Our guide to the basics

Virgil Abloh, the streetwear visionary and head of mens at Louis Vuitton, has a thing for well-made t-shirts. “To me, graphic T-shirts are the most important and most expressive format for a designer or a person,” he told GQ. Abloh has made t-shirts central to his Off-White brand, with versions in black, white and neon all printed with the industrial-style graphics and brave slogans that have seen the brand become world famous.

While you may not aspire to be the next menswear hotshot, you can follow Abloh’s approach to getting your business noticed. Whether you run a food truck, gym, art space or brewery, consider these approaches to making your branded t-shirts the best they can be.

Four key tips for designing your own custom t-shirts

1. Printing or embroidery? 

The two most popular ways to embellish a t-shirt are printing and embroidery. Screen printing first sees coloured ink pushed on to the fabric through a mesh screen. The ink can be built up in layers of different colours to create bold graphics. Embroidery, meanwhile, allows you to create a more delicate aesthetic, with thread built up in layers to form logos or words.

When designing your t-shirt, think about the effect you want to create – funky and bright, or more chic and minimalist? Let that guide your choice of technique.

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2. Screen printing vs. DTG 

There is another printing technique to consider: direct to garment (DTG). Rather than pushing the ink through a screen, in this technique it is applied straight on to the fabric with a modified inkjet printer. Generally speaking, screen printing works best for simple, graphic designs, while DTG allows you build up colours one on top of the other, for a bold, kaleidoscope effect.

There’s also a price difference – if you’re doing a small run of t-shirts then DTG will probably work out cheaper than screen printing, because the set-up costs are lower, but for orders of over 100, screen printing becomes the cheaper option.

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3. File types 

So you’ve chosen to print, and you know which images you want to use. Now, you’ll need a little technical understanding to make sure those pictures come out in the best quality. Get yourself familiar with two file types: raster and vector. The former are generated in pixels, which means they carry lots of detail at a small size, but can become blurry when enlarged.

Vector files behave in the opposite way, appearing perfect on large prints, but lacking in detail when they’re used for smaller projects. Raster files (JPEG, PNG, TIFF) are best suited to DTG printing, and vector files (PDF, AI, EPS, SVG) should be used for screen printing. We’re happy to help talk you through the best fit for your project.

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4. Do you want custom clothing labels?

With everything complete on the outside of your t-shirt, it’s time to turn your attention to what’s inside: the label. There are two main types to choose from – woven and silk printed. The former has a premium feel, and costs a little more than silk printed. We make woven labels available on orders of over 100 units. If neither option appeals, you could consider screen printing your branding on the inside of the t-shirt.

It’s a particularly good option if you want something customised but are only looking to do a small order of 20 units or more. We also offer heb labels, which add a premium look to t-shirts and hoodies too.

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Want to create your own custom t-shirts? ICON Printing offer fast turnaround printing on a range of garments, counting a number of clients ranging from such as WeWork to Boiler Room and the Tate. Get a quote in 2 minutes online.