How to turn an idea into a T-shirt design

Courtesy of Kelly Anna

Everyone can struggle with designing, especially if it’s for a T-shirt. Whether you’re a designer, charity, brand or record label, having an idea is one thing, but turning it into a design is another. Perhaps you struggle with the reverse? You are an accomplished designer, but the creative juices aren’t flowing. Either way, it’s a bummer. Whatever your case may be, we’ve prepped some tips, alongside tips from some of our top creators to help you get started.

Getting Inspired

There’s no right or wrong place to go for inspiration. When we asked our team for their favourite design resources they listed everything from our own marketplace to archive fashion books, to checking out the crowd at events to typography libraries – you can explore the list in full here.

Moodboarding

If you’re starting with a blank page then building a mood board is essential. It’ll mean you have all your visual references collected in one place, and you’ll be surprised how quickly a design can come together once you’ve got everything laid out in front of you. When we spoke to Jessica Luostarinen she was a big advocate of mood boards, saying, “they help you to navigate your creative thoughts and find ideas for the shoot.”

'Fast Lane' T-shirt by Jess Luostarinen
‘Fast Lane’ T-shirt by Jess Luostarinen

A mood board doesn’t need to look perfect, think of it as a noticeboard for you to pin anything you might incorporate into your own design, whether that’s typeface, the positioning of an image on a T-shirt, a certain colour palette, or a particular style of drawing.

Adapting Your Design

If you’ve already got a design or image that you’re happy with it can still feel like a leap to translate a 2D image onto a 3D garment, but this part is really all about experimenting and taking design notes from the tees you love. Lots of our creators are foremost graphic designers, illustrators and artists so it’s definitely worth having a scan through our curated Editor’s Picks shop to see how they’ve adapted their own work onto T-shirts.

We’ve been collecting design insights from some of our favourite creators to help with the process too. One of Jackson Green’s biggest tips was to really think about how your tee will fit on the body. Jackson has been collecting hundreds of T-shirts over the years to help guide him, but this can be as simple as taping cutouts of your design on to a Gildan tee to see how the positioning will sit.

Jesus Piece European Tour T-shirt by Jackson Green
Jesus Piece European Tour T-shirt by Jackson Green

Don’t be afraid to trust your instincts either. When we spoke to Anthony Burrill he shared his own litmus test for when he’s creating work in new mediums: ask yourself the question, “would I feel comfortable wearing that? or owning that? Would I be happy to give this to a friend?”

And remember, as Amber Vittoria put it, the tees will act as an ad for your work, “people will ask the person wearing it, ‘Who made that shirt?’ and they’ll give my name and Instagram.”

'Watching Nails Dry' T-shirt by Amber Vittoria
‘Watching Nails Dry’ T-shirt by Amber Vittoria

Collaborate

If you feel like there are skills you’re missing, then reaching out to collaborators is one of the best ways to fill in the gaps. Collaborations offer the chance to work with interesting people, develop your own practice, plus you’ll expand your audience, so more people get to hear about your tees.

To give you some ideas we’ve rounded up our favourite recent collaborations, from friends teaming up on a new design, to strangers coming together as a collective for a big campaign, to charities reaching out to creatives for help working towards a great cause.

WWFM X Jazzy Sport T-shirt collaboration
WWFM X Jazzy Sport T-shirt collaboration

If you’re not from a design background, these definitions should help you think about who’ll be best placed to realise your vision.

  • Graphic designer: composes elements including typeface, images and symbols into one image, often to communicate a particular message or idea. 

Useful for: Music merch, promo tees (including flyers), portfolio pieces. 

  • Illustrator: creates images either to accompany text or represent an idea, often these are hand drawn and tend to be less explicit than graphic designs

Useful for: Charity campaigns, especially interpretations of a word or idea.

  • Typographer: designs typeface, with a particular focus on the aesthetics of the text

Useful for: Slogan & logo tees.

Finding collaborators

…is easier than it sounds too. One of the best places to look will invariably be in your own networks, whether that’s existing relationships you might have or people whose work you’ve been admiring from afar. And again, this is where the Everpress marketplace can come in handy; feel free to reach out to people on it, or get in touch and we can try and connect you.

Fees and payment will be specific to each job, but the most important thing is agreeing on them at the outset, and that includes setting timelines for payment. In a lot of our collaborative campaigns, both parties will agree to split the profits evenly, including in our own 50/50 campaign, but this will obviously be dependent on the scope of the work. When we spoke to Dan from Worldwide FM he emphasised how important it is to be upfront with your collaborators, especially if they’re helping promote the tees on their own socials.

Want to read more about collaborations? Check out our favourite T-shirt team-ups spawned on the Everpress platform here.

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