5 Easy Steps To Print On Clothing

When I came up with the idea to start Overflow Clothing, I was buzzing to get my pencil onto paper once again and start developing my first design, specifically for clothing. I studied art throughout school, graphic design at college and advertising at University, so it’s safe to say I’ve always had an affinity for design. 


Overflow is now in the process of producing its third graphic tee and although we’re still in the early stages of starting up, I thought I would share some of our experiences in getting the designs from the sketchbook to the t-shirt, as a complete newbie in the clothing industry. We hope this blog helps you out if you are considering printing your designs on any garment, or simply provides a helpful insight into what we’ve learnt so far!

Step 1: Sketch...A Lot!

I must have gone through about ten developed design ideas before landing on the ‘Pizza Lover’ as the first choice for the start of Overflow Clothing. Anything that pops into your head as a good idea, just sketch it out, whether it’s a 5 second sketch on a napkin or an hours session developing the same idea, it’s important to keep the creative juices flowing! I have a pocket sketchbook that can slip into my coat or jeans, making it easy to jot down ideas to test out later or to rough-sketch whilst I’m on the train. I have about three or four designs in my sketchbook that I know will make it onto clothing one day but they just aren’t quite there yet. 

Your initial sketches don’t need to be pretty by the way! I share sketches on our Instagram which are finessed versions of the working pages but the reality is that the process of developing designs is messy and experimental, so get the pencil and eraser out, then go over your sketches with ink when you think it’s as close to the final version as it can be.

I recommend Micro-liners for inking over the pencil sketches.

Sketchbook image of Overflow Pizza Lover original sketch.

Step 2: Make it Digital.

Once you have your design down, it’s time to get it on the computer. Whether you’re using Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop or another graphic design application, you’ll want to either scan your final drawing or (failing a scanner) take a photo with the paper as flat as possible so you have an accurate reference to start digitising your design. I prefer Illustrator myself, so I can create my designs in vector format and I’ll set my scanned image to about 25% opacity before locking the layer and then tracing over the design with the pen or brush tool. Most printers will prefer to work with AI, SVG or EPS files for screen printing or embroidery, so it’s best to get used to these file types instead of rasterized files.

Illustrator Image Trace turning sketch into digital format

Step 3: Get Samples

When I looked to launch Overflow, I underestimated how long it would take to find a garment that lived up to my expectations (as far as quality was concerned!). It’s very difficult to know what clothing feels like when looking at it from a manufacturers website, so I would advise anyone looking to test samples to order as many as you can, within reason. I went through five short sleeve t-shirt samples before finding the perfect tee that is currently available on our website. It’s a high quality (100% organic cotton), soft, thick tee that’s stayed in perfect condition after being worn all day and washed multiple times since I bought it. These are the things some people overlook when product sourcing, so make sure you are 100% happy with your garments before moving onto the printing stage. Paying for single samples can be laborious and sometimes expensive but it’s worth it in the long run to ensure you have what you want, trust me!

Step 4: Test The Waters

So...you have your design in a digital format and your garment selected for printing after working your way through a plethora of samples…what’s next? You could go straight to printing now, however I’ve added this step in to prevent any unexpected mistakes or defects in the printing stage. Mocking up your designs on the relevant clothing can really help in a couple of ways. Firstly, it shows you what it looks like in proportion to the rest of the garment; whether it's a back design on a T-shirt or a patch on a baseball cap, this may be the first time you’re seeing it in situ. I’ve gotten to this stage before and realised in a mockup that my linework on some designs has been too light, so I’ve had to jump back into Illustrator and increase the line weight in places to ensure that when they’re printed, they are actually visible. Secondly, you can share your mocks with your intended audience to gather feedback, which is an amazing source of free information. Perhaps they prefer it is another colour or wish it was a long sleeve? Best to find out now rather than after you’ve printed 200, right?

Screenshot of Photoshop mockup file for Overflow Pizza Lover T-shirt

Step 5: Finishing Your Product

You’ve sketched, digitized, sampled and tested your first product by this step and you’re now ready to order your first stock in preparation for launching. When it comes to finishing your product, it can be as simple or complicated as you choose, whether you want de-labelling, custom neck labels, hem tags, swing tags, folding and polybagging or perhaps no extras at all? If you’re screen printing, knowing which inks best suit your intended style is important as plastisol will have a very different finishing to water based inks, so make sure you look into these as well. After your finishing touches are decided, you can go ahead with ordering your first batch and I wish you the best of luck as you start this journey!

Cropped Image of black T-shirt with custom black hem tag with Overflow 'O' logo

If you found this blog useful and would like me to write similar blogs in the future, please comment to let me know below. Similarly, if you want me to cover something in particular, just add it to the comments section and I’ll be happy to look into this further!

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1 comment

  • 5 great steps! Amazing insights to think about before starting to print custom clothing


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