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Beginner's handbook Style & trends

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

By Reading Time: 6 minutes

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 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 cool 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 cool 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 involved in. Are you part of any unique communities? It’s easier to sell to a niche that you already know about than one that’s completely new to you.

Anything can become your niche market – hobbies, groups, events, and more:

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

Not sure who to target? We have a list of more than 100 niche market ideas.

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 plants and want to target other plant fans. That’s a good start, so here are some questions you should start answering:

  • What’s trending on Instagram and Pinterest?
  • Is there a specific type of plant that’s popular now?
  • Is there a quote or saying that your audience would appreciate?
  • What kind of plant-themed t-shirts are already on the market?

Get an understanding of what’s happening in your community and what would resonate with them. If you’re part of the community yourself, then if you like something, there’s a good chance others will like it, too.

2. Look for t-shirt design inspiration

With a direction and ideas in mind, it’s time to create your 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.

Printful’s team of in-house designers knows all about current design trends. Watch the video below to learn their tips:

80s and 90s patterns

Millennials are riding the nostalgia wave—aesthetics from our youth are making a comeback. Think big contrasts, intricate shapes, and pastel colors.

Patterns look best with our all-over products (leggings, sweatshirts, etc.). But you can use 90s elements on t-shirts as well.


You can never go wrong with typography. Adapt it to any niche by playing around with the style of typography and the text.

Although there are many ways to create typographic designs, two styles are very in right now: isometric and hand-drawn typography.

Isometric typography has a geometric feel with bold, stylized 3D lettering.

Then there’s hand-drawn typography, which is a little more rustic and whimsical compared to isometric.

Going with stylized typography generally works better than using a basic font as it looks unique and professional.

Always consider what your audience likes. Are they more about bold, geometric styles, or a rustic aesthetic? Or maybe they’re drawn to your message, in which case, a simple font could work just fine!

Don’t forget to download your free typography designs at the end of this post!

Collage design

We’re seeing a surge in collage design—that is, two (or more) images juxtaposed together.

The key to this style is the contrast. Pick images that are the opposite, but work well together. Think of the emotion you want to evoke and the images that’ll take your customer there. Photographs combined with some kind of graphic design elements work well.

This design style looks great on t-shirts—it’s easy to see all the contrasts and detail.

Hand-drawn illustration

We covered this in our 2018 design trends video and it’s still current today!

Continuing with the plant fan example, let’s say I want to create a simple design with a hand-drawn illustration from the Design Maker. I would simply pick an illustration of a plant, and add witty text under it.

plant mockup example

Printful’s Design Maker has a bunch of illustrations you can use to create simple designs, from avocado, pizza, and other foodie drawings to heart-shaped sunglasses and basic shapes.

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 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.

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 by nature, 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.

We also offer Printful Design Services if you need help with an elaborate concept.

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 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:

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.

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?

Nora has been part of the Printful team since 2015. She has spent the last several years writing content, coordinating communications projects, and helping customers learn about ecommerce. Now as Printful's Brand Manager, she gets to use her experience and knowledge in new and challenging ways.


  1. bryan proulx

    Thanks so much for the really helpful advice. “Printful ROCKS!” I am opening my POD store soon on shopify and can use all the helpful advice I can get. Printful will be my prime print on demand service provider! You guys do it all, even provide an in house design service. I will be using that as well. You guys are setting the POD bar to new hights.

  2. Skylar Williams

    Thank you for your tip to choose the right shirt material to embroider on. My family has a reunion every year and we want to get custom embroidered shirts. I’ll be sure to choose the right material so we can get the best shirts.

  3. Rhonda Muir

    Hi. I’m just getting started learning about how to provide the proper print files. I have no previous experience and can’t afford to consult your experts so it’s a bit confusing, as you can imagine. I have Canva Pro, which downloads in RGB, so I think I’m okay there, although I’m not sure it operates within the CMYK color spectrum. I can’t find the answer to this. Could you help me? (In as plain English as possible.) In other words, is it safe (as far as color) to use Canva to create and download my designs? I’d also like to ask, if I’m using photographs in my designs, is there the same concern about color differences, or are photos another thing altogether? Thanks for your help.

    1. Madara Zute

      Hi Rhonda,
      Since we request print files in RGB color mode anyway, it’s safe to use Canva Pro for your designs. We only suggest using CMYK color mode as a “safe mode” option if you’re worried about accidentally using colors that are only visible on screen and cannot be reproduced in printing. Out of gamut colors are not that common and usually it’s those very bright neon shades. If you’re using photographs, it’s unlikely that you’ll come across these colors.
      Also, keep in mind that out of gamut colors may still produce good printing results—they just might be not as bright as you had intended. The best way of checking this is by ordering a sample.
      Canvas Pro doesn’t offer a CMYK mode, but you can look up RGB to CMYK converters online.
      Hope this helps! 🙂

  4. Miss Fathama Rafiq, Mohammend Rafiq

    I would like to have t shirts which have written
    (Mankind union with no race and colour)
    Please don’t mind if it is offensive
    Just let me know if it can be done.

    1. Katherine Karklina

      Hi there! You can design your products however you’d like as long it does not violate our content guidelines 😊 So yes, this can be done.

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