#21 Guest Post about T-shirt Art

Christine McGavern wrote the following on The Now-defunct Grid design forum. It’s good stuff so I “borrowed it” but I give her full credit. A designer had asked for help making a t-shirt for a bike race. Here’s what Christine had to say:

Will the cyclists be GIVEN the shirts to wear while they race – free of charge – or will the shirts be sold separately to raise funds for the cyclists riding? This will make a big difference in the design approach.


We’ll assume that the cyclists will be given the shirts as part of their registration package, and you’re hoping that the visibility of the shirts will attract donations as they wear the shirts around town / during the race.

Some thoughts if this is the case:

– Don’t worry about usability beyond the fund-raising effort. The best shirts for an event or to identify a team are those that SCREAM the message – go for bold over stylish.

– Focus on a well-known logo or big, clear text big and bold on the back. Make sure to use the whole 12”x12” silkscreen area.

– If there aren’t brand colors to think of, go bold text on a dark shirt – navy blue or dark gray is softer than black but holds a bright orange or white design well.

– If there are brand colors, go with the brand color as the logo or text, and a complementary color.

– Give a call to action on the shirt. Use the focus statement on the sleeves and the call to action on the back. i.e. back text: ‘Cycle to Solve Cancer // Jan. 15 2012 // Text #3345 to donate $10’ i.e. sleeve text: “www.cycletosolvecancer.com” // “Men and women riding 50kms to raise money for cancer research.”


We’ll now assume that the cyclists/organization will be selling the shirts to raise money before-the-race/during-the-race, and you’re hoping that the design of the shirts will encourage people to buy them.

Some thoughts if this is the case:

–  Keep in mind who the buying audience is likely to be. People who buy things to support a charity generally are older and have discretionary funds. In this case, I would reconsider the idea of a hoodie – it’s pretty younger generation. Maybe a front zip, no hood, ‘styled’ polar fleece with a subtle embroidery would be more popular; or a front-zip sweatshirt with no hood. In the same tone, this will affect your art.

– If you choose to have the logo, look for an alternative location for some branding, like a long sleeve cuff, shoulder crest, or the leading edge of the hood for a hoodie. Something where the logo becomes a natural part of the shirt. The worst thing you can do is logo the front ‘chest’ area. A simple embroidered logo on the cuff of a great jacket is a quiet reminder of their support.

– Look to the target audience for visual ideas for the art and the colors you will use. If you’re crossing a board spectrum of ages and interests, see if you can target into who is MOST likely to support the organization (i.e. women of any age; older men).

– Choose a base color of shirt that looks good on most people – again, black, navy blue, dark gray, white, very dark chocolate are good choices. Red, green, purple – no matter how ‘fashionable’ – will be a tougher sell.

– Choose subtle inks for most of the design – even consider a silkscreen ‘varnish’, especially on a dark shirt. Can make a very cool design. Dark gray ink on a black shirt with just one hit of red, orange, etc. can be powerful and stylish.

Remember, with silkscreen or embroidery – the larger the blocks of color in your design – the heavier the ink or stitch ‘patch’ will be, affecting how flat it lays, how hot it is to wear, etc. Just to consider.

Hope some of this helps!

Christine McGavern
Director, Creative Services
Xerox Canada

(Now Director of Marketing at Jayman BUILT)

The only thing I could add to Christine’s post was:

Find out who’ll print the t-shirt (the vendor) and ask them if they have had some “successes.” They can show you the ink and fabric combinations. They’ll have succeeded and failed many more times than you and will be glad to help you. This made all the difference on a project I worked on for the Humane Society. They also can give you pointers on ink limitations (print specs and art prep).

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