6 Tips for Creating The Perfect Vintage T-Shirt

If you’re in the t-shirt business or want to be, you’ll soon realize that customers love the look and feel of vintage shirts, but most of them don’t necessarily want to spend weekends rifling through bins at the Salvation Army. At Blankstyle we work with a vast number of t-shirt companies to help them realize a specific look and feel. And these days one of the most common questions is how to make that new print feel like your favorite vintage t-shirt. Of course the vintage look is always going to start with the design, which can be enhanced with the right fabric pairing and then the soft feel and vintage look is completed with just the right ink selection. Below are five tips for creating a vintage looking t-shirt print.

1. Design with an open mind

As much as we would love to tell you that anything is possible with screen printing, the fact of the matter is every art medium has limitations, and screen printed t shirts are no exception. For example, if your priority is to have an ultra-soft print, it’ll be tough to also print bright colors (for reasons we will most definitely explain to you!) You need to decide what’s more important: having a soft print or having bright colors. If you’re looking for a soft print, you’ll need to keep an open mind about the vibrancy and accuracy of the colors in your design.

2. Avoid the under base

An under base is a white ink layer that’s typically laid down underneath your design to make sure the colors come out bright and accurate against the blank t shirts (think paint primer). Underbasing is necessary to keep colors bright and color accurate and as a rule of thumb it is almost always used when the ink color is lighter than the garment color.

Using an under base will add another layer to your print—straying away from the vintage concept and creating a heavier feel. By planning to avoid the under base you can create a lighter feeling print. You’ll still be able to feel the ink, and the ink color will become a combination of the fabric and ink so you should plan accordingly. Planning to wash out the ink color with a little fabric can actually help achieve a worn-in vintage look! See below for examples of how some of our customers left out the under base and still used darker colored garments. Try designing with a lighter colored shirt in mind if you’re not ok of being completely unsure of what the resulting print color will be! For a large selection of vintage feeling lighter colored garments we recommend Comfort Colors wholesale pigment dyed clothing.

Plastisol ink no under base: Blankstyle customer The Salt Company printed on the Tultex 0241, and one of our favorite brands AdventureKitty printed on the American Apparel TR408 Tank Top

3. Darker ink, lighter fabric.

Keep in mind there are many great light colored shirt options other than white. Heather grey, light blue, light pink, beige, yellow, etc. are all great options. These colors are neutral enough to allow you to choose the colors for your design without worrying too much about what the finished product will look like when you leave out the under base. The District Apparel DT6000 offers many light colors! Keep in mind that printing in black is always a great option because black ink is absorbed well by most fabric–leaving an ultra soft print that never needs to be underbased regardless of the shirt color. The rule of thumb is this: the lighter the ink color, the heavier the feel. The darker the ink, the lighter the feel! Many of our customers have followed the golden rule to get an incredibly soft print!

Blankstyle customers printing darker inks with lighter shirts. Little Adi & Co., FreeBird Velo, Oh, Sweet Joy

4. Utilize your t-shirt color.

Designing with the t-shirt color in mind, let the color of the shirt fill in the empty space rather than adding another ink color! See how the mountain in the first design by Oh, Sweet Joy is filled in by the t-shirt color? Big brands almost always do this. Utilizing the negative space and reducing the amount of colors will help keep your print lightweight—and bonus: it’ll also keep your costs down since pricing is based on the amount of colors. It’s generally a good idea to stick with one color of shirt rather than trying to create the same print on various colored shirts, because this will create varying results that could be troublesome. All three of the customers below made great use out of their negative space!

Blankstyle customers using negative space in their designs. Freebird Velo, AdventureKitty printed on the Alternative Apparel AA6005.

5. Consider Water Based/ Discharge Inks.

If you’d like to use darker colored shirts and are okay with sacrificing the color accuracy of your print, using discharge is something to consider. This process works by first using discharge ink to bleach out your design to the raw pre dye color of the shirt. In most cases the shirt will lift to a cream or light grey color, but the outcome is impossible to determine beforehand. After that, it’s possible to layer lightweight water base ink to add the desired color. 100% cotton shirts are recommended for this process. A few great choices are the 3001 by Bella Canvas, the 0202 by Tultex, the 1070 by Alternative Apparel or the 2001 by American Apparel. Keep in mind that the printed colors aren’t going to necessarily match your chosen pantone! See how the discharge designs below vary in color? One is grey, one is cream and one is almost yellow. The raw color of these similar shirts are very different!

Blankstyle customers Stateside Crafts, printed on the American Apparel 2001 and Ninja Brand Printed on the Next Level 3600 in Gun metal and Royal.

6. Communication is Key.

When it comes to bringing your print to life, communication is key. From shirt color to ink color to design choice, the vibe of how your print feels and looks can vary greatly depending on many factors. Work closely with your screen print vendor to make sure that you get the look you want. There are simply too many variables to leave it up to chance. So it’s better to error on the side of over-explaining rather than under-explaining. A good printer won’t mind spending time talking with you about the various factors at play. At Blankstyle, we’re better able to help the customers who take the extra time to give us a call. Even though we all love online ordering, sometimes it takes an old-fashioned phone call to get everyone on the same page.

For a wide selection of t-shirt blanks visit BlankStyle.com.

Amy Azzarito is a Marketing Director for Blank Style.

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