Winning T-Shirt Design

On T-Shirt Magazine, we have this new series of articles called the ‘T-Shirt Magazine Round Table’. T-Shirt designers and entrepreneurs “gather” to discuss a given topic about the t-shirt industry, sharing their experiences in the biz.

For this Round Table, I ask t-shirt designer Kneil Melicano and Jud, the co-creator of t-shirt design competition site, Shirt Fight, the following question:

Moust: What Does it Take to Make a Winning T-Shirt Design?


Kneil Melicano:
This lingering question which has been around since the dawn of t-shirt competitions has perpetually become a mystery to every designer both amateurs and professionals alike. I can’t pretend that I know every bit of formula for a winning piece, as I have struggled on my earlier days as well even up to today, just like others to come up with something that would appeal to the voting/buying public suited for garment.

Is it “style” over “concept” or the other way around? It’s easier to come up with a design without considering other biases and tastes apart from yours, but if you’re designing for the general populace, I =ay. Even established illustrators go through the commercialization process when doing commissioned works for print, adverts, etc and It’s one of the things that make them successful I believe. I think wit is also part of a gift some illustrators and designers out there have and shouldn’t be looked down e.g. Glennz, Aled Lewis a few examples of the people who have marginalized and utilized on a universal access to the general public–humour.

In order to be successful in this field (t-shirt competitions that is), you sometimes have to be a designer and actually design for someone and retract a bit from the artist in you. Some may disagree, some may not but that’s at least from my small experience for the first year I’ve been here in this industry. It’s not that bad to make a living out of your talent from time to time and those who makes a living out of this would be a hypocrite if they would say they’re in it for the passion, because sometimes passion can’t pay the bills.


Jud (of Shirt Fight):
To me, a winning t-shirt design is one that shows the artist has mastered their craft. You take any competition out there…drag racing, figure skating, hot dog eating…and you’ll see one common trait amongst the champions: they eat, sleep, and live what they do with a passion. They’ve put in hours upon hours of practice, constantly pushing themselves to improve.

The same goes for designing t-shirts. We have weekly themed contests at our site, Shirt Fight, and the artists that win have taken our themes and twisted and bent them in ways we could have never imagined. They make every line, shape, and shadow have a purpose. They know that you don’t need a million colors to make a great design; sometimes all you need is one color…and they pick the perfect color for the job.

They understand the nuances of t-shirt printing…that you’re pushing paint through a screen onto a shirt…and they adjust accordingly. And the end result is a jaw dropping design that makes you forget for just one moment that it’s a t-shirt, until you finally snap out of it and go “Whooaaaaaa, we need to print this!!!” And the whole time they make it seem effortless…that is what it takes to make a winning t-shirt design.


Moust: Well there you have it; that’s what it takes to make a winning t-shirt design. Make sure to check out the next T-Shirt Magazine Round Table discussion.