Putting Designs on Shirts: Complete Guide

Nowadays, custom t-shirt designs are extremely popular. They enable you to express yourself or make a point without actually saying anything. If you want to have some fun with your clothing, then you'll need to start designing your own t-shirts.

But where to begin? Begin by knowing the different printing methods. Here are popular methods for putting designs on shirts:

Know the Different Methods of Designing a T-shirt

Let’s discuss some printing options to customize shirts.

1. Screen Printing

screen printing on shirts


The screen printing method involves the creation of a stencil for your desired design. Then, you use this stencil, a mesh screen, and a squeegee to apply ink to the shirt.

Custom screen-printed shirts are perfect for large orders, such as outfits for a dance group, team, or school.

This printing is a versatile method. You can use it on a variety of materials, including t-shirts, glass, metal, and plastic using specialized inks for specific substrates.

2. Heat Transfer Vinyl Printing

Unlike traditional vinyl graphics, HTV is made of heat-sensitive material that can be transferred to fabric using a heat press or flat iron. It comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns, so you can really let your creativity shine.

You can still create and cut HTV even without a cutting machine. Also, some HTV materials stick to t-shirt even with a household iron. Plus, it's relatively inexpensive and easy to use, so it's perfect for beginners.

3. Direct-to-garment (DTG) Printing

If you want prints that have the best quality and are photo-realistic, direct-to-garment (DTG) printing is a fantastic choice. In this technique, the machine prints directly onto the fabric of the shirt using specialized inkjet printers.

You can use light and dark fabrics. DTG printing is perfect for small batches, as there is no setup cost or minimum order quantity.

Plus, you can print just one shirt or as many or as few shirts as you need, making it a great option for test runs or one-of-a-kind designs.

4. Embroidery

embroidery on shirts


Embroidery is stitching your design onto the shirt using colorful thread. It's a more traditional t-shirt printing method.

You can stitch by hand or by using an embroidery machine. Some sewing machines have limited embroidery capabilities for simple designs.

For custom shirt with complex designs that include multiple colorful threads, you’ll need a specialized embroidery machine to hasten the process.

5. Applique

Using the applique technique, you cut out shapes from one piece of fabric, design them and sew them on t-shirts. Applique is often used to add embellishments to t-shirts, dresses, and skirts.

You can create shapes by hand, or buy them already made. The common appliques include laces, rhinestones, and other glittery materials.

With applique, you can add lettering, images, and even 3D elements to your own shirt.

6. Vinyl Cutouts

heat transfer vinyl for shirts

You can buy pre-cut vinyl in all sorts of colors and patterns, or even cut your own designs using special software and a cutting machine. Once you have your design ready, simply peel off the backing and stick it onto the shirt.

Vinyl cutouts are great for small orders or unique designs that you won't find anywhere else. The downside is its semi-permanent durability.

These cutouts can peel away from the fabric after a few washes. So, this method is best for one-time

7. Iron-on Transfer

htv for shirts

Image source: Teckwrapcraft.com

You can use iron-on transfer paper to print images using a sublimation inkjet printer. It is important to note that iron-on transfer paper is not always compatible with all types of fabrics.

So it is important to test a small area before attempting to iron an entire image onto a garment. In general, iron-on transfer paper works best on smooth, non-textured fabrics such as cotton or polyester.

It is also important to follow the instructions on the iron-on transfer paper package in order to ensure optimal results.

8. Sublimation

Like HTV printing, sublimation uses heat transfer to print on t-shirts. One difference is the use of sublimation ink and printer to produce designs.

In sublimation, the heat turns the ink into a gas state and transfers it into the fabric. Once the ink cools, it returns to its solid state. You’ll need a heat-sensitive transfer paper to activate this sublimation ink.

However, sublimation works best on polyester or fabric with a polyester blend. Also, it is only visible on light-colored fabrics.

Decide on the Printing Method

In the previous section, you learned the different printing methods. For most beginners, HTV printing is often the go-to method because of its easy set-up. You can buy the equipment and supplies readily online. But what really is the best method for your own custom t-shirt design? This really depends on several factors. Here are some of the factors to consider:

Design You Want

If you have a complex design, screen printing or DTG may be the best option. HTV printing provides holographic and glow-in-the-dark options. Sublimation and screen printing have a softer feel compared to HTV prints. On the other hand, embroidery is best for brand/logo and simple monochromatic designs

Quantity of Shirts

How many t-shirts do you need? If you need a large quantity of shirts, screen printing will be more cost-effective. Sublimation can also be great for bulk orders but the cost of sublimation ink might be cost ineffective for your business or budget.  If you only need a few shirts, DTG or HTV printing may be a better option.

Fabric Type

Screen printing works best on 100% cotton shirts. If you want to print on different types of fabric, DTG may be a better option. Sublimation, on the other hand, works best on polyester.


Custom t-shirts cost a lot because you have to pay for the material and labor of finishing a quality product. The ordered quantity, design, fabric, and printing method used also add to the overall cost.

For one t-shirt alone, the retail price can reach up to $50. Wholesale prices are much lower depending on the quantity ordered.

DIY vs Finding the right company to do the job

That leaves you with a decision to make. Should you look for businesses that print on demand or not?

If you’re planning to start a t-shirt printing business or DIY designing your shirts, you need to invest in equipment, fabric, and tools. Generally, screen printing is typically more expensive up front, but it is cheaper in the long run if you need a large quantity of shirts.

DTG and HTV printing is typically less expensive up front, but it is more expensive in the long run if you need a large number of shirts.

However, if you’re planning to look for a t-shirt printer instead, you’ll need to undergo and follow their design process. Often, you’ll have to send your designs in vector format, usually a PDF or an EPS file to the company. Wait for a quotation, confirm your order, pay, and wait for the delivery. The process also includes a design review before your t-shirts are up for production.

The finest t-shirt printing technique for you will ultimately depend on your unique requirements and preferences. Be sure to weigh all the options before choosing.

Process of Designing a Shirt with Heat Transfer

The design process with these eight methods is generally the same with a few differences in preparation and the actual putting of the design on the shirt. But let’s concentrate on heat transfer vinyl printing because this method is the friendliest and easiest for beginners.

Choose an Amazing Design

When it comes to designing a shirt with heat transfer, there are endless possibilities. With so many choices, it can be tough to decide which design elements to include and which are right for you. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a design:

You should first consider the message you wish to deliver. Are you considering something lighthearted or serious? Classy or whimsical? The design you choose should reflect the overall tone of your shirt.

Next, think about the target audience you're designing for. If you're making a shirt for a group or event, you'll want to make sure the design is appropriate for all members. Keep in mind age, gender, and interests when choosing a design.

Finally, consider your budget. Some designs are more intricate than others and will require more materials.

With these factors in mind, you're sure to find the perfect design for your heat transfer shirt. So get creative and here are some perfect t-shirt design ideas for you.


Putting Vinyl Designs on Shirts
Source: Teckwrapcraft.com


A good logo is essential for any brand. After all, the logo is often the first thing that potential customers will see. It needs to be eye-catching and memorable, while also conveying the right message about a company or organization.

For a shirt design business, a logo should be creative and savvy, showing that the company is capable of coming up with unique designs. At the same time, it should also be professional enough to instill confidence in potential customers.

Funny or Clever Sayings

Putting Designs on Shirts


Designing a shirt with heat transfer can be a fun and creative way to show your personality. Whether you want to make a statement with a bold graphic or keep it simple with a clever saying, there are endless possibilities for what you can create.

Once you have your design ready, simply follow the instructions on the package to apply the transfer to your shirt. Then, it's just a matter of waiting for the transfer to cool so you can wear your new shirt with pride.

If you are looking for something funny, consider using a clever saying like, "I'm not lazy, I'm in energy-saving mode." If you want to show off your creative side, try using a saying like, " abduct by aliens," or " live long and prosper."

Vintage Designs

Putting Designs on Shirts
Image source: teckwrapcraft.com


Vintage heat transfer designs often feature bold colors and eye-catching patterns, making them ideal for creating a statement shirt. And because they're so easy to apply, you can experiment with different looks until you find the perfect one for you.

There are many sources for vintage designs, including online print shops and design websites. When choosing a design, it is important to consider the size and placement of the design on the shirt.

For example, a small design placed on the chest may get lost on a larger shirt. It is also important to think about the color of the design. A dark design on a light-colored shirt will be more visible than a light-colored design on darker shirts.

Unique and Eye-catching Patterns

glow in the dark htv on shirts

source: teckwrapcraft.com

There are a variety of unique and eye-catching patterns that you can use in the heat transfer process to create a one-of-a-kind shirt. One popular pattern is the use of multiple colors in a swirl or spiral design. This type of pattern is created by using multiple colors of heat transfer vinyl and layering them on top of each other in a spiral pattern.

Another popular pattern is the use of multiple colors in a striped design. This type of pattern is created by using multiple colors of heat transfer vinyl and cutting it into strips that are then placed on the shirt in a striped design.

Other popular patterns include the use of multiple colors in a checkerboard or plaid design, the use of multiple colors in a geometric design, and the use of multiple colors in a floral or paisley design.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to creating unique and eye-catching patterns for shirts using the heat transfer process.


sublimation printing on shirts


There are a few things to keep in mind when selecting photographs for a shirt in the heat transfer process. First, remember that the photograph will be reversed when it is transferred onto the shirt. For this reason, it is best to avoid using photographs with words or letters. Don’t use low resolution images.

Second, you need to shrink the photo to fit in the shirt. This can cause details in the photo to become lost. As a result, it is best to use simple photographs with clear lines and bold colors.

Finally, remember that the photograph will be applied with heat and pressure. This can cause some colors to bleed or fade. To avoid this, choose photographs with strong, vibrant colors.


Putting Designs on Shirts


Artwork is a critical component of any shirt design, and the heat transfer process provides a unique set of challenges and opportunities. When designing for heat transfer, it is important to keep in mind the limitations of the printing process. So, your design should be simple and bold, with clean lines and sharp contrasts.

In addition, you will need to use a mirror image of your design, as the transfer process uses a reverse image. With these considerations in mind, start creating a stunning design that will look great on any shirt.

Simple and minimalist designs

htv on shirts
Source: teckwrapcraft.com


Though often seen as cold and sterile, minimalist style is incredibly warm and inviting. By keeping the design simple, you can let the fabric color of the shirt shine through.

Additionally, a minimalist design is often more versatile than a busy one, as it can be paired with a variety of different styles and colors. You may be surprised at just how impactful a few well-placed lines can be.

Select the Fabric

sublimation printing


In the process of designing a shirt with heat transfer, the fabric is an important consideration. The type of fabric will affect the printing process as well as the final product.

Cotton is a popular choice for heat transfer printing because it is soft and absorbent. However, cotton can also be difficult to print on because it is prone to creasing.

Polyester is another option that is easy to print on, but it can be less comfortable to wear. Synthetic fabrics such as nylon and acrylic are also options, but they can be more difficult to work with.

Ultimately, the best fabric for heat transfer printing depends on the design and the intended use of the shirt. Always choose high-quality products.

Prepare the Shirt for Printing

This involves pre-washing the shirt to remove any finishes that could impede the transfer process, then drying it on a low-heat setting. Once the shirt is dry, you will need to press it to ensure that there are no wrinkles or creases that could affect the final design.

After preparation, you can begin the process of designing your shirt. Heat transfer is a great way to create custom shirts, and with a little preparation, you can create a shirt that is truly unique.

Printing the Design

heat transfer vinyl on shirts
Source: teckwrapcraft.com

After you have prepped your garment, it is time to start weeding your design. Weeding is the process of removing the excess vinyl from your design that is not part of the final product. Start peeling off the piece of transfer tape that is covering your design.

If your design starts to peel up with the tape, lay the tape back down and use a scraper tool to go over that area again. After weeding, lay down a new piece of transfer tape and smooth it down.

Be sure to press down around all the edges and small details of your design. Finally, trim away any excess vinyl or transfer tape from around the edges of your design. Now you are ready to apply heat to transfer your design.

Start by flipping your t-shirt inside out and placing it on the cutting board or parchment paper. This will protect your work surface from getting damaged by the heat of the iron.

Next, print your design onto the transfer paper according to the manufacturer's instructions. Make sure to mirror your image so that it will print in the correct orientation on the shirt. Now it's time to apply the transfer to your shirt.

Place the design on the shirt where you want it, then cover it with a piece of parchment paper or a clean cloth. Use firm, even pressures as you run the hot iron over the design for 30-60 seconds. Allow the shirt to cool completely before carefully peeling back the transfer paper. If done correctly, your design should now be permanently transferred to the fabric!

Finishing off the Shirt

After printing your design on the shirt, the next step is to finish it off. The best way to do this is to use a special finishing spray, which can be found at most craft stores.

Once the spray has been applied, the shirt should be allowed to dry for 24 hours before being worn. This will ensure that the print adheres fully to the fabric.

But in most cases, just let the newly printed t-shirt set for 24 to 48 hours or maybe more. No washing is necessary.


So, whether you’re a business or an individual looking for some new attire, keep in mind the different types of designs that can be put on shirts and what will work best for your needs.

And if you need help putting any of these designs onto a shirt, don’t hesitate to reach out to us! We would love to help you create the perfect shirt for your next event or just everyday wear. What design are you most excited to try?

1 comment

  • Peregrinus Coppola

    Im Himmel 68
    58809 Neuenrade

    - Peregrinus Coppola

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