Your guide to custom T-shirt printing, embroidery & design

Whether you’re creating team uniforms, promotional giveaways or event wear, printing custom T-shirts is a great way to get your branding or message out there. But there are many of factors to consider when designing your T-shirt, from the material and logo placement to choosing the right decoration technique like printing or embroidery. To help you out, we’ve compiled this handy T-shirt printing guide with everything you need to know.

Decoration techniques and how they work

At VistaPrint we’ve got 4 decoration techniques for T-shirt customization.

1. Single-color print (screen printing)

single-color print, screen printed t-shirt
  • How it works: Ink is pushed through a woven screen onto the fabric.
  • The result: A crisp, durable design with a smooth, slightly raised feel.
  • Suitable for: Simple, 1-color designs.
  • Can I order just 1? No, a minimum order quantity applies as there’s a small cost associated with setting up the screen. However, it’s great value for money if you’re ordering in bulk.

2. Full-color print (direct-to-garment printing)

full-color print, direct to garment printed t-shirt
  • How it works: Pigments are sprayed directly onto the fabric and absorb into the fibers.
  • The result: Since the pigments absorb into the shirt, the end result is very soft to the touch.
  • Suitable for: Almost any design – and it’s particularly great for photo printing.
  • Can I order just 1? Yes. There’s no minimum quantity, orders start at just 1 unit.

3. Full-color transfer (heat transfer)

full-color transfer printed logo
  • How it works: Your design is printed onto special paper, then transferred onto the fabric using heat and pressure.
  • The result: A decal-like, photo-realistic print with limitless color possibilities, including gradients.
  • Suitable for: Small designs and fine details. We don’t recommend it for large solid images because of the decal-like feel.
  • Can I order just 1? Yes. There’s no minimum quantity, orders start at just 1 unit.

4. Embroidery

T shirt embroidery
  • How it works: Durable and vibrant, with a textured and slightly raised finish.
  • The result: A decal-like, photo-realistic print with limitless color possibilities, including gradients.
  • Suitable for: Designs with no more than 12 solid colors – avoid photos, gradients and fine details.
  • Can I order just 1? Yes, orders start at just 1 unit. And while embroidery is a high-quality alternative to T-shirt printing, its durability makes it cost-effective.

Custom T-shirt printing vs embroidery

Think about why you’re creating custom T-shirts. Are they going to be used as branded giveaways, employee uniforms or one-off event wear? This can help you decide which decoration option is right for your needs.

Choose printing for…
  • Promotional giveaways you plan to buy in bulk
  • Uniforms or event wear
Choose embroidery for…
  • Premium gifts, like a T-shirt with a team logo or monogrammed initials

What are the best materials for T-shirts?

While our tees come in a variety of materials, cotton and polyester are among the most popular.


  • 100% cotton feels super soft and comfortable to wear.
  • Combed cotton is extra soft and comfy – we use it for our soft-touch tees.
  • Cotton is one of the best materials for embroidery. It’s also great for printing.


  • Polyester is breathable and moisture-wicking, so it’s great for activewear.
  • Polyester/cotton blend is very light, easy to care for and has a little bit of stretch.
  • Great for printing.

VistaPrint Tip

To keep your design looking bold, it’s best to machine wash cold with the garment turned inside out. Use non-chlorine bleach and don’t tumble dry. Don’t iron the decoration area.

How to design your own T-shirt

To wrap up our T-shirt printing guide, here are some tips about how to add a design to your T-shirt.

Using the VistaPrint design studio

So you’ve found your favourite T-shirt and selected your quantity – now you need to customize it.

It’s very easy to upload a file from your computer. We accept most common file types, including .jpg, .png, .ppt, .pdf and .ai.

For best results, make sure your design file uses a transparent background. This helps avoid any unwanted white background on your printed design.

Then, use our intuitive design studio to tweak the logo placement on the T-shirt or add custom touches like text and graphics. And when you’re done, you can preview it and even share it with a friend before you buy.

T-shirt logo size and placement

The logo size depends on your chosen shirt’s decoration area, which you can see in our design studio. Some of our T-shirts offer left chest logo placement, while others have full front or back printing. You can find information about the exact printing area on each T-shirt’s product page.

We recommend printing a large logo onto T-shirts that you’ll use for giveaways or merch. For employee uniforms, a small logo printed on the chest gives T-shirts a subtle, premium look. Keep in mind that we don’t recommend full-color transfer (heat transfer) for large, solid images because the final result will feel like a decal, but it’s ideal for small designs and fine details.

Help is here if you need it

If you need any help with tweaking your design – or you’d like an expert to help you elevate it – you can reach out to our design team by phone, email or live chat. And if you need to create a logo or T-shirt design from scratch, we’ve got you covered. Check out 99designs by Vista , our graphic design service that connects you with creative experts around the world.