I am an avid pop culture consumer. I watch it, buy it, and wear it as often as possible. However being the eternally-broke student that I am, I realize that I have limited funds in which I can deck myself out with. That is until I discovered the miracle that is 24-hour t-shirt websites. My personal favourites include Teefury, RiptApparel, and Shirtpunch, though I know there are many others out there like The Yetee, Othertees, Qwertee, and more. Granted, not all of these operate under the time frame of 24-hours, but they all have a similar way of operating: independent artists submit designs that are selected by a curator to be sold on the site.
So I bet right now you’re wondering why I am writing about websites that sell copyright ambiguous t-shirts on a blog that is supposed to focus on graphic design? Through my years of patronizing these websites, I have seen excellent designs that drain my already meagre funds, and I have seen designs that… well, to put it plainly, don’t. I’m going to give some advice as a consumer for what I look for, and offer some professional advice from successful t-shirt designers.
I’ll start off with professional advice. An article by Mike Ng gives ten great tips for t-shirt designing and how to create an effective design. Actually, this article is extremely useful not only for t-shirt design, but arguably all design. With advice like “explore your concept”, “consider your market”, “get educated”, and “be ahead of the game”, any designer would benefit from remembering these concepts.
Another article I really enjoyed points out a huge beef I have with a lot of t-shirts: wearability. To put it simply, if you’re a relatively trim person with a flat-ish front, you can wear just about any t-shirt without much distortion. However if you’ve got a little something going on in the frontal region, then you might understand what I’m talking about. Personally I’ve found that the larger the design, the less detrimental the distortion becomes.
In my case, all of the shirts I have purchased are somehow nerdy. I prefer to buy shirts that are unique and couldn’t possibly be found in stores. Many of my favourites are either mashed up with other fandoms* or art styles, but some stand alone and create beautiful imagery.
One of my all-time favourite shirts is “Dead of the Dead” by OneBluebird. The beautiful combination of calavera art and Wolverine translate perfectly onto a shirt. Despite the detailed nature of the design, the artist manages to balance it perfectly using colour and style harmonize. I was also deeply impressed with the handling of shading, utilizing the black of the t-shirt, and using the other colours to trick the eye into seeing more than what’s really there.
Yet another favourite of mine is “Throat of the World” by B.C. Art & Design. For this one, I opted for the slightly pricier hoodie option just because I didn’t want to risk any distortion to the art itself. To this day I am still so impressed by the shading on this design. All of RiptApparel’s shirts are silk screened so the designs must not use traditional gradients but clever line/stippling work to fake the appearance of gradients and opacities. This design also has so many levels to it, any Skyrim fan would love to dissect, not to mention a clever play on a vintage travel poster.
Much like in any design industry, there isn’t really a right and wrong answer. Just because I like complexity doesn’t mean that only detailed designs are good, but I do find them most impressive as they have to work around the confines and limitations that silk-screening entails. Knowing how a design is to be manufactured for end use is critical to the design process and shirt designing is so different.
What do you think of my favourite designs? Do you think the articles offered valuable advice? Are you going to jump into the crazy world of t-shirt design? Let me know in the comments!
*Fandom is a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of empathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest.