How to design your own t-shirts | custom t-shirt printing St. Louis

how to design your own t-shirts
Kirkwood Trading Company custom t-shirt screen printing in Saint Louis Missouri

How to design your own t-shirts

First things first. The quality of artwork directly correlates to the quality of t-shirt print. If you choose poor ingredients for a spaghetti dinner, chances are it won’t taste very well. As a screen printer with over 20 years of experience printing custom t-shirts, I can tell you the difference between good artwork and bad artwork.

That’s not to say we can’t cleanup poor artwork because we can. We do it every day. Customers provide us with their shirt ideas on napkins, sketches, word documents, and even screen shots from online t-shirt design studios. None of these are ideal and seldom do they work. However the most common artwork we receive is a jpeg file that somebody grabs off of google images. Generally these are two low resolution aside from not being the right file format. We can’t color separate a jpeg and we can’t resize a jpeg. So if it opens up on your screen at 3 inches by 3 inches. That’s as big as it’s gonna get.

In screen printing. We print artwork onto a film that is used to burn the screen. Each print color has it’s own screen. The quality of the artwork being output onto the film is exactly how it will burn onto the screen. If an image on my computer is pixelated, it will be pixelated on the screen and therefore the t-shirt. The ideal artwork will be a vector file. This is a scalable graphic that can be color separated. Programs screen printers use for graphics are Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw. These two programs create vector graphics. Of course you probably don’t own these programs because if you aren’t a graphic artist why would you? There are other vector programs out there but many times they don’t import into Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw correctly. So if you are going to invest money in custom t-shirts. Invest money in the whole process which includes the proper artwork format.

Another option is to see if your local printer has an online t-shirt design studio on their website. We have one here The nice thing about using ours is that we can access all the artwork you used to create your design. If you just randomly go online and create a design from an online company, we can’t access those files. Only the company who owns that designer can. So an online t-shirt designer is great for how to design your own t-shirts. Our designer has what’s called Design Ideas. This is great for people who need inspiration or aren’t good at graphics. These are pre-made designs than you can change the text and color scheme to match what you want.


Now that you know about ideal artwork for your custom t-shirts. The second most important thing to know is how the quantity of your shirt order combined with your artwork affects the price. The higher number of colors in your design the higher the cost of the t-shirts. How to design our own t-shirt has a lot to do with buying a cost effective product. Each color of a design has it’s own screen. Each screen costs $15-$40 depending on the company. Ideally you want the cost of the screen to divide into the quantity of your t-shirts and be around $1.00-$1.50 per shirt. So if you are ordering 36 t-shirts. Your design is a 3 color print on the front and a 3 color print on the back. That would be a total of 6 screens. Let’s take the low end at $15/per screen. Multiply $15 by 6 and you get $90. Now divide $90 by 36 shirts and you get $2.50. So whatever your final cost is, $2.50 of that cost is going towards the screen charges. $2.50 isn’t horrible. It’s just not ideal. However with a 3 color front print and 3 color back print you still have the cost of the shirt and the cost of the printing. So in realty this is going to be in the neighborhood of around $12/shirt. Now take that same 36 shirt order and put a 1 color front print and 1 color back print on it. $15 times 2 screens is $30.00. Divide that $30 by your shirts and now the screen charges make up $1.20 of the cost of the shirt. While there is still the shirt cost and printing cost you are now looking at around $9.00 per shirt. A far more cost effective option. There are other fees I won’t get into here than can affect the over all price that have more to do with the particular shirt and ink colors used. But that would just be a little confusing at this point.

So remember, the lower the quantity in your shirt order the least amount of print colors you want to use.

Again, if you go to an online t-shirt design studio you can play around with designs and get some basic pricing through the quote process. How to design your own t-shirts can be fun. The goal is to have an awesome looking t-shirt that displays your message in a way that stands out without breaking the bank.