Promo 101: Designing a Promotional T-shirt for your Business

Ready to start designing a promotional t-shirt for your business? In the second installment of our Promo 101 series, we created a guide to help you understand your options and choose a t-shirt that fits your style AND budget.

Fabric & Style: How do you want your shirts to look and feel?

With so many different t-shirts out there, how do you choose one that’s right for you? It usually comes down to fabric. Here are some of the most popular fabric styles on the market right now: Regular 100% Cotton: This is the budget-friendly t-shirt that makes up a huge chunk of our t-shirt sales. Examples include Gildan Heavy or Ultra Cotton t-shirt. (Side note here: Heather colors usually consist of about 90% cotton/10% polyester.) If you’re on a tight budget and you need an inexpensive shirt, we can usually find one or more brands on sale each week to help you make the numbers work. Ringspun Cotton: Most people love ringspun cotton t-shirts because they’re soft and comfortable to wear. That’s because the yarn goes through a spinning process to soften, smooth and straighten each fiber. The end result? A softer fabric. Expect to pay a little more for really good ringspun cotton, but know that you can often find deals on favorites like the Gildan’s Softstyle t-shirt or the Bella Canvas fine jersey t-shirt.

Threadfast t-shirts and caps
Shown here: Threadfast tri-blend t-shirts with a 1 color, soft touch logo.
Tri-blend: With a blend of polyester, cotton and rayon, tri-blends are like the holy grail of the t-shirt world. Ultra soft, lightweight and breathable, you can eat, sleep and LIVE in a tri-blend t-shirt. However, premium softness brings with it a premium price tag. American Apparel really brought tri-blends to the forefront in the retail market, but now we offer a lot more options, some of which can still work on a budget. (Just be smart with your art design; see logo colors and placement below for more on that.) Garment-dyed: Think Comfort Colors for this one. That washed, worn-in look comes from dying the entire garment AFTER it’s made. It’s an extensive process, so manufacturers charge more for it. However, customers seems to love it, and we sell lots of the Comfort Colors brand, especially during the summer. Performance Fabric: For anyone engaged in sports or physical fitness, moisture-wicking t-shirts can help keep you dry no matter how intense the workout. This type of fabric requires special care in the screenprinting process, and our production team works really hard to get you great results every time. We sell a number of private label brands, as well as big names like Under Armour, too.

How many colors are in the design, and how many locations do you want to print?

Outside of the actual shirt cost, colors and imprint locations determine the price of your promotional t-shirts. Screenprinting involves creating a “screen” for each and every layer of color in your design. For every screen, your t-shirt takes another trip through the printing press and the dryer. Therefore, cost increases based on the number of colors in your design, and the number of locations you want to print. For example, let’s say you have a two color logo on the front of a shirt, and a 2 color logo on the back. If we’re printing on a color t-shirt, we’ll need to lay down an extra layer of ink called an underbase to make the ink stand out on the shirt. (Think of it like adding a layer of primer to the wall before you paint it.) That would mean creating four screens, and running your shirt through the printer and dryer a minimum of six times. If you want to keep your printing cost low, then limit the number of colors and locations in your design. I always tell people that if you want a higher end shirt, like a ringspun, tri-blend or garment-dyed shirt, then go with a creative one or two color design on the front to save a few bucks. You can also catch a price break simply by ordering more shirts! Watch this video for a behind the scenes look at the screenprinting process.

Ink: Do you want standard or soft touch ink?

Have you ever been at the mall and picked up a screenprinted t-shirt that still feels soft to touch? That’s because the printer used what we call “soft touch” ink. This method involves using the thinnest layer of ink possible to print your logo, and the result is usually a more vintage or worn look. (We often skip the underbase layer to achieve this.) Soft touch ink seems to be most popular on ringspun and triblend t-shirts.

promotional t-shirt
Bottom left: This is an example of soft touch, 1 color ink. To the right, a full color graphic with standard ink.
If you want your logo to really pop, then you probably want standard ink. In this case, we’ll use an underbase layer and maybe even an extra layer of ink on dark colors so that you get that crisp, clean and vibrant logo you’re looking for.

Let’s get started!

Now that you know the basics of of designing a promotional t-shirt for your business, let’s get started. Contact us today for more information!

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