How to Make a T-Shirt Design from Scratch

how to make t shirt design from scratch

A Complete Guide on How to Make a T-Shirt Design

If you run a t-shirt business, you know how important it is to find a way to make quality t-shirt designs in as little time as possible to optimize your production process and start earning money ASAP. Sounds expensive and complicated? Not really, making your very own t-shirt design doesn’t have to be hard and you don’t necessarily have to have graphic design skills to make a killer t-shirt. In this post, I will show you how to design t-shirts like the pros.

There are two paths you can go by for making your own t-shirt design: downloading graphics and fonts and using Photoshop to put them together for a totally DIY t-shirt design or using a t-shirt template from a design generator that lets you get creative while taking care of all the technicalities for you.

I tested both alternatives by making my very own Mother’s Day t-shirt design from scratch, here’s how it went.

alternate shirt graphic

Find a Theme for Your T-Shirt

Do Keyword and Trend Research for Your Teeshirt’s Topic

Before going ahead to design my own t-shirt, I first had to verify the topic I chose had volume if people actually search for mother’s day t-shirts to give out as gifts, my assumption was yeah, definitely! But I just had to make sure so I headed to Keyword Planner to see monthly searches for that term, these were the results:

google ads
After that, I performed a manual search on Google, results for the search query “Mother’s Day t-shirt” are posts about people selling Mother’s Day tee shirts, which proved my point that this is a good topic to choose, especially due to timing, as we can see on the graph above, searches for this term rise in April and May due to Mother’s Day being on May.

search result mothers day shirt

See What T-Shirt Designs Sell the Most!

Another thing I needed to cross out of my checklist before actually spending time and resources on making the t-shirt design was to view what designs are considered popular within this subject, to have a look at what trends and sells the most.

To get a general idea, I first clicked on Images on the results for that Google search to have a glimpse at what ranks, this is what showed up:

image search result mothers day shirt
The first thing that stood out was the word “Mom” and how the heart shape or designs with typography are a consistent element for this theme.

Teespring and Spreadshirt are two of the major marketplaces for selling t-shirts online, I decided to search for Mother’s Day tee designs there to view what designs are popular within the community to gather inspiration when creating my own design and craft it according to what’s proven to be popular, not just what I consider that looks “nice”.

Teespring – I found they have a whole category for Mother’s Day Gifts, which includes t-shirts, pillows, leggings, tank tops and so much more; this confirmed my beliefs that it’s a popular topic, I clicked on it to view what’s been offered, I then moved on to regular categories, to browse “Mother” related tees I clicked on Family > Parent > Mother and found what are the most popular campaigns for this topic.

custom shop mothers day shirt
Spreadshirt – These guys also have a particular topic for Mother’s Day, once more, reassuring that I’m on the right path by creating a t-shirt design for this celebration. To view these I went to Shop > Find designs or products and typed Mother’s Day.

custom shop mothers day shirt 2
Okay, so after searching for what ranks and sells in regards to Mother’s Day t-shirts on two of the main T-shirt selling platforms, I came to these conclusions on how I need to craft my t-shirt design:

  • it has to include the word “Mother” or “Mom”
  • it should have hearts, typography or related graphics, maybe flowers
  • pink, black, white and red are popular colors to use on several elements or motifs in the design

Now that I had clear what I intended on making, it’s time to move on to the creative part of the process.

Making a T-Shirt Design on Photoshop with Online Resources

How to Find Free Graphics for Your T-Shirt Design

Since I decided to make a Mother’s Day tee to run a promotion next month, I started off looking for heart shapes to use on my design. I googled “free png graphics”, clicked on the first option, which is Freepik and signed up for a free account.

free png graphic search
Then all I had to do was type “heart” on the search bar and was given tons of options, clicked on the one with a style that matched what I had in mind, which was a scribbled shape. Notice how this is a free download with a free license that requires attribution.

freepik vector
[notice type=”alert”]IMPORTANT WARNING
Make sure to pay attention to the fine print to avoid compromising your designs for copyright infringement. Each asset you find online will come with a license or copyright notice, just because something is labeled as “free” doesn’t mean you are allowed to use it for commercial purposes or on print t-shirts for sale. My advice is to mind the details.[/notice]

In this case, I’m able to use these graphics as long as I credit the author. Freepik makes it easy to know exactly how to attribute the author and stay away from trouble.

image credit to author
To be absolutely sure I wouldn’t be violating any copyrights by using these on my tee (which I plan to profit from!) I went to Freepik’s FAQ to learn more on how to proceed, luckily I found the answer to my question real quick.

freepik usage agreements
Ok, so as long as I add “designed by Freepik” somewhere on the t-shirt I’m good to go – I plan on adding that info on the tee’s label. Now, if you want to avoid all the hassle of attributing the graphics, you can sign up for their premium plan, which gets rid of that step, it’s $9.99 EUR/month and it allows unlimited downloads without attribution + access to premium graphics.

Other places to search for graphics and vectors are Shutterstock and iStock.

Shutterstock has thousands of graphics and I was able to find one that is very much alike my Freepik find, it’s a free download but it doesn’t allow me to use the design on print t-shirts, I have to acquire an “Enhanced license”.

shutterstock love vector
Enhanced licenses are not sold individually, I’d have to purchase at least 2 images, which would be $199 USD.

purchase image plan
iStock offers similar graphics at $12 each with a standard license, and digging into their license agreements, learned that I need an extended license for printing and selling t-shirts with the graphic.

why need extended license
The extended license I would need is “Products for resale” it costs 18 credits, and each credit is $12.

Since I’m trying to make a design for a t-shirt for free, I decided Freepik’s free heart graphics with required attribution will do, so I went ahead and downloaded the file, which is an Adobe Illustrator file (don’t worry, you can open this in PS).

How to Download Photoshop

Since I already have Photoshop installed on my computer, I just dragged the .ai file to Photoshop to open it, however, if you don’t have it already, you can download it from Adobe at $9.99/month as a part of the Creative Cloud Photography.

This package lets you get a free 1-month trial and it includes the following: Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop and a cloud storage space of 20GB.

Alright, so when I opened the file in Photoshop I was given this screen, which made me notice my file is a flat image, not individually layered graphics, this means I have to cut out the white background (we’ll get to that). Default settings are alright, so I just clicked “Ok” to open the file.

saving image
This graphic has tons of different heart shapes, I only found 4 of them to meet what I have in mind for the tee so I selected them, cut out the white background and saved as a png file. This is a fairly simple process, even if you are new to Photoshop. Here’s a recording of my process:

Where to Download Free Fonts for Graphic Tees?

Now that I had my heart shapes in a friendly format I can move across the design, I went ahead and searched for some handwritten fonts to add to my design, I visited DaFont since I was already familiar with the site. You can also use Google Fonts to download free fonts to use for your t-shirt designs.

On DaFont I narrowed my search to Script > Handwritten and downloaded the Luna font, which was labeled as 100% free.

fonts selection

How to Make a T-Shirt Design in Photoshop

After unzipping and installing the font I was finally ready to go make my design. I headed to Photoshop and came up with a question I hadn’t thought of before, what size does my file need to be? I went on a couple of POD sites to compare their sizes and found out the following:

  • Teespring – 11.9 x 17.9″ maximum printable area for t-shirts
  • Society 6 – 11 x 17″ recommended upload size for t-shirts
  • Threadless – 14 x 16″ recommended upload size for t-shirts

Based on this, I decided to make my design 11×17″, this is where you select the file size on Photoshop (my MacBook runs CS6 but the link I provided is to download the latest version from Creative Cloud):

ready made remplate
After creating my file, I decided to try several options for my t-shirt template by copying and pasting some of the heart icons, arranging them, adding text using the font I downloaded and basically playing around until I came up with an option (or 2!) I liked, below is a quick recording of my process.

Results and Final Thoughts on Creating a Tee Design With Photoshop

After I was done making my t-shirt templates, I saved both individually as .png files, which allows them to keep a transparent background, which is the best format to upload to the POD shops later. These are the final designs I made in Photoshop:

This t-shirt design is meant to be printed on white garments.

mothers day design 1I plan on printing this design on a black tee so even though it has a transparent background, I’m uploading it here with a black background so you can see the white heart graphic.

mothers day design 2
Overall, I was pleased with my results but considered it took too long, by the time I finally got to the designing part I was already annoyed by the whole process of finding and downloading the assets and tools. Below are my final thoughts on this process.


  • I was able to control every aspect of the process, from selecting the graphics to arranging them to the style I had in mind.
  • Once you have the assets downloaded, you will be able to reuse them for future projects or designs.


  • It really takes a while to find what you have in mind; I was searching for heart graphics, which are popular, however, if you are searching for something more specific, you may struggle to find quality assets that allow you to use them commercially.
  • You really need to pay attention to the license of each graphic, this can be a hassle. Freepik makes it easy to know exactly how to attribute the author and stay away from trouble, but it won’t always be that clear.
  • You need to have Photoshop installed.
  • You need at least the very basic Photoshop knowledge.

This is a breakdown of my results making a design for a t-shirt with online assets and Photoshop:

  • Cost: $9.99 for Photoshop. Don’t forget that even though the graphics were free to download I have to add attribution on the label.
  • Time spent: 1 hr 40 min. 35 min searching for graphics and fonts + 45 min signing up and downloading Photoshop (estimated) + 20 min crafting the design on Photoshop.
  • Quality: the quality of my final output is good enough to use on several products on my POD shops like tank tops, hoodies, mugs, etc, so that’s pretty good.

Using a T-Shirt Design Maker to Create a Graphic Tee

Using a t-shirt design maker is a great way to optimize time while still having control over how your final design will look like. Placeit recently released design templates, a new t-shirt design maker that lets you make all sorts of beautiful tee shirt designs (even Ugly Christmas Sweater Designs), using it is super easy, have a look at its features:

Selecting a Font for the Tee Design

  • Choose from a set of fonts specifically selected for each template and that complement each other.
  • Choose the same font for each text field or a different one for each.
  • Pick a color for your text fields, you can select one or paste a HEX code.

Each template comes with a different amount and arrangement of text fields, you are able to disable some of the fields.

Adding an Image or Graphic to the T-Shirt Template

heart vector

  • Pick an icon or graphic that goes along with your text and complements the t-shirt design.
  • Choose the color of the image.
  • You can decide to avoid adding graphics by clicking “No Image”.
  • Graphics are automatically centered in the image.

Choosing a Background Image, Color or Pattern for the T-Shirt

  • You get to choose background texture, graphic, pattern or even a stunning photo! – I only recommend choosing photos if you plan on making a sublimated t-shirt (some POD shops offer this product) or if you have other use cases for the design, like printing posters, using as a social media graphic, etc.
  • Choose a flat color for the background by clicking on “No Image” on the right-hand side.
  • Select a transparent background option to download the transparent png – the most flexible file format for most POD shops and printing your own t-shirt.

Choose from Many Different T-Shirt Design Templates

One of the things I loved when looking for a Mother’s Day t-shirt template is that there are many different niche-specific designs to choose from. And more are coming out every day. From feminist t-shirts to cat t-shirts, and even retro t-shirt template, you’ll probably be able to find that t-shirt template you’ve been looking for. Check out some of them down below!

custom cartoon graphics

Results and Final Thoughts on Using a T-Shirt Design Maker

Using these t-shirt templates definitely simplifies the process, making it way quicker and even fun. I loved how I was given tons of background and graphic options while making my Mother’s Day design, the t-shirt maker actually boosted my creativity and gave me ideas for making tons of more t-shirt designs. This is how the final product looks like:

This t-shirt design can be used on both white and color garments, which is why I downloaded it on a transparent background.

happy mothers day 3Pros:

  • You can select from a wide variety of assets, all from a single place and without having to download them.
  • No need to worry about copyright infringement, these assets are all preselected for you to use for selling t-shirts.
  • Output looks exactly as intended since you choose your own combination of fonts + graphics + background + text.
  • Your download file is a friendly png that meets all the POD site requirements.
  • This is a super-fast way to make a t-shirt design!
  • Smart templates are 100% free at the time.


  • You are not allowed to reposition the objects within the design, which can be a bit annoying but also makes sense, this way all elements remain centered and correctly arranged aesthetically co be prepared to invest time designing your t-shirt, especially if you are new to these tools and processes.
  • You are limited to a selection of graphics and fonts.

This is a breakdown of my results making a t-shirt design with Placeit’s design templates:

  • Cost: $2.95 or get these T-Shirt templates for free with any subscription.
  • Time spent: 10 min since it was my first time making a t-shirt design using this tool. Time can definitely be cut in half for my next design.
  • Quality: the quality of my final output is pixel perfect, these are beautiful assets and the elements on each t-shirt template combine with each other perfectly.

Uploading Your Designs to a Print-On-Demand Shop

The t-shirt designs I made through both methods are ready to upload to any POD shop. I chose to add them to Teespring and Society 6 so you can have a look at how easy the process is.

Teespring – I uploaded the design I made with Placeit’s Smart Templates.

  1. Click on Start Designing > Art > upload your t-shirt design file.
  2. Select a style for the tee and which colors you want it to be available in.
  3. Choose where to position the design on the tee’s printing area, as you can see the one I made was a perfect fit, I just moved it up a little bit since the Women’s Tee I selected has a different print area.
  4. Add your campaign’s metadata (Title, description, category).

Check out the full video:

NOTE: this is a sped-up video, but the entire process of uploading my design to Teespring took only 2:30 min!!

You can read Teespring’s Design file tips & best practices here.

Society 6 – For this platform, I uploaded one of the designs I made with Photoshop and using online graphics and fonts.

  1. Sign up for a free account
  2. Click on Sell > Upload your artwork
  3. Add metadata
  4. Choose what products you want to enable with your design (there are looots of options!) For t-shirts click on Apparel; to enable products just toggle the ON/OFF
  5. Click on Edit and select the colors you want to offer the tee design in, you can zoom in and out with your design and also reposition it to your desired place.

Here’s a step-by-step video on how to upload your artwork to Society 6:

NOTE: This was also a super quick process, it took 2:00 min in total, however, keep in mind your design may take up to 30 min to show on every enabled product on your Society 6 profile.

Promoting Your T-Shirt Designs With Mockups

Ok, so now that my designs are available on at least two online marketplaces, the next step is to promote it on social media. Since POD sites only offer mockups of a flat garment over a white background, and I was looking for mockups that displayed my design on a real tee being worn by a real human being, I decided to promote my tee designs with t-shirt mockups.

A Placeit t-shirt mockup lets me display my Mother’s Day tee on a wide variety of models and scenarios (there are even pregnant mom mockups!!), this way I’m able to promote my work on social media without having to go through the whole process of a photo shoot.

Using these mockups is super simple, you just have to:

  1. Select a mockup from the gallery
  2. Choose a color for the garment > Upload your t-shirt design
  3. Download your mockup!

Below you will see the t-shirt mockups I chose to create to promote the t-shirt designs I made today.

  • Mother’s Day design #1 – Made with online resources + Photoshop
    pregnant women happy mothers day shirt
  • Mother’s Day design #2 – Made with online resources + Photoshop
    mature women mothers day shirt
  • Mother’s Day design #3 – Made with Placeit’s Design Video Templates
    real example mothers day shirt

To Wrap it Up…

Making your very own t-shirt design is a complex endeavour as you have to consider a bunch of little details, however it doesn’t have to be a difficult process, even if you don’t have design knowledge or skills as long as you find the right tools to help you along the road, like Placeit’s T-Shirt Smart Templates.

I hope you have found my comparison of these two methods for creating a t-shirt design helpful. I recommend you try both paths and choose the one that works best for you and your t-shirt business.

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