Fonts!… What matters and why when designing your artwork for T-Shirt Printing


‘A picture paints a thousand words’………why?

Well, this is your brain working and deploying its imagination while accessing stored references to make sense of what it sees. Because your brain is super complex and capable of abstract and concrete thinking this allows us simultaneous and multiple perspectives when analysing what we see. This is what creates those ‘thousand words’.

When your brain receives information about the fonts and typfaces it is viewing, it will judge them against context and personal aesthetic preferences.

Context simply means ‘does this fit with the overall look and feel of the idea being conveyed?’ Is the font appropriate to the underlying message?

Personal aesthetic preferences are simply what the viewer has a like and a dislike for. This is always influenced by what is happening in the design world at the time, fonts like everything else, go in and out of fashion. Our taste and preferences are affected by the media we deliberately or unwittingly consume each day.

There are a number of concepts that are important to know when thinking about fonts.

Firstly, the word FONT is the umbrella title for the TYPFACES that exist under the font hierarchy.

For example, the font known as ARIAL is further defined into different typefaces such as BOLD, ITALIC, BLACK etc….

Fonts are also split into SERIF and SANS SERIF styles. This is old skool speak for with or without those curly and fiddly little bits that exist at the beginning and end of letters.

SERIF fonts are usually used in the body or main text of publications or designs, or if the mood of the design is supposed to convey ‘antique’ or ‘gravitas’.

SANS SERIF fonts are often used for headlines or ‘display’ type graphics such as posters

T shirt designs fall into a number of categories; Fashion, promotional, utilitarian and brand. (There may be others)

When designing artwork for promotional T shirts, you are mostly going to need to think ‘DISPLAY’ as these T shirts are often fast moving vehicles to convey a statement.

A statement can project volume or can be conveyed as a whisper depending on the typeface and proportions.

This is a good example of context. Which font do you think fits the context most appropriately? This will depend on the objective. Do you want to shout your message or this this an intimate exchange of information? Are you loud about your love or are you quiet and personal?

Now consider this one in the context of a road sign.

Which one is most appropriate? I don’t think there is much disagreement, the statement needs to be shouted!!!!

Statements like ‘DANGER’ in a utilitarian context are not usually the victims of fashion but typefaces definitely move in and out favour for media and brand design statements.

The current mood is for hand drawn looking ‘hipster’ or ‘vintage’ fonts in many brand or digital contexts……

These are soft and seductive, intimate even…….some typfaces become synonymous with the decade they inhabit.

Here are examples of 1980’s fonts which would seem out of place unless the design objective was retro irony……

……in a cultural landscape of disco, pacman and Miami Vice these were the fashionable fonts of the time.

‘Hand drawn’ will not be flavour of the month forever and this might affect how you design your T shirt artwork.

It is difficult to know what will emerge as the next font trend but it is this authors view that there will be a culturally renewed interest in space travel/exploration in the next 10 years with private corporations taking over this previously government owned sector. See Elon Musk.

This will permeate into our consciousness.

Perhaps there will be a hybrid transition from ‘hand drawn’ into ‘space exploration’ aesthetics.

This cocktail perhaps will give way to a space travel 2020 AD where clean geometry and precision become the antithesis to the hand drawn feel that has pervaded the 21st centuries teen years.

The truth is that the future is unknown.

It will be written by you and me and people like us…… fonts and typefaces that might be centuries old or yet to be conceived.

If you are designing a message, don’t be lazy.

Think about the context and think about the personality of your font.

Just like people, they can be loud and to the point, they can be playful and fun, they can be totally yesterday darling.

Final word though…………screen-printers will have a real drama with those serify little buggers if your text is too small.

Author: Arron Harnden


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