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Graphic Design for Beginners: Design T Shirts that Pop

Just as with Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator is an effective way to design various things. However, Illustrator truly excels in its usage of vector graphics, which are a crucial part of any customized design. Because of the many helpful tools, options, and effects offered, learning the answer to the question “What is Adobe Illustrator?” is essential for those who want to design t shirts. Below is one of many graphic design tutorials that will guide you through the process of creating artwork for a t shirt. 

 

What’s So Great About Adobe Illustrator for T Shirt Design 

Adobe Illustrator is intended to create graphics that are technically perfect. This means that graphics can be precise and shrunk or stretched to any size with no decline in quality. This is achieved through the use of vectors. The concept is a little abstract, but essentially, a vector is two points joined via an algorithm. 

AI is the chosen program for most designers because it makes it easy to manipulate layers and convert artwork into various file types. It also has many options for paragraphs and typefaces. Where T shirt designs are concerned, because AI works so well with layers and shapes, it is ideal for creating art for various printing techniques such as CAD-cut vinyl, screen printing, and heat transfer. If you want to print logos or simple illustrations on your shirts, with just a few colors, AI is the right program for you. 

 

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Determine Why You Need to Design a Shirt 

Regardless of your reasons for designing a shirt, it always involves branding. For instance, if you’re using a t shirt for a promotion, branding is the primary goal. Even if it’s just for fun, such as commemorating a special event, you should ensure that your t shirt’s design communicates a clear message. 

If you haven’t done so already, make a list of the most important traits, styles, and themes you want the shirt to convey. Is the brand serious or playful, conservative or edgy? A cohesive t shirt design can answer such questions with one look. 

Draw the Design 

Start the design process by making a rough sketch of what you want to include. It’s okay to put in fine details at this stage, as it means less time spent deciding what to add and what to leave out in Adobe Illustrator. Don’t take too much time, though, especially if you’re on a deadline. When sketching an idea, it’s important to keep it simple, yet appealing. 

Choose Typography 

The font you choose says much about the brand. Serif and script fonts give a classic look, while sans serif fonts make things appear more modern. T shirts offer a greater opportunity than in other graphic design areas as far as font experimentation is concerned, but readability is still important. If the wording on your t shirt is spreading a message, it’s up to you to ensure that the message isn’t overshadowed by loopy, grungy, and messy typography. 

Scan the Illustration 

Having finished your rough sketch, it’s time to scan it into your computer. It’s essential to scan things in at the highest quality possible; we suggest using the scanner’s black and white setting and a resolution between 300 and 600 dpi. These settings may seem very specific, but they will ensure the high quality of the scan. 

Vector the T Shirt Design 

With the scanning chores completed, it’s time to create a new Adobe Illustrator file by going to File > New. The most vital setting to consider is the CMYK color mode, as it ensures that you can take the design to print later on with no issues.  

  • Next, put the scan onto the new canvas by heading to File > Place. Position it where you want it on the canvas. 
  • Now, create another layer above the scan layer by using the highlighted button in the image. Lock the scan layer to make sure it doesn’t get moved around, or you don’t inadvertently draw shapes on the scan rather than the upper layer. 
  • Before beginning to draw over the scan, it’s crucial to set up the brush options first. In this step, it helps significantly if you have a graphics tablet. If you do have one, its pressure settings will be an enormous help when drawing lines, and it will give you additional control. It’s okay to experiment with the software’s variation settings to find one you like and are comfortable with. 
  • It’s important to pick your colors early in the design process, especially in consideration of printing costs. For the most common method, screen printing, setup and implementation gets progressively more expensive as more colors are used. Therefore, it’s good to keep color numbers as low as possible unless otherwise directed. If you need some help choosing a color scheme, Adobe Kuler can be very useful. 
  • Next, it’s time to go over the lines with the paintbrush tool, using the settings from earlier. Again, a graphics tablet’s pressure sensitivity will help. You don’t have to stick to the sketched lines, and it’s okay to add new ideas as you go along. 
  • Now, create a new layer below the ‘lines’ layer; call it ‘color’ for simplicity’s sake. You should lock the ‘lines’ layer just as you did with the ‘scan’ layer earlier so you don’t edit it accidentally. 
  • Your next step is to color the lines. Using a combination of the Pen and Paintbrush tools, you can color just as you would on a piece of paper. With the Paintbrush tool, you can fill in large areas; with the Pen tool, you can do precision work. For instance, you can use the Pen to create anchor points around outlines; it’s much faster than coloring them in with the Paintbrush. You may add highlights with the other shades you’re using. This, much like changing the stroke weight when drawing lines, will add depth and visual interest to the illustration. 

Prepare the File for Print 

Once you’re done with coloring and you’re satisfied with the illustration, you should highlight all layers except for the ‘scan layer’. Then, head to Object > Expand Appearance. This expands all brush strokes, turning them into filled shapes and allowing you to resize illustrations as you wish without sacrificing quality. When resizing strokes according to one of our Adobe Illustrator tutorials, it may result in strokes that are too thick or too thin; therefore, this is a crucial step. 

  • When everything else is done, the next step is to take the design to print. Before doing that, however, you should verify that all colors are right and that you have not inadvertently used more colors than you decided on in the beginning, as it increases printing costs.  
  • Whether the design is for your own use or for a client’s commission, it is always good to mock up the art on a photo of a shirt or a vector template. These are widely available online for no charge. This step may seem tedious, but it’s especially important if the design is for a client. With the mock up step, it’s helpful to be as professional as you possibly can. 

When sending a file to a printer, most will accept AI files, while others will want EPS. It is important to specify the precise proportions and positioning of the design as it will appear on the shirt. You may think this step is obvious, but the printer may not. It may help to include each color’s Pantone code to ensure that the shades are the same color as your design. If you have time or you’re so inclined, you can select all shapes of the same color by heading to Select > Same > Fill Color and move them all onto individual layers. This makes the procedure easier for the print shop, but it’s not always necessary. 

Color and T Shirt Design 

As a design element, color is best at immediately communicating a message and the brand’s personality. Every hue, tint, and shade elicits an emotional response, and it acts as a shortcut that lets you portray something about a brand with just one glance. When you design t shirts, you’ll have two color sets to consider: the print colors and the fabric colors. To ensure that these color sets complement one another, always use the fabric color as the base for your design idea.  

Because of how t shirt ink works, printing colors may become a bit tricky. The most cost-effective way to print a design is to approximate colors. However, you should know that your idea of a certain shade may not match your printer’s vision. Precise color matches are attainable with CMYK or Pantone inks, but these are costlier. Pantone uses exact, predefined ink tones that are available for purchase. CMYK printing creates all colors by mixing cyan, magenta, yellow, and key or black ink colors. Check with the printing service to see what is available. 

In Conclusion 

Keep in mind that in the fashion and clothing industries, design is one of the most important components. Therefore, it’s essential to get it right the first time. We hope these Adobe Illustrator tutorials help, whether you’re thinking of starting a clothing line or you are an illustrator offering a new service to your clients. Now that you know the answer to the question “What is Adobe Illustrator, and how can it help me design a T shirt?”, the rest is easy. Keep coming back for more graphic design tutorials, tricks, tips, and design advice. 

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