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Hey, Cool Shirt: Designing Effective T-shirt Graphics

Christopher Delorenzo, Graphic Artist

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5 Videos (1h 9m)
    • Trailer

      1:43
    • T-Shirt Design Showcase

      11:27
    • Research and Sketching

      8:13
    • Typography and Illustration

      20:38
    • Setting Up for Production

      27:23

Project Description

Design a t-shirt for your favorite brand

Get to Know Your Brand

  1. Pick your brand

    The first step is to pick a brand you want to make a t-shirt for.  I’ve listed a number of some of the top t-shirt brands in the lesson PDF for you to check out and research in case you don’t already have one in mind. 

  2. Research your brand

    Start researching the brand. Take a look at their past seasons.

    Ask:

    • What are some reoccurring themes they promote?
    • Are there any phrases or mottos they’ve been known to use?  
    • Is the brand very illustrative, or do a lot of their shirts remain simple?  

    If you're designing for your own brand.

    Ask:

    • What about my brand is different from the other brands?
    • What are three strengths or things that people have responded positively to?

    The brand you choose will also determine if you should do your work all on the computer so it’s clean or will your design be hand drawn and have a more imperfect look.

  3. Create a mood board

    Create a collage of past shirt designs from your brand and define their themes with a couple sentences or bullet points. Think about how your design will fit into the brand's personality.

    Check out student Carlos Solano's mood board for considering fonts and color swatches:

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Sketching Your Graphic

  1. Define your 3 key brand elements

    A good shirt can be broken down to three key elements (Well, four if you count heart, and five if you count soul). 

    • Typography
    • Illustration
    • Brand Personality

    Figure out what your brand represents, what you love about life or what you want to see more of in the world, whether its surfing, your love of cats, old black and white photos of New York and gangs, or if you just want to see more humor on shirts, try to communicate that through your brand.

  2. Sketch out 2-3 concepts

    Start writing down your concepts and sketching them out. Make sure you have a list of all the things you need to hit in your design before you start sketching.

    Justin McLaughlin shares his sketches before settling on his final t-shirt design:

Getting To Your Initial Illustration

  1. Refine your sketch

    Start making progress on your design. Whether you start with the typography or the illustration make sure you're sticking to your sketch and upload your progress. Unless you know exactly what you're going for, show some different typographic approaches and try out different color variations too.

Finalizing Design For Printers

  1. Create your tech pack

    Using the provided templates you should put your final design onto a shirt render and create a completed tech pack (Full instructions located in the lesson PDF). 

    Student Kumi Yoshizuma's tech pack looks ready for printing

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  2. Finish design mock up

    Finalize your design mock up - the t-shirt should have the exact ready-to-wear look and feel you're going for at this point. 

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    Student Zack Eng's project is ready for some feedback.

Additional Resources

  • Download Unit 1 PDF Lesson here. 

  • The Brand Underground - a really in-depth article about streetwear brands and the iconography of the tee shirt. 

  • 50 Greatest Streetwear Brands - This is a great resource for finding a brand with a good personality to design for.

  • Mike Falzone's Tee Shirt Manifesto - Funny

  • Interview with Rockhart Clothing founder - If you're starting your own brand with a niche market this will be an interesting read to you

  • Download Unit 2 PDF Lesson here. 

  • Brushes - Frenden created a great set of brushes for photoshop 

  • Drawn.Ca - a great blog about illustrators and cartoons

  • Character Drawing - Watch awesome guys draw awesome things 

  • Art Directions - one of the best and most insightful blogs about the creative process

  • FLASHCARDS! - a quick run down on everything to keep in mind when designing

  • Download Unit 3 PDF Lesson here.

  • Go Media - lots of downloads and tutorials 

  • GigPosters.Com - Even though they are posters, they show good examples of how type and image can work well together.

  • Freshness Mag - get caught up with what is "in" and new right now from clothing companies. And Hypebeast - The latest releases from the best clothing companies. 

  • Download Unit 4 PDF Lesson here. 

  • Shirt templates and tech packs:

    Shirt Render 

    T-Shirt Techpack (Illustrator File, requires Adobe Illustrator to open)

  • Printing Resources: 

    Pantone Colors - not an official guide, but if you don't have a book this should help.

    Trapping Guide - Adobe's guide to trapping before you send to the printer.

    Plastisol vs. Discharge - a breakdown on the benefits of using plastisol or disharge to print your shirts.