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Seven tips for killer t-shirt design

You spent days designing amazing custom tees for your upcoming epic Sydney show but it’s only when they’re printed that you notice that your design has text that’s too small for anyone standing more than a metre away to read, and did you somehow accidentally rip off the ABC Logo too? Oops. #merchfail.

It’s easy to make mistakes during the merch design process, particularly if you’re not a graphic designer by trade. You know you need to make your shirts look cool AF to stand out on the merch stand and bring the cash in, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Getting expert help is really important if you don’t know what you’re doing or where to start, but if you reckon you’ve got what it takes to get some great merch happening, we’ve put together our top seven tips to developing killer t-shirts that are guaranteed to fly off your merch stand.

1. Do your research:

Think about your target audience. Who are they and what do they like? What do they wear now? Look around your shows and take it all in. You know they already love your band (of course they do!), and they love to look amazing too (who doesn’t), so bring those two things together in one amazing design and those shirts will be selling like hot cakes.

2. Come up with great concepts:

It’s all well and good to make something your fans love, but you have to love it too - otherwise, what’s the point? Collect inspiration from Instagram and Pinterest and see what else is being done out there that you can use for inspiration. But remember while tribute is cool, copying is not. Get inspired but don’t plagiarise.

3. Get a great designer:

You know your flatmate has an ancient version of Photoshop installed on his computer and you’re tempted to just jump on there and come up with something to save yourself the cost of a graphic designer. Be you not so stupid. After all, you wouldn’t put him on the stage with your guitar and expect to get away with it, would you? (Unless he’s more talented than you. In which case, give it a whirl and see if anyone notices) Amateur design usually looks just that. Get a proper graphic designer to bring your vision to life and it’ll pay for itself tenfold when you end up with shirts that people actually want to be seen in.

4. Choose your colours:

Spend a bit of time thinking about what will visually pop on a tee. Bright colours work for a reason - they attract attention and stand out. But you also have to create t-shirts that your fans are actually going to wear, so bear that in mind. It’s also important to remember that the more colours you print, the more expensive your finished product will be.

5. Positioning:

Generally a large front print is best for getting your message across. If you’re lucky enough to have a short and distinctive band name (well chosen, you!), run it big and proud across the chest. You can also add more design elements to other areas of the shirt, like the sleeve, neck or back but bear in mind that the more positions you choose to add design to, the more your printing costs will be.

6. Quality:

The better quality your shirts are, the more wear they’re going to get and the more wear they get, the more awesome exposure your band is getting. Don’t make super cheap designs that will fall apart after 34 seconds of wearing, because you’re going to lose all the precious exposure that comes with extended wear.

7. Fit:

Think about the way your shirts are going to fit, as well as the design. Make sure you have options for women who might not want to just get around in small-sizes versions of the big male shirts. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again - the better your fans look in your merch, the better for you.

The bottom line is that you’re designing for your fans and you need to make something that they’ll want to buy and wear for the long-term. It might be tempting to try and turn your tees into a statement piece but if it discourages anyone from actually purchasing them, then it’s probably a pointless exercise. Think of the aesthetic your fans go for and deliver them that.

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