T Shirt Design

Controversial Designs and our Values

Teemill is a platform, not one big shop. Anyone can potentially upload a design to Teemill, build their own store, sell their designs to get printed. It raises some interesting questions… Do we need some rules?

Firstly, there’s the obvious: In order to upload a custom design or create a product, the user will have both agreed to the custom product terms, store operator terms and confirmed they have obtained all relevant licenses (i.e. copyright and trademark permissions) to right to use, sell and reproduce the artwork.

So that’s clear: Designs on Teemill must be original artworks. But this blog is about something else – the more subjective idea of what is “ok” or “acceptable” to sell on Teemill. It’s a really interesting question, and it’s the first time we’ve had to think hard about this. After all, every time we’ve created a product in the past, we’re responsible for it and know the intent and values behind it. Teemill is different, because we don’t create any of the designs. We created the platform that allows people to upload and sell these designs. And it unlocks loads of powerful results.

Teemill is for the new brand that needs a platform to get started. For the talented designer to make creativity pay. Or the struggling charity that needs revenue to keep going. Maybe the band who want a better way to do merch in the 21st century.

That’s a nice idea. But it’s on the internet, we know what can happen: Trolling, incitement, extreme opinions. We want to build a platform that shares the values of the business we started out as, Rapanui. And so we got everyone at the Rapanui factory together to debate this. This whole blog is a result of that debate.


The first word that came up and everyone instantly agreed upon was quality. We want Teemill to be a quality platform with good products and designs. That means we might need to have an active role in maintaining quality. We also felt we don’t want Teemill to be about exclusivity – we want Teemill to be accessible to anyone, but the product and presentation has to be of a high quality.

Freedom of Expression

We then talked about opinion. Some of us are atheists and some of us are religious. Some gay, some straight. Some like guns. Some don’t. Some love football, some like photography. Our own beliefs and opinions shouldn’t dictate what people can and cannot design on Teemill. We all agreed that even if we don’t agree with a message or like a design, freedom of expression is important.

Some designs or opinions might be considered unpalatable or in bad taste, annoying or even offensive. It’s not always easy to know when: If you look hard enough, you might find an individual somewhere that’s offended, no matter what you do or say. For us, it becomes different at the point where a design’s made with the intention to upset people or cause offence.

The Teemill platform is a place that enables freedom of expression, even if your opinion of belief isn’t universally popular. At the same time, we will work to prevent and reduce designs that incite hatred, are designed purely to be offensive or that attack people or groups of people with the intention of causing harm.

Politics, conspiracies, far out beliefs

Politics came up when we discussed our values. We really didn’t relish in getting too involved with politics. If individuals that feel like they’d like to make tees that represent their politics or beliefs in state institutions in a reasonable way with a quality t-shirt design, this should not be something we prevent. We decided that it’s not our place to censor messages in products with a political theme.

Nudity, adult content

Nudity came up. It was quite early in the morning, and nobody liked the idea of printing lewd pictures so soon after breakfast. We’re all adults and it’s not our place to censor a bit of risque fun if that’s what you’re into. Those cheeky or flirtatious designs, if you think they’re cool, you’re welcome to upload them – but we’d rather not have all out nudity submitted in T-shirt designs for Teemill.


Whilst we’d rather not have heaps and heaps of dumb profanity t-shirts all over Teemill, we recognise we’re all adults and if you choose to have some mild sweary language on your store for the purposes of making a funny or entertaining t-shirt, that should be up to you. Please remember, Teemill is about making profit from great quality clothes, not making a scene so let’s agree to draw the line at the C-word.

Giving customers a voice

And we realised too, that our customers are part of this debate. We have made it easy for any person to comment or flag a product that they believe is not in the spirit of Teemill’s values at any time on the contact page of every Teemill store. This page also gives anyone the opportunity to resolve a copyright or IP dispute with the store owner, and in both cases the user can alert us to help resolve the situation if a resolution cannot be resolved.

It comes down to Intent

Really, it came down to tone and intent. If a design sets out to offend, abuse, shock or hurt people or organisations, please don’t be surprised if we uphold a complaint and shut down your account.

Our attitude is that if a t-shirt design is of a high quality and the tone is not intended to be malicious, whether we agree with you or not, you’re welcome on Teemill.

*This article is blog intended to give the user a deeper understanding of how our values  guide choices that we have to make at various stages in Teemill. You might now better understand the values that influenced the design and action of algorithms that can detected and rejected your content. Or you might now have a better understanding of why we upheld a complaint against one of your products from an offended member of the public.  It does not form any part of the Teemill user agreements.


Buy a Sample Custom Printed T-shirt

Teemill is designed to let you build your own store with your own designs and branding and connect it to our print-on-demand factory. Let’s say you want a few t-shirts for yourself though, for a giveaway or a photoshoot. It’s easy to do that too.

If you want to order some samples, even just one at a time, you can use our t-shirt studio to place an order anytime. If you’re a Teemill account holder, you can order these using the Teemill t-shirt studio or order direct from the links in your product manager.

You can order order one-off samples online, even one at a time –  there’s no set up charge and the price is super affordable – using Teemill Studio

The Teemill studio is a really handy tool to see what your product will look like. Yet it’s this very point that makes ordering samples a particularly good investment.

Put it to work

The best way you can put your samples to work and make that purchase pay back is by taking some great photography and uploading your product shots to your Teemill store. Great photography goes a long way, from product pages, to banners, homepage pods and as excellent fodder for social media posting and newsletters.

Great photography is the single biggest factor that’s made the top 10% of Teemill accounts so profitable.

We strongly recommend investing in some great photos for your Teemill store. Don’t forget, you’ll make way more profit on white t-shirts which means that by ordering samples in white you can pull a slick business move by linking your most profitable products with your best photography, making even more money per visit.

Take Action


What Colour T-shirt Sells the Most?

One of the most fun parts of t-shirt design is mocking up your design to see which colours it works on best. At Teemill, you can sell your designs on a massive range of quality coloured tees. The profits you earn, and the number you might sell depend on the colour. How to pick the right ones?

Luckily our analytics team tracks data from millions of visitors that browse every store built on Teemill, and gather up that data to help you make better choices to make more money. First there’s one simple rule to follow.

Radically increase profit

White t-shirts are faster to print and cost us less, that’s why we pay you more when you sell one on Teemill. There’s also less to think about from an artwork point of view: (Even the average JPEG will come out looking great!) It makes sense to aim to sell a fair share of white tees.

If you’re looking to build a Teemill t-shirt campaign page where you only sell one main design, without doubt get that design on a white t-shirt.

In terms of data, white t-shirts are consistently in the top 3 colourways that customers choose. Not only do white tees double your profit, there’s a demand for designs on white from the customer. It’s a no-brainer.

When working with colour tees

If you want to design a range, you might not want to have a wall of white – it’s important to mix it up and get a nice selection going. Or you might find that some designs work much better on colours and it’s worth choosing volume over profit per item.

When you pick a coloured tee for your design, you’ll want to know which colours sell best to maximise your chances of making a sale as there is a slightly lower earning potential.

Our data analysts look at this issue regularly, as we use the volume / popularity of colours to both influence orders for blank t-shirt stock, and how to optimise Teemill accounts that we create for larger organisations that pay us to do all the work for them.

Like us, there’s a simple check you can do to make sure you’re selling what the customer wants:

Make sure you look at which colours your demographic likes, as well as which designs – you can find this data in your analytics.

If you’re motivated to improve your sales, remember that it’s 25 little things that make 1% of difference, not 1 thing that makes 25% of difference. Once you’ve got some white tees in, and checked the colours you offer are in demand, check in with your design quality, photography, product descriptions and online PR plan.

Take Action


Artwork for T-shirt Printing

So you’re ready to turn your epic design idea into a finished piece of art ready for printing. What are the top 5 things you need to know about the file and formatting to get amazing print quality results every time?

Really great t-shirt design starts before loading up Photoshop, Illustrator or a similar design program. Without doubt, you should have a very clear idea of the design you want to create before reading this blog about artwork preparation. If not, have a read on how to develop your design idea so it’s guaranteed to be epic, in Part 1 – T-shirt Design ideas

You also will want to be fairly competent in finding your way around photoshop to draw, edit, cut and paste and generally create your design. If not, you can learn all about that here.

Lady sitting by water side in whale love t-shirt

1. Think portrait

Screens, or pictures, tend to be landscape but despite a natural tendency to design like that, the t-shirt is a portrait space. Almost all the t-shirts in the top 10% by revenue on Teemill is designed in portrait mode – it just looks more natural. The rest are circles in the centre chest. None are landscape, wider than they are tall. Stick to that format and you’ll find all your designs just start looking right.

2. Forget the rules

Most t-shirt design rules will tell you that it’s essential to be able to work in block vector form and use a limited range of colours, to suit screen printing. Whilst we do screen print a lot of stuff, Teemill is digital so t-shirts designed for our free Teemill print-on-demand stores mean that you can forget all those restrictions: Use as many colours as you like, even photos. And if you don’t like vector art, that’s cool – you can create production-ready artwork in raster format, in other words, straight out of photoshop.

3. Think about the printer

Designs on white tees and colour tees are processed a little differently. It’s important to think about it for a second, as it will help you create consistent results. White shirts are like paper, what you see on screen is what you get. Go crazy with blends, fades and blurs, full colour photos and any effects you want. The resolution of the print goes down to objects around 150dpi (considering we’re printing on organic cotton, that’s epic) so as long as you don’t have tiny text with a leading below 1mm, you can’t go wrong with white products.

Coloured tees require more thought, but there’s only a couple of little rules to remember if you really want to do a colour tee. Because they’re colour, we must put a white ink down on the fabric before the colour. It takes more time and costs us a lot more, which is why we pay more Teemill royalties for white tees than colour ones.

Because we have to base-coat with white, this means that blends and fades don’t work so well as they do on white tees. Avoid feather or blurry edges to your art and instead go for graphic, solid artwork.

Try and avoid huge swathes of white ink.The ability to render text is slightly less detailed, so avoid tiny little lines below 2mm on your design.

4. Don’t be a square

As you build up experience, one of things you’ll do is take into account the t-shirt base colour and think of it as part of the design – rather than placing your design on top of the t-shirt. This has the added benefit of accomodating the minor variances in print placement that are part of mass production:

With a big square block design, even a 2mm alignment variation will be more obvious and it can affect your return rate, causing a negative effect on profit.

Lastly, consider colouration: Whilst our screenprinting factory matches pantones exactly as a matter of course, there are too many variables for us to guarantee it with one-off print on demand t-shirts sold via Teemill. Your monitor, design program and image conversion software will make minute changes so we can’t guarantee pantone-standard colour matching. Luckily, our software analyses your design file and shows the customer an accurate representation of how the print will turn up. So if you’re wondering why your art looks a tiny shade different online to how it looks in your photoshop file, now you know – make yourself a tea and take 1st prize for attention to detail!

5. Save for Web, Transparent PNG24

How do I make my art not have a white background, or a border round it? A super common question for new Teemill designers – It’s super easy to solve.

We recommend using photoshop for Teemill designs. You should have downloaded our artwork template for your product to get started where you’ll find the latest advice on file formatting in it’s own layer. Once you’ve got this read, hide the layer and you’ll notice there’s no white background layer, it’s just a transparent working space.

When you use Save for Web, and select PNG 24 in the save for web window, this file format will keep all the great colour you see on screen like a JPEG photo but crucially leave all the space around your design completely transparent. Then, when you upload your design to Teemill, your design will just sit on the tee as you imagined it.

If you’re getting a white box round all your designs, you’re probably saving as a JPEG or have a background layer in your art.

6. Test print

Like all great t-shirt designers, at some point you have to commit and get your design printed if you want to see how it really comes out. At Teemill we’ve gone to great lengths to get the placement (up, down, left right) and colouration (image-adjustment software) matched between your site and what shows up in the post to your customer.

Please bear in mind that t-shirt printing still has artisan skill – each one of these tees is made by hand, printed by an operator using his or her hands and eyes, and each one is therefore unique with a variance of a few mm in every dimention – like every t-shirt.

Also as t-shirt sizes change, the print stays the same so if you order an XXXXL sample, the design will be slightly dwarfed by all that fabric. These are just things you’ll learn about t-shirt design as you go.

Next up: Bring your product to life


Get T-shirt Design Ideas

So you’re ready to start selling t-shirts on Teemill and maybe have one or two ideas. But how do you consistently smash out professional standard t-shirt designs that make you money, every time?

Some people think you need talent or magic. That’s not true: It is a simple process that can be taught. It consists of two halves, the development of the idea, and the execution in a design program like Photoshop or Illustrator. So let’s get started, bust some myths and get your 5 t-shirt design tips for professional results that sell.

Low Poly Digitally Printed Lion T-Shirt

1. If you start in photoshop, you’re doing it wrong

The difference between successful Teemill stores and those that fail to jump the first hurdle is in the way design is approached. Focusing too much on getting a copy of photoshop and playing round 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. Close it.

Your design program is just a tool. Think of it like a saw, or a gun. It’s not the quality of the tools, it’s about the skill of the workman. You must think first – Using your design program to create the finished piece of art it is the last thing you’ll do.

2. Forget about finishing, focus on starting.

A great t-shirt design starts with the parts. Mindmap your brand, cause, values or inspiration, then search it to get some visual inspiration and build some themes. Research shows that people come up with much higher quality brainstorm ideas alone, so no excuses – you don’t need help. Step 1 is to think about your values, and the iconic visual cues connected to that. As a designer at Rapanui we care about sustainability a lot, so naturally polar bears, wind turbines, trees etc. follow.

Googling, and particularly searching themes on pinterest helps a lot at this stage to think laterally and find those iconic items or images that are related to your values or passion. Try building a Pinterest board around some themes. It’s not about finding t-shirts to copy – any visual cue, a poster, stamp, photo, pair of socks, old painting – anything that looks cool and catches your eye that’s related to your brand themes and keywords.

3. You are your own demographic

This bit is easy. Almost every successful Teemiller we talk to has figured something out: They are their own target customer. Maybe you love Motorbikes and want to make some motorbike-themed tees. Forget trying to design what others like: Design what you think is cool and you’ll find other people like you love it.

Go out there and find some other designs you like, and try to categorise or pick them apart. Look at the formula. Make a list. Pun t-shirt, black on white. Photo t-shirt with handwritten typography. Weird but quite cool low-res polygon thingy. Big bold font statement tee. Pocket design. These formats will give you some basic recipe ideas to jump that last hurdle, and get to list of tees that are ready to commit to your design program.

4. Take two ideas and combine

The t-shirt designs that make the most money on Teemill get purchased either because the cause is incredibly powerful or, more often, because the design is clever. High quality graphic design helps, but a clever idea always trumps it. So how to make a clever design? Well, like most jokes, it’s about tricking the customer into seeing something that they didn’t see first time round. A hidden message or visual warp: Darth Vader as a DJ. A wind turbine in a peace symbol. A concorde haynes manual. Subversion, surprise and imagination is what the customer experiences and loves – but it’s not hard to do.

Imagine yourself as a creative large hadron collider and try to smash your iconic objects from your brainstorm into each other.

Polar bear  wind turbine.. nope. Wind turbine  ice berg.. wind turbine on an iceberg? Nope. Polar bear on an iceberg. Polar bear iceberg. Icerberg shaped like polar bear…. That’s a winning idea.

Notice how the design process is a stream of thought, and iterative: Woody Allen, one of the most successful screenwriters ever, writes every day and throws away two pages for every three he writes: Be comfortable with the fact that the majority of your ideas will be total rubbish. Iterate, delete and move on within seconds whilst keeping any good stuff. You’re panning for gold way before you invest time in photoshop.

5. The idea is everything

Next consider your inspiration, out there on the net. We liked the low poly trend last year, and immediately you can see the connection to the iceberg. And the three things, iceberg, polar bear, low poly make up the idea. The idea is everything: You should be able to visualise the design before you even open photoshop, or explain the idea to someone you’ve never met.

Next, work on some more ideas. You should be able to write a list of design ideas, or roughly sketch each one in 30 seconds. A good collection is more likely to be found in a notebook than on a computer. Only then, when you’ve got some great finished ideas, is itit time to fire up the design program and turn that vision into a real t-shirt design that people can buy.

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.


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