Shop Talk

Michael Essek: Common Mistakes That Peg You as an Amateur T-shirt Designer


Here at Redbubble, we read Michael Essek’s Print-on-Demand tips regularly, so we’re delighted to be featuring some of his advice here today. If you like what you see, he has even more insights on his website. You can check them out at www.michaelessek.com


After doing a live design critique session in my private Facebook group, where members submit t-shirt designs for me to review after which I review them and suggest ways to improve in the future, I noticed several different issues, so I thought I’d share them with you all today.

Mistake #1: Inconsistent Style

This is when the various graphic elements of a design don’t ‘match’. For example – one part of the design looks hand-drawn and sketch-like, and another part looks like vector clip art that has been ‘dropped’ on top. This often happens because the designer has combined artwork from different sources, or has tried to add additional details on top – but hasn’t done a good job of getting the styles to look consistent. The result is amateur-looking artwork. :(

This can damage your potential sales, because it’s visually confusing for the viewer – and confused customers don’t buy!

The solution: Draw all your various elements in one sitting, within the same software, with the same settings. Don’t drop in elements from other pieces of art, unless absolutely necessary. And if you need to do some edits to your art at a later date, then try to match the style of illustration as closely as possible, so that it all looks like a single coherent image when finished.

In short – just ask yourself – ‘does this t-shirt design look like it was designed in one ‘sitting’ – by one person?’ If not, you may have a problem.

Mistake #2: It Isn’t Obvious Enough

Is the meaning or joke behind the design immediately recognisable by a viewer? You may think so, but often we’re too close to the art to take an objective view. The easiest way to check this is to ask a friend, family member or colleague. I don’t even give my wife a warning or any context – I just hold up my laptop and wait for a reaction. I can tell within seconds if she ‘gets’ my latest design or not.

(Of course sometimes you may need to ask the right person. I wouldn’t show some internet pop culture-based design to my grandma and expect her to ‘get it’. But if it’s a joke about coffee, or pizza, or something more generic like that, then I probably would expect a smirk or something).

Also: with a design that contains text and graphics, your text may be easily read and understood – but not necessarily the graphics. In this case you need to ask others if the graphics are clear and obvious (ask them to describe what they see). If not – you may need to revisit your artwork.

Mistake #3: Not Pushing Your Concepts

If you’re looking to make sales through organic search, your design must reach out and grab the viewer. That means your underlying concept must be new, unique and strong.

For example – you might have a nice phrase, a funny saying – something very witty and clever. And that may be enough. But when the competition hots up, you’ll need to do better than relying solely on your copy or text.

For example: do your graphic elements sufficiently support the text? Would your design make any kind of sense if you removed the text entirely? If not, it may be a sign that you could do better.

You may be able to ‘push’ the concept behind your graphic further, to create something with more ‘punch’ – something that carries more meaning and weight and better attracts and holds the attention of the viewer.

Don’t settle! Push those concepts as much as you can, until the pips squeak.

Until next time,
Michael Essek


Thanks for reading and of course, a big thank you to Michael Essek for sharing his helpful tips with us. We hope this blog has inspired you to create more. If you’re ready to go, upload now.


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