The Definitive T-Shirt Design Placement Guide
Have you heard the expression, "It's not what you say, it's how you say it"? Well, think of design placement as, "It's not what you say, it's where you say it." (Or, to borrow a popular real estate phrase, "It's all about location, location, location!")
Your message's impact can be enhanced -- or diluted -- by its placement. Some print locations are easier to see -- such as the center chest or upper back (vs the side or hem) -- while other choices may convey a sense of professionalism (ie, a logo placement on the left chest). And, if you opt for multiple locations, there's a greater chance your designs will be seen -- for instance, something on the chest and another design on the upper back.
This design location and placement guide will lead you through a not-always-exciting, but essential part of t-shirt design.
Four terms you need to know and will keep hearing
Understanding these four industry-standard terms will help you communicate your design.
Print location is WHERE you want the design to be located on your custom tee. This includes the front and back of the shirt, and is further broken down into more specific locations (ie, the front has multiple possible locations -- the center chest, the full front, the left chest, and the hems).
NOTE: Each print location requires a separate screen. If you have two pieces of artwork on the front (such as the front chest and front bottom right), those are two separate print locations.
Print placement is the measurement used to determine the exact placement of the artwork. Despite sounding a lot like a location, it's technically a measured position.
For example, the center chest would be your print location. Your print placement might be 2-3" down from the lowest line of stitches on the collar seam.
Understanding the difference between locations and design placements can save you a lot of aggravating miscommunications. Remember -- your location is the "where" while the placement adds a specific measurement.
Some print locations -- like the side and bottom hem areas -- have what's referred to as a "blind" placement. (More on this in a minute.)
Print area is the amount of printable space in any given location on a garment. In all likelihood, your artwork will only use part of a location's space. (For example, the print area (or dimensions) on a unisex full front location are 12" x 13".)
Print size refers to the exact measurement (width x height) of the artwork being printed. (For obvious reasons, your print sizes will be limited by a location's print area -- ie, the print area determines the maximum size of your design.)
Although large, the template seen above is an example of a single image (in one location).
What's a "blind" placement?
Your print location is determined by guiding lines -- like seams -- in the garment. By using the seams at the shoulder to guide how a shirt is placed on a screen press, we can maintain a relatively consistent print location across your custom tees.
But what happens when those guides aren't available?
When a t shirt is placed on a screen press pallet where the shoulders are hanging off, a worker has to judge things as best as they can with limited context. This means your t shirt design placement is a bit less consistent.
A side design tends to be even harder. The worker tries to gauge the artwork's placement without the help of left and right seams. (When going with a side print location, you'll want a tubular fabric so the design isn't broken up by seams.)
Why all of this matters
Can you remember the last time you saw a t-shirt design that started at a person's stomach? What about a logo that sat right at their shoulder?
The common placement of designs influences what we see as being natural. When things are outside of that range, a viewer can wind up so distracted by the odd placement that they miss the message entirely.
The suggested print locations and print placement tips you're going to see in this guide are generally industry standard recommendations. Most have a practical component -- for instance, if you start a center chest design too low on a shirt, women may find wearing the shirt risque. In other cases, it can reflect an optimal range for something to be seen.
And, on a subconscious level, many of the placements are just where people expect to see them (based on a lifetime of seeing t shirts). Anything outside that normal range can be distracting, if not jarring.
That said, sometimes an unconventional location or placement makes sense for dramatic effect. If you were advertising a weight loss solution or a gut health product, drawing attention to a person's stomach with a design might drive that message home (although the shirt's wearer might feel uncomfortable when people stare at their stomach).
Oh, the places your designs can go!
While the most common print location on a custom t shirt is the chest, it's hardly the only spot. Other placement options include the back, sleeves, hems, nape, and sides.
Of course, if you're looking to save money -- or to just get the best bang for your buck -- you'll want to limit your design placement to one or two locations (usually the front and/or back). Each print location adds to your expense so you should focus on an area that attracts the most attention.
Even the front of a t shirt has multiple print locations
While it's tempting to think of the front of a t shirt as just one print location, it actually offers several.
A full front design, for instance, takes up a much larger area than a center chest placement. The left chest placement is great for a company logo (and maybe a larger design would be placed on the back or upper back).
If you were embroidering a polo shirt, you'd likely limit yourself to a left chest placement with the company name and/or logo. However, if your t shirt has a logo uses this location, you'll likely want to accompany that with a design on the back.
More design placement locations than just the front and back
If you're feeling bold, you might move beyond the front and back of a shirt.
The sleeves are a great print area. While long sleeves give you more room for a design, you can fit things on short sleeves, too. If you're using your custom t shirts as uniforms -- such as at a restaurant -- having a logo on a sleeve will make it easier for customers to identify your employees. This works particularly well when the only other design might be a left chest placement where people won't see it when the employee is turned.
The back collar area is another tasteful area for a logo placement.
Location and placement standards (and why you'd want them there)
Each print location has a benefit. Some are obvious, some aren't.
By sticking with a standard placement, your message will be easier to see and process.
Why you'll probably want to go with the full front
The most common -- and most popular -- location is the full front. A large design placed here is easily noticed even from a distance and, when the design starts at the recommended 2-3" from the collar area, it's easily seen even within a crowd.
Anybody who talks to a person wearing a shirt with a full front design is bound to notice whatever message is there. And, because a person's upper body doesn't sway as much as their arms while walking, it's easier to read.
Whether you're promoting a business, a non-profit, charity, or an event, the full front is the perfect placement for your message. And, if you have to choose just one location, this is usually going to be the best choice.
The most common placement for a design is 2-3" below the lowest line of stitches (meaning that's where the image would begin from the top). Because the collar is lower on scoop necks and v-necks, the ideal placement is 0.5-1.5" below the lowest point. The print area varies by style:
For unisex, it's 12" x 13"
For ladies, it's 10" x 13"
For youths, it's 9" x 11"
The left chest looks professional
If you're using a custom shirt to promote your business or non-profit, a logo or business name placed at the left chest gives your workers a professional look. While most people associate this location with an embroidered logo on a polo shirt, many businesses rely on the more cost-effective option of a printed logo on their t shirts.
Although a logo placed on the left of the chest area looks good by itself, organizations often add a second design -- either a larger graphic on the back (perhaps a bigger version of the logo accompanied by a slogan), a piece of information at the nape (just under the back collar), or something on the sleeve. (In the case of polo shirts, it'd mostly likely just be accompanied by a sleeve design.)
Whatever you decide to do, the placement for a left chest logo is very consistent. You want it 2-3" down from the lowest line of stitches. The print area is consistent, too -- the standard size is 3" x 3" for the top line.
A little trickier with pockets
When printing on shirts with pockets, you have the option of placing a design 1-2" up from the top of the pocket or on the pocket itself.
For the spot above the pocket, it's the same area as the left chest. If you're printing on the pocket itself, it's 3" x 3".
The center chest is a modest placement
Perhaps you don't want a large, overpowering image, but still want something big enough to stand out in a crowd. If so, the center chest might be the location for you.
A center chest graphic will be smaller than something used in the full front (basically it's going to cover far less space).
Although one of the less-used locations, it has some value. The strongest case-in-point might be a design simply consisting of a logo. A giant logo across the front of a shirt may look a bit much, but could seem tasteful at a smaller size.
The other immediate advantage is that it'll be easier to digest at a glance. Plus, the smaller size means the design is less likely to be partially obstructed.
Just like the full front, the placement is 2-3" down from the lowest line of stitches at the collar. The area will also vary depending on style.
For unisex, it's 8" x 6"
For ladies, it's 7" x 5"
For youths, it's 6" x 4"
Yes, you can print on the bottom hem
The final locations on the front of a shirt are the bottom right and bottom left hems.
This tends to be an area where you'll want a compelling reason to place a design since there's a reasonable chance the design won't be noticed on your shirts.
Anything placed here will likely be more for fashion than practicality. If the wearer is walking, this part of the shirt will be difficult to see. It's also very likely to be partially or fully-obstructed in a crowd.
The hems are a blind placement. Although they're 1-2" up from the top line of stitches on the bottom hem, they can be tough as a horizontal design placement. The standard size is 3.5" x 3.5" for the area.
NOTE: Each hem is its own location. (ie, 2 hems = 2 locations.)
The full back is a fantastic secondary location
Although people naturally tend to focus on the front of a shirt, there's a lot of functional, visible space on the back.
Think about how many times you've walked behind somebody. Unlike the front (which is only visible in passing), you likely spent a lot of time looking at that person's back. Strange as it sounds, we spend a lot of time looking at the backs of t shirts -- especially when waiting in lines -- and yet the backs of t shirts often lack any decoration.
While the full back is rarely used by itself, it's a great location for an accompanying design (especially if you have something simple on the left side of your chest).
Although the full back shares the same area as the front, the placement is much lower -- it's 4-5" down from the lowest line of stitches on the collar.
The nape shouldn't be overlooked
The nape of a shirt shouldn't be overlooked as a possible location. It's a modest, classy location -- a great place to put your company's name and either website or phone number.
The placement is 1-1.5" down and the area is the same as the left of the chest.
The back bottom hem is a little awkward...
Have you ever wanted to give somebody an excuse to stare at a person's posterior? If so, the back bottom hem might be the design location for you!
As far as placements go, the back bottom hem has pragmatic issues. It's going to be less noticeable (unless somebody is specifically looking there), harder to see (unless somebody is going out of their way to look there), and the message may be harder to read (unless somebody is really staring).
With the exception of specific products or services (something related to fitness, for example), the location will probably make the most sense either for fashion or humor (like a "If you're reading this, you've been staring too long" message).
Printing on long sleeves
A long sleeve is a great design location because it looks cool, gives you a lot of space, and can make a message more memorable. You could use it for a tagline, mission statement, or website's URL.
The big drawback is people tend to move their arms a lot. If somebody is walking, they're likely swaying their arms. However, even if they're standing or sitting, odds are there's at least some movement. This makes the message harder to see.
The other issue is temperature. Long sleeves work great in the winter or colder places (including buildings where the A.C. is set way too low), but they're impractical when it's hot.
Long sleeve placement is 3-6" from the top seam connecting the sleeve to the body.
Printing on short sleeves
Although their longer cousins tend to get more attention, short sleeves have their own appeal. For starters, it's a great place for logos. If your shirts are used as uniforms, it's a way of letting people quickly identify your workers from the side (which is a benefit for a restaurant).
Notably, the short sleeve offers a smaller area than the long sleeve, limiting what can be done. The placement is at the center of the sleeve, 1-1.5" up from the top line of stitches on the seam. A sleeve's standard area is 3.5" x 3.5"
Why printing on the sides is usually a bad idea
Where's a place that's sure to be missed? What's a spot that's both low on the body and covered up most of the time? And, to top it off, which spot is somewhat awkward for the viewer to look?
There are a LOT of reasons you should avoid printing on the sides of a shirt.
If a person's arms are at their side -- or swaying while walking -- the view is blocked.
It's so low on the body there's little chance of the message being seen or read.
When a person is walking, their side is visible for far less time than the front or back.
You'll need a garment without left and right seams (because otherwise you'd have to print on the seams, which causes all sorts of other issues), which rules out some less expensive shirt options.
A message that requires staring a person's hips is awkward both for the viewer and the shirt's wearer.
In short, when it comes to printing on the sides, I have just one word of advice: Don't.
However, there are occasions when it might make sense. If you're specifically trying to call attention to the area, placing a design in that print location will do the trick. Because it's an unusual spot, it could be more attention-grabbing or memorable -- but that's assuming people can notice or read it. Most of the time, a side design is unlikely to pull its weight.
Which location is right for your design?
Hopefully this placement guide has given you the tips and tricks needed to create a great design. As mentioned, each location has its own benefits -- some more than others. While it's difficult to cover every possible use, this should provide you with a solid anchor point.
For the most part, you'll want one location on the front of a shirt (full, left, or center) and then maybe one other spot (back or sleeve). If you're going for a cost-effective design, a full front location is your best choice. As for the placement, just use the recommendations.
If you stick to these locations and placements, your message will be a lot easier to process. Remember -- you might only have a few seconds to make an impression. Don't squander them by making your design hard to find.
"Would a heat press give me more options?"
Perhaps you've heard about heat transfer vinyl and are wondering whether a heat transfer would give you additional location choices.
The short answer is... no.
While a heat transfer offers some advantages (although the quality is vastly inferior to what you'd get from screen printers -- heat transfer images are less durable, less attractive, and breakdown less gracefully), most don't really impact location or placement because these are industry standards.
Overall, the same design will look better printed than as a heat transfer.
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