Designing outside of Teespring's designer

Welcome! This section is for you if you already have working familiarity with design based programs like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, or you simply are looking to understand new ways to import images and create designs outside of the Teespring platform. All the information is here, just pick and choose what’s most relevant to you. 

To make sure we’re all on the same page here, let’s first go over some important basic info about using Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape [the free online equivalent]. 

vector vs. raster graphics

Now that you will be importing your own images to Teespring’s designer rather than using the imagery that pre-exists, you should be aware of the type of image you are using. Importer images will always look best as a vector file, as opposed to a raster one.  As a rule of thumb, it is always better to use vector-based graphics when designing a tee -- or anything printable for that matter. 

What are Raster Graphics?
Like digital photographs and Photoshop documents, raster graphics are made up of thousands of tiny squares: pixels. They look great at their original size, but they become grainy and “pixelated” if that size changes. On a shirt the pixels can come out printed as rough edges. Raster graphics are typically found in .JPGs, .PNGs, .GIFs, .PSDs, and .TIFFs.

What are Vector Graphics?
Vector graphics use points, lines, and curves instead of pixels, allowing them to scale at any size. They will not lose quality when they are enlarged or printed. What you see on your computer will resemble exactly what will be printed on your shirt. They can be created in Adobe Illustrator or on Inkscape.

Notice there is no pixelation of the scaled Vector graphic, its clarity is maintained perfectly.

If you have an existing image with a white or solid background, use Photoshop to remove the background with the magic wand tool or by selecting and deleting it. Save the new image (with the transparent background) as a .PNG to ensure an easy upload into our designer.

If this sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t worry about it too much. You don’t have to use a vector graphic to create a successful tee; it’s just a helpful tip to make your image prints as true to your design as possible. Plus, Teespring has your back if you can’t do it yourself.

Fonts from outer space

Now, let’s take a look at some classic fonts that are unavailable in the Teespring designer (i.e. from “outer space”), but can still be downloaded, installed, and used for your Teespring campaign.

You can download fonts from Google Fonts, which allows you to alter your specifications for size, weight, slant and thickness to get to the font that’s right for you. Dafont allows you to pick from an extensive selection of font categories. Once you download a font you have to install it. To install on the latest versions of Mac and PC you can simply open them up and click “install.” For older operating systems, simply drop the file into your fonts folder.

The below five fonts are available in standard font packages available in the Adobe Suite.


Keep in mind, there are many, many free fonts available to download online. To entertain yourself as you wait for your new fonts to download, we recommend taking this quiz to find out what font you are.

More Advanced Color

Creating your design from scratch using Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, or Inkscape? Awesome. And exciting! The first thing you should do is set your workspace to CMYK instead of RGB color. You can do this on the "advanced" menu when you create a document or by clicking "document color mode" in the file menu. On a computer it’s a miniscule, unnoticable difference, but it is best for our printers and will help keep your final print looking as sharp as possible. 

Now, it’s probably good for you to have some basic colors in mind already before getting started. For ideas on how to best choose, check out our basic color section to learn more about basic color strategies, including information on color associations, color contrasting, and color compliments. 

Once you have some basic ideas, let’s make sure you’ve got your eye on the ball. Begin with the base shirt you’d like to choose (just pick one from the designer). Now take a screenshot of the shirt and select a patch of the tee. On a mac do this by pressing COMMAND + SHIFT + 4 and on a PC you can use the Snip tool. Open the image in Photoshop. With the eyedropper tool you can get the exact hex (color code) value that you’d like to use. Check out the step-by-step process by watching this video.

Once you’ve picked up the color you want with the eyedropper tool, you can then drop the value into the center of the Adobe Kuler tool to find the complementary, analogous, or triad colors to use for your text, art and other aspects of your design.

Graphics and Templates from Outer Space

Vector Graphics

You can find some awesome vector files on Freepik and The Noun Project. They both have powerful search features and huge libraries of simple, royalty-free graphics. If you open the SVG files from these sites in Illustrator and save them as EPS files, you can preserve the quality of the images that will print on your shirt.

All artwork submitted to Teespring in raster format will be subsequently and automatically vectorized to make them t-shirt ready. While they still look great, the final product will be a traced version of what you provide us with and will be subject to slight inconsistencies as a result. 


Not sure what a template is? Don’t worry, you’ve already seen plenty of them. In short, a template is a starting file just one step away from completion. One classic example is the ‘KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON” template. Originally designed as a British World War II propaganda poster, the template has been appropriated by the public and is now frequently used by a variety of different audiences. Hence the beauty of the template: it can be infinitely reapplied for specific personalizations. 

Templates are an easy way to layer your own ideas on top of a pre-designed image that consumers are already familiar with. For example, the graphic design firm Experimental Jetset created the famous A&B&C&D template seen above, which has been used countless times by third-party designers. 

Other popular templates include the up-and-coming “Some (Zoops) (Zip), Real (Zoops) (Zap)” format, or the “Some People Call Me (Zoop), But the People Who Matter Call Me (Zap).”

Need some template inspiration? There are some great services that will generate designs for you, like the Keepcalm-o-matic, which produces (what else?) custom “Keep Calm And Carry On” graphics.

Keep in mind, while you’re allowed to be inspired by other designs you see either on Teespring or elsewhere, it’s important to ensure your work is completely original.  To use another person’s intellectual property without their permission would qualify as infringement, and can have serious legal consequences.

Creative Appropriation

While plagiarism is big no-no, creative appropriation, like Che Guevaras tees and Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” tee, are a different story. You too can create such images by mastering the Threshold Effect in Adobe Illustrator. You can apply the Threshold effect in Adobe Illustrator to photographs or images which exist in the public domain or to which you own the rights (Note: Shepard Fairey did NOT own the rights to that Obama image and faced an enormous lawsuit as a result).

To apply this effect, open a photograph in Illustrator. Navigate to: Window > Image Trace > Click on the Image > Mode: Black and White or other ones you can experiment with. Play with the advanced settings, add more paths and corners for more detail. Remove paths and corners for a fuzzier image. If you find settings that produce an effect you like, you can save the presets so you apply it again for a different image. Click “expand” to turn the image into a vector file. Now you can add it to a shirt.  Check out this video for a step-by-step tutorial.

Designers may sometimes use protected imagery from existing brands when creating their own original artwork. This is 100% legal, so long as the new artwork contains substantial enough changes as to not infringe upon the copyright or trademark associated with the image. 

You must be exceedingly careful about this. Please see our Copyright section if you have any doubts about the legality or validity of your design.

Layering Thematics

To come up with new niched designs, consider mixing together different elements like flags, text, images, maps, and emblems. You can often find flags or state seals available for use on Wikipedia.  State outlines are also available in our designer via the Noun Project. If you want the files to work from, visit their site.

Transferring Complex Designs to a Tee

This chapter will bring you up to speed with the nuances behind preparing high-quality designs for screen printing. In the screen printing process, it is common for colors to slightly shift, edges to morph, and other small changes to occur. The below tips and strategies will help ensure your screen printed designs come out exactly as you have designed them. 

Color Precision

When designing, make sure your colors are contained in the Pantone Color Matching System. This way, designers and printers can “color match” specific colors by a specific number and ensure that your design will look exactly the same at every place it is produced, regardless of the equipment used. Technically, while using Pantone could potentially limit your palette, the company’s 1000+ colors makes this highly unlikely. 

Remember, our designer only allows a maximum of 10 colors on a white shirt, and 8 on a colored shirt, due to the limitations of screen printing. Photographs can contain thousands of colors, even when they look grey or monotone the gradients and shading can cause them to contain many many tones. 

Advanced Imagery

Vectorize your files to make sure that the printed versions come out exactly as you designed them. You can vectorize your art or designs in Inkscape or Vector Magic by tracing them.  For many designs the difference is negligible, but when the quality of your image is a top priority this is an important step to take. For a tutorial on how to go from a raster to a vector image, check out this video

If you are an artist or designer who is not familiar with vectorization, you can also easily and inexpensively hire someone online to vectorize your images from a site like oDesk.


Color — Choose a base color for a shirt and screenshot it. Find the hex value and complementary, analogous or tertiary color in Kuler.
Font — On Google Fonts, provide the specifications for a font that you think would be good for your specific shirt design. Think about what kind of statement you are trying to make. Download the font and then write out your words in Illustrator. Place the screenshot of your blank shirt in the document as its own layer. You can then view the design on top of the shirt to see what it looks like.
Image — Pick an image from the Noun Project and download it. Open it in Illustrator and drag it into your design space with 
your words. Alter the color to see how it looks. Now try picking a 
photograph of a person and applying the Image Trace effect. 
Play with the number of edges, colors and other elements to see the 
variability and power of what you can do to the image.
When you are happy with your colors and images you’re all set to put it on a shirt! You can take out the shirt image layer you dropped in and crop the frame. Then save your file as a .PNG and you are ready to upload it.