How To Design A T-Shirt: Killer Artworx

The t-shirt industry wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for designers. T-shirt design is an really valuable skill these days, one that only few can master. We got a chance to chat with one of the masters of t-shirt design, German artist Chris Bogle aka Killer Artworx, on how to design a t-shirt.

TM: When it comes to designing t-shirts in general and your current design style were do you get inspiration?

C: As I was a long time member of Emptees and am a member of the more elitist emptees-child Mintees I really like what the commuity is up to. I love oldschool tattoo stuff as well as cute and cartoony creatures – the cartoon-stuff is what brought me into designing for shirts. There’s a lot of dudes’ work there that I like and what inspires me – i like the works of drop, xdudeofdeathx (they’re both from germany) as well as Greg Abbott, Matthew Skiff or sweetnsour to name a few. But inspiration is not only by other works or images, it comes from lyrics or everyday actions too.

TM: What’s your brainstorming process like when coming up with an idea for a t-shirt design?

C: Well, when an idea comes up, I just start sketching. I like using basic elements but working them out in a way they work together in a new scene. For example having the basic idea of a skull and bones design in mind I try to arrange them in a different way or add things to make it different.

TM: Can you run us through a sequential example of one of your works progressing from sketch phase to completion?

C: Here’s one process from last year for the yeti design that got printed by the supernice guys at uncool nation.

TM: There are thousands of tools available for designing a tee. What are your favorites and can you brief us on some of the tools you use from start to finish?

C: In nearly 100% I usually start with a sketch. That’s where I have the most possibilities to work on an idea, check sizes and proportions. And I like the smell of pencil, the markers and the roughness of paper under my hands. When satisfied with the sketch I use tracing paper and redraw the lines with markers, work on thickness of strokes for more perspective. Sometimes I like what I did there and go, scan the black lines and work on the tonal value in Photoshop to only have black strokes on white background. No greyscales. Then clean up messed lines. There’s this super ancient software called Streamline that’s converting my Photoshop black/white file in a vector that i open in PS again in printable quality in a big size. Then i switch on my radio. (This is the most important part of designing!) In Photoshop I adjust the lines again and include color layers or textures if I think the design can use some.

TM: When designing t-shirts it’s important to make sure everything is on point for the production stage. How do you tighten up and finalize your artwork for print?

C: There’s a lot ways to do that. A way that works best for me is flatten the design on one layer and for each color used in the design i make a new layer that’s named after the colour, magic wand mark one color on the design of the layer on the bottom and fill the specific color in one empty layer that it’s named after the color. I do that with every color used in the design and put a file called „background“ between the new color layers and the flattened design. That’s the whole magic. The printer gets a color separated PSD-file including the complete design on one layer as well as layers for every color and the background. Each layer is possible to be changed with the color overlay in Photoshop. So every print- and background color can be changed later too.

TM: As a designer you’re probably you’re own toughest critic How do you know if a design is successful or a potential hit? When do you scrap a design?

C: It’s a difference if you work on a client’s briefing that’s exact as can be the freedom in designing is strictly limited. Haha. So when it comes to these, my main job is to make the client happy with a design that works for him. When having complete freedom working on own ideas and designs if something can’t be balanced or would be too tricky to have on a shirt, that’s when I usually skip it. And use it for something else.

For more info on Killer Artwork, and to hire Chris for your next project, check him out at!