4 ways to get your great new design onto a t-shirt

The T-shirt design category is beloved by 99designs’ staffers, designers and customers alike, and is one of the most popular categories on our site. After all, just about everyone has at least one t-shirt in their wardrobe…and can make room for one more. Whether you wear ‘em to support a favorite cause or to show the world who your favorite rock band or new startup is, t-shirts are a great way to look cool and express yourself.

One question we often hear from customers is some variation of “how the heck do I actually get my awesome new design onto a t-shirt?” So we  thought we’d shed a bit of light on the various processes involved in printing that sweet t-shirt you (and your supporter) will love to wear. In no particular order, here are four methods to consider.

#1: STANDARD SCREEN PRINTING


This is the most common and widely available method of printing a design onto a t-shirt. The process begins by taking the artwork, separating each color and printing films (basically a photo positive on a clear material such as vellum) for each color. Each film is then used to create or “burn” a silk screen which has been coated with a light-sensitive emulsion. The silk screen is then used to print each color in sequence, until the artwork is reproduced onto the garment.

The size of the print is limited to the dimensional size of the screen, but is typically large enough to cover a good portion of the front (or back) of a t-shirt.

Want to keep it real and do it yourself? Bravo! If your design is fairly basic and doesn’t require a bazillion colors, there are some cool little screen printing kits available… check around online or go to your nearest art supply/ craft store and pick one up!

#2: OVERSIZED / LARGE FORMAT


Oversized prints are larger than standard t-shirt designs and cover most of the front of a shirt, without printing over any of the seams or onto the sleeves, collar or bottom hem.

They are generally printed using the same method as standard screen printing, but with larger screens.

T-shirts with jumbo graphics are becoming quite popular with more and more screen printers offering this type of printing, but expect to pay a bit more if you want to go big!

#3: ALL OVER PRINTING


Just as the name suggests, an all-over print covers the entire shirt, with artwork that prints over the seams, sometimes including the collar, the sleeves, the hem or all of the above. This is generally achieved by using a machine called a belt printer. Other methods include dye sublimation and super sized silk screening.

Although you can get some really cool results with this process, there are definitely some limitations to be aware of if you are considering an all over print:

  • Visual inconsistencies: because the printing goes over the seams and collar, there are likely to be some minor visual inconsistencies. It’s a inherent trait of this type of printing and can actually end up looking pretty cool and unique!
  • Limited number of colors: shops that do all over printing typically limit the number of colors you can use – a maximum of three different colors is pretty standard.
  • Availability: many screen printing shops don’t offer belt printing.
  • Cost: because this is a specialized type of printing offered by select shops, it is also considerably more expensive.

#4: INK JET/IRON-ON TRANSFERS

Need to make just a few t-shirts or even just one? Iron-on transfers are a simple and affordable option.

An iron-on transfer is special paper you print on using a standard home inkjet printer. You then lay it on the shirt and run a hot clothing iron on top of it, transferring the design to the t-shirt.

You can buy transfers at most art and craft stores as well as many office supply places.

Although cheap and readily available, iron on transfers have some limitations:

  • Size: 8.5 x 11 is usually the maximum size for an iron-on transfer sheet (unless you can find a store that sells it in bulk).
  • Fading: although you can achieve nice results this way, the print will fade quicker and will not be as vivid as a screen printed design.

 

So there you have it – four ways to get your design onto a t-shirt and onto the backs of your supporters, pronto. Stay tuned for a blog post coming soon featuring some of our favorite t shirt design contests – in the meantime, for a bit of inspiration have a look at some of the cool contests customers have recently wrapped up!

William is a member of 99designs' support team in San Francisco, specializing in print and web design.

Latest posts by William (see all)


13 Comments

  1. Travis Dodson

    Hey! Im just starting in design work and want to make my own snap backs, tank tops, ties, and potentially blazers. The only problem is that when I try to use an online customization website it limits the space that I can customize (only a rectangle on the front and back of the shirt) when I want to do designs that cover the whole shirt. can you point me in a direction of where I can find a place that would allow me to design any space on the hat, tank, or tie?

    Reply July 30, 2012 at 3:53 pm
    • William

      Hi Travis,

      As you seem to have figured out, most online customization tools will be limited to a smaller area on the garment. My suggestion might seem a bit obvious, but I think your best bet is to do an online search for “all-over printing” and the item you’re interested in having the design printed on. You might also look for printing shops in your area – always good to support local small businesses! A Google search for the phrase: tshirt “all-over printing” “San Francisco” turned up this list
      of options near 99designs’ headquarters, for instance.

      Good luck, and hope that helps!
      William | 99designs

      Reply July 31, 2012 at 12:17 pm
  2. Louis Beattie

    Hi, I was thinking about putting some awsome designs I have done onto some t-shirts and seeing if they sell, I think that the screen printing seems like a cool option however I want each t-shirt to be a different design making them unique. Will this still be possible using the screen print method or not?

    Reply August 9, 2012 at 8:05 am
    • Larry

      Louis, Screen printing involves a screen charge which is amortized over the number of shirts. The fewer the shirts, the higher the cost will be per shirt. A different screen will be needed per design. And if you do more than one color, then a different screen will be needed for each color. That can get quite expensive if you plan for different designs for each shirt.

      Reply August 31, 2012 at 6:44 am
    • Larry

      Louis, If you have low quantities and want multiple colors, then you might consider this… Digital t-shirt printing. You can print full color and print just one if you want. This company is next door to me… http://www.threadsafeinc.com/ They are nice people and a good business. I used them to print 15 company shirts and they looked and felt just like silkscreened shirts I bought in the past. But one employee is saying it is starting to fade after a year, but he wears his very often.

      Reply August 31, 2012 at 6:54 am
  3. Steve Sadler

    Hi. I just finished my first design contest for a t-shirt for my website. The design is oversized and will cover a larger portion of the shirt than normal. My winning design can be found here…
    http://99designs.com/t-shirt-design/contests/looking-cool-t-shirt-design-mma-website-171934
    I’m wondering if anyone knows of an online company that can print the larger designs. So far I’ve come up empty in the few calls and emails i’ve made. I’ve also heard there may be sites out there that can print and fulfill shirts as though it was my own mini e-store. My wish is that I could find someone who can do all that for me. I’ve got my fingers crossed. If anyone has any ideas or suggestions I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

    Reply November 2, 2012 at 4:29 pm
    • William

      Hi Steve,

      Firstly, congrats on the successful contest!
      Based on the winning design, you will need to find a shop that offers “all over printing”.
      If you do a Google search for “all over printing”, you will find several options for businesses that provide this service.
      As for the order fulfillment question, I did a search for “print and fulfill t shirt orders” and a bunch of places popped up, including this one: https://dynamicwear.com/

      I hope this helps… feel free to let us know if you need anything else!
      William | 99designs

      Reply November 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm
  4. Harmeet Singh

    Hi Steve,

    I want to start my New T-shirt manufacturing business because i am in love with t-shirts, but want to know about all kind of Tshirt Printing and best printing machine.

    can You help me..

    Reply February 25, 2013 at 12:46 pm
  5. tshirtloot

    I remembering Sachin Tendulkar while i seeing that Tshirt like printed 99.Because 99 is a jersey number of Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar.
    Printed Tshirts

    Reply April 3, 2013 at 6:29 am
  6. Teediction

    Wow, these are really nice strategies to design the t shirts in unique & creative ways .As from this tips one can follow the path to online t-shirt design maker.

    Reply April 15, 2013 at 4:46 am
  7. The T-shirt Man

    Nice Post..! I think the steps are very well explained for designing T-shirts. T designed T-shirt is the backbone of the fashion industry.

    Reply May 31, 2013 at 11:41 pm
  8. desert eagle

    nice post. i like iron on transfer method. i heard of it before didn’t know exactly…

    Reply October 19, 2013 at 5:01 pm
  9. Screen Print Philadelphia

    Nice, this gave me an idea to have new design for my T-shirt. Thank you for this great post! I will definitely share it with my friends.

    Reply January 21, 2014 at 4:26 am

Or leave a comment: