Get as close to your subject as possible relative to the composition or staging of the photo. Don’t rely on zooming in later while editing because this will distort and degrade the quality of the photo. Obviously, you’ll want to stay as still as possible when taking the photo. If you have difficulty with this there are mini tripods made especially for cell phones that you can purchase. If you plan on taking lots of high quality photos, some more expensive tripod kits even come with specialty lenses like micro and macro zoom.

Even if you take and outstanding cell phone shot, there’s probably still room for improvement and enhancement. Straightening the horizon is the first step unless you’re going for a specific effect. Cropping your photo to focus on your subject is the second step. If you have a high resolution photo, cropping out superfluous background matter shouldn’t be an issue; you can also improve the composition with cropping. Professional photographers often compose by situating the main subject off center. If your printing a custom photo t-shirt from an old photo or a low resolution photo, you may not have this option because the photo might show up too small on the t-shirt to have an impact.

photo composition

Think about the layout of your image too. If its landscape, meaning horizontally composed, there is a limit to the printing capability of a digital t-shirt print. By uploading your picture to our design studio, you can see a real proof of how large the photo will be on the t-shirt within the confines of the t-shirt printer area. If you photo is more of a portrait layout, meaning dominantly vertical in makeup, you have some extra freedom as far as the size of the final print on the t-shirt.

cell phone pics

Correcting flaws and enhancing the image is really easy with all of the resources that are available for cell phones and the photo editing software available for other digitally captured photos. What corrections and enhancements will improve your photo t-shirt gifts?

Almost any photo editing software will offer an auto enhance feature. Sometimes this isn’t enough so you can individually address brightness and contrast. Don’t go overboard, if it needs a ton of brightening, you may have taken the picture in poor light and it might be better to retake the photo rather than have a washed out image.

Removing red eye is essential; you’ll likely have this as an automatic option. Sharpen your image to bring out the clarity of the subject. You can change the mood of the picture by adding warm or cool tones depending on the effect you’re wishing to project.

enhanced photo

Most photo t-shirt orders we receive are simply square or rectangular. If you want fancy edging like a grunge border, you can find a solution or just ask us to do it for you in design notes in checkout. Note that fade to transparency doesn’t work out very well with either digital or screen printing. Adding a border to your photo in a photo editing app or software can pull off some great results and can add additional character to your photo t-shirt gift.

Here is a pro tip on digital images from the web. In most cases, a photo from the web will have copyright protection, which means we or any other reputable custom t-shirt printer will not be able to reproduce the image without express permission from the copyright holder. But furthermore, images that are taken from the web are typically 72 dpi, which is extremely low resolution. Images on the web are not meant to be blown up to huge sizes, but they should load on the page quickly, which means a smaller file size. If you have rights to an image and the web is the only place it’s archived, we can print it. We just hope you’ll understand that the result is not going to be representative of our capabilities as expert t-shirt printers considering there is only so much that can be done with a low resolution photograph.

What if you’re trying to memorialize a photographic memory from before the age of digital? For some younger people, this is hard to conceive, but once upon a time, photographs were handled by professional film developers and there was no digital anything. You would receive your photo in tangible, physical form and if you didn’t save the negative, that was the only method of archiving the memory. If you want to commemorate a piece of history on a t-shirt, you’re best plan of action is to scan the photo.

old photos

Clean the surface of your old photo with a microfiber cloth. Also clean the glass of your scanner. If it’s dirty in any way, use a tiny bit of glass cleaner. Be sure to dry it thoroughly and check closely for any specks that remain. Set your clean photo onto the clean surface of the scanner. Scan your photo at the highest resolution it is capable of producing. Some enhancements can be made afterwards like sharpening and other photo adjustments but if it’s a poor original photograph, there is only so much that can be done to improve its quality.

Once the image has been translated into digital pixels, upload to the design studio. If you have any questions concerning your custom photo t-shirt, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our customer service professionals will assist in making you and your t-shirt gift look great for Christmas, memorials, birthdays, anniversaries and anytime gifts.

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