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3 Easy Steps to Come Up With Custom T-Shirt Design Ideas

3 Easy Steps to Come Up With Custom T-Shirt Design Ideas

Disclosure: some of the links to products or services in this article are affiliate links, meaning that Printful might earn a commission if you sign up or make a purchase through the link (at no extra cost to you). Read more here.

Got the burning desire to launch an online store? Want to start a successful side hustle with print-on-demand? Brilliant. If you have the will, all you need are the right tools to get you started: an ecommerce platform and a print-on-demand provider like Printful.

Another crucial thing you need is an idea. After all, if your customers don’t like your designs, you’re not going to sell anything. And figuring out how and where to get t-shirt design ideas is sometimes the hardest part.

If you’re looking for cool t-shirt design ideas, you’ve come to the right place. In this blog post, you’ll learn where to look for design inspiration, how to bring your ideas to life, and where to find ready-made cool t-shirt designs you can sell.

As a bonus, we’re also giving away free typography t-shirt designs you can use for your store!

Now, let’s get started.

1. Understand your niche

Before you get to designing, think of who you’ll sell to and identify your niche. Your designs should appeal to your audience.

If you’re having trouble finding a niche, think of what you’re involved in. Are you part of any unique communities? It’s easier to sell to a niche that you already know about than one that’s completely new to you.

Anything can become your niche market – hobbies, groups, events, and more:

  • Sports
  • Businesses
  • Family
  • Couples
  • Pets
  • Food
  • Social movements

Not sure who to target? We have a list of 115 niche market ideas.

You want to hit the sweet spot. If your niche is too broad, you won’t be able to target it effectively. Too small, and you won’t have enough buyers. Always ask yourself whether you can earn a profit with a specific niche.

Bottom line: you need to know who you sell to.

Let’s say you’re passionate about plants and want to target other plant fans. That’s a good start, so here are some questions you should start answering:

  • What’s trending on Instagram and Pinterest?
  • Is there a specific type of plant that’s popular now?
  • Is there a quote or saying that your audience would appreciate?
  • What kind of plant-themed t-shirts are already on the market?

Get an understanding of what’s happening in your community and what would resonate with them. If you’re part of the community yourself, then if you like something, there’s a good chance others will like it, too.

2. Look for t-shirt design inspiration

With a direction and ideas in mind, it’s time to create your designs. This is easier said than done, so first, ask yourself what’s trending in the design world right now? You want your store to be fresh and current.

Printful’s team of in-house designers knows all about current design trends. Watch the video below to learn their tips:

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80s and 90s patterns

Millennials are riding the nostalgia wave—aesthetics from our youth are making a comeback. Think big contrasts, intricate shapes, and pastel colors.

Patterns look best with our all-over products (leggings, sweatshirts, etc.). But you can use 90s elements on t-shirts as well.


You can never go wrong with typography. Adapt it to any niche by playing around with the style of typography and the text.

Although there are many ways to create typographic designs, two styles are very in right now: isometric and hand-drawn typography.

Isometric typography has a geometric feel with bold, stylized 3D lettering.

Then there’s hand-drawn typography, which is a little more rustic and whimsical compared to isometric.

Going with stylized typography generally works better than using a basic font as it looks unique and professional.

Always consider what your audience likes. Are they more about bold, geometric styles, or a rustic aesthetic? Or maybe they’re drawn to your message, in which case, a simple font could work just fine!

Don’t forget to download your free typography designs at the end of this post!

Collage design

We’re seeing a surge in collage design—that is, two (or more) images juxtaposed together.

The key to this style is the contrast. Pick images that are the opposite, but work well together. Think of the emotion you want to evoke and the images that’ll take your customer there. Photographs combined with some kind of graphic design elements work well.

This design style looks great on t-shirts—it’s easy to see all the contrasts and detail.

Hand-drawn illustration

We covered this in our 2018 design trends video and it’s still current today!

Continuing with the plant fan example, let’s say I want to create a simple design with a hand-drawn illustration from the Mockup Generator. I would simply pick an illustration of a plant, and add witty text under it.

plant mockup example

Printful’s Mockup Generator has a bunch of illustrations you can use to create simple designs, from avocado, pizza, and other foodie drawings to heart-shaped sunglasses and basic shapes.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

The beauty of selling t-shirts with print-on-demand is that there’s very little risk. Since you’re printing everything on-demand, you don’t have to spend money bulk printing designs. If a design doesn’t sell, just remove it from your store. Or if you notice a new trend, add it to your store and see how it performs!

Worst case scenario, you lose on time and effort you invested in creating the design. At best, you have a new, best-selling product on your hands.

3. Take advantage of online resources

If you’re already a design pro, then you know how to create your t-shirt designs. Get started in Photoshop (or these photoshop alternatives).

But if you’re not a designer by nature, executing your ideas can be a challenge. Luckily, you’ll find plenty of help online.

Use Printful’s Mockup Generator

I’ll start with the no-brainer. Printful has a robust Mockup Generator with sample graphics, fonts, illustrations, clipart, and symbols that are free to use.

If your design idea is simple, then you’ll likely find everything you need to bring it to life right here.

We also offer Printful Design Services if you need help with an elaborate concept.

Browse websites that offer royalty-free images and fonts

You don’t have to create a design from scratch. You can find royalty-free designs, photographs, and fonts that you can sell as they are, or edit to make your own. Remember the collage style design? You can find a royalty-free photo and add your own design element to it.

Some image sources may be paid, and if you’ll probably need a commercial license to sell designs on t-shirts. If you print through Printful, you need to hold the rights to your design, so do your research.

We recommend that you stick to designs you create yourself. But if you want to explore paid options, here are a few resources to check out:

  1. Creative Market – your go-to resource for thousands of ready-to-use assets, like graphics, fonts, and themes. You need to pay to download assets and make sure you look at what kind of license you need to sell for commercial use.
  2. Flaticon – 1,720,000 vector icons in all sorts of categories. Download as they are, or edit to your liking. If you use their free version, you need to properly attribute the artist. If you opt for their paid subscription, then you don’t need to attribute the design author (even if it’s for commercial use).
  3. Shutterstock – here you’ll find thousands of high-quality royalty-free photos and vector images. To sell them commercially, you’ll need their Enhanced License.
  4. Vexels – search for vector graphics that are merch ready! They offer tons of vector graphics made specifically for t-shirts, but to sell commercially you’ll need a license.

Hire a freelance designer

It’s easy as ever to connect with a freelance designer. Here are a few websites where you can find one:

  1. UpWork – a freelance platform where you can hire the right person for your job.
  2. Fiverr – a beginner space where artists list their skills for $5.
  3. 99designs – describe what you need and how much you’re offering to pay for it. Then designers submit their ideas and you pick the one you like the best.

We cover how to find a t-shirt designer in another blog post!

Bonus: Tips for DTG design

T-shirts are universal—almost everybody owns at least one. So this is a great product to start with. Here is advice on how to pick your t-shirt and create a design.

Pick the right t-shirt model

The style of t-shirt you choose depends on your niche. Is our audience interested in an affordable basic? Then opt for a Gildan. Are they style-oriented? Then go with a fashion-forward Bella-Canvas.

Other key factors to consider:

  • Are you selling to men or women?
  • Does your audience prefer loose- or tight-fitting tees?
  • What price range do they expect?
  • What colors are trendy?

Keep print file guidelines in mind

Pay close attention to Printful’s print file guidelines before creating your designs. They’re a little different for each product, but these are basic rules to follow:

  • Submit your design files to Printful in PNG or JPG.
  • Your designs should be at least 150 DPI (dots per inch). Anything smaller and your design will look pixelated when printed.
  • Remove the background before submitting files. We print everything that’s in the file (including white backgrounds), so remove whatever you don’t want printed.
  • Make sure all of your elements are opaque. DTG printing doesn’t work well with designs that are see-through, so your colors should be solid.

Use our Mockup Generator to get an idea of how your product will look, but remember that what you see on screen won’t always look exactly the same when printed in real life. Order samples at 20% off to test your designs before selling them to customers.

Time to create your t-shirt designs

It’s easy to start selling t-shirts online. All you need is an idea, a niche that’ll love it, and the readily available tools to get you going: an ecommerce platform and print-on-demand provider. With this blog post, you have the tools to find your niche and create a design.

We’ll even help you take it one step further by giving you free t-shirt designs. Use them as they are, or add some unique elements with our mockup generator!

What designs are you selling on your store?

Custom Embroidered Hats – the Guide to Creating a Design and Embroidery File

Custom Embroidered Hats – the Guide to Creating a Design and Embroidery File

You know what’s beautiful? A crisp, concise bold message on a hat, the accessory that pulls your entire look together.

There’s no denying that a classic, sleek hat brings an entirely new level of badassery to a look, and certainly will add character to your ecommerce store product range.

We’ll go through the entire process of creating your own custom-embroidered hat from beginning to end – from choosing a hat type and making embroidery-friendly designs to creating an embroidery file and, perhaps, even ordering a sample hat for yourself. What’s more, there are some downloadable free embroidery graphics at the end to get you started.

Choose the right hat

You probably know that not everyone can pull off wearing a top hat. And, honestly, there’s no need – there are plenty of hat options for you to choose from. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular ones, and the reasons why it might be the right hat for you and your store.


So, what exactly is a snapback? Well, the main thing you should know is that it’s one of the most popular hat types out there, so it’s well worth considering for your store or wardrobe.


Source: Printful

Snapbacks are five or six panel hats with a wide, flat brim and an adjustable snap on the back (hence the name). Their ancestor is the baseball cap, but nowadays snapbacks have evolved into a symbol of urban culture and youth style.

And your designs should definitely take this association into account. What’s more, snapbacks usually have a high profile (more on that a bit later), which usually allows a higher design.

Dad hats

If youth culture is not your target audience, there’s a less in-your-eyes version – the dad hat. These caps usually have a rounded brim, and a lower profile for your designs.


Source: Printful

This is a hat that’s a favorite with different types of people, and it’s definitely one of the biggest bestsellers here at Printful. So there’s no intrinsic target audience. Just pick the designs you like and get started.

Trucker caps

Trucker hats usually have a mesh paneling and a high dome area, as well as a flat brim. This cap actually has a fascinating history, since in the beginning they were mostly used as promotional hats given away for free at various events.


Source: Printful

But since the early 2000s the cap has entered mainstream fashion circles. So while the correlation with a freebie has been broken, companies still tend to use trucker caps to promote their businesses. And that’s always a great opportunity for bulk orders!

Bucket hats

When the world got a little tired of the seemingly million types of baseball cap variations, they turned to… the fishermen community!


Source: Printful

Yup, that’s right. The bucket hat started as an accessory to fisherman, but now has taken the world by storm and is worn by celebrities and models all over the world. What’s more, the trend is predicted to continue to rise in 2019 as well.

So if your customers like to mix it up a little, this is the go-to hat to put your custom embroidered designs on.


For those of us living in the colder climates, comfort sometime has to take precedence over style. But why not have both? After all, that’s what beanies are for.


Source: Printful

Beanies are warm, comfy, and you can really play with your designs throughout the year, since they make the perfect Christmas gift. Besides, you can always engage with your customers by starting the great “pom pom or no pom pom” debate.


Another sporting community favorite – the visor. Most often associated with tennis and other outdoor activities, this crownless hat is best known for its functionality, since it protects the face from the sun.


Source: Printful

That’s why design-wise it makes sense to stick with sports-themed graphics which would appeal to outdoor activity enthusiasts.

Still not sure which hat to choose? In the end it all boils down to your own preferences, your brand image, and, perhaps most importantly, that type of hat that best suits your designs and target audience.

Make your designs embroidery-friendly

Or rather, how to design a super cool custom-embroidered hat.

Many store owners make the same mistake, over and over again. They take one of their designs (that maybe worked really well on t-shirts), and they try to put it on hats. But depending on the design, it can be a big mistake.

Embroidery is an entirely different beast compared to direct-to-garment printing. For that reason, it requires an entirely different approach to creating a successful design. Here are some key elements to keep in consideration when designing your custom hat embroidery designs.

As always, keep in mind that your designs have to follow our Acceptable Content Guidelines.

Go miminalist

A minimalistic design can have a striking impact. Simple designs are easy to embroider and have a finished look with nice, tight lines. For example, a basic design with minimal details can look striking with a white thread against a black cap.

It’s best to avoid small, detailed designs, as those are difficult to embroider. For flat embroidery, the minimum thickness for shapes is 0.05″ and the max is 0.5″. For 3D puff, the minimum thickness is 0.2″ and the maximum is 0.5″. There should also be a space of at least 0.5″ between multiple 3D objects.

Our mockup generator actually has a text tool that allows you to create text-based designs for flat embroidery straight in the generator. You can choose from more than 25 fonts, and the generator will warn you if the lines in your design become too small.


Source: Printful

The main take-away? Use minimalist, bold designs with thick lines.

Take limited colors into account

When developing embroidery designs, you should note that the number of thread colors you use will impact the look of the hat.

If you choose to use multiple colors, make sure they have large enough details to be able to sew well. Like these letters and forms in this hat.


Image courtesy of

Keep in mind that there’s a limit to how many thread colors you can use. We offer 15 different colors, but you’re limited to 2 colors for 3D puff, 4 for flat embroidery, and 6 for a mix of partial and 3D puff.

Pick an embroidery type


You can choose to print your design using flat embroidery, 3D puff embroidery, or a mix of both (image courtesy of Rhinodillo Designs).

3D puff embroidery is when you see the raised embroidery threads. In the image above, it’s the white embroidery. It costs an extra $1.50 if you decide on this option.

Flat embroidery is when the thread lays flat on the hat. In the image above, it’s the red thread.

Partial 3D puff, however, is when a combination of both flat and 3D puff are used in one hat.


Embroidery styles

Stick to symmetry

A good hat design has a good balance.

One rule of thumb is to have your design focused on the middle bottom, and have it span out from there. Centering your design is a must, as most people don’t want to seem lopsided when wearing their hats.


Image courtesy of

Dabble in side embroidery

For a really polished look, you can add a small logo of yours on the side of the cap. Ideally, you would add either a logo, your company initials, or something else that’s small and can fit in the side space. You can only use flat embroidery for sides – no 3D puff.

It’s available on both sides of the cap, or just one. Or you can also skip the front embroidery altogether and just design a cap with side embroidery. Here’s how the pricing breaks down:

  • Just one side (no front embroidery): base price
  • Both sides (no front embroidery): base price +$3
  • Front and one side: base price +$3
  • Front and both sides: base price +$6

Create an embroidery file

Embroidery sewing machines “read” designs entirely differently than printing machines. For that reason, creating an embroidery file is an entirely different system.

Remember about digitization

Before the embroidery process can begin, we need to convert your file into a format that our embroidery machines can read. This process is called digitization.

Submit your design to Printful as a vector file (preferably in AI, PDF, or EPS formats, though high resolution PNG also works), and we’ll digitize it for a one-time fee of $8.95. But note that each style of embroidery requires a separate digitized file. So if you submit one design for 3D puff and later want the same design for flat embroidery, you’ll have to digitize that too.

Know your embroidery area

The size of your design will be based on the available embroidery area of the hat you choose. Some hats have a higher profile and therefore can print a higher design. Whereas there are low profile hats, like the 5-panel hats, which have a lower available height.

Here are the size dimensions for printing on caps and beanies:


Don’t forget to take a look at all of our hats. The price you see includes the embroidery, just remember that 3D puff and side logos cost a little extra!

Use our mockup and embroidery file generator

How do you create your embroidery file? Use our mockup generator!


Printful has developed the first-ever mockup and embroidery file generator, which will make your life a whole lot easier if you’re into hats. And as we mentioned before, it has a unique text tool that allows you to create text-based flat embroidery designs without leaving the generator.

And finally, we suggest watching our embroidery design tutorial video below and checking out embroidery guidelines.

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How to order a custom embroidery hat

Before you place an order with Printful you’ll have to create an account first. You can make an individual order, or start your store and then make an order.

  1. Go to your Printful Dashboard and click “New order” in the top right corner.
  2. Choose “sample order”. Those will get you 20% off and free shipping to select destinations.
  3. Choose your product. In this case, it will be hats.
  4. Choose your model.
  5. Choose your color.
  6. Upload the design you’ve created, or create one in our text tool. You can also use a design from our sample graphics library. Drag it around, size it, and position it the way you like. Pay attention to the DPI – make sure it shows as “good”!
  7. Select if you want it to be all flat embroidery, 3D puff embroidery, or partial 3D puff.
  8. Choose your thread colors.
  9. Click “continue” to confirm the order, check the shipping address, and submit the order.

If you haven’t used one of our sample graphics which are already pre-digitized, your order will have a $8.95 digitization fee. The digitized file will then appear in your library, and you’ll be able to make future orders with no repeated digitization costs.

Rock them around the city

Now that you’ve made your order, all that’s left to do is to wait for your custom embroidery hat to arrive in the mail. Once you’ve checked the quality, we’re sure you’ll have no qualms about putting it up for sale on your own online store. Read more about starting your own online garment store here.

Have you tried out embroidery? What do you think? Anything we left out?

This post was originally published on July 13, 2016. 

Ecommerce Printing Guide: The Best Heather Gray Shirt For Your Online Store

Ecommerce Printing Guide: The Best Heather Gray Shirt For Your Online Store

One of the most exciting things when launching your new online store is coming up with all the creative and fun designs you can showcase on different products. It’s motivating to think about the possibilities. But once the excitement fades a little, you’re faced with a tough choice – figuring out which products to sell. It’s no child’s play, especially for a newbie.

The #1 thing everyone’s after is quality, but it’s definitely not the only thing that can make your product line stand out. There are multiple factors that can affect how well-liked your brand is. To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of the best Heather gray shirts. We’ll look at overall quality, transparency, sizing, and availability. So let’s get started!

The one downside to print-on-demand services is that you don’t get to see or feel how your chosen t-shirt looks and fits. And you can only tell so much by reading the product descriptions. We want to make it easier on you, so we did some research and narrowed it down to 4 best selling quality shirts –  Anvil 980/880, Bella + Canvas 3001, Bella + Canvas 3413, and Gildan 2000.

We’ll be looking at 3 main categories in this post – fabric weight, fit, and transparency. Before we get to the more in-depth comparison, let’s go through this basic checklist for each garment:

  Anvil 980/880 Bella + Canvas 3001 Bella + Canvas 3413 Gildan 2000
Offers men’s and women’s styles ✔ 980 men’s
✔880 women’s
✘ unisex style ✘ unisex style ✘ unisex style
Branding with an inside label
Branding with an outside label
Number of available colors 21/17 40 20 22
Made in the USA
Sizes S – 3XL XS – 4XL XS – 4XL S – 5XL
Price $13.50 / $14.95 $12.95 $16.95 $12.95
Availability USA / EU USA / EU USA / EU USA / EU

This checklist may have already pointed out some potential winners for you, but let’s go through the other factors to give you a better comparison of these garments. First up – fabric weight.

Fabric weight

One of the most important factors to consider is fabric weight – the outcome of how a fabric has been woven, its finish, and sometimes the fiber type.

GSM and OZ

In the US, fabric is measured in ounces per square yard (oz/yd2), but grams per square meter (g/m2) is how it’s measured in Europe and other places around the globe. G/m2 and Oz/yd2 shows how much 1 square meter/yard of fabric weighs. The higher the g/m2 or oz/yd2 number, the denser the fabric.

Let’s take a look at the fabric weight for the top 4 t-shirts at Printful:

  Anvil 980/880 Bella + Canvas 3001 Bella + Canvas 3413 Gildan 2000
Fabric weight in g/m2 and oz/yd2 4.5 oz/yd2
153 g/m2
4.2 oz/yd2
142 g/m2
3.4 oz/yd2
115 g/m2
6.0 oz/yd2
203 g/m2

Out of all 4 shirts, Gildan 2000 is the most dense and Bella + Canvas 3413 – the least dense. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the thicker shirt is better quality. Back in the day, there was a close connection between weight and quality – light shirts were cheap and heavy shirts were considered better.. That’s not the case these days. The basic tee has evolved and is worn daily, thus consumer expectations have grown as well. Fabric weight is not just a question of quality anymore, but also of comfort. This means a lightweight shirt can be just as good when it comes to quality as a heavier one.

So what do differences in fabric weight mean nowadays?  Well, just like big, furry boots are made for winter and breezy flip flops for summer, a heavier shirt is more durable and warmer than a lightweight one which, on the other hand, is a better layering piece and a hands-down winner when it gets warm and sunny. It is also considered to be trendier.

Fun fact: A lighter weight is typically preferred by women as a more fashionable choice. It will have a cleaner fit.

The fabric

From left to right: Anvil 980, Bella + Canvas 3001, Bella + Canvas 3413, Gildan 2000

All 4 of our tees are mostly made of cotton, yet they’re not all the same. Regular, plain cotton is the most common and the classic. It’s durable, breathable and gets the job done, but it’s not the softest fabric on the planet. If you’re looking for a finer cotton fabric, go for ring-spun cotton or combed cotton, they’re a much higher quality.

The processes for creating regular cotton, ring-spun cotton and combed cotton are definitely not the same. Regular cotton is made from soft vegetable fibers that are twisted into yarn, which is then woven into fabric, while the ring-spun yarn is made by twisting and thinning the cotton strands to make a very fine, strong, soft rope of cotton fibers. Combed cotton is a kind of cotton that has been combed to make the yarn stronger and softer. This combing process also rids the batch of shorter fibers and impurities, which results in a finer, stronger and more compact cotton. Before we continue, you might want to check out Bella + Canvas’ video where they talk about the longevity of ring-spun and combed cotton fabrics. 

What’s interesting is that Heather colors by definition are not plain cotton – they have other fibers mixed in. Our top 4 shirts all contain at least 10% polyester. Poly is what makes these cotton Heather shirts softer, more comfortable, and essentially what gives them the Heather look.

As we already mentioned, regular cotton is less expensive to make, which means the regular cotton t-shirt is the industry standard and a best-seller. On our list, it’s the Gildan 2000 tee that fits the profile. The heather version of the Gildan tee is 10% polyester, making it a tad softer than other colors of the same model.

The Anvil 980/800 is made of ring-spun cotton, making it smoother than the classic Gildan 2000. The Heather color contains 10% polyester which creates a soft yet durable shirt. Ring-spun cotton has gone through a spinning process that softens and straightens the fibers. So ring-spun cotton t-shirts last longer than their regular-cotton counterparts, but they’re a bit more expensive, too.

Combed cotton is the next step up in quality. After the cotton fibers have been spun, they’re combed to remove any impurities or imperfect strands. It’s considered to be better than regular cotton, and more refined than ring-spun cotton that hasn’t been combed.

Both Bella + Canvas shirts in our top 4 are made of ring-spun combed cotton. When it comes to durability and softness, these tees are the premium choice.

The fit

But enough about cotton, let’s talk about how our t-shirts fit. They’re all very similar, but the shortest out of these top 4 is the Anvil 980 at 28”/ 71cm. The rest of the garments are your standard length, 29”/ 74cm. Now the other important measurement is the width. The Gildan 2000 is a little baggier than the other shirts, so if you’re after a looser fit, you might want to check out Gildan.

There’s something for everyone and this is definitely not the case of one shirt being ultimately better than the other – it’s more about finding what fits your needs. A good quality, standard shirt that allows for more profit can be a better match for you than a tee that’s made of top-notch fabric and costs a bit more.

We’ve gone through the basics and have talked a lot about fabric. Now let’s put these 4 t-shirts to the test. We asked our models to wear each of the shirts so that you can see what the fit is really like. Our girl model is 5’6 / 1.71 m tall and wears a size M, and our guy model is 6’2 / 1.87m tall and wears the same size M shirt.

1.Anvil 980/880 ( Color – Heather gray, size M, 90% ring-spun cotton/ 10% poly)

2.Bella + Canvas 3001 ( Color – Athletic gray, Size – M, 90% ring-spun combed cotton, 10% poly)

3.Bella + Canvas 3413 ( Color – Athletic gray Tri-blend Size – M, 50% poly/ 25% ring-spun combed cotton/ 25% rayon)

4.Gildan 2000 ( Color – Sport gray, size M, 90% cotton/ 10% poly)

Finding your perfect shirt

So there we have it – the ultimate guide to Heather gray t-shirts. Which is your ultimate winner out of these top 4 shirts and which shirt are you using for your store? Let us know in the comments below.  We’ve said this a few times in this post, but the perfect tee for you is the one you know your customers are going to love. If you’re looking for something more unique, head to our products and pricing page to find the shirt that matches your vision!