Fashion changes every season, new collections come and go every 3 months and, as consumers, we buy into this system. T-shirt design, on the other hand, has a different rhythm. Though t-shirts are an important part of our everyday outfit, trends in t-shirt design often get less attention than other pieces of clothing, such as dresses, coats or even shoes. It’s okay, t-shirts are still loved from London do Shanghai and although summer is naturally the biggest season, being a complement to highlight another piece of clothing the rest of the year is still good, isn’t it?
If you’re a t-shirt designer wanting to create your own clothing line, you probably don’t have access to the same resources – budget and production-wise – as a big fashion label. Therefore, it’s understandable that, even when printing in bulk (at least 100 units per t-shirt design), you won’t have much room for big expenses. Although bringing your t-shirt design to life has these financial and logistic limitations, it’s still possible to achieve a high-quality print at a reasonable price, which is important and will help you keep a good margin in the sales column and add value to your new born brand.
A while ago I wrote some tips for designing & selling your t-shirts. That article focused on different things you can do to create and promote your new t-shirt design brand, such as getting good quality promotional images, creating your own online store or even how to get good t-shirt design inspiration around the web. Of course all the advice in the world won’t do much if you don’t have a good final product to sell. It is definitely possible to achieve high-quality t-shirt printing and get the most out of unit sales in spite of a low budget. For that, a little planning and good printing advice/consultation is all you need. That, and a good graphic designer, if you’re not one yourself.
Below I’ll analyse how some fashion brands use t-shirt design and printing techniques to create their products and hopefully it can be of inspiration for your future custom clothing projects. Also, while reading, you need to always have in mind the 3 basic laws of T-shirt printing:
1. The higher the quantity, the more cost-effective if will be per unit.
2. Most designs require 100% vectored artwork in order to achieve a high-quality print, such as the one you get from a perfect screen printing.
3. The more complex your t-shirt design, the more costly it will be to print.
Their iconic flying tiger has recently been displayed on a large variety of custom clothing this season. On the women’s t-shirts, the fashion brand used a 4-colour screen print (black, purple, light yellow and golden yellow) onto blue to create their design. This technique picks up every detail of the design, including the distorted elements. On the men’s white version, which sells for around £80 per t-shirt, 5 colours were used: black, red, yellow and 2 different shades of blue. On big quantities, printing in bulk gives you room to use more colours, and add more detail to the final print, which brings a unique illustration to life.
This British brand that fuses American and Japanese influences, uses bright colours in combination with excellent typography to create their hoodies, t-shirts and other printed clothing. Soft, fitted garments combined with colourful designs make their clothing stand out in the urban environment.
Their big graphics are printed with a traditional screen printing or sometimes Puff Print technique. Referred to as Puff Prints or Expantex Print, this printing technique includes an additive which is used on the ink during the screen printing process that expands as it heats creating a 3d effect. Using up to 4 colours depending on the design, these techniques make most Superdry products very cost-effective and easy to reproduce.
Dolce & Gabbana
Like the saints t-shirt below, Dolce & Gabbana sometimes use an all over print for their designs which would be very difficult for the general public or a start-up brand to replicate as it requires the fabric to be printed before manufacturing. Aside from these garments, the Italian fashion brand uses icons such as Al Pacino, James Dean and the Virgin Mary with extra soft feel garments and a clean fashion cut to design their t-shirts.
The retail price varies from 165€ to 395€ at their online store. Direct to Garment printing (DTG) does the job for the photographic side (Al Pacino) and that combined with some beautiful embroidery work (Virgin) completes the t-shirt design.
Abercrombie & Fitch
This American clothing giant mixes traditional screen printing (with platisol), water based screen printing and embroidery to achieve their t-shirt design quality. Some of the vintage designs can also be reproduced with Direct to Garment printing, like the one with the beer jar and the red cup. Most of their designs are very simple and use typography with bright colours to make them easily to identifiable with the brand, like Superdry does.
With big photographs & graphics, the brand makes the most out of great screen printing to reproduce their t-shirt printing designs. They use a technology called Power Wash, which features an enzyme wash treatment that simulates 40 typical laundry cycles and gives the garment a unique, super soft feel. Though this technology is not available for regular customers, it can be reproduced with naturally soft garments and Direct to Garment printing.
This printing technique produces the softest feel possible for photographic & full colour images. We can also see some 1-colour designs with puff prints, similar to those from Superdry, which seem to be very popular at the time of writing.