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The History of the T-Shirt

Is it even possible there was a time before the t-shirt existed? It seems unthinkable that there could be a reality without Seinfeld's "golden boy." But this staple of the American wardrobe didn't appear until the early 1900s, when a clever seamstress thought to segment the traditional union suit, and voila—the top half became not only underwear, but outerwear. Lore has it that the t-shirt first saw the light of day on dockworkers and naval officers in the early 1900s—surely a shocking sight. The t-shirt's acceptance was slow but steady, but by 1955, when James Dean wore a plain white tee under a leather jacket in Rebel Without a Cause, America was hooked.

In the 1960s, an entire movement co-opted the centuries-old aesthetic of tie-dying, creating a uniform for the Free Love generation. Custom-printed t-shirts became readily available, giving major corporations like Coca-Cola and rock bands like the Rolling Stones an impact on fashion that was never before possible. Heat-sensitive dyes brought us the Hypercolor phenomenon in the 1980s; the t-shirt even went black-tie when Sharon Stone wore Gap to the Oscars in 1996. We like to think we made our own t-shirt history in 2000 when we launched CustomInk.com—the first website where you could design and order custom t-shirts online.

Over the past 50 years, the t-shirt has become a vehicle to broadcast our beliefs, our taste in music, our sense of humor, our preferences in beverages or athletic teams. T-shirts serve as a personal billboard, a place for us to promote our Twitter profile or professional resumés, a way for a team to express their group pride. More than any article of clothing, t-shirts have become a means of personal expression and comfort. We'll bet that if you open your dresser right now, you'll find a beloved stack of t-shirts that are custom-printed, well worn, and uniquely yours. What will you put on your next favorite t-shirt?

T-Shirt Styles

Stylish Fit T-Shirts

Designer fit without the designer cost. These shirts have a sleek stylish fit.

Vintage T-Shirts

Stand out with these vintage-distressed tees—a look that's sure to get you noticed.

Ringer T-Shirts

Two-tone trendy and crowd pleaser is how our customers describe this favorite.

Raglan T-Shirts

Baseball shirts that will keep you looking great on and off the diamond.

Camo T-Shirts

Blend in and stand out. You'll do both in these terrific camo tees.

Tie Dye T-Shirts

Truly unique! Each shirt is hand tied and hand dyed. Add your design and it'll truly be one-of-a-kind.

50/50 T-Shirts

Lightweight, breathable and less shrinkage—50/50 tees are the answer.

Performance Wear

Keep dry and stay cool. These high performance shirts keep the sweat off you.

Sporty T-Shirts

Outscore the competition with these high performance, trendy athletic looks.

Pocket T-Shirts

These shirts are great for holding your pen, notes or cell phone.

100% Cotton T-Shirts

Feel the difference 100% cotton makes—you'll never choose another again.

Organic T-Shirts

Go green! Eco-friendly, organic, high quality and low cost.

T-Shirt Decoration Methods and Printing Processes

Screen Printing

A screen printer burns a stencil of your design onto mesh screens (one screen for each design color), sets the screens up in a printing press, and pushes ink through the stencil onto your blank product. Screen printing is Custom Ink's specialty.

Digital Printing

Digital printing works like a bigger, stronger version of the inkjet printer you may have at home for printing on paper. Semi-opaque “process” inks blend together to create a wide spectrum of colors on your shirt. Custom Ink uses this method for low quantity orders and some full-color designs if we determine that digital printing will yield the best results.

Dye Sublimation

Dye sublimation printers use heat to transfer dye onto fabrics like polyester. A reverse of your design is printed on transfer paper and then a heat press is used to transfer the dye from the paper to the fabric fibers. Dye sublimation is not commonly used for t-shirt printing, so Custom Ink does not offer it.

Heat Transfers

Heat transfers are created by printing your design onto special transfer paper and then ironing the design from the paper onto your product. Heat transfers are not as durable as other decoration methods, so Custom Ink does not offer this service.

Air Brush

Airbrushing is a decoration method that utilizes a small spray gun to apply color to a fabric. This technique produces a graffiti effect and is simulated in a number of fonts (such as Acidic). Airbrushing is a specialty service that Custom Ink does not offer.

T-Shirt How To's

What follows is a collection of t-shirt basics: how to find a t-shirt that flatters your body type, how to take care of it, and how to make and sell your own t-shirts.

How to Find the Best Fitting T-Shirts

When it comes to t-shirts, a flattering fit makes all the difference. If you're looking for your next favorite tee, focus on finding the brand, style, and size that fits you best. A good place to start is in your own closet—check the brand and size of your favorite tee and seek out more of the same. We recommend that you confirm the measurements before buying a new one, especially if your favorite from the closet is years old—manufacturers can change their sizing without warning.

If you're open to trying a new t-shirt brand and style, make sure you find one that flatters your body shape and does what you want it to do. Ask this question: Do I want a form-fitting t-shirt, or one that hangs loose? A sizing guide, like our Sizing Line-Up is a great way to see specific sizing info along with real people (and their real measurements) modeling each size. Tools like these make it easy for you to get a sense of how a shirt will actually fit your body type.

Another consideration is fabric—make sure your 100% cotton t-shirt is pre-shrunk before you buy it, or order a size up and allow for some shrinkage if your t-shirt is not pre-shrunk. Especially when laundered in high heat, cotton has the potential to shrink, and you want your shirt to fit your body after wash.

How to Take Care of Your T-Shirts

T-shirts are easy to care for—just read the tag to find out what water temperature and cycle strength to use. Wash lights with lights, darks with darks. Turn your custom tees inside out before washing to protect your design. Most tees are pre-shrunk (check your tag!) and can be thrown in the dryer, but some styles, such as American Apparel, should air dry instead. Click for care instructions.

How to Sell Your T-Shirts

So maybe you have an idea for an awesome t-shirt that would sell millions, or maybe you already have a stack of said awesome t-shirts in your living room that you're eager to sell—where do you start?

Why not try the one-two punch of the offline/online approach?

Offline first

Remember that a t-shirt advertises itself every time you wear it. There's something magnetic about custom tees—if there's text or a cool design on someone's t-shirt, we're going to check it out. Read the words, look at the pictures. So a good first offline step is to give some of your t-shirts away to family and friends and ask them to wear it. If you know a social butterfly, make sure that person gets one. You want to create a buzz out in the real world.

If you're willing to spend some money and it makes sense for your design/audience, consider advertising your design in relevant magazines or on bulletin boards around town. And don't be afraid to think small—local newsletters and small-distribution publications may allow you to advertise your t-shirt design for free, which is a big plus when you're starting out.

And the online approach

Spread the word by utilizing your social and professional networks. Post a picture of your design to your Facebook page; email your contacts; set up a website to sell your t-shirts. Always consider your audience—you probably don't want to share a racy or off-color design with your professional contacts, for example.

You have so many options online, but you might need to jump through some hoops in order to become a legitimate and trustworthy online merchant. This process takes time, but it's worth doing if you'd like to build your t-shirt hobby into a significant revenue stream.

Designing Your Own T-Shirts

A good t-shirt design starts with a great idea. Take a look at the t-shirt design tips, ideas, and videos that Custom Ink offers for some inspiration. You can bring your design idea to life using an online service like Custom Ink or software programs like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. You might even be able to take a drawing to your local screen printer and have it modified for print. When your design is ready to go, you can have it printed locally or online, or you can print it yourself using transfer paper and an iron-on process (note: this method is less durable than screen printing). Whatever method you choose, make sure you bring your creative idea to life for the world to enjoy!

T-Shirt Designing Tips

See specific design tips for your sport, club, group, or event.

T-Shirt Design Ideas

Get inspired by hundreds of grab-and-go design templates.

T-Shirt Shopping Directory

There are thousands of t-shirt sellers and websites out there, and it can be overwhelming to sort through it all. Lucky for you there's no need! We've put together some informational resources on popular t-shirt brands Custom Ink carries and even some other t-shirt sites—biggest movers shakers in the t-shirt world, all in one place.

Top Brands and Manufacturers at CustomInk.com
American Apparel
Cool and socially conscious, American Apparel offers a huge selection of fitted tees and loungewear.
Hanes
A staple in the t-shirt industry, Hanes' more recent t-shirt styles include Hanes Her Way and Hanes Tagless T-Shirts.
Champion
Making quality apparel for 90 years, Champion has set the standard in quality t-shirts and sweatshirts.
Gildan
Gildan Activewear, based in Canada, is a leader in affordable t-shirts and clothing.
Jerzees
A pioneer of innovation within the Imprintable Sportswear Market, JERZEES(R) Activewear has over 100 years of experience in manufacturing top-quality apparel.
Other Popular T-Shirt Sites

For when you want to buy pre-made t-shirts rather than designing your own at CustomInk.com.

Threadless
A collection of t-shirts designed and rated by the public.
SnorgTees
Sell a variety of funny t-shirts inspired by pop culture.
Busted Tees
Humorous t-shirts sold online.
T-ShirtKing
Offer a variety of movie, band, and sports tees.
T-Shirt Hell
Where all the bad t-shirts go! (Warning: Offensive)

Fun Stuff

Check out these other companies to see some things about t-shirts that may surprise you.

T-Shirt Cannons
Launch your t-shirts up to 400 ft. with t-shirt guns and cannons. Great for school pep rallies and football games to get the crowd excited!
T-Shirt Frames
Is your t-shirt a piece of art? Urban Outfitters offers the perfect frames to preserve your t-shirts and turn them into cool pieces of wall art.
Compressed T-Shirts
Compressed T-Shirts are simply tees that are molded and compressed into a unique shape or form. They are great for promotional products and tradeshow giveaways.
LED T-Shirts
LED T-Shirts light up and scroll with the ability to program a message and have it displayed right on your shirt, in blinking lights.
Color Changing T-Shirts
T-Shirts that change colors when you they are exposed to heat or sun are also known as hyper color tees. SolarActive is a premier supplier of color changing t-shirts and other products.

T-Shirt Fashion Trends

While our customers are creating their own fashions everyday at CustomInk.com, these other sites offer the latest crazes in the t-shirt fashion world.

Ed Hardy
Whether you love them or hate them, Ed Hardy T-Shirts have become one of the most popular designer t-shirt brands in recent years.
Affliction
Most noted for their relationship with top MMA fighters and boxers, Affliction clothing has become one of the most popular new clothing designers.
Paul Frank
Paul Frank is an American cartoonist and fashion designer who creates popular t-shirt styles for kids and youth. Julius the Monkey is Frank's best-known characters in kids apparel.