How to create a t-shirt design with proportions in mind

Reading time: 3 minutes

A common workflow for t-shirt design is to open a new Illustrator or Photoshop file, create the artwork, place it in a t-shirt mockup file and hope for the best. Unfortunately this workflow can come at great consequence. T-shirts demand artwork in specific proportions and, if those proportions aren’t considered during the creative process, the final design may not look good on a t-shirt at all.

In this tutorial, we’ll walk you through how to keep your t-shirt proportions in sight and bring you a step closer to perfecting your branded t-shirt design.

1. Layer setup

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The basic idea is to bring the t-shirt mockup “into the picture” sooner than later and use it as a reference layer in your design program of choice. In this tutorial I’ll be using a free GraphicBurger t-shirt mock-up file.

After opening up the mock-up file in Photoshop, I’ve hidden the sample graphic layer, grouped the entire mockup into a group called “Tshirt Reference”, and created a new group on top called “Artwork”.

The idea is that the “Tshirt Reference” group underneath can be hidden or revealed at anytime to get a better idea of the proportions of the design.

2. Proportion practice

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The above example shows three public domain designs placed on the mockup, to help you understand t-shirt proportion.

In the first example, featuring a Lynd Ward illustration for Donald Culross Peattie’s 1937 A Book of Hours, it could be argued that the design is too tall and vertically extended for a t-shirt. It leaves some uncomfortable negative space on the sides.

In the second example, featuring a design from Frank G. Carpenter’s Geographical Reader North America, the design could be said to be too horizontal – it has to be overly shrunken to fit the t-shirt.

In the final example, featuring a design from publisher T. Nelson and Sons, the proportions seem to be just right – the shape is almost square, but still vertically-oriented, leaving comfortable negative spaces surrounding the design.

3. Use what you’ve learned

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By taking what we’ve learned above, I can now create my own basic example. Keep in mind that this type was set directly on top of the “Tshirt Reference” layer. Had it been set separately and then applied, chances are it would not sit as comfortably on the t-shirt.


While the above example shows a rough shape proportional to a t-shirt, it is important to remember that there are no rules. Rely on your own design instinct to discover an infinite amount of proportional possibilities.

The important takeaway is that t-shirt mockups inform design decision, liberating our creative instincts and paving the way for flawless, branded design.

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Author: workerbee