Font selection can make or break your t shirt design. In fact, what you might think is a cute, fancy, or cool font style could render your t-shirt practically unreadable.
How do you make font decisions? How do you find the perfect t-shirt font?
To illustrate many of the core principles, let's start with an example.
A Tale of Three Birthday T-Shirt Designs
One of the coolest things about fonts is the way they can create an eye-catching design without needing a graphic.
The examples above show three potential designs for a young woman's 21st birthday party. Look each one over carefully and think about what immediately jumps out at you.
The first 21st birthday shirt design uses fonts wildly
The first design uses FOUR different fonts. Each is a different size and has a drastically different appearance. The result? A message that's hard to read at a glance.
When you first looked at the design, your eyes were likely drawn to "gets" and "wild" -- in fact, the two words might've been battling for your attention. Because the viewer is so focused on those particular words, they're likely missing everything else. Even if they're not, they have to drag their attention from the center words to start reading from the top.
And then, to top it off, "21st birthday" is in a script font. Although legible on a computer or phone screen, a script font is much harder to read on a t shirt... and it's even worse when somebody is walking.
Even assuming the viewer was interested in figuring out a design, they're often only able to look at it for so long. That's why it's important to go with an easy-to-read font. (Of course, in the case of this t-shirt design, it wouldn't matter -- the design is celebrating an invitation-only event. But it'd be different if the design had to do with a business.)
Although it makes for a cool t-shirt, this isn't an effective design.
The second custom shirt design simplifies things
Given that the first design was overwhelming, the second design attempts to simplify the font usage.
This design uses two fonts -- one for "wild" and another for the rest. For that reason alone, it's much easier to read. The viewer's eyes are also less likely to get torn in multiple directions.
Now, your focus is likely drawn to "wild." However, because "wild" isn't competing with "gets," you have more time to pay attention to the rest of the message.
Are there still issues? Possibly. The "wild" is a little hard to read because it's slanted and because the "21st birthday" is small, it has hard-to-read thin lines.
However, all things considered, it's a functional t-shirt design. It (mostly) conveys the message while looking good.
The third custom t-shirt design uncages the "Wild"
Finally, we have the third design. Can you tell what's different here?
This design -- the best of the three -- uses a single font. However, because the font is in different sizes, it has a slightly different look.
The other change is you'll notice the use of both uppercase and lowercase characters. In the first design, "gets" and "wild" were in caps. The second design had "wild" in caps. People are accustomed to reading a mix of upper and lowercase letters. Having that mix makes a message that much easier to read.
Despite the "wild" using the same font, it still manages to stand out because it's larger. And doesn't the "wild" look wilder when it's not caged by tiles?
"Wild" stands out, but it's not overpowering. Even if you focused on the "wild" first, your eyes would move to the top of the t shirt design and quickly work your way down. And, perhaps best of all, the "21st birthday" is plainly legible in this version.
Think about font use when you design custom t-shirts
The right font will vary depending on why you're looking to create custom made t shirts. This is especially true of commercial projects.
If you're trying to create trendy t shirt designs, a legible style might be less important than a fashionable font style. You might even go with two or three fonts for effect (and maybe something really wild, like a handwritten script font). After all, the message might not matter -- instead, the focus is on the visual.
For casual t shirt designs, you might opt for a playful font. However, if you want your message to be read, the font needs to be something that's easy to read. There's no reason why casual t shirts can't use a legible font.
If you're looking to deliver an eye-catching, memorable message, there are a few rules to keep in mind when it comes to choosing fonts.
Choose an easy-to-read font for your custom tees
There are thousands of awesome fonts for t shirts... but most are downright terrible choices!
The general rule of thumb is don't over-complicate your t shirt font choice. Where people tend to get in trouble is when they decide on overly fancy or elaborate font styles -- possibly even choosing several -- for their t shirt designs, forgetting that others have to be able to read the design.
Remember -- your message won't get across if people can't read your font.
Avoid using script fonts (ie, avoid using cursive on your customized shirts)
A script font is a font designed to mimic cursive handwriting. Some examples in this font family take the idea more literally than others, resembling an actual handwritten font with imitated differences in pressure and other nuances.
The obvious problem with using a cursive-like font is the fact fewer and fewer people know how to read cursive. It's no longer taught in public schools, meaning a growing portion of the population has little or no experience with it. Additionally, non-native English speakers tend to have trouble with cursive. And that's in addition to everybody who struggles with cursive because they rarely use it for anything more than signing their name.
However, besides people not knowing it, there's a second pragmatic issue -- it's much harder to read on a shirt. The lack of separation between letters, the often less-distinct shapes, and the thin lines greatly hamper readability.
While it might be hard to resist a beautiful brush script font, resist you must -- that is, unless your message is a secondary concern (ie, if you're selling your t shirt designs).
Avoid fine detail in your custom design
Thin lines make for terrible t-shirt fonts because the fine detail is hard to see.
If a font is nothing but thin lines, your message may be missed completely. However, you can sometimes fix this by making your font larger.
Watch out for overly thick fonts (which can make your shirt text blur together)
While fine detail is an issue, so is excessive thickness. At smaller sizes, the letters can blend together or possibly look like other letters.
What are the best t-shirt fonts? And what separates the best fonts from the okay ones?
The best t shirt fonts are simple ones. They aren't elaborate or ornate. They're easily read, even from a distance. And they're something most people will be able to read.
The perfect font for your t shirt design will depend on what you're trying to do. However, the best t shirt fonts tend to be great under all circumstances.
Of course, with so many font options, it helps to break them up into categories.
There are two basic font styles: serif and sans serif.
What's a serif font? What's a sans serif font? Why does it matter?
A serif font -- in the simplest terms possible -- is a font with "serifs" (small lines attached to letters -- see the "T" on the left). These are a purely decorative feature whose origins have been lost to time, although it's suspected they arose from when people used older writing instruments like brushes and quills.
Sans serif, on the other hand, is a font lacking serifs. ("Sans" is French for "without," so sans serif literally means "without serif/s.")
Serif fonts are seen as being traditional while sans serif is considered more of a modern font. Many newspapers use serif fonts while websites tend to prefer sans serif.
The drawback with serif t shirt fonts is that many tend to be thin, so the fine detail can be missed. And, at some font sizes, the serifs can fill space inside a letter (so DOG WALKER might look like DOO WALKER).
Best serif fonts for t shirts
Cinzel Bold (bold uppercase letters only -- use as a larger size)
Ferrara Bold (a simple sans serif font that packs a punch -- it's perfect for a t shirt design)
Freshman (great athletic look -- like something off the back of a letter jacket -- but it's bold uppercase letters only, so use it at a larger size)
Georgia (great, all-purpose font)
Times Bold (fine detail is an issue at smaller sizes)
Best sans serif fonts for t shirts
Bangers (neat font on a slight slant; uppercase letters only)
Conway Regular (great font for all uses)
CreativeBlock BB (playful, fun font -- use sparingly; listed as "Creative" in Design Studio)
Grobold (a fun, thick style -- better at larger sizes and when used sparingly; listed as "Grob" in Design Studio)
Font color matters (think about how it matches your customizable shirt's color)
The example above is a fairly busy design. Although you might have trouble digesting the message, it's not because of the font choice or the mix of images. Instead, it comes down to the font color. The red doesn't pop against the green -- both shades are dark -- so part of the message blends into the background. (And, other than around the holidays, you should consider avoiding red & green design combos since close to 1-in-10 people suffer from colorblindness -- meaning a sizable portion of the population may miss your message (which is a further problem if you're trying to reach men, since they're more likely to be colorblind)).
LIMIT YOUR USE OF CAPS WHEN MAKING CUSTOM SHIRTS!!!
Uppercase letters (or capital letters, a.k.a. "caps") may be great at grabbing attention, but they're harder to read -- especially as a large block. People are used to uppercase letters being at the start of sentences and certain words. It's how they were taught to read and write. If they tried writing in all uppercase letters, their teachers would yell at them. As such, we're used to seeing uppercase letters at the start of sentences and lowercase letters thereafter. It's just how people read.
Does that mean you shouldn't ever use all uppercase letters? No, but you should limit their use. A few words in caps is fine -- particularly if you're highlighting a specific word or two. However, when you have a long sentence, it can present an issue. It'll likely take longer for the viewer to process, which isn't a huge deal when they're looking at it on a screen, but it quickly becomes a problem on a t shirt.
Lowercase letters help keep things readable -- use them.
Exceptions to the rule (a.k.a. when they might work for your t-shirt ideas)
There are sometimes good reasons to go with what might seem like a bad font. For the most part, these exceptions fall under the age-old idea of "everything in moderation" -- in other words, they're good in small doses, but become a problem when they're used across your entire t-shirt design.
Caps are one example. While uppercase letters can draw attention to a word or two within your message, they can become a problem when your entire message is in caps.
A script font might also make sense at times -- particularly if you go with one larger word to draw attention to it.
The real trick is finding a less-obtrusive font that complements your exception. This font will be used for the rest of your design. For example, if you go for an exaggerated font with serifs, you might choose another font from the serif family for the rest. How will you know what works? Trial and error mostly. You should play around with a lot of different combinations to see what works -- although resist the urge to pair two exaggerated styles. You want one fancy font and one plain font. After all, if you combine a lot of font styles, it looks like a mess -- and there are almost no exceptions to that rule!
Fantastic fonts and where to find them for customized tees
When looking for free t shirt fonts, you usually don't need to search any further than the graphic design software you're using to create your t shirt designs.
Our studio takes the hard work of finding that perfect font and makes it easy by arranging our font styles into easy-to-navigate categories.
Looking for a modern font? A vintage font? Stylish fonts? Some unique fonts? We have what you want and our studio will help you use them to create incredible t shirt designs.