Choosing the Best Custom Mens Shirts: 8 Expert Tips

Choosing the Best Custom Mens Shirts: 8 Expert Tips

What's the first thing that pops into your mind when somebody mentions custom clothing? Is it a hat? A beanie? Maybe some custom socks?

Odds are it's none of the above.

While I can't read your mind (so your passwords are safe!), I imagine you might've defaulted to thinking about a shirt -- and most likely a t-shirt. After all, shirts are the centerpiece of custom clothing and the most popular of those options is men's/unisex.

Oh? You're wondering about the "men's/unisex?" Before learning about 8 tips for picking the best custom men's/unisex shirts, it might be worth discussing men's and unisex apparel.

 Custom men's shirts vs unisex   

When shopping for custom apparel, you've probably seen both "men's shirts" and "unisex shirts" -- often right next to each other.

So, right about now, you might be wondering: "What's the difference?"

The short answer? None. For the most part, men's shirts and unisex shirts are the same thing.

 "If men's shirts and unisex shirts are the same thing, why are both names listed?"   

The short answer? Because people like to be sure about what they're buying. If men see "unisex," they might wonder if it's really for men. And if women just see "men's shirts" then they might wonder if the size is too big or bulky for them.

So, both are listed to make it as clear as possible that they're for everybody (although especially for men).

"But are they REALLY the same thing?"  

The short answer? Yes, stop asking!

Robolto explains the "difference" between a men's and unisex tee.

As for the "why," keep in mind there are specific women's styles as well -- ones that would look a little odd on a guy. However, most men's apparel can be worn by women without looking unusual. In fact, odds are you wouldn't even notice.

"Okay, but what's the difference between custom women's shirts and custom unisex shirts then?"  

Women's fashion tends to be a bit more revealing than men's -- deeper necklines, shorter sleeves, etc

There are a few obvious differences between women's shirts and men's/unisex.

-Plunging necklines. The cut on a woman's collar tends to go much lower than a man's.

-Shorter sleeves. The sleeves on women's shirts are often noticeably shorter.

-A more tapered fit. Women's shirts tend to be more form-fitting -- or, at least, fit to a very different form! Because women's bodies tend to be less broad than men's, there's a substantially different fit with fitted shirts.

In short, women's apparel tends to be noticeably different from men's/unisex (although they can still wear unisex).

 Types of customized men's shirts   

Male/unisex shirts come in a wide variety of styles. Ranging from the popular to the essential, as well as from the professional to the casual, there's something for every occasion.

Custom short-sleeve t-shirts  

Guy in a classic navy blue t-shirt and green trousers

The short-sleeve t-shirt is probably the most popular shirt style and definitely on the casual side.

Whether working out or hanging out, a short-sleeved tee is a great option. It's something you'll see people wearing wherever you go (except maybe in winter, when jackets and sweatshirts cover them up).

And, if you're trying to promote a business or charity, t-shirts are an inexpensive form of advertising that can turn your customers, etc, into walking billboards. They're the least expensive shirts you can order.

(See our collection of printed short-sleeved t-shirts and best deals.)

Custom long-sleeve t-shirts  

Sunglasses guy hanging outside a business

Think of a short-sleeved t-shirt, then add longer sleeves, and you get a long-sleeved tee.

More expensive than a short-sleeved t-shirt, the long-sleeved tee is also a bit less likely to fit everybody -- after all, people can have different arm lengths. However, if the shirt has a cuff (or, even better, a ribbed cuff), the sleeve can be adjusted to make up for the difference. (It's also worth mentioning that a unisex long-sleeved shirt's long is more likely to fit a woman's arms than a ladies long-sleeved shirt).

(See our collection of printed long-sleeved t-shirts and best deals.)

Custom polo shirts  

Guy wearing a polo with a sea-green fabric that absolutely pops

Polos are where men's shirts start to transition from the casual to the professional. Originally used as sports apparel, polo shirts moved from the polo field and tennis court to the office.

Because they feature a collar and buttons, polos are less casual than t-shirts, although they aren't quite as formal as men's dress shirts.

If you're looking to outfit your workers with uniforms, polos are a popular choice. They're also great for clubs of all kind, board members, churches, and charity workers.

Depending on the intended use (and material thickness), either printing or embroidery might work better. Although an embroidered logo may look more professional, print designs do a better job with small details.

(See our print and embroidered polo shirt collections.)

Custom men's dress shirts (a.k.a. customized button-up shirts or custom button-down shirts)  

Pair of guys wearing casual button-ups

When it comes to formal attire, dress shirts are men's best option.

Dress shirts predate t-shirts, polos, and most modern shirts. While the style has seen a few changes over the years -- and increased variation -- the fundamentals remain the same.

At one point, a white dress shirt was seen as a symbol of high status. However, as they became affordable, dress shirts grew in usage and popularity. These shirts gradually moved from being a marker of the elite to the broader upper-class, where a certain segment of society wore dress shirts on a daily basis while others only wore them during formal occasions (such as to church, thus giving rise to the expression "dressed in their Sunday best").

Man wearing a classic white dress shirt on his way into an office

The white dress shirt grew so synonymous with a class of employee that the terms "white-collar worker" and "blue-collar worker" became commonplace. Even after those white shirts saw competition from other colors -- turning offices into rainbows -- the expressions have persisted. In fact, even when casual Fridays became casual weekdays, the terms remained popular.

Nowadays, there's a much wider variety of office attire where everything is considerably more casual, but dress shirts remain the pinnacle of professional attire.

+Different custom dress shirt styles  

Dress shirts generally offer more options than any other style of shirt.

Guys wearing matching blue polos, possibly due to a company dress code

This selection includes:

-Sleeve options (Long or short)

-Cuff styles (Button or cuff links)

-Pockets (Single-breast, double-breast, or none)

-Buttons (Both the number and style)

-Collar buttons (More on this in a minute)

-Collar cut

In short, there's an almost-shocking number of choices. However, not all of those options are available when ordering custom dress shirts.

+"But what's the difference between a button-down shirt and a button-up shirt?"  

The terms "button-down shirt" and "button-up shirt" tend to cause some confusion. And while you'd think you can use them interchangeably, they're not actually the same thing.

Observe the following image closely:

Man in blue dress shirt

Are you looking at a button-up or button-down shirt? It's definitely a dress shirt -- you're sure of that much -- but you might be wondering where the distinction lies.

Hint -- it's at the collar!

Example of a button-down dress shirt. The Brooks Brothers first added collar buttons to dress shirts in 1896

A button-down shirt has extra buttons at the collar, which are used to fasten the collar in place.

The style was reportedly introduced by the Brooks Brothers in 1896 and gives dress shirts a slightly more tailored look. However, a button-down isn't for everybody. The extra buttons can be a bit of a nuisance with a tie, some consider the added buttons unsightly, and others dislike having their collar held in place.

A direct comparison to a button-down (in terms of function) might be a tie bar, which is used to fasten a tie against the front line of a dress shirt. Some people prefer the neater, cleaner look while others would rather have their tie fly free (or to not wear one in the first place!)

+Custom design dress shirts vs made-to-measure custom dress shirts  

By now, it might be worth addressing a mild point of confusion -- "custom dress shirts" has more than one connotation.

Specifically, it might be conflated with made-to-measure shirts, which are dress shirts made (or adjusted) by a tailor based on the exact measurements of a client's body.

Given tailors use your body measurements, you can be sure you'll get an excellent slim fit (although you may ask if they have a perfect-fit guarantee)

Made-to-measure clothing is a very different kind of custom clothing -- it's custom-made rather than customizing the apparel itself. A tailor will carefully measure their client, getting their exact body measurements, so they can create a dress shirt with the perfect fit.

You can count on a tailor to find the proper cloth for your custom-made shirt or suit jacket. The clothes should fit perfectly

However, there are more benefits to custom-made apparel than just getting a custom fit -- you also get to choose your own fabrics. This gives you a direct control over the fabric quality, ensuring you'll get a shirt that uses the exact material you want.

If you're looking for custom-made suits and shirts, you could try an online service like Ratio Clothing (which has a perfect fit guarantee) or Black Lapel (where you can build a personalized measurements profile to create made-to-measure shirts and suits). Or, for a more traditional experience, you might contact a local tailor.

+A totally customized dress shirt?  

If you wanted to go all-in on custom-made apparel, you could embroider your custom-created clothing with a logo. This is an incredible choice if you have a personal brand you're trying to promote. However, it's often a little impractical.

And, perhaps it goes without saying, but something this highly-personalized doesn't serve the same purpose as normal custom clothing. (And you'd likely need to request the embellishment from whoever is custom-making the made-to-measure shirts)

+Occasions for customized men's dress shirts  

Given that custom men's dress shirts are more expensive than other shirts, you likely won't be using them in a giveaway. However, depending on your company or organization, they can be a great way to demonstrate your brand.

Man in dress shirt staring intently at a laptop. With a great shirt, you can sometimes get away with casual pants

For example, a sales team wearing custom dress shirts with your company logo will have an easier time convincing customers they represent an established, legitimate business. It can also be a great look for board members or other executive teams. Basically, custom dress shirts work for many of the same activities as custom polos (although polos are often preferred, given their lower price).

(See our custom dress shirt collection.)

Custom performance shirts (a.k.a. custom moisture-wicking shirts)  

If you need something on the athletic side, you might consider performance shirts.

Sport-Tek ST360, which uses a moisture-wicking faboric. The emphasis is on performance over fashion

Perfect for athletic endeavors, performance shirts have a variety of benefits ranging from moisture-wicking properties to breathability and, in some cases, UV protection. They're great for keeping people cool and dry during a workout or game.

When do performance shirts shine? If you're outfitting a sports team, you'll probably want to go with performance shirts. They're also a solid choice as a work uniform for employees who either spend a lot of time outdoors or have a physically active job.

Pictured above is the Sport-Tek's Tall Heather Contender™ Tee (ST360; available in 13 colors), a 100% polyester high-performance t-shirt and just one of many great options.

Believe it or not, but there are also performance dress shirts. However, those can be a bit harder to find.

(See our collections of printed performance t-shirts and we carry a few embroidered performance polos (along with a lot of regular polos.))

Custom tank tops (sometimes just called custom tanks)  

Want something a bit cooler when working out? Or maybe you're just not a fan of sleeves? Either way, tank tops might be the answer.

Gildan 2200 Ultra-Cotton tank top. These garments are popular for basketball

When are tank tops a great choice? Depending on the sport, they work as a team uniform. Otherwise, tanks are good for workout clothing. (And, if you own a gym, you could sell branded tanks and other performance clothing to members, giving you a chance to promote your business while making a profit.)

Tank tops and muscle tees also work as uniforms in fitness clubs and for outdoor service jobs in warm places, like a marina or a casual beachfront restaurant.

Pictured above (on the right) is one of Gildan's Ultra-Cotton tank tops (2200). Available in 7 colors, it's a fantastic, affordable option.

Bella+Canva 3480 jersey tank. Works great as a gym employee uniform

However, our current bestseller is Bella+Canva's Unisex Jersey Tank (3480, seen above). Available in 10 colors, this stylish tri-blend tank top is highly popular with a wide variety of people. And, if you are using tanks as uniforms, this will probably be the way to go.

(See our full tank top collection.)

 8 Tips for picking men's custom shirts   

But which style of men's shirt is the best-suited to meeting your needs?

The answer may depend based on whether you represent a business, charity, school, or team. Likewise, the occasion matters as well -- celebrating a family reunion, for instance, may call for something very different than promoting a concert. And that usage should influence most of your decisions.

#1 - Type of customized shirt  

As previously discussed, there are a LOT of options when it comes to shirts. However, not all of them will be right for your company, organization, etc.

Men's shirt collection collage consisting of a t-shirt, a polo, a performance tee, and a dress shirt. Shows a range of garments

Here's a quick breakdown:

  • T-shirts are good for most things -- events, giveaways, promotions, commemorating special occasions (such as reunions and birthday parties), bands, teams, and so on. (And they can work as a uniform.) Their benefits include a large print area and low-cost.
  • Polos are geared more towards professional functions, such as work or school uniforms. They're more expensive and you'll probably go with a smaller customization (such as just a logo or organization name). However, depending on the usage, you might customize a few locations on a polo.
  • Dress shirts tend to be very formal. They excel in highly-professional functions, particularly for sales.
  • Performance shirts are geared toward athletic activities. They're great for team uniforms and outdoor events. As with t-shirts, you have a large print area.
  • Tanks are good for workouts, sports, and so on. Depending on the sport, they may also work as a team uniform.

Most of the time, you'll probably want to customize either a t-shirt or polo.

#2 - Shirt brand  

Do you have a shirt brand in mind? Even if you don't think about a shirt's brand, some of your customers will.

Adidas A240

Some companies, like Nike and Adidas, enjoy tremendous brand recognition. In fact, they're so famous that much of their value comes from their name -- hence why you'll see the Nike and Adidas logos on their custom blank garments. (Such as Adidas's A230 above; available in 10 colors).

Bella+Canvas tends to be more of a slim fit

However, even when a brand isn't as famous as Nike or Adidas, the difference can be evident. Bella+Canvas, for instance, is known for its fashion -- even if you've never heard of the company before today, you might recognize how stylish their t-shirts are (as seen with the 3001 above; available in a massive 57 colors).

#3 - Shirt fabric type  

Depending on how a garment is meant to be used, its fabric can make a huge difference. For example, a ring-spun cotton t-shirt is bound to be pretty comfortable whereas a 100% polyester shirt is much less likely to shrink and will wick moisture.

Fabric chart that shows the benefits of various fabrics

Then blends combine fabric types so you can have both of the traits.

A 50/50 cotton/polyester blend, for example, is a popular option for uniforms because it tends to last better (since it's less likely to snag than polyester or shrink than cotton) and is easier to care for (since it's less likely to wrinkle than cotton).

#4 - Long sleeves, short sleeves, or no sleeves? (And, if you have sleeves, will they be screen-printed, custom-embroidered, or left undecorated?)

Unless you're buying a tank top, you'll have the choice of going with either short or long sleeves.

Although people tend to associate each kind of apparel with just one sleeve choice, most have both.

Jerzees 437MLR polo

For instance, when you think of a polo, you probably envision short sleeves. However, as you'll see with the Jerzees polo (437MLR; available in 6 colors) above, polos are also available in long-sleeves.

Port Authority S508

And while you might associate dress shirts with long sleeves, there are plenty of short-sleeved options, such as Port Authority's short-sleeved button-down shirt seen above (S508; available in 20 colors).

#5 - Cuffs  

If you chose a long-sleeved dress shirt, you'll have to decide if you're looking for a specific kind of cuffs. Some need to be fastened with cufflinks, others will have a button on the sleeve.

Man looking relaxed while wearing Port Authority's classic W100

Port Authority's long-sleeve poplin shirt (W100, seen above; available in 12 colors) is a sharp-looking cotton/poly blend dress shirt that features dye-to-match buttons and adjustable cuffs.

Port Authority's W100 from behind

As you'll notice, the cuffs use buttons rather than cufflinks.

The choice between buttons and cufflinks can wind up being more preference than fashion. Although cufflinks are associated with more formal wear, a smaller detail like this isn't something people will notice in most settings.

#6 - Pocket(s)  

Pockets tend to be an option on all styles of shirts, which is great news for pocket fans.

Comfort Colors 4410. Once you wear it, you'll realize it's worth the price

Comfort Colors has a nice long-sleeved pocket t-shirt (4410, seen above; available in 15 colors) -- besides having a pocket, it's super-comfortable and has a nice vintage look.

When printing on shirts, you can put a design either above the pocket or directly on it. However, if you're embroidering, you need to put the design above the pocket because the embroidery process would otherwise sew the pocket the shut.

#7 - Buttons  

Not all shirts have buttons, but it's something worth looking at when they do.

Sport-Tek's ST640. Sport-Tek has a solid reputation for making quality athletic apparel, using great fabrics to do so

Pictured above is Sport-Tek's PosiCharge RacerMesh polo (ST640; available in 17 colors) -- a best-selling performance polo -- which features three dyed-to-match buttons.

The number of buttons on a polo can vary. Two is generally seen as an entry-level option, three is average, and four tends to be viewed as being higher-end. (Likewise, a dress shirt's button count might vary... but it's a bit less noticeable.)

Likewise, buttons have different styles, too. Besides dyed-to-match (which is one of the nicest options), there are metal buttons, woodtone, and pearlized buttons.

The right button is a bit of a fashion question -- namely, do you want people to see your buttons? While dyed-to-match tends to blend right in, the other options stand out.

#8 - Think about the custom shirts' cost

Most people are working on a budget. And if you represent a company trying to stretch its marketing budget, you may have price points on the brain.

As such, you might choose to forgo certain features to save money. Or you could select a more economical shirt style. 

Showing off a BD54 over a pair of chinos

The BD54 is an incredibly affordable short-sleeved tee. Available in 51 colors, it's an absolute bargain. (Be sure to check out the rest of our best deals, too!)

The Gildan 5000, as with other Gildan products, has tremendous fabric consistency

Looking to move up a little? The Gildan 5000 (seen above, available in 67 colors) is a still very-affordable step up from the BD54.


 Bolt Printing wants to be your favorite destination for men's custom apparel   

Our site makes it easy to shop for custom clothing and accessories.

Our design studio makes it easy to buy shirts -- it's a one-stop-shop

Just select a shirt or other garment from any of the product pages or enter Bolt's online design studio directly to create custom apparel in minutes. You can upload artwork or rely on Bolt's extensive clip art and font library. (And don't worry about getting it 100% right -- our team of experts can fix up problems with your design.)

Not ready to order today? No problem! Just save your design for later -- and you can even share the link with others.

So, what are you waiting for?