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How to Design an Awesome Shirt

How to design an Awesome Shirt

You don’t have to be a professional shirt designer to create an awesome shirt on! 

Today, we'll show 10 of our best shirt design tips and tricks you can use to not only create a gorgeous shirt, but to also increase the effectiveness of your campaign and reach your fundraising goals.

Symbolic shirt designs

Create a symbolic design to resonate with a broader audience and sell more shirts. 

Symbolic designs are often the best way to achieve success with your fundraising campaign. A symbolic design tends to resonate with a broader audience. It also improves the wearability of your shirt beyond just a single event or date.

Instead of creating a t-shirt that loudly proclaims “BandFest 2014: August 15 to 17” in bold text, consider a simpler, more symbolic design. You could create a guitar emblem or drums logo with smaller text underneath. That way, people won’t feel like they’re only buying a t-shirt to wear between August 15 to 17 of 2014. 

The exception to this rule is if you hold an annual event - then it is encouraged to "brand" each year to establish some "bragging rights" between event participants.

Most people don’t want to buy your shirt to wear once. They want to buy a shirt that they can wear multiple times. A shirt with a symbolic design tends to be more multi-functional than shirts with a single, specific design.

With a symbolic design, you can also easily cater to men and women of all ages. Your symbolic design can be just about anything, but with a little bit of tweaking, you can customize it to appeal to multiple demographics. 

Use simple designs

Simplicity is usually the best option - whitespace is your friend. 

One of the most frequently-repeated sayings about shirt design goes something like this: detail is important, but simplicity is king.

In other words, your shirt should be detailed enough to convey a unique message, but simple enough that the message is easy for anyone to understand.

Simplistic shirts will resonate with your targeted demographic, but they’ll also help convey a message to people who aren’t yet aware of your campaign. Once again, you get to connect with a broader audience without confining your shirts to a tiny niche.  

Whether it’s a cancer fundraiser or a charity run, a simplistic shirt design can quickly and easily spread your message to a large audience. 

Simplicity often means using only two or three different colors on your shirt. It means limiting the designs to a certain area of the shirt without making the rest look too “crowded”.

Is your shirt simple enough? Consider this: could somebody look at it and understand its basic meaning in less than three seconds? 

Avoid dark ink on dark fabric

Don't use dark ink when printing on dark shirts, it makes the shirt unreadable. 

This may seems obvious but for whatever reason, people often forget this tip.  Dark ink simply will not show up on dark fabric. 

We can’t count how many un-readable shirts we’ve seen which feature dark text on a dark background.

A good rule of thumb is your shirt’s text should readable from 15-20 feet away. Dark text on a dark background could be unreadable from five feet away – which is why you need to avoid it at all costs.

Below, we talk about complementary colors. Use those complementary colors when designing your shirt and always put light text on a dark background (or vice versa). Unless, of course, you don’t want your shirt’s message to be read!

Use light colors for events

Is your fundraiser part of an warm weather event? Consider using a light colored shirt (and ink!). 

One unfortunate mistake made by rookie shirt designers is using dark colors – like black – for events in the summer.

Black shirts soak up the heat and will almost certainly lead to sweating. If you want your shirts to stay on throughout the day, then you need to use lighter colors.

Lighter colors don’t absorb as much heat as darker colors. That means you and your friends can stay comfortable throughout the day without excessively sweating. 

Planning a fundraising event for the summer? Medium-colored text on a light background works best. The lighter colors evoke images of summer, but they also help keep the wearer cool throughout the day. 

Rotate design text

Rotating the text in your design can make it more aesthetically pleasing & eye-catching.

Flat, straight text on a shirt is certainly fine. People can easily read your message without a long glance.

But to make things more interesting, consider rotating text or using a creative (but readable) font. Some people will simply ignore straight, flat text, but if you rotate that text around or make it interesting, it begs the eyes to continue reading.

Obviously, there are limits to this. Sideways text usually isn’t ideal for readability, and cursive fonts can be nearly impossible to read when printed on a t-shirt.

Do not use photographs

Avoid using photographs or images on your shirt (unless you are a celebrity).

Shirts with photographs or images tend to look tacky. Some people try to place a photograph of a loved one’s face on a shirt, for example. 

These shirts rarely reach their fundraising goals. Image-based shirts – particularly when they feature people – can look awkward. 

Up above, we talked about the importance of abstract or symbolic designs. Instead of using a photograph of a specific person, place, or thing, use a symbolic design to represent that person, place or thing.

Unless you’re working with a shirt producer that specializes in printing images onto shirts, your shirt will probably not look as good as you think after printing it out. Shirts can stretch and fade and before long, your photograph is unrecognizable.

Instead of dealing with any of these problems, avoid the hassle. Don’t use photographs or images on your shirts unless you have a specific target or goal in mind. 

Use complimentary colors

Take advantage of complementary colors, and experiment with analogous and monochromatic.

Let’s talk about colors, because they’re the thing people will likely notice first about your shirt.

You have a few color choices to make on your shirt, including the color of the shirt itself and the colors of any designs printed on that shirt.

Ideally, the colors you choose will be complementary. They’ll look good together and mutually enhance one another. 

How do you find complementary colors? Using the color wheel of course:

The Color Wheel - primary, secondary and tertiary

There are primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) in bold. Mixing two of those primary colors together will result in a secondary color.

Secondary colors include purple, green, and orange. On the color wheel, the secondary colors are located halfway between each primary color.

Finally, you have tertiary colors, which include yellow-green, blue-green, and red-violet. There are endless combinations of tertiary colors because they’re created by mixing primary and secondary colors together.  

Now, consider the following chart:

Color Harmonies

On that chart, we’ve separated colors into a few different categories based on their positioning on the color wheel.

To create interesting contrast on your shirt, use complementary colors, which are colors located directly across from one another on the color wheel. Red and green are complementary colors. So are purple and yellow. 

These colors create heavy contrast but can be extremely effective marketing tools when used intelligently (i.e. don’t overuse contrasting colors unless you want to give people headaches). 

Analogous colors also work well together but create less contrast than complementary colors. Analogous colors are located next to one another on the color wheel and create little contrast, but can enhance the variation of a shirt without creating an overly striking design.

Monochromatic colors (not pictured) are different shades of a single color ranging from light to dark. They’re found on the same “spoke” of the color wheel. On shirts, monochromatic colors can be used to provide definition and shading to certain objects or designs.

Some designers believe in a third color scheme: natural colors. Natural colors are colors which appear naturally in our world. They’re naturally harmonious because we see them in trees, plants, flowers, and other natural materials. Natural colors vary depending on where you live in the world, but you may be able to use natural colors to effectively combine colors like red with yellow and green: the red represents flowers, the green represents grass, while the yellow represents sunlight: all things we see in nature. 

You should also consider whether a color is warm or cool. Warm colors include red, yellow, and orange and typically evoke sunny summer days. Cool colors are blue, green, and violet and tend to remind us of cooler months and the winter.

If you don’t want to tinker around with the color wheel, then consider emulating today’s latest colorful fashion trends. Popular fashion colors are constantly changing, and few colors remain popular and fashionable over the decades. 

Instead of recommending specific colors, we encourage you to check out Adobe's Kuler tool.  Kuler is a fantastic way to quickly "preview" different color harmonies and can cut a lot trial and error design time.  

Use related colors

Still having trouble picking a color? Choose a color relevant to your cause.

Some causes are instantly associated with a particular color. Breast cancer and the color pink have long been associated with one another, for example. The same can be said for the color red and HIV/AIDS awareness.  

If your shirt isn’t related to a specific cause, then you can broaden it to relate to the colors of a specific state, city, or county.

You can go with the classic American colors of red, white, and blue, for example. If your campaign is based in New York City, you could adopt the unique colors of the Statue of Liberty. In California, you could use the official colors on the state flag of brown, green, and red.  

Design balance

Pay attention to the symmetry and focal points of your shirt to ensure a professional look.

The balance and focal points of your shirt are extremely important when you’re trying to quickly convey a point.

Some people choose to create symmetrically balanced shirts, where the design on one half of the shirt perfectly mirrors the design on the other half. 

 Others choose a different approach and use asymmetrically balanced designs. Asymmetrically balanced designs are still balanced, but each half isn’t a mirror image of the other half. An asymmetrically balanced design uses multiple small items on one side of the shirt to balance one large item on the other side of the shirt.

Of course, a nontraditional approach would be to create an unbalanced design, where your shirt is neither symmetrically balanced nor asymmetrically balanced. Shirts like this can cause unease in people who view the shirt, and it can leave the shirt with an “unfinished” appearance. 

Unless you have experience designing shirts and want to try something new, I recommend using a symmetrically balanced or asymmetrically balanced design.

Don’t forget about focal points

Focal points are also important. A focal point is the place where most people who see the shirt will look first.

The best shirt designs create focal points. The eyes are naturally drawn to the most detailed shape on the shirt. The area with the highest concentration of colors and lines is typically where we look first.

You can create a focal point using colors. Vibrantly colored areas with lots of detail are ideal focal points – especially when the rest of the shirt features more neutral colors and lighter patterns. 

popular design trends

Leverage design trends and iconic graphics to create a stylish & hip shirt. 

There are all sorts of different shirt designs you can use to create your shirt. If you’re a creative individual, then you may want to branch out on your own and create a cool, unique design.

Most people, however, would rather build off the work of other shirt designers, in which case you should consider some of the following popular designs and trends:

Faded colors and vintage-style font

Vintage-style clothing has recently become popular. Consider combining vintage lettering with a faded color to create a unique, classic-style shirt design. 

Simple text with a play on words

A great shirt design doesn’t have to feature any images or graphics at all. Some great shirts just feature creative text. That text could be a funny slogan or phrase related to your event. Or, it could simply be the name of the event with a slogan underneath. If you choose the right color combination and font, this can create an interesting and effective design.

Distressed effect

Popularized by the denim industry, adding a "distressed effect" to your design can often give it a worn-in, comfy look. This technique is very popular with t-shirt designers and can definitely add much needed character to an otherwise boring design. 

To recap - here the 10 tips and tricks to jumpstart your fundraising shirt design: 

  1. Use symbolic designs to reach a broader audience
  2. When in doubt, keep your design simple
  3. Avoid dark ink on dark shirt fabric
  4. Use light colors for warm-weather events
  5. Rotate text to make your design more eye-catching
  6. Don't use photographs/pictures in your design
  7. Use complimentary (or analogous) colors
  8. Include colors related to your cause
  9. Make sure your design is balanced
  10. Leverage popular design trends/graphics


Designing an awesome shirt isn’t rocket science. It’s easy to overthink things when really, you should be keeping it simple. You can use our online t-shirt design tool to create your own custom design for free.  Click here to start your design.