Creating your own t-shirt designs lets you wear personalized styles wherever you go! But if you don’t have a background in graphic design, you may find all the design programs a bit bewildering. What is the best t-shirt design software for you?
The best t-shirt design and printing software helps users create unique typography and graphics. Some of the most popular professional design programs include Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw. Free programs like GIMP and Inkscape provide an open-source alternative to create t-shirt designs.
In this article, you’ll find out how t-shirt design software works. You will discover the top 15 software and printing programs available today. Finally, you will get an overview of the best design tools available as apps or on the web.
What is T-Shirt Design and Printing Software?
T-shirt design and printing software give you the tools you need to create an image, logo, or graphic to print onto a t-shirt. These days, you can use downloadable graphic design software or choose from a wide range of web-based t-shirt design tools. Some design programs even come in easy-to-use apps!
With such a wide range of options to choose from, how do you find the right software for your t-shirt project? You should start by looking for a few key features.
First, does the program offer vector design? Digital and paper designs often use pixel-based raster imaging. The pixel composition makes raster images look weird if you zoom in or enlarge because you can get a blurry or pixelated view. Vector graphics, on the other hand, base their size on a mathematical formula that automatically enlarges or shrinks the details of the image as necessary.
You can see how vector graphics work much better for most t-shirt designs!
Another feature to consider is the ease of use. Many professional designers use hardcore graphic design programs like Adobe Illustrator, and maybe you need a feature-rich program like that for your work! But then again, maybe what you need is a simple web-based program that lets you modify preset templates.
Custom t-shirts have gained such popularity that you can find thousands of online companies that let you select from easy-to-edit templates. While these programs don’t give you as much freedom as a traditional graphic design tool, they do offer a quick, easy-to-use alternative!
Of course, cost also plays an important role in the decision-making process! You can find free t-shirt design software, but you may have to compromise on some of the features you want if you go with these options.
Finally, make sure you match the design program to your printing method. Do you plan to use a heat press, screenprint, or direct-to-garment (DTG) printing? Each method has specific requirements.
For example, if you plan to screenprint, you should purchase software that provides a color separator and vector design tools. This will allow you to prep every individual color for printing on an individual screen.
Can you use the same design for screen printing and inkjet printing? Inkjet printing, otherwise known as direct-to-garment, uses water-based inks and prints a digital image right onto the fabric of the t-shirt.
You can get away with using raster imaging for this kind of printing sometimes. The downside here is that the image will come out looking much cheaper than a screen-printed image.
Ultimately, whether you like to create t-shirts for your own stylish wardrobe or sell on Etsy, you should choose a program you like. Creating your custom designs is a cool artistic process, and you should get to enjoy it!
16 Best T-Shirt Software Options
You can find t-shirt design programs in multiple formats, including downloadable software, web-based programs, and apps. Keep reading to find all the key details about the sixteen most popular t-shirt design programs available today. This includes cost, ease of use, and compatibility of each tool!
1. Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Illustrator has held onto its laurels as the best all-around graphic design program available for students and professionals in many fields. If you plan to create t-shirt designs to sell, or if you want to create complex professional-grade images, you may want to look into the Adobe Suite!
This advanced vector-design program is compatible with Windows, Mac and even has apps you can use on various devices. Plus, Adobe does a good job of unrolling new features and keeping up with the times.
But the downside to this comprehensive design program is that it’s pretty hard to master. You can’t just follow a few easy directions to create an image like you can on many web-based programs! Instead, you have to actually learn how vector design works and create your own designs from the ground up.
You can subscribe to the full Adobe suite for $49.99 a month or purchase access to the app or just Illustrator for $29.99 a month.
2. Adobe Photoshop
Photoshop offers a more user-friendly experience than Illustrator though it has some limitations as well. First, it does not offer vector design tools. This program focuses strictly on photo manipulation.
This does mean you can only use this software if you plan to use DTG printing, as it won’t work well for screenprints.
On the other hand, Photoshop does give you the gold standard of photo editing and manipulation. If you want to launch a small business that prints family photos onto t-shirts for customers, you will almost certainly want to use Photoshop!
You can purchase Photoshop at several different monthly subscription prices depending on how many features you want. Like Illustrator, you can use Photoshop as an app or on both Windows and Mac computers.
Inkscape ranks quite highly as an open-source, free graphic design program. Artists from many fields make use of this feature-rich tool, which does offer vector design tools. The program has progressively improved over the years as more and more users adapt the open-source code.
Here’s the catch, though. Like Illustrator, Inkscape has a bit of a learning curve. It does not come built-in with tutorials and customer support, either! It does have a pretty solid online user community, though, so you can usually find tips and help when you need it.
If you want an easy-breezy t-shirt template to modify, you should not go with Inkscape. On the other hand, if you want to custom-build your own images and logos, Inkscape offers the best free program on the market!
CorelDraw doesn’t yet have the extreme popularity of Adobe Illustrator, but it’s getting there! This comprehensive design suite offers vector design tools as well as several add-ons created specifically for t-shirt designing. These include a Fit Objects to Path program and a Pointilizer program that give you alternative, easier ways to create a design.
CorelDraw offers a free two-week trial, so you can give it a whirl and see if it vibes with your style. If you decide to purchase it, it comes at a range of pricing depending on what features you want. You can purchase some version for a monthly subscription of $34.99 or buy the whole suite for $449.
GraffixPro is a whole nother ballgame from complex design suites like Illustrator. This much simpler program gives you a library of templates and fonts to choose from, and you create a design out of these premade building blocks. This downloadable software gives you everything you need to make quick, customized designs for your family or customers.
Of course, you don’t get the huge range of design options you would in a more artistic program, but this tool has many helpful business add-ons like order management software! The big downside to this business-oriented program is that it costs $900!
Fatpaint has a unique purpose and design. It operates primarily as a free clip art designer and editor! This program works great if you want simple or comic-like designs for your t-shirts.
Also, if you missed it the first time around, this web-based program is free! The website hosts ads to pay for the content you get to access for free.
The downside here is that you will have many design limitations, and you won’t be working with vector graphics.
GIMP is another free, open-source program that offers a huge range of raster editing tools. These include photo manipulation and graphic design.
This constantly evolving program comes with a wide range of add-ons like a color separating for screen prints. That said, you have to dive into the online community to learn how to use GIMP. It does work across any platform you choose, though, and plenty of artists love this program for its versatility!
8. Flash T-Shirt Design
Flash T-Shirt Design certainly doesn’t have the curbside appeal of a sleek program like Illustrator. It does offer a more accessible alternative for simple customization, though!
This program offers basic tools that let you select from a library of color, clipart, and font options. The program looks a lot like Paint, but it does offer intuitive, easy-to-use tools!
You can use this downloadable software on Windows and Mac computers. This program costs a total of $2999, making it one of the most expensive t-shirt design options you will find!
InkXE is more customer-facing than the other design software listed here. You can use it to give your customers access to build their own customized design, which you print and mail to them!
Of course, if you love the artistic side of creating unique designs to wear or sell, this business-oriented program is not for you. But it does provide many helpful features for anyone interested in running a t-shirt business!
Because it is designed for company use, this downloadable software comes at pricing options that start at $2999 and range up to $3999.
10. DesignHill T-Shirt Maker
DesignHill offers pretty much the opposite of InkXE by allowing you to use building blocks to design custom logos or designs! This is more like a special-order customized product than an actual design tool, but it does give you a good chance to understand all the steps that go into designing a custom t-shirt.
In terms of pricing, you can select from several packages that start at $249 and range up to $999.
Printful is a web-based print-on-demand program. It gives you all the tools you need to offer your customers quick, simple customizations. Plus, the real focus of this product is doing the printing and shipping for you!
If you want to launch a small-scale t-shirt business, you may want to check out Printful’s unique business model. It does offer interesting options like developing a “viral” t-shirt design!
Pricing varies depending on how big of an operation you want to set up with Printful.
PlaceIt has a wide range of features, including video and videogame design tools, but it also offers a web-based t-shirt design component! This template-based model lets you quickly create a custom design. The design features include logo design and unique typography.
You can also select from a huge library of premade t-shirt designs for printing if you don’t want to create your own!
The program comes with a pretty low price tag of $14.95 a month. Because of the low cost and beginner-friendly interface, you may want to give PlaceIt a look if you’re just starting!
13. Rush Order Tee
Rush Order has a really lovely website that skims you from step to step of the t-shirt design process, even if you’re a complete beginner! This online store allows you to select from premade templates to build your own custom t-shirt design.
Despite its really nice interface, this store is for you as a customer rather than you as an artist or business owner. You purchase a finished product from Rush Order rather than creating a product to sell yourself!
If you want your own customized t-shirts, though, this website offers one of the nicest, simplest design methods available! Pricing is based on the number of t-shirts you order and the complexity of the design.
14. Design ‘N Buy
This web-to-print product lets you create an online store with t-shirt customization options for your customers. It comes with a lot of business-oriented tools as well, such as promotional product tools.
The downside to this useful product is that it is more about business than art. You may find it useful if you have reached the point where you want to open your own online apparel store, though!
You have to request a quote to get pricing options for Design N’ Buy.
Customily offers advanced customization options for your customers, including live demos! You can select from a variety of templates and colors and then edit these to your liking. Interestingly, this web-based program offers special packages for your Shopify store, as well as web-to-print options.
As with many web-based design programs, you will find yourself limited by the preset templates and options. That said, Customily does have a cool website! You and your customers will enjoy exploring its vibrant, modern look.
You can select pay-as-you-go pricing or pay a subscription of $49 a month for Shopify users.
SonicShack is a “virtual studio” you can add to your online store to allow customers to build customer apparel designs! It comes with a solid range of color, font, and design templates to choose from. In technical terms, this product is an I-frame plug-in to add to your website.
You do have to reach out to the company for a pricing quote if you want to set up this handy web-based program!
What is the Best Free T-Shirt Design Software?
The best free t-shirt design software programs available today are Inkscape and GIMP. If you want to design t-shirts for fun rather than start a business, you probably want to know where to find the best free design software! After all, you’re hardly going to invest $2999 in a design program just so you can wear your own customized tees around the house!
Fortunately, many artists worldwide have worked hard to develop something awesome called open-source programs in the past decades. Open-source software lets anyone access and modify the code behind the program.
Because the computer code does not belong to any company, you can use the program for free! GIMP and Inkscape both give you feature-rich design tools for creating custom t-shirts. As you now know, they do come with a bit of a learning curve, though!
If you need a simpler tool, you can purchase print-on-demand customized t-shirts at a low cost from thousands of online sellers like UberPrints.
What App Do T-Shirt Designers Use?
The most popular app for t-shirt design is Adobe’s apps for Illustrator and Photoshop. You can also find a variety of useful sketching or drawing apps for both Andriod and Apple users.
Honestly, though the Adobe apps do give you a lot of cool features, most designers work on a computer. This allows easier manipulation of small design details. Plus, printing and exporting usually operate more smoothly from something attached to a hard drive, too!
That said, you can use many cool design apps like Canva to create fun images in an app. You can then upload those designs to a web-based t-shirt printing company!
T-Shirt Design Software Online
You can find thousands of web-based t-shirt design companies offering a wide variety of options online today. Several popular options are listed in this article, including SonicShack, Flash T-Shirt Design, and DesignHill. You can even find plenty of custom t-shirt creators advertising on Amazon!
Going with a web-based design program has pros and cons. It costs a lot less to use, most of the time, than purchasing a fancy graphic design program. It also definitely takes less time and has much less of a learning curve.
These benefits make web-based design a handy tool for anyone interested in small-scale t-shirt design.
On the other hand, these programs do a lot of the work for you. You miss out on the artistic joy of truly creating your graphic, logo, or typography from scratch. If you want to experience the full creative process of t-shirt design, you should bypass the web-based programs that do all of this for you and find a real graphic design program instead.
Plenty of these web-based programs do offer high-quality work, though! You just have to decide if you want to have true ownership of the t-shirt design or not before committing to this kind of program.
How Do I Design My Own Shirt On Cricut?
Using a Cricut to cut out an iron-on vinyl shape for a t-shirt design has become super popular in recent years. Cricut software makes the process beginner-friendly. Though you do have to purchase the pricey Cricut and heat press kit, even this is nothing compared to the thousands of dollars you have to pay for some design programs!
On the other hand, Cricut designs look fun but perhaps not as professional as a real screenprint. You will also run into plenty of design limitations since Cricut design is template-based and does not allow you to truly build your own design. (You can upload your own designs as SVG files to Cricut if you want to get into the weeds, though, so it is technically possible.)
So, what is a Cricut? It’s a fancy electronic cutting machine directed by an online design program. You connect the cutting machine to your computer and it used a tiny blade to cut out your selected design.
Cricut also offers various other tools, including a mini heat press to adhere heat transfer vinyl cut-outs to the fabric.
You can follow these basic steps to design a t-shirt on Cricut.
- First, log into your Cricut Design Space account. From here, the easiest way to design a tee is to select “New Project.” This takes you to the available templates.
- You can select from a range of options, including a standard t-shirt. Have your actual t-shirt handy, so you can input its size and color. This allows Cricut to match the design to your shirt!
- Once you select the design you like, you will open up an editing window with a sample t-shirt displayed in it.
- At this point, you can use the menu options on the left and top bar to further modify the design. For example, you can enlarge or shrink the design on the digital t-shirt to see how it looks in a bigger or smaller size.
- You will need to reverse or “mirror” the image before cutting it out, so it doesn’t come out looking backward!
- Once you have the design finalized, you simply send it over to the Cricut for cutting!
- Make sure you place the HTV shiny-side down on the Cricut mat. Then let the Cricut do the work for you!
- There is an art to removing cut-out vinyl from a cutting mat. Cricut offers tutorial videos for this, but the key is to take your time!
- Finally, you need to adhere the vinyl to the t-shirt. Cricut offers a tool for this called an EasyPress. You can also use an iron set to medium heat.
Cricut Design Space is not technically a graphic design tool because it doesn’t give you a lot of room to create your own work. That said, it is easy to use and it lets you modify a huge range of premade templates. You may find this a fun, easy way to start learning about t-shirt design.
T-shirt design and printing software let you make customized logos and images. Professional design tools enable small business owners to create unique work for customers. Beginner-friendly web programs offer a simpler alternative for a hobbyist.
Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw rank as the most popular professional design programs. Free design programs include Inkscape and GIMP. Web-based programs like Cricut and DesignHill offer easy template libraries.
Have you ever designed your own t-shirt? What software or program did you use? Leave a comment below to let us know!