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How to come up with T-shirt design ideas

Great design ideas is the big thing at the heart of your brand. Kind of like the hook in a chart-topper, the product is the foundation that everything from photography to marketing is built on. Many brand owners ask us about this, often when they’ve got one or two ideas they’re happy with but looking to consistently┬ácome up with stuff that sells well. In this blog we look at the process professional t-shirt designers use. You’ll learn some tricks and tips in this 3 minute read that will make it fast and easy to create designs that people will love.

A model wearing a super rad printed tee

Some people think you need to be an artist, but t-shirt design is a pretty approachable form of design where in most cases, the idea and message is more important than the executing when compared to other forms of art like oil painting. T-shirt design is two-halved, the development of the idea, and the execution in a design program like Photoshop, Illustrator or a free alternative like General Image Manipulation Program (GiMP). The design is your biggest value-add to your customer, it is your main product. And launching a new design is a story in itself that keeps customers engaged – the best ones can be shared thousands of times, so it pays to put a little planning into how you’re going to develop your product design ideas if you are ambitious about what you want to achieve on Teemill.

Use a template

First up, do you really need to do your own design? In the product creator tool we provide loads of handy templates and starting points that you can use to create your products.

The designs are there to be used free if you are creating products to sell on Teemill. If you’d like to see more designs from a certain category, use the feedback tool and tell us.

You can use, remix and adapt the templates to make your own stuff and many of the styles are proven winners, so adding your own clever pun to a slogan t-shirt template, or using designs as they are if they are relevant to your customer’s interest is a fast easy way to get started.

Finding a designer

If you can’t find what you’re looking for in the designer, let us know with the feedback tool – but if you’re looking for something totally unique and of an extra special quality, the internet has now made it super easy to connect with independent designers on gig sites like Fiverr, where you can find people to make your t-shirt designs for one-off fees that are often super economical.

Many folks find that commissioning a few designs from a gig worker is an economical and fast way to get professional quality results.

The benefit of using pro freelancers is that they do this all day so they can be super fast, and you’re free to try different designers or stick with one if it’s working out.

Going for it yourself

For brand new designers, the learning curve can be steep but going for it, and learning how to design yourself, is perhaps the most rewarding way to approach designing. The satisfaction of taking the product from idea to sale is awesome. There are two challenges to learn your way through, one is getting and learning to operate the software to the extent that you can get the look that you have in your head down on the canvas and exported in a high resolution, transparent PNG.

The less talked about bit is the more interesting one – and its relevant to all the strategies, whether outsourcing, using templates or going for it yourself: How do you actually come up with the ideas?

The difference between successful Teemill stores and startups that take longer to hit their stride is often the approach to design. It pays to take a little bit of time and plan out your collection before you even start designing – so if you don’t yet have a copy of the design software you think you need, great! Focusing too much on getting a copy of Photoshop and playing around with it will blind you from the fact that the idea is the most valuable thing. You won’t have any t-shirt design ideas when you’re in Photoshop: The program is just a tool to execute the idea that’s in your head. Our recommendation is to download this template, print it on some paper (or draw your own copy if you don’t have a printer) and start on paper, so you’re free to think.

Your design program is just a tool like a saw, and it’s worth thinking about going to make before you start using it. Using your design program to create the finished piece of art it is the last thing you’ll do.

Forget about finishing, focus on starting points.

A great t-shirt design starts with the parts. If we are designing a collection for a collab with a big artist or charity, we mindmap the cause, their values or inspiration.

It’s a really good idea to use pinterest to pin all our searches and inspiration in one place so we can see visually what direction you want to take your collection before you start designing.

Once you know what direction to take your designs, you’ll probably have a few ideas about finished designs. Sometimes it can be iconic visual cues connected to your values – we care about sustainability a lot, so naturally polar bears, wind turbines, and animals are a common starting point for designs, either graphically or in slogans.

Googling, and particularly searching hashtags on pinterest is how many people find inspiration, and inspiration can be from anywhere like a poster, stamp, photo, pair of socks, old painting – anything that you think is cool.

You are your own demographic

This bit is critical – stay true to yourself and what you think is cool. It’s a bad idea to design stuff so that you can sell it to people, design stuff that you like and likeminded people will be drawn to it. Almost every successful Teemiller we talk to designed the product for the love of it and often surprise themselves at how popular the products are: They are their own target customer.

The most important thing is to stay true to yourself. Forget trying to design what others like: Design what you think is cool. The internet is a big place and you’ll find other people like you will love it.

There’s no real best-practise with designs. Some of the most successful designs in recent years are varied in style from bold slogan tees to low poly prints, clever single colour designs or one-word hashtags, a photo on a t-shirt or a simple shape. The thing they all had in common is that they were all thought through.

Next: Artwork…

There’s lots of things to consider when completing the artwork for your new t-shirt design, from program choice, colouration, resolution, file formats and the nitty gritty of which tools to use for what, all of which are covered in detail in the next post, artwork for t-shirt printing.

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