50 t-shirt design ideas that won’t wear out

8 minutes

T-shirts are a staple of our everyday wardrobe – probably because of how incredibly versatile they are. They can work as a blank canvas for artwork in a way other clothing can’t, and that means the possibilities for T-shirt design are endless. The best T-shirt design ideas are wearable, memorable and communicate a message at a glance.

From businesses to basketball teams to bands to birthday parties, an awesome shirt design can make a huge statement. Whatever message your T-shirt idea might be sending, you’ll need a design style to match if you want to be heard. Now, how do you go about designing a T-shirt that stands out from the rest? To get you started, we’ve rounded up 50 T-shirt designs that will get you noticed.

T-shirts for startups and businesses

Beyond keeping us warm and covered, clothing boosts confidence and self-image. Now imagine if that feeling was associated with your brand. This isn’t just important for a potential customer but also for employees: the people who work with your brand on a daily basis.

Illustrated submarine whale t-shirt

Creative t-shirt illustration by chocoboracer for underwater equipment company Backscatter via 99designs by Vista.

One of the challenges associated with a T-shirt for a business is getting people to wear it. Unless the design is spot-on and exceptionally creative, you’re going to be hard pressed to find people that want to wear it. Nobody wants to waste a fashion opportunity to be your walking billboard. One helpful tip: Use imagery to tell the design story. Company names, slogans or any kind of corporate text tend to make a T-shirt design feel like an ad. If your company has a brand personality that lends itself to powerful imagery (and of course it does), drop the sales pitch and focus on the art.

T-shirts for events and conferences

If you’re hosting a conference, you’ve already got an audience that’s invested enough to buy a ticket, so a T-shirt purchase should be a no-brainer. But beyond sales, an event shirt is a great way to create memorabilia that participants can look back on (and connect their experience your brand).

Take advantage of annually recurring events by developing a consistent design concept that “ups its ante” each year. A “new and improved” T-shirt design implies that every conference will be different and better than the last. And each T-shirt becomes a collector’s item for participants – both of which encourage repeat attendance.

T-shirts for parties and celebrations

Ever regret that Friday night you sat on the sofa watching Netflix with a bucket of ice cream, and you checked your social media feed only to witness the photo deluge of your friends enjoying that party you were currently too (*cough*) busy to attend? Yeah, us neither… That FOMO feeling is killer. Now imagine if everyone was wearing the same T-shirt.

T-shirt design celebrating Mardis Gras

Mardis Gras t-shirt design by revoule for D Fresh via 99designs by Vista.

The ultimate party shirt marks partygoers as members of an exclusive group, and it can also be badge of honour. After all, depending on how much alcohol is involved, epic parties need to be “survived.” While a T-shirt for your average house party might be a little much, it works for milestone events like birthdays or for large-scale festivities like Christmas.

T-shirts for sports and fitness

Nobody – not the coaches, not the commentators, not even the players themselves – is as passionate about sports as the fans. When you’re trying to sell a T-shirt, a total and complete obsessive fandom is definitely a good thing. So, cater to it.

Hockey goalie t-shirt illustrations

Hockey themed t-shirt illustration by XZEQUTEWORX™ via 99designs by Vista.

While sports enthusiasts might be willing to pledge their allegiance with a T-shirt, that doesn’t mean you get to slack off by just slapping the team’s logo on it. Try re-imagining your logo, like the vintage approach taken with the San Francisco Baseball design. If you’re a retailer, take advantage of equipment and other common imagery for a creative illustration that will appeal to the entire community around a particular sport.

For fitness programmes, participants are striving against the most challenging adversaries of all – their own body, genetics and plain willpower. So consider a T-shirt design that emphasises the kind of strength and solidarity they will need to see the kind of results that they want.

T-shirts for bands and musicians

Your favourite shirt can be like your favourite song – something you go back to again and again and it never wears out. Great music is something special, and great music on a T-shirt is even better.

Heavy metal style t-shirt illustration of a lion

Heavy metal style t-shirt design by Black Arts 888 for Masters of Mayhem via 99designs by Vista.

Band tees are a staple at most concerts, and for good reason. Just like sports fans, music lovers want to identify themselves as fans and find others like them – especially if their favourite band isn’t very well known. T-shirts help promote musicians, but also build the fan community around them.

Band T-shirt design idea

Band t-shirt illustration by Dudeowl for Hill Repeats via 99designs by Vista.

Music is already art, so there are very few constraints on what a band T-shirt design can convey, though it should be more than your band logo or album artwork slapped onto it. But similar to the album cover, you’ll want something that evokes the mood or theme of the music itself, whether it’s computerised and abstract or a design that evokes the 70s and 80s.

T-shirts for clubs and organisations

Clubs are filled with people that have similar interests and hobbies, and a stylish communal T-shirt can go a long way in reinforcing those social bonds – just like teammates wearing uniforms. Giving members cool threads to wear around town or the gym can also help spread the club’s word-of-mouth.

But beware: matching designs can be a hard sell, so make sure it’s a great one. Otherwise, a tacky group shirt is going to have your members feeling like this family.

Line art t-shirt illustration of an owl

T-shirt badge by Skilline via 99designs by Vista.

Your T-shirt sets the tone for how you will be perceived. If your club is seen as a little nerdy, an awesome shirt is a great step towards building a cool image. Or maybe your club isn’t for the faint of heart. A “join-at-your-own-risk” style can actually inspire people to rise to the challenge.

T-shirts for non-profits and charities

Occasionally, a T-shirt design should make more of a statement than a fashion one. While nobody wants to think about anything in their wardrobe as capitalist advertising space, a design for a worthwhile non-profit cause is a different story.

Although a T-shirt isn’t going to solve the world’s problems, its central location on the chest makes it a great space for promoting awareness. And even if the subject matter is heavy, the design doesn’t have to be. Nonprofits are focused on helping others, and a cheerful design can emphasise that positivity.

Graphic tees for retail

Graphic tees are what shirts were made for. Think about it. Trousers, button-up shirts, jackets, you name it – they all tend to come either solid coloured or patterned (and you just can’t show off artwork very well on a trouser leg). T-shirts with awesome artwork are a great way to look simply unique and cool – and that’s the reason people look to fashion in the first place.

T-shirt illustration showing a bear

T-shirt design by Natalia Maca via 99designs by Vista.

Important considerations to keep in mind for graphic tees are shape and placement. Round, organic shapes look much more natural than a square or a rectangle. Squares are for picture frames – not your body. Also, don’t feel constrained to keeping the design front and centre like most shirts do – you’ve got that whole shirt, front and back, as your canvas. Depending on the way the illustration draws the eye, you can print it towards the bottom, in the upper right where a pocket square might be or just all over.

While the sky’s the limit with graphic tees, this is the single most popular T-shirt use case, so make your creativity count more than ever here.

T-shirt design: One idea does not inspire all

T-shirts have so many different uses from professional to personal, but whatever T-shirt design need you have, make sure you give your consumers a tee just as cool as something they’d buy at the shops.

About the author: Johnny Levanier

Johnny is a design expert with B.A.s in Creative Writing and Communications. By day, he can be found working at 99designs by Vista, out and about in San Francisco, seeing live music or video gaming. By night, he is asleep.