How to Choose the Best Fonts for T-Shirt Designs

Great designs sell t-shirts. There’s nothing outrageous about
that statement – we all know it’s true. In the world of design,
less is usually more. Minimalistic designs can pack more punch
than overly intricate ones.

Well, it’s hard to get more minimalistic than the text-only
design. But “minimalistic” doesn’t mean easier. In fact, when
you have fewer elements to play with, you have to get the most
out of what you do have. For a text-only design, we’re talking
about words and typefaces- or fonts, if you prefer.

The art of using text is called “typography” and this post will
discuss how to choose the best font for your t-shirt designs.

What is Typography?

Let’s Break it Down:

Typography: The art of using text (Example:
Different combinations of typefaces & fonts).

Typeface: The overall appearance and
aesthetic of text (Example: Times New Roman).

Font: A typeface meeting particular size,
weight & treatment requirements (Example: Times New
Roman, Bold, Italicized,
12 pt).

If you’re new to the design industry, you probably
think that there isn’t much to typography. Most of us have
played around in Microsoft Word or some similar application at
some point where all you have to do is highlight some text and
pick a font that looks nice from the list. How hard could it
be?

In reality, typography is a pretty deep subject. Design
students study it in great depth, and some people make a
lifetime’s work out of it. Just like fine art, there are
differing schools of thought, trends and styles, however, that
doesn’t mean you have to dedicate years of your life to study
it before you can make great designs. You’ll just need to do a
little research and play around with different fonts, pairings
and arrangements until you get more experience. To learn
more about font pairing, check out this article from Design for
Founders.

Good Typography Versus Bad Typography

As a casual observer, you recognize bad typography when you see
it. It just looks wrong. Recognizing good typography is a
little harder, because, when it works, you hardly notice it.
Instead, you get the full emotional impact of the design. It
may sound a little out-there to say typography has
an “emotional impact,” but it’s true! A simple choice of
font can make a huge difference to the feel of the text. For
example:

See what we mean?

Picking the right typeface takes more work than you would
imagine – at first. Of course, when you start working on your
own designs, you quickly recognize when it isn’t working. It
can be really frustrating to stare at a computer screen,
wondering why it just doesn’t look right. Most likely, your
design is missing emotional impact. A huge part of getting that
emotional impact is choosing the right font. Each font creates
a different feeling in the observer.

So, What’s the Best Fonts for T-Shirt Designs?

If you’ve come here for a short list of the best fonts for
t-shirt designs, I have bad news for you. There is no such
thing as a “best font.” Every typeface has its time and place:
they all serve to add meaning and interest to your text.
Each font is appropriate for a certain use. Many designers and
brands have their own preferred list of “go-to” fonts, it’s a
part of their house style. There are some benefits to this
approach, mostly because it gives a recognizable and signature
look, but it also saves time looking for new and different
fonts!

However, relying on the same few fonts over and over is risky.
You may rapidly find yourself falling into the trap of being
too predictable. Before long, your designs will start to feel
stale and the public will recognize that. Different styles come
into fashion and go out of fashion all the time, so a serious
designer has to be aware of the trends, but they also have to
keep exploring new styles to avoid getting stale.

In fact, every new design project has its own requirements and
deserves to stand on its own. Even if the design you are
working on is a part of a series. You always have to bring some
fresh elements.

To stay up-to-date with typeface trends, or just to get an idea
of what’s popular right now, check out these resources:

Typewolf Recommendations:
Font Recommendation Top 10 List for 2017

Graphic Design
Junction: 50 Best Free Fonts for 2017

IM Creator: Free
Fresh Fonts 2017

The Design Range: 10
of the Most Prominent Typography Trends in 2017

How to Choose the Right Font for Your Design

Choosing the right font for your design takes some exploration.

First, you have to explore the message you’re trying to get
across. You have to grasp more than the words you are trying to
convey. What is the emotional impact you’re looking for? What
is the appropriate “voice”?

Your design has one job – to get this message and emotion
across to the individual. Good designs succeed, and bad ones
fail.

Only when you understand what you are trying to achieve can you
choose an appropriate font. Luckily, you don’t have to know the
complete history of each font to work out if it’s right for
your design, you can use your own judgment and taste. Of
course, judgment and taste are skills and just like any other
skill, they improve with practice.

The best way to develop your taste and judgment for fonts is to
experiment with different choices. Choosing a font is just one
part of the design process, you’ll still have to experiment
with different combinations, layouts and pairings.
Computers make it very easy to try out thousands of different
variations quickly. You can drag your text around, change the
layout, scale it up and down, and change the font. Keep
experimenting, and save each variation you like.

Design a few options and then come back later and review them
with fresh eyes. You’ll be able to see more clearly which ones
work and which don’t when you step away and forget about them
for a bit. Combining fonts is a very powerful way to strengthen
your message, but remember – a little goes a long way.
Combining too many fonts in a single design is a great recipe
for confusion. Good designs are not confusing. They may appear
chaotic, but there is always a method behind the madness. Your
task is to find the right balance that works with the message
you’re trying to convey.

Where to Get Fonts

Don’t limit yourself to the fonts that are already installed on
your computer. These fonts are usually very general,
recognizable and not tailored to represent a specific meaning
or style. For your t-shirt designs, you’d be better
off exploring font directories for typefaces that really
represent your brand and your message. Here are some that you
can check out:

Creative Market
Fonts (Premium): Get professional quality typeface
bundles that fit your unique style.Dafont (Free): Downloadable fonts in
many different categories & themes.Font Squirrel (Free): Huge library of
downloadable free, high quality fonts.1001 Free Fonts (Free): Huge library
of fonts in different categories.Adobe Typekit (Free &
Premium): Marketplace of fonts for designers.Behance Free
Fonts (Free): Assorted library of free fonts.Font Fabric (Free
& Premium): High quality fonts for designers.Font Library (Free):
Catalogue of free fonts.Google Fonts (Free): Directory
of free designer fonts.The League of Moveable
Type (Free): High quality & free fonts.Lost Type (Free & Premium):
A library of unique typefaces.MyFonts (Premium):
Huge library of professional quality fonts.What the Font (Free): Useful
tool to help you find specific fonts by uploading an image.

Some fonts are free, and others are licensed. That means you
have to pay a fee to use them. Fortunately, there are some
amazing free fonts out there, so you can still get high
quality fonts on a budget.

A word of advice: come up with several designs for your
t-shirt with different fonts before you make a final decision.
You should at least make 2 different “mockups” – but more is
better.

Validating Your Font Choices

Developing your own taste and judgment is an important part of
being a designer, but you should never limit yourself to your
own viewpoint. For a design to succeed, it has to create the
same emotional impact on other people too, that’s why it’s
advised to always get a second opinion from someone you
trust. Try to pick someone reliable, you don’t want opinions
from someone who will shoot down every idea you dream up, and
you don’t want a “yes man” who will praise every single design
no matter what they look like. Pick someone with good taste and
if they’re a part of your target audience, that’s even better.

Conclusion

We’ve only just scratched the surface of typography, and
typography is just one small (but important) part of the
t-shirt design puzzle. If you’re not sure where to start, just
begin by experimenting with typefaces and font pairings
to develop your taste and judgment. No amount of reading
will ever take the place of personal experience.

When you’re happy with your results, then you can start
learning more about the technicalities of design. As your taste
develops, check out the work of other designers. Get
inspired by them and work out how they use the power
of font to enhance their designs.