1) Perhaps you didn’t take your time with the concept

Do you ever feel like you are in a rush to get the next design up and running, or that you need a bigger portfolio of ideas to get noticed? This desire to reach a deadline may have a negative effect on your designs. It pays to spend a little longer on one great design than to have a range of mediocre ones ready to go. Create plenty of sketches and variations on a theme and don’t be afraid to throw ideas out. A little change here and there could be enough to transform a design into something that suddenly looks more eye-catching and hits a brief.

2) Perhaps you haven’t embraced colour as much as you should

Which is most important in your design, the shape of the image or the colour used? The use of colour really is important here as different uses of tones and pairing can make a huge difference to the visual impact of the piece. Brush up on your colour theory, especially the use of complementary colours to make the designs stand out. Try weird hues. You may just stumble onto something amazing.

3) Perhaps you need to think about things with a different material in mind

Where are you carrying out the majority of your designs and mock-up work? Is everything on a piece of paper or a computer program? Stop looking at it on a piece of paper. Instead, remember that it is going on a shirt. Ultimately, it has to be wearable with a good layout. This is important on the contours of the body – particularly with t-shirts for women. Print out out some mock ups to see how it all really looks.

4) Perhaps you don’t have a strong enough idea of your target market?

Who is the t-shirt for? If they answer here is simply anybody that wants to buy it, you may find that you have some problems. Don’t look for mass appeal when you can hit a key demographic or trend. Think about the gender, age and interests of a niche market where you can provide the perfect shirt that they have been looking for.

5) Perhaps you aren’t carrying out enough research to find this ideal target audience

Just how much research are you really putting into your designs? Or are you creating an image in the hope that someone likes it? Pick that new demographic and research it thoroughly. This means key images and slogans that showcase greater context and understanding of a niche interest and trend.

6) Perhaps you can then improve on previous designs within this niche

Strong research into the market allows you to look at previous designs and traits with in that sub-genre. You can see what was popular, what features stick around and what is it need of a refreshing twist. For example, if you research band t-shirt tropes in specific genres, you can find key trends to see what has been overdone, becoming cliched, and how to switch things up for a fresh approach.

7) Perhaps you simply need to tone things down

There is a desire to throw everything at a t-shirt design to try and get that perfect, unique look. However, it is often best to keep within simple, classic looks and designs for your shirts. A masterpiece painting may be too busy for a t-shirt, or distort in shape when people wear it. A simple design is more appealing and eye-catching for many people that prefer a little subtlety. The main thing is that you are still getting a message across, even it is with a few less elements.

8) Perhaps you are holding yourself back with doubts

Are you afraid to take a risk on a minimalist design or something a bit unusual? Don’t be afraid to go outside the box with something a little different that will catch the eye of that key demographic you are looking for. Yet, remember to stick to the rules and conventions of prep and colour so it doesn’t all get too pretentious and weird. Ride that middle line with a slight swerve to give yourself a slight edge and reap the rewards.

9) Perhaps you were a little heavy-handed with the humour in the past?

Be careful with the humour on any shirt. This goes back to the idea of the demographic and theme. If you are targeting a niche group then specific memes, puns, references and caricatures may go down well. This way it feels like an inside joke. This doesn’t work on the broader market. Also, consumers don’t really like those that try too hard or go over the top with crass vulgarity. Keep it subtle.

10) Perhaps the failure comes in the printing process rather than the design

Finally, there is the printing process. Did you send the ideal, most accessible and understandable file to the printers? If not, something may have been lost in translation, or in some incompatibility issue between the files and colours. The preparation of the artwork for print is as important as the design itself. Some forget to use pantone colours for screen printing, and find that their final products are a little off with the tones. Others forget to outline text or leave other errors in the files. The better your communication with the printer, the better the result.

T-shirt designers that follow these tips could soon find that their work improves. All it takes is a little push to further your research, design ideas and knowledge of the industry.

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