How To: Design a T-shirt in Illustrator
Create your very own T-shirt design with the creative power of Adobe Illustrator!

Design Master

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Just like Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator is a great program to design many things. However, where Illustrator really excels is the use of vector graphics, which are essential building blocks for any custom design.

Because of this, and the many helpful tools, effects and options offered, Illustrator is one of the very best programs to use if you want to design a custom T-shirt.

Here is a quick and easy to follow how-to article that will guide you through the T-shirt’s artwork creation.

In a T-shirt, the concept is the most important part of the project. You don’t have to try and think of the most complicated design possible, as usually the more simple, yet stylish, designs are the ones that work best.

TIP: Once you find a good concept, you can make a sketch on paper, scan it and import it into Illustrator. Make more than a version to see which one you like best. The sketch is just a reference – it doesn’t have to be a final version. You can make as many changes as you like to the original idea as you work on it.

Step 1 - Starting On Paper

Launch Illustrator and create a new file. In the settings panel, enter 8.5 inches as the width and 11 inches as the height.

Since this project will be printed, choose at least a resolution of 300 pixels per inch and select CMYK as your color mode. Choose a name for the document and confirm your choices.

Step 2 - Creating The Document

To give your design a stylish look, you can use Illustrator’s collection of color swatches or make personalized ones.

Illustrator has a very useful integration with Kuler, Adobe’s color scheme creator. You can use Kuler within the program or from the site – you can use your Adobe account to sign in.

TIP: With the help of Kuler’s tools, you can create your own swatches or download those from other users to ensure your design will look sleek and attractive.

Step 3 - Using Color Swatches

With the pen and shape tools, you can slowly build up your artwork by tracing over your sketch or starting from scratch.

Don’t worry about being totally accurate at first. You can manipulate anchor points and handles with direct selection and anchor point tools, add new anchors or delete old ones for precision, fine-tuning the shape of your artwork little by little.

TIP: Take advantage of the color scheme you have created (see #3) or use reference photos and Illustrator’s color picker. Apply gradients instead of flat colors for greater depth.

Step 4 - Building The Artwork

Now you are ready to print or hand your artwork to a printing service of your choice.

TIP: Remember to flip the artwork horizontally before printing if you are using transfer iron-ons or your image will be inverted.

Step 5 - Creating The Shirt

In this tutorial, we used Illustrator CC. You can easily follow the instructions in other versions of the program because the basic controls remained the same across releases.

If you are handing the artwork to an external printer, always ask them about their special requirements to make sure your files will be compatible with their software.

Happy designing!

Edited in Illustrator CC. Photo Source:

About the Author
Kristi Maddox is a master of graphic design, on-site design and ordering, and is the go-to for template and design tool usage.
Kristi and the team order print jobs from every major printer to test quality, value, customer service, and more. See their reviews here:


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