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Creating your own t-shirt designs lets you wear personalized styles wherever you go! But if you don’t have a background in graphic design, you may find all the design programs a bit bewildering. What is the best t-shirt design software for you?
The best t-shirt design and printing software helps users create unique typography and graphics. Some of the most popular professional design programs include Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw. Free programs like GIMP and Inkscape provide an open-source alternative to create t-shirt designs.
In this article, you’ll find out how t-shirt design software works. You will discover the top 15 software and printing programs available today. Finally, you will get an overview of the best design tools available as apps or on the web.
What is T-Shirt Design and Printing Software?
T-shirt design and printing software give you the tools you need to create an image, logo, or graphic to print onto a t-shirt. These days, you can use downloadable graphic design software or choose from a wide range of web-based t-shirt design tools. Some design programs even come in easy-to-use apps!
With such a wide range of options to choose from, how do you find the right software for your t-shirt project? You should start by looking for a few key features.
First, does the program offer vector design? Digital and paper designs often use pixel-based raster imaging. The pixel composition makes raster images look weird if you zoom in or enlarge because you can get a blurry or pixelated view. Vector graphics, on the other hand, base their size on a mathematical formula that automatically enlarges or shrinks the details of the image as necessary.
You can see how vector graphics work much better for most t-shirt designs!
Another feature to consider is the ease of use. Many professional designers use hardcore graphic design programs like Adobe Illustrator, and maybe you need a feature-rich program like that for your work! But then again, maybe what you need is a simple web-based program that lets you modify preset templates.
Custom t-shirts have gained such popularity that you can find thousands of online companies that let you select from easy-to-edit templates. While these programs don’t give you as much freedom as a traditional graphic design tool, they do offer a quick, easy-to-use alternative!
Of course, cost also plays an important role in the decision-making process! You can find free t-shirt design software, but you may have to compromise on some of the features you want if you go with these options.
Finally, make sure you match the design program to your printing method. Do you plan to use a heat press, screenprint, or direct-to-garment (DTG) printing? Each method has specific requirements.
For example, if you plan to screenprint, you should purchase software that provides a color separator and vector design tools. This will allow you to prep every individual color for printing on an individual screen.
Can you use the same design for screen printing and inkjet printing? Inkjet printing, otherwise known as direct-to-garment, uses water-based inks and prints a digital image right onto the fabric of the t-shirt.
You can get away with using raster imaging for this kind of printing sometimes. The downside here is that the image will come out looking much cheaper than a screen-printed image.
Ultimately, whether you like to create t-shirts for your own stylish wardrobe or sell on Etsy, you should choose a program you like. Creating your custom designs is a cool artistic process, and you should get to enjoy it!
16 Best T-Shirt Software Options
You can find t-shirt design programs in multiple formats, including downloadable software, web-based programs, and apps. Keep reading to find all the key details about the sixteen most popular t-shirt design programs available today. This includes cost, ease of use, and compatibility of each tool!
1. Adobe Illustrator
Free shipping in 4 days
Get your custom t-shirts fast with 4 day turnaround and free shipping.
Soft, tagless t-shirts
Our tagless t-shirts are made from 100% ring spun cotton for incredible comfort, breathability and fit.
Full color printing
Print any design in full color on a custom t-shirt at no additional cost.
Print your design on a t-shirt
Easily design and print your own t-shirts. Select a shirt color and a quantity for each size you want. Next, upload your artwork and select a print position. Shortly after checkout, you’ll get an online proof showing how your customized tees will look. You can request changes to the proof for free until you’re happy.
Designed for comfort and style.
Make shirts to promote your business, rally your team, start your own clothing line, or to make your friends laugh. You can order one shirt at a time or save money by ordering larger quantities in various sizes. Every order includes a free proof, fast-turnaround, and free 2-day shipping.
Reviews for custom t-shirts
4 / 5
Would order again
Reprint turned out a lot better!
The first white t-shirt I got was terrible quality because it was faded. However, the customer service team reached out and confirmed that the one I received was a misprint. They offered a free reprint and the new one looks so much better. The colors are more saturated (although not perfect). I'm not sure how it will look like after a wash because I got a design on a black t-shirt and after the fi...
Fun and bright
I made this shirt to wear around the house. Love it, and my kids love that their on my shirt!
Working with a less-than-ideal image, they did a fantastic job, and I love the shirt!
Love it! Nice job and well done.
Custom Black Tee
I needed a custom black T-shirt with a alien logo, sticker mule quickly provided exactly what I needed.
Adobe Illustrator has held onto its laurels as the best all-around graphic design program available for students and professionals in many fields. If you plan to create t-shirt designs to sell, or if you want to create complex professional-grade images, you may want to look into the Adobe Suite!
This advanced vector-design program is compatible with Windows, Mac and even has apps you can use on various devices. Plus, Adobe does a good job of unrolling new features and keeping up with the times.
But the downside to this comprehensive design program is that it’s pretty hard to master. You can’t just follow a few easy directions to create an image like you can on many web-based programs! Instead, you have to actually learn how vector design works and create your own designs from the ground up.
You can subscribe to the full Adobe suite for $49.99 a month or purchase access to the app or just Illustrator for $29.99 a month.
2. Adobe Photoshop
Photoshop offers a more user-friendly experience than Illustrator though it has some limitations as well. First, it does not offer vector design tools. This program focuses strictly on photo manipulation.
This does mean you can only use this software if you plan to use DTG printing, as it won’t work well for screenprints.
On the other hand, Photoshop does give you the gold standard of photo editing and manipulation. If you want to launch a small business that prints family photos onto t-shirts for customers, you will almost certainly want to use Photoshop!
You can purchase Photoshop at several different monthly subscription prices depending on how many features you want. Like Illustrator, you can use Photoshop as an app or on both Windows and Mac computers.
Inkscape ranks quite highly as an open-source, free graphic design program. Artists from many fields make use of this feature-rich tool, which does offer vector design tools. The program has progressively improved over the years as more and more users adapt the open-source code.
Here’s the catch, though. Like Illustrator, Inkscape has a bit of a learning curve. It does not come built-in with tutorials and customer support, either! It does have a pretty solid online user community, though, so you can usually find tips and help when you need it.
If you want an easy-breezy t-shirt template to modify, you should not go with Inkscape. On the other hand, if you want to custom-build your own images and logos, Inkscape offers the best free program on the market!
There are many ways to print designs on T-shirts and other clothing. It is important for you to understand them before you create your own online T-shirt store. Understanding them will ensure you are making the right decision for your business. Below are three of the most common T-shirt printing options to consider for their quality and process.
Screen printing is a great option for designs that are darker or have a high level of vibrancy. Using stencils or screens, printers apply layers of ink on a T-shirt, using different stencils for different colored inks. Screen printing is ideal for bulk printing of five or fewer colors due to its labor-intensive setup.
With heat transfer, an image is placed on heat transfer paper, cut from the paper and then placed on a T-shirt. Like a huge iron, heated to high temperatures, the Heat Transfer paper melts into the fibers of the clothing, making it part of the shirt without disturbing the top image. Heat transfers can produce color images onto T-shirts relatively easily and quickly.
With Direct to Garment printing, ink is applied directly onto a T-shirt through an inkjet printer. Using specialist water-based ink, T-shirt designs are downloaded to a computer and, with a specialist printer, they are directly transferred onto a physical T-shirt. This is the cheapest print option, as there is relatively no setup cost. It does take some time to print each T-shirt, so this is a good option for small print orders.
How to Sell T-Shirts Online
Here are the main things to keep in mind before starting your own online venture dropshipping T-shirts:
1. Decide Your Market
Before starting your online T-shirt business, it’s important to know the niche that you’ll be focusing on. The T-shirt industry is oversaturated, and to be successful, you need to know what your goals are.
2. Design Your T-Shirt
You’ll have a hard time convincing people to buy your T-shirts if the designs aren’t good. So, pay extra attention to what goes on to the T-shirts that you’d like to dropship. Utilize T-shirt design websites to ensure that the artwork on your products is high-quality and not trademarked.
3. Choose a Quality Dropship Supplier
Make sure you meet quality standards when it comes to T-shirts. It can be tricky to know which T-shirts are high quality when you’re dropshipping. Order a few samples from your suppliers just to test them out. You can discover that the design is not what you like or the material is not to your liking.
4. Build Reviews and Social Proof
Reaching out to customers and asking them to review your product online is a key aspect of selling T-shirts, due to the importance of social proof in this niche. Customers want to know that they are getting value for money when buying online, and they want to hear from actual customers when making their decisions.
5. Grow Your Brand Awareness
Brand awareness can be the make-or-break part of your new business. The right branding can establish your business as trustworthy and a leader in your space. This also helps immensely with your marketing. A brand tells your customers who you are and what you’re about.
The basic elements of a brand are how you look and your tone of voice. Your logo and website will often be the first thing a new customer sees when browsing for new T-shirts, so these elements of your business need to make a good first impression. Your tone of voice and style of writing also affects everything from sales to engagement. Think about how you want your customers to view you, and establish your tone and style from there.
6. Outreach to Influencers
Influencers can help you break into new markets or win you more customers in your current demographic. Finding influencers on your top platforms like Instagram or Snapchat can be easier than you think, with the advent of micro-influencers and nano-influencers. These are influencers who may only have a few-hundred followers but are very influential to these people.
Try reaching out to a couple of smaller influencers, offering them free T-shirts in exchange for them sharing images wearing your product. This small act of social proof can incur bonus brand points for your online T-shirt business. If you have a low startup budget for marketing, influencer marketing is your best bet.
If you have a lot of people adding T-shirts to their cart and then disappearing from your website, remarketing could be your best weapon to increase your conversion rate. When a customer adds a product to their cart, you can retarget them on various websites through tools like Google Ads or on social media platforms through tools like Facebook Ads. You can lead people back to their cart with discount codes, new offers, or simply just a reminder of their items.
Criteo found that website visitors who are retargeted to are 43 percent more likely to convert compared to those not shown retargeting campaigns. This shows the true power of remarketing for businesses across any niche but especially the T-shirt niche. This is a fast-moving niche that sometimes requires you to remind customers of their abandoned carts.
Dropshipping With Your Online T-Shirt Business
As an entrepreneur running an online T-shirt business, dropshipping is a great business model. If you dropship your T-shirts, you’ll never need to carry any inventory. Forget about having piles of T-shirts littered around your house or having to waste valuable resources renting a storage space. Instead, you’ll simply receive orders from your customers and your suppliers will ship the products straight to them from their warehouse. A dropshipping T-shirt business is streamlined and will allow you to manage your business from anywhere in the world.
If you choose dropshipping for your online T-shirt business, you can take advantage of ecommerce platforms like AliExpress. AliExpress allows you to source high-quality products at an affordable price point. You’ll be instantly connected with a wide network of suppliers that are open to collaboration. You can reach out to individual suppliers on AliExpress that can print your designs directly onto their T-shirts. Then, they can ship said products directly to your customer’s door – it’s as simple as that.
If you decide that AliExpress dropshipping is the best option for your ecommerce business, then we recommend you use Oberlo. With Oberlo, you can easily import products directly into your ecommerce store with just a few clicks. You can also manage all your orders easily with Oberlo. Oberlo is free, so you can start dropshipping today.
Online T-Shirt Business Success Stories
Many successful ecommerce entrepreneurs created their online T-Shirt businesses with a dropshipping business model. One of Oberlo’s users, Melvin Chee, 22, started off his own ecommerce store as an experiment and ended up making $100K+ in just 3 months.
Melvin decided that he wanted to start an online T-shirt business when he stumbled across Oberlo in a Facebook group. He knew that he would need to find a niche that would enable his ecommerce store to succeed. He settled on a bank of core products, which were basic T-shirts with funny slogans printed onto them. It was these products, incorporated with his marketing efforts, that transformed this experiment into an ecommerce success story. You can check out our full article on Melvin’s story.
Online T-Shirt Business FAQs
Is selling t-shirts online profitable?
In a word, yes. Generally, t-shirts sell at a 40%-50% margin, so you can earn a good profit by selling a high volume quickly. Considering that a typical t-shirt seller makes $90,000-$100,000 a year, there’s potential to earn around $45,000-$50,000 in yearly profit. However, you might not be able to make that much initially when getting started. A lot will depend on the niche you’re in, the marketing strategies you apply, and how quickly you can grow your business.
What type of t-shirt sells best?
Black t-shirts sell the most with consumers. That’s because they go with everything and put center stage any graphic print, especially those with light text.
Now that you’ve read through this post you’ll know exactly how to start an online T-shirt business and create your own success story. Remember, designing and selling T-shirts online in this niche is competitive, so be sure to make use of the tips we’ve mentioned.
Summary: How to Start an Online T-Shirt Business in 8 Steps
- Identify a niche for your t-shirt store.
- Design an awesome shirt.
- Validate your t-shirt’s design.
- Source high-quality shirts.
- Print high-quality designs.
- Decide how much to charge for a shirt.
- Decide on a business model.
- Create an online presence for your business.
If you have any further questions about starting an online T-shirt business or ecommerce store in general, then let us know in the comments section – we’re more than happy to help.