Should You Make Your Own Custom T-Shirt or Order Online?
Few things are more personalized than a homemade t-shirt.
That said, with the plethora of custom t-shirt options available online, it’s hard to tell if spending the time to make your own is better than ordering from a manufacturer.
In this guide, you’ll learn about the four main considerations, then some of the options available for each type.
The Four Considerations
When deciding whether to make a homemade t-shirt or order one online, there are four factors to consider: coloring, design, accessories, and price.
This part refers to the base color(s) of the shirt.
If all you want to do is put a design on a plain white shirt, it’ll be pretty easy regardless of whether you want to order it online. However, if you’re looking for more complicated coloring – special tie-dye, different colors for different parts, and so on – you may need to make a homemade t-shirt.
Most online orders only allow you to choose from a small number of designs (or print one image). If you’re looking for a truly unusual color setup, you’ll have to do it yourself or hire an individual, and that’s more expensive than any other option.
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Arguably the most important part of your decision, the question of design refers to factors like the overall size and shape of the t-shirt.
If you’re looking for something non-standard – like a shirt with no sleeve on one side for someone missing an arm – you’ll probably have to make it yourself.
Custom designs are the hardest job for amateurs. If you don’t have any experience with this, you may want to hire someone to make and color the basic shirt, then send it to you so you can finish it. Alternatively, if you plan to make a lot of shirts, it may be worth learning how to design it yourself.
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This section includes any “extras” you want to put on the shirt, such as names, beads, or sparkles. Functional parts (like pockets) fall under the design category instead.
The most important thing to consider with accessories is how durable they are. A shirt that shimmers in the light can be interesting, but if it all falls off the first time you wash it, it’s not suitable for long-term use. On the other hand, if you only plan to wear it once, that’s not a problem.
For permanent accessories, many people choose options like heat-transfer vinyl. This can create complex and intricate decals that would be too difficult to draw or dye.
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Finally, how much do you want to spend on a homemade t-shirt? You shouldn’t buy a custom printing machine if you only want to make one shirt – though you may be able to rent or borrow one. Ultimately, your decision is this:
- Homemade t-shirts are more expensive unless you’re making them in bulk, but they also have the most freedom for customization. You can start them from any stage, up to and including spinning wool (or another material) to make the shirt itself.
- Online orders are split into affordable (low customization) and premium (high customization) brackets. They’re also less of an investment in time, which may be the deciding factor if you don’t have a lot of that.
Options For Homemade T-Shirts
Now that you know about the four primary considerations let’s take a look at some of the options for things you can do with a shirt. Most of these are easier if you do them yourself, but you may be able to find an online retailer who will do them for you.
1: Side Crochet
This modification switches the normal sides of a shirt with a sturdy crochet pattern. The result is a shirt that lets in plenty of air, making it ideal for warm summer days. The downside, of course, is that people can see in through the sides – so be careful about what you wear under it. This customization is usually done for women’s shirts, rather than men’s.
If you decide to customize a shirt this way, make sure you use a crochet pattern sturdy enough to hold together when the shirt goes through the wash.
2: Strap-Back Tank Top
Another airy customization, the strap-back tank top features a single line of cloth going down your side, then several thin, round straps (usually three on each side) going under your armpit to connect to the front. This leaves most of the back exposed, a little like a swimsuit with a large front.
The key challenge with this customization is attaching the straps to the center line of cloth. You probably want something sturdier than glue or knots, so consider small hooks that won’t press into your skin when you lean back (or come undone if jostled).
3: Laced Shoulder Top
Sometimes referred to as a “grommet” shoulder, this design removes the top of the sleeves all the way up to the neck, then laces the front and back together through a series of holes. Each hole has a grommet (the small metal eyes used to protect holes and thread from fraying), and you can have as few or as many as you’d like.
The classic design leaves a lot of the shoulder bare with six holes on each side, but you can also make a dense mesh and sew in some colorful designs for a fresh, unique look.
4: Ruffled Top
The ruffled top is a relatively simple design where the upper part of the shirt folds down to create an extra layer. Ruffles are normally about four inches long, but you can lengthen or shorten them to match your body. (Just don’t go too far in either direction – that usually ends up looking strange.)
These shirts rarely have a strap going over the shoulders, so you’ll need to put in an elastic band (or another method of tying) that goes right under the armpits. The challenge with this type of top is finding the right fit since the shirt needs to be quite long (but not too wide) to get the right look. You may want to buy two identical shirts and use a section of the second to create the ruffle.
5: Tie Front Tank
This easy customization can make any shirt look a little more elaborate. Start by cutting the back of the shirt off at the hips. From there, cut the front to make an arrow pointing down, then cut right down the middle of that arrow to split it into two pieces. Tie them together, and voila, you have a little decoration at the bottom of the shirt.
6: Neck Cut-Out
There’s probably a vampire joke here, but the neck cut-out is a customization that focuses on removing sections about two inches long from the top of the shirt, leaving the very top and enough straps to provide structural support. It’s a bold look that shows a bit of skin, but without being too direct or sensual about it.
7: Screen Printing
If you’re looking for a colored design, rather than a change to the shirt’s shape, screen printing is the most effective method for bulk online orders.
The main advantage of this method is that the graphic will remain vivid and soft for a long time, with no chance of rubbing off through regular use.
The disadvantage is that it’s not terribly cost-effective for single orders, so it only makes sense if you need to order a lot of t-shirts.
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8: Direct To Garment
Sometimes abbreviated DTG, this method prints a design straight into the shirt. It’s most effective on white garments, which can absorb any color of ink and vividly display it. More importantly, the fact that it’s printed means you can have designs of practically any complexity, making it ideal for shirts you can’t create any other way.
Unfortunately, Direct To Garment is far too expensive to set up at home unless you’re running a business. The good news is that it has a low cost per item once it’s set up, making it a great choice for online orders.
9: CAD Cut Vinyl
CAD cut vinyl is different from the normal technique of using heat to transfer vinyl onto a shirt. Instead, this method uses a professional cutter and software to cut the vinyl to an exact design. Even better, this method allows you to layer vinyl and create designs with multiple colors.
Like the DTG method, CAD cut vinyl is expensive to set up, but easy and affordable per-unit. When done correctly, there won’t be any fading or cracking, making this another good choice if you want to order an outfit online.
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As you can see, there are many ways to style and decorate a t-shirt.
Ultimately, only you can decide what you’re looking for – no method works for every design. Now that you know the differences, though, you’re better-equipped to make the choice that fits your needs for your homemade t-shirt!