Custom Shirt Design 101: Everything You Need to Know

There are tons of tools out there to design and print custom shirts these days, and making the right choices can be quite overwhelming. Whether you want a striped shirt for employees, a gift for a loved one on a special day, or a booming custom shirt business, the options are endless.

You can easily master the learning curve if you have prior design experience. But even if you want to outsource the design and production of your custom shirts, you may still need a good understanding of some basic concepts.

This simple guide explains everything. We’ve broken it all down into easy-to-follow steps. We will show you how to plan and implement your design by choosing the right material, design and style and printing method. From start to finish, you could have your awesome personalized shirt ready to ship within hours from now by following our guide.

Let’s stun!

Design a personalized shirt in 4 easy steps

To avoid being overwhelmed by the multitude of choices you’ll be faced with when creating a custom shirt, here are some simple steps to get you started. Once you have decided on these steps, everything else falls into place.

Step 1: Plan your design

You may or may not have a clear idea of ​​what your personalized shirt should look like. But when getting started, it is imperative to first establish the purpose of the custom shirt. Purpose guides everything else and will help determine if your custom shirt is a success or not.

For example, if this is a one-time project or a routine print for your business, you will need corresponding choices in various areas of the process.

With the purpose of your shirt clearly in mind, you can start evaluating your different options. This requires brainstorming. Here you have to put your technical and creative skills to good use. Your technical thinking will help you make choices that fit your unique needs – budget, target audience, timeline, etc., while your creative skills will help you coordinate those options in a way that generates the most desirable outcome.

For more inspiration, look for similar ideas that have already been made. You can check out similar designs from artists and print shops as well as current trends.

Start experimenting on custom shirt design software, simulating your design ideas to find the perfect match.

Step 2: Choose your hardware

Now your custom shirt ideas are starting to take shape. Next, you would want to start making more concrete choices like the type of material. You will have plenty of options to choose from here. The most popular materials are cotton and polyester, a combination of the two or tri-blends.

Cotton is the best choice for comfort and breathability. It wicks away moisture and also allows for a perfect fit. Combed cotton provides extra tenderness and comfort, ideal for soft touch t-shirts. Polyester is a better moisture wicker and is also breathable and stretchy. However, it is less ideal for embroidery designs than cotton.

Blended materials combine cotton with polyester and/or other materials in varying proportions to exploit their qualities for a unique result.

Step 3: Choose design elements

Now, your design may differ from the original plan when it is finally implemented due to some things you might notice along the way during implementation. That’s why it’s important to keep an open mind throughout the process.

The basics you need to establish first include shirt style, graphics and/or text, color scheme, and size/fit. When choosing colors for a branded shirt, you will obviously want to choose your brand colors, but other colors may also make sense depending on the specifics of the purpose of the shirt. For example, you can use different colors to differentiate those of different departments. Thus, senior officials may wear different colors than lower-level personnel.

Besides the choice of color and design, you also need to consider the placement of the design. You can choose to place the design in the center of the left or right chest, on the left or right sleeve, or in the upper, center or lower back.

The size of your shirt also requires serious consideration. Choose your shirt size based on factors such as your target audience, appropriate fit, and budget. For example, if you’re targeting low-budget production, plus sizes could put a dent in your budget.

Step 4: Decide on the printing method

Here too, you have several choices, each with its advantages and disadvantages. The right choice will depend on several factors, but here are the most important points to note:

Print Screen

By far the most common method of printing, screen printing transfers a design onto a shirt using fabric ink and a mesh screen. An ink is printed on the fabric through a woven screen which bears the design, giving a clean and smooth impression. However, screen printing is only useful for simple, monochromatic designs.

Heat transfer

With this method, a heat transfer paper is heat pressed onto a shirt and then gently removed leaving the pattern embedded on the custom shirt. Heat transfer allows for more vivid multicolor patterns.


An embroidery printer uses a mechanized needle to sew the design onto the shirt. It allows very realistic multicolored designs. The integrated design is textured and very durable.

Direct to Garment (DTG)

The DTG method uses a special printer called a DTG printer to spray the design directly onto the fabric. Also known as color printing, DTG prints just about any type of design, from actual photos to digital artwork and everything in between.


That’s it folks, everything you need to know to bring your custom shirts to life, whether you’re a DIYer or subcontractor to the pros. Start by clarifying the purpose of the custom shirt. Then brainstorm for the design – look around past works for inspiration. Next, get into the details – choose style, color, material, size/fit and printing method. You can simulate your choices using custom shirt software before you finally produce it.

And always keep an open mind when implementing your design. Try to be as flexible as possible when implementing. You would like it to be easy to adjust your original design ideas as the need arises to ensure a highly desirable outcome.

About Catharine C. Bean

Check Also

Local store chooses shirt design to support ‘Autism Speaks’ foundation

PARKERSBURG, WV (WTAP) — Carsyn Cunningham is a 26-year-old entertainer who was diagnosed with autism …