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3 Easy Steps to Come Up With Custom T-Shirt Design Ideas

3 Easy Steps to Come Up With Custom T-Shirt Design Ideas
Karlina Rozkalne

By Karlina Rozkalne

10 min read

Disclosure: some of the links to products or services in this article are affiliate links, meaning that Printful might earn a commission if you sign up or make a purchase through the link (at no extra cost to you). Read more here

Got the burning desire to launch an online clothing store? Want to start a successful side hustle with print-on-demand? Brilliant. If you have the will, all you need are the right tools to get you started: an ecommerce platform and a print-on-demand provider like Printful.

Another crucial thing you need is an idea. After all, if your customers don’t like your designs, you’re not going to sell anything. And figuring out how and where to get t-shirt design ideas is sometimes the hardest part.

If you’re looking for custom t-shirt design ideas, you’ve come to the right place. In this blog post, you’ll learn where to look for design inspiration, how to bring your ideas to life, and where to find ready-made custom t-shirt designs you can sell.

Now, let’s get started.

1. Understand your niche

Before you get to designing, think of who you’ll sell to and identify your niche. Your designs should appeal to your audience.

If you’re having trouble finding a niche, think of what you’re knowledgeable about. Hobbies, events, specific interests, or anything else that has the potential to draw the attention of a community can become your niche market.

You can make a list of your interests and then further dissect each topic to zero in on the right one:

  • Sports
  • Businesses
  • Family
  • Couples
  • Pets
  • Food
  • Social movements
  • Gardening
  • Culture

We have a list of more than 100 niche market ideas to help you find yours.

You want to hit the sweet spot. If your niche is too broad, you won’t be able to target it effectively. Too small, and you won’t have enough buyers. Always ask yourself whether you can earn a profit with a specific niche.

Bottom line: you need to know who you sell to.

Let’s say you’re passionate about cats and want to target other cat fans. That’s a good start, so here are some questions you should start answering:

  • Is there a specific breed that’s popular now?
  • Is there a quote or saying that your audience would appreciate?
  • What kind of cat-themed t-shirts are already on the market?

You can then build an online community around your niche, generate engagement, and start discussions. Get an understanding of what resonates with your audience through polls and comments, where they can share their thoughts.

Create and sell custom products online
Turn your ideas into premium products that leave a lasting impression

2. Look for t-shirt design inspiration

With a direction and ideas in mind, it’s time to create your custom t-shirt designs. This is easier said than done, so first, ask yourself what’s trending in the design world right now? You want your store to be fresh and current.

These days, practically anything has the potential to become an overnight sensation, just to be forgotten a few days later. In other words, most trends have a very limited life cycle. Nevertheless, some trends have withstood the test of time and are making a comeback this year. 

Learn More:

Pop art

Pop art emerged in the mid-1950s in the UK but rapidly caught on in the US. And it’s as relevant today as it was nearly 70 years ago because it illustrates a bright, colorful, and satirical take on consumerism.

Here’s a list of things that you can draw inspiration from to create pop art designs:

  • Comic books
  • Newspapers
  • Sculptures
  • Advertisements 
  • Anything else that is produced for the masses…
  • …even canned soup (as Andy Warhol so famously did in the 1960s)

Pop art designs don’t have to be funny, but it doesn’t mean you can’t use humor in your designs. Don’t shy away from memes, for example. They’re a massive part of internet culture and, integrated into a design, are fun and stylish.

Pop art looks great on a t-shirt and, depending on your design, could be striking as an all-over print. You can check out our Design Maker and see which option you like better.

Tie-dye

The 1960s is the era most famously associated with tie-dye designs. The anti-war movement created high demand for flashy clothing as a form of defiance from authority. More recently, many people have turned to tie-dye to pass the time during the pandemic.

As a result of this resurgence in popularity, fashion brands like Dior and Stella McCartney were adding tie-dye designs to their collections by the end of 2020. Fashion retailers like SPRWMN, HUF, and Zara have also capitalized on this trend.

As a business owner, you have the chance to jump on this trend, too. Check out our tie-dye catalog to see what you can add to your collection.

What are popular tie-dye items to add to your store? 

Remember that tie-dye tees look great as a stand-alone product but you can also add embroidery to achieve a more embellished look.

Custom embroidery

Given its increasing popularity, 2022 is the year to look at custom embroidery as a business opportunity. The possibilities are endless, and embroidery gives ordinary products a luxurious feel. In addition, it’s remarkably easy to create an embroidery design.

For a quick and effortless design creation, use our Design Maker. You can choose from a vast range of clipart and Quick Designs and add text. One of the biggest benefits of using Design Maker is that no additional digitalization is required. Plus, when creating a design there, you’re automatically complying with our embroidery guidelines.

If you want to create a design yourself but you’re just starting out, know that a little goes a long way with embroidery. For your embroidered design to come out just right, follow our embroidery guidelines. For example, because of how embroidery machines work, small details and gradients don’t translate very well, but you can have lots of fun with solid shapes and color blocking.

Want to create a design yourself but don’t have anything particular in mind? Check out our diverse collections for inspiration. Our design team is constantly working on new collections. There’s a clipart for space, blooming flowers, various cat breeds, and comfort foods, just to name a few.

Before getting started, watch this video for some crucial pointers:

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Sidenote: We also offer inside and outside label customization with direct-to-garment printing for embroidered t-shirts for a more personalized look.

Nature-inspired designs

In our increasingly fast-paced world, many of us turn to nature to recharge our batteries, be stimulated, or seek comfort. Nature can be both nurturing and calming, but also energizing. It can also be a fantastic source of inspiration.

The natural world is bursting with gorgeous colors, mesmerizing shapes and patterns, and powerful emotional cues. What better reference to turn to for t-shirt design ideas?

Here are some popular nature-related themes you can use in your designs:

  • Animals 
  • Leaves and/or flowers
  • Fruits and/or vegetables
  • Planets 
  • Forests
  • Jungle
  • Bodies of water

To complement the nature theme, you can pick out one of our eco-friendly t-shirts to add to your store. These t-shirts are made from organic and recycled materials and are part of an effort to be kinder to our natural world. 

Sidenote: We encourage you to think of nature-inspired designs not just from the perspective of graphic design but text, too. Lettering on t-shirts has been very popular (and lucrative for business owners) for the last couple of years, with this year being no exception.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

The beauty of selling t-shirts with print-on-demand is that there’s very little risk. Since you’re printing everything on-demand, you don’t have to spend money on bulk printing designs. If a design doesn’t sell, just remove it from your store. Or if you notice a new trend, add it to your store and see how it performs!

Worst case scenario, you lose on time and effort you invested in creating the design. At best, you have a new, best-selling product on your hands.

Create and sell custom products online
Turn your ideas into premium products that leave a lasting impression

For more actionable, in-depth knowledge you can use when creating your brand, check out Printful Academy’s course on Print-on-demand graphic design trends for 2022.

In this course, you’ll:

  • Be introduced to how graphic design trends originate
  • Learn about 4 trends worth adding to your store in 2022
  • Be taught how to create designs for DTG products, text design for all-over print garments, and custom embroidery design (using Printful’s Design Maker and free online tools)

Learn More: How to Run a Successful Clothing Line in the 21st Century

Interested in more ideas? Our in-house team of designers has created a video covering some of this year’s best trends for print-on-demand:

preview play-button

3. Take advantage of online resources

If you’re already a design pro, then you know how to create your t-shirt designs. Get started in Photoshop (or these photoshop alternatives).

But if you’re not a designer yet, executing your ideas can be a challenge. Luckily, you’ll find plenty of help online.

Use Printful’s Design Maker

I’ll start with the no-brainer. Printful has a robust Design Maker with sample graphics, fonts, illustrations, clipart, and symbols that are free to use.

If your design idea is simple, then you’ll likely find everything you need to bring it to life right here. We walk you through it in our video tutorial about how to create designs in our Design Maker.

Browse websites that offer royalty-free images and fonts

You don’t have to create a design from scratch. You can find royalty-free designs, photographs, and fonts that you can sell as they are, or edit to make your own. Remember the collage style design? You can find a royalty-free photo and add your own design element to it.

Some image sources may be paid, and if you’ll probably need a commercial license to sell designs on t-shirts. If you print through Printful, you need to hold the rights to your design, so do your research.

We recommend that you stick to the designs you create yourself. But if you want to explore paid options, here are a few resources to check out:

  1. Creative Market – your go-to resource for thousands of ready-to-use assets, like graphics, fonts, and themes. You need to pay to download assets and make sure you look at what kind of license you need to sell for commercial use.
  2. Flaticon – 1,720,000 vector icons in all sorts of categories. Download as they are, or edit to your liking. If you use their free version, you need to properly attribute the artist. If you opt for their paid subscription, then you don’t need to attribute the design author (even if it’s for commercial use).
  3. Shutterstock – here you’ll find thousands of high-quality royalty-free photos and vector images. To sell them commercially, you’ll need their Enhanced License.
  4. Vexels – search for vector graphics that are merch ready! They offer tons of vector graphics made specifically for t-shirts, but to sell commercially you’ll need a license.

Hire a freelance designer

It’s easy as ever to connect with a freelance designer. Here are a few websites where you can find one:

  1. UpWork – a freelance platform where you can hire the right person for your job. Read this Upwork review to get a better idea of what to expect.
  2. Fiverr – a beginner space where artists list their skills for $5.
  3. 99designs – describe what you need and how much you’re offering to pay for it. Then designers submit their ideas and you pick the one you like the best.

We cover how to find a t-shirt designer in another blog post!

Bonus: Tips for DTG design

T-shirts are universal—almost everybody owns at least one. So this is a great product to start with. Here is advice on how to pick your t-shirt and create a design.

Pick the right t-shirt model

The style of t-shirt you choose depends on your niche. Is our audience interested in an affordable basic? Then opt for a Gildan. Are they style-oriented? Then go with a fashion-forward Bella-Canvas.

Other key factors to consider:

  • Are you selling to men or women?
  • Does your audience prefer loose- or tight-fitting tees?
  • What price range do they expect?
  • What colors are trendy?

You can learn more about how different shirts fit and feel to help you choose the right one for your store in this video:

preview play-button

Keep print file guidelines in mind

Pay close attention to Printful’s print file guidelines before creating your designs. They’re a little different for each product, but these are basic rules to follow:

  • Submit your design files to Printful in PNG or JPG.
  • Your designs should be at least 150 DPI (dots per inch). Anything smaller and your design will look pixelated when printed.
  • Make sure all of your elements are opaque. DTG printing doesn’t work well with designs that are see-through, so your colors should be solid.

Use our Design Maker’s mockup feature to get an idea of how your product will look, but remember that what you see on screen won’t always look exactly the same when printed in real life. Order samples at 20% off to test your designs before selling them to customers.

Learn More: 32 Hoodie Design Ideas to Get You Inspired

Time to create your t-shirt designs

It’s easy to start selling t-shirts online. All you need is an idea, a niche that’ll love it, and the readily available tools to get you going: an ecommerce platform and print-on-demand provider. With this blog post, you have the tools to find your niche and create a design.

We’ll even help you take it one step further by giving you free t-shirt designs. Use them as they are, or add some unique elements with our Design Maker!

What designs are you selling on your store?

Get started with Printful
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By Karlina Rozkalne on Feb 8, 2022

Karlina Rozkalne

SEO Content Writer

Karlina is an SEO Content Writer specialist at Printful. As a firm believer in attitude over aptitude, Karlina gives her 100% whenever she works on something new. Karlina spends her free time reading, traveling, and doing yoga.

Karlina is an SEO Content Writer specialist at Printful. As a firm believer in attitude over aptitude, Karlina gives her 100% whenever she works on something new. Karlina spends her free time reading, traveling, and doing yoga.