The perfect t-shirt design is the holy grail for Australian designers that want to build their portfolio and their brand. The problem is that it takes more than a quick sketch and brief market research to find that ideal image. Here are some top tips to improve your chances.
First and foremost, you need something that is immediately eye-catching. Something that immediately signifies everything that the target audience loves about the subject at hand. One of the best examples to work with here is the band t-shirt, as this is so diverse and iconic, with such a strong connection between subject and wearer. What does the design say about the current period of being a fan of that band? It this a piece that works with a particular show or an album?
This is where is is important to be able to disconnect from the artistry of the design to make sure it is mainly about the subject and audience – not your own agendas as an artist. It has to reflect the needs of the wearer. Again, band t-shirts are a great example here. The imagery, colours and fonts have to be on point, where it is unmistakably true to the band and subject. The connection has to go so deep that they are rooted to that era, that moment of falling for the band and design, so that they never want to give it up.
On the subject of design, you have to know how to connect with that audience, and that message, through the right colours. Monotone imagery with bold, simple designs are always a hit. Black and white tees have quite a universal appeal with the right audience. A vintage look, or a bold, multicoloured piece of artwork that stretches across the shirt, both have their audiences. This is where it is important to understand the audience a little better. Continuing with the band shirt analogy, we have vintage shirts for older bands, rock bands etc. Then there are simplistic prints and minimalism for other genres. Big bold pieces of art are evocative of the sixties and seventies – but is it time they made a comeback here? Many prefer limited colour palettes, as bright multicoloured prints are just too powerful. Still, it all depends on the genre, age group and risk you are willing to take.
At the same time you have to think about the way that these images look on the shirt, and on the body. T-shirt printing in Australia has a very unique approach when compared to other parts of the world. Some designs lose appeal and focus when on a shirt, but work brilliantly as large, flat banners and posters. The distortion can ruin the effect. Remember that there will be a different look to male and female shirts too. Many like to stick with designs that stay at the top of the shirt to avoid these issues. This means thinking about a shirt through the eye of the buyers and the wearability of the garment. This isn’t just a piece of artwork to take home. This is a garment carrying a design that they like, and need to be able to wear whenever they desire. In addition to thinking through male and female perspectives, you need to think about the age of the wearer. Some designs work better on older people than others.
The problem with working for a buyer and thinking through another’s eyes is that it is too easy to detach from the work and see it as a commercial venture. The best designs come from those that are able to use this objective eye while editing designs, but also create something that has some personality to it. T-shirt design still requires a little heart and soul, like any other artwork. Consumers will be able to see this is in the finished piece.
This can be tricky when you are working for other brands, music artists or events. However, a simple design element, or hidden logo, will make your work stand out. Think of it like an artist’s signature. This way consumers are buying the shirt for two reasons – the original subject and the knowledge that they now have one of your original shirts. These trademarks will soon stand out to keen collectors.
Don’t be afraid to push yourself, and general conventions, when it comes to a design for your shirt. You want something that will stand out as unique piece, while conveying the appropriate message. This encourages artists to be creative with text, photos and original designs. With the right thought over the design and the subject, you are more likely to create something with a little more substance to it.
Costs will vary depending on the colours and details of the print. This is another reason for a more simplistic top-focused design rather than a multicolour affair that spreads across the whole shirt with multiple tones. Some suggest going for no more than 3 colours per design to make sure that the costs stay low. In the end, it all depends on budget, quantities and the likelihood of further sales. On that note, it also helps to work on a strong relationship with your chosen print company. You can do so with clear designs, Pantone colours and an understanding of their process. Make things easy for them and they will let you come back.
As long as you have a full composition, and all the elements come together nicely in the design, you should be onto a winner. Be careful with the colours, positioning of the design on the shirt/body and the target market. At the same time, maintain that balance of business and creativity to create something that really stands out.