Why read this? : Coming up with an idea and design for a T-shirt needs some creative thinking. Learn how we applied lessons about colour, typography and other design principles to our creative T-shirt designs. Read this to see how to apply design theories to real-life design challenges.
We aim to make each new design better than the one before. In our article from the week after launch, we shared a key T-shirt learning was our need for smarter designs. Here’s some of what we’ve been thinking about to do that.
Our first designs didn’t really take into account the differences between printing on light and dark colour backgrounds.
As per our guide to design principles in marketing, contrast is an important element to include when you design.
We created two versions of these designs. One to work better on a light background and one to work better on a dark background.
But we believe, this leads to a slightly confusing choice for the shopper.
So, we’re now thinking ahead a bit more when we choose colours. We consider how they’ll appear on different colour backgrounds. While it’s also fun to think about the psychological effects of colour, there’s also practical considerations you need to work through.
Example - Mumjuggling design
Look at the recent design on mumjuggling for example. Here, we have a magenta font ‘mum’ running on the black cut-out of the mum juggling.
This combination helps the image stand out more.
It’s a good example of using contrast.
The dark cut-out stands out on lighter backgrounds, and the magenta stands out on darker backgrounds.
We also applied colour in design thinking to other elements in this design. The red font on the main mum juggling is complementary to the red gradient on the ‘balls’ for example.
The gradient effect also gives a 3D feeling to the balls. We also slightly changed the angles of the gradients so the balls look a little more ‘natural’. As if they were really being thrown in the air.
We also considered the colour choice and how it will print. Colours on screen and colours on printed items won’t look the same, as we cover in our guide to colour in marketing.
We use the RGB palette as it’s recommended by the print on demand companies. The quality of the finished product depends on the printer’s ability to transfer the colour from a digital file to the T-shirt.
As we’re still quite new to using the Print on Demand companies, we’ve found their help guides on colour useful such as this guide from Spreadshirt.
Font and typography - Website
When we set this site up, we started by browsing the Adobe Font library to see what typefaces were available. There’s a lot to choose from. We’ll share some of our experience of that, before we look at the typefaces we used on our T-shirt designs.
(Incidentally, we hope Adobe pay the font creators well. That’d make us feel better about the outrageous Adobe fees we’ve moaned about in previous posts).
Libre Baskerville and Poppins
We ended up with Libre Baskerville for most of the headings and Poppins for most of the body copy. (Note : we’ve since dropped Libre Baskerville and gone with Poppins for all our website typeface choices).
These came with the WordPress theme we used (called Neve, if you’re interested), but are also available license-free at font-squirrel. It’s important to check the usage rights on typefaces. So, whether it’s free for commercial use, or only for personal use for example. There are some great guides out there on where to download fully free fonts.
We also think it’s worth researching the fonts you use.
We can see that Libre Baskerville is a serif based typeface. It’s web font optimised and it has origins dating back to American Type Founder’s Baskerville from 1941.
It’s been adapted to make it easier to read on screen, and it’s been downloaded almost 650,000 times.
Poppins on the other hand is a sans serif typeface.
It works in Devanagari and Latin writing systems according to the notes on Font Squirrel. It’s been downloaded more than 700,00 times.
You probably got to this page via the home page but probably didn’t pay much attention to the font choice. Who does? But it’s important to consider when building website pages to make sure the text is readable.
Font and typography - T-shirts
However, what works well on a web page doesn’t necessarily work well in other formats, and when we played around with these fonts on some early creative T-shirt designs, they didn’t work so well.
On T-shirts, we like the chunky El Grande for headlines. It’s a sans serif with a lot of curves and character. It stands out well when seen from a distance, and on most of our new designs, we’ve added a little (0.05in) drop shadow with no blur.
(Note : El Grande was part of the Adobe Font package when this article was written, but is no longer part of that package)
We also like Noteworthy as a copy font – it’s informal and script based. But when we tried Noteworthy in the mumjuggling design, it didn’t quite work.
So, we’re trying another script typeface called GoodDog New. We may well use it in future designs.
It’s chunkier, so it stands out more at a distance.
You can see these different fonts in the image with the mum juggling and introvert guide to Christmas designs.
(Also, check out our full marketing typography guide for more on fonts and typefaces).
Our final thought on creative T-shirt design is around composition and layout.
We use a standard 11in x 11in grid for the basics T-shirt layouts. And we work mostly in Adobe Illustrator for layouts.
We tried one design in Photoshop (our recently added Gin and Tonic t-shirts started off with images of actual wine bottles).
But they didn’t work so well with the other graphics so we ended up drawing our wine bottles from scratch in Illustrator.
Some of the Print on Demand designs spec let you go bigger than this – especially the height, but we prefer to aim a little smaller. It’s easier to enlarge a design than to squeeze a design into a smaller space.
We mostly use the Snap to Grid function as this helps with a lot of alignment. Alignment is another topic we cover in our design principles guide.
The designs should be balanced for layout with images and fonts coming together. We also use the alignment tools in Illustrator a lot once we have the basic elements in place.
Images and text we try to centre align as a rule to give some balance. But only where there’s not a lot of text, as centre-aligned blocks of text are harder to read.
Conclusion - Creative T-shirt thinking
We hope these give you some ideas on how to apply design skills with actual products sold online.
It seems more artist oriented than Spreadshirt or Redbubble and it seems to offer a wider product range. But, it’s got a lot of different product specifications and that means a lot of resizing of our images to get them on the main range of products there.
And that’s a job we’re saving for after Christmas,