6 Essential Ingredients for a Kickass Band Tee Design

We all know designing can be a total pain in the ass right? But it doesn't have to be that way, promise!! Skip all the technical jargon and design "gurus" who try to convince you that you need to invest big bucks to get a kickass design. 

All you really need is a few simple rules and a plan and you'll be designing kickass merch for your band in no time! We'll go over some simple design principles, great fonts to try, what to look out for in a strong design, how to research and actually plan your merch line. Plus I'm here with any questions you have! Let's dive in!

Choose your main idea

Also called “Hierarchy” by graphic designers. The idea is to pick a focal point and give the rest of your design less visual weight. Just like when you are writing a song for your band, not every player will have the spotlight all at once – you have to let one shine through or it just becomes a muddled mess. As the designer of your merch you get to control how people view your design, where their eye goes first and how it travels through the design. You want to give them a clear place to start - the first place they look, and this will be your most important element of your design, then let the other details and design elements be in supporting roles.

This can be done by playing with size and proportion - like using a huge font size for your band name and then going much smaller for all the supporting text.

Option B: "Mix that shit"

Option B: "Mix that shit"

Option A: "One Lazy Font"

Option A: "One Lazy Font"

In these two examples you can see that Option A uses one font, all the same size. This gives the same visual importance and dominance to every part of the design – so nothing gets to be the focus. Not terrible, but not an eye-catching design that people would be really excited about buying or wearing.

Instead, why not try mixing fonts, like in Option B. Simply by spending a little time on free font sites like Dafont.com or 1001fonts.com you'll be able to pair your fonts like a pro. Also try playing with the size of the fonts you use. Start by deciding all of the text you want in the design – your band’s name, slogan, tour dates, venues – then assign a ranking to each line (It’s pretty safe to say most bands will want their band name to be the most important part of the design, but it will ultimately depend on what you want and what works for your band!). Once you have your ranking – you can divide out your design into each line with fonts and font sizes decided, all because you have your goal in mind.

Use color with a plan

Designs that use ink colorss that pop off against the t-shirt color will be more striking and eye-catching. Colors like white ink for a teal (or any bold color) tee shirt, black ink on a baby pink shirt, or red ink on a light blue shirt are strong choices because the colors contrast against each other. Color-theory-lovers, you know what I mean! Both of the two top example designs chose white ink to pop off the teal shirt.

Colors that are closer in tone to the garment will tend to blend in, which can be a cool effect, if you have a plan. You've seen terrible, boring t-shirt designs – don’t let bad color choice happen to your band!

Make it legible!

This may be an unpopular opinion, especially among metal bands, but I believe that the best way to establish your band’s brand is to use a logo that your fans (and all those soon-to-be-fans) can actually read. Give them a fighting chance when they are reading gig posters or they see a really cool band tee on someone else. If your name is illegible, how hard do you think someone is going work to try to find out who you are? 

Can you read that??

Can you read that??

No way I'm trying to read that.

No way I'm trying to read that.

Font Bootcamp

Here’s a few quick tips on fonts so you can choose your band’s font confidently:

Decorative fonts like Wake Up Bro, Rocket Pop, Asiago Bagels, and Fauquier [font samples and links below!] are a really great way to build visual dominance for your band’s logo, but choose wisely, they can get unreadable REALLY FAST - try to stick to 40 points minimum for your font size if you are using a lot of text.

Plain or sans serif fonts like Bebas Neue, Caviar Dreams, Lemon Milk and Coolvetica, [examples and links below!] work really well when you need to put a lot of text on a shirt (like tour dates or multiple bands playing a festival). You can get pretty small with your font size (minimum 9 points) and it will still be readable when printed on a shirt. Plus all of these have a lot of great style in and of themselves and could be a really cool band logo

There's beauty in simplicity! Coolvetica a great plain font with some unexpected attitude.

There's beauty in simplicity! Coolvetica a great plain font with some unexpected attitude.

General fonts to avoid: Papyrus, Curls, Comic Sans, Bleeding Cowboy, Jokerman, Hawaii Killer. Need to find some amazing free fonts? Go check out my post on amazing design freebies

Keep it Simple

An easy mistake to make when you are designing your band’s tees for the first time is to trying to throw too many ideas, too many design elements, into one tee shirt design. We’ve all seen bad design where it looks like the Clipart Fairy threw up all over it. The best way to combat this is to always take time to edit - ask yourself, “Do I need it?” Do you really need 500 grunge fairy icons when 5 would suffice? Always come back to your main goal for the design and like Stunk and White said, “When in doubt, leave it out!”

Save your fans from the bday throw up tee design!

Save your fans from the bday throw up tee design!

Think of your fans

You know your fans better than anyone else - you know why they love you and what you have to offer. You know what their age and tastes are and you know exactly what makes them excited to see you. Consider your music as well - how can you represent your style visually? It can come down to the fonts, the colors, even the style of the shirt you select to print on.

Really can't see this as a bluegrass band can you? Only really works ironically, right?

Really can't see this as a bluegrass band can you? Only really works ironically, right?

Slightly more on-genre

Slightly more on-genre

Consider your Brand

Take stock of your existing materials - your gig posters, album artwork, social media banners, band photos. Think about your genre and what other bands have done and are continuing to do. Now, don’t take this as a suggestion that you simply rip off your rivals - but more to understand the elements of your genre.

You wouldn’t expect a Country group to create their merch with a lot of Gothic imagery like a classic Metal band might; you wouldn’t expect a Rave Band to put out a 50’s Rockabilly style gig poster for their shows.

Let’s put it this way - it’s visual shorthand for your newest (and soon-to-be) fans so they know if you are their style before they ever hear a note. Some people just aren’t into your style, and that’s just fine. Some people are OBSESSED with your style - you want them to know it by looking at your posters. There are plenty of kickass examples of bands who break this rule on purpose and it totally works! I say go forward with a plan, a reason for your design, and you’ll be more successful!

Try to keep all of your branded materials in the same style - Instagram posts, Twitter banners, Facebook, Pinterest, gig posters, album art - you want it to all look like it belongs to your band. Stick to the same set of fonts and colors and you’ll be off to a very strong start.

Let’s Review:

  • Choose your focus and let it be the most important in your design

  • Pick a legible font for your logo

  • Make sure your smallest font is no less than 12 points

  • When going small, stick to plain, sans serif fonts (NO Jokerman!)

  • Keep it simple - skip the unnecessary design elements

  • Design for your fans

  • Take stock of your band’s brand - gig posters, album artwork, etc.

Now What?

Once you have put all of these ingredients into practice you’ll find some of these rules were just made for your band to break. Well go for it! Any design created with intention and a plan will be so much more successful than any design that is just slapped together. You decide, “hey, this super dated, crazy font is exactly the vibe of my latest album” USE IT with intention. You think, “Hey - I know I’m only supposed to use a few different design elements but I want that over-the-top Lisa Frank binder look” - if that’s your style, your aesthetic, GO FOR IT! I’m here to teach you some foundational rules so you can go out there and break them with a plan. 

Looking for some specific font suggestions for your band? Just pop in the comments and tell me about your band, genre, and fans and I’ll give you 5 great free fonts to try out.