Design Tips: What Software Should You Use To Create Shirt Designs?

by Travis Gentry

So you’ve decided you want to design some T-Shirts, make the big bucks (what we at Shirt.Woot refer to as Binge Money), and retire to Fiji before the age of thirty? That’s a great plan! So where do you get started? How about choosing the right software for you. Let’s take a look at the three design packages most commonly used by the Shirt.Woot community:

Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop CS5: $699 ($199 Student/Teacher Edition)
CS5 Design Standard (including Illustrator): $1,299 ($299 Student/Teacher Edition)
What is it?: Part of Adobe’s Creative Suite, Photoshop is the industry-standard in raster-based) design software.

The Good: Photoshop can be used for far more than just envisioning a fanciful Woot Theme Park or reimagining historical events with animals (vintage Josephus, circa 2006). It’s customizable paint tools make it a great choice for illustration as well. Many of the designs printed here are drawn in Photoshop, typically with the aid of a drawing tablet. It’s is a great choice if you prefer a looser, ‘hand-made’ feel to your design. It also offers some vector capabilities and features Pantone color swatch libraries, which is what we use here at Shirt.Woot.

The Not-So-Good: It’s expensive. Raster-based images can’t be sized up without loss of quality. Illustrator aficionados will thumb their noses at you and your “messy” ways. Clean yourself up, slob.

Adobe Illustrator

Photoshop CS5: $699 ($199 Student/Teacher Edition)
CS5 Design Standard (including Photoshop): $1,299 ($299 Student/Teacher Edition)

What is it?: Illustrator is the industry-standard in vector-based design software.

The Good: Illustrator allows you to create mathematically based vector images that are more precise than raster and lose no quality of image when scaled up or down. This makes it well suited for graphic design in it can be easily scaled for use on a business card or a billboard. It also has stroke tools and brushes that can simulate a more hand drawn style while maintaining the benefits of vector. If precision and cleanliness is your thing, Illustrator might be right up your alley. Plus check this guy out. Crazy, right?

The Not-So-Good: It’s expensive. Requires more left-brain planning and organization and a somewhat steeper learning curve. Your mind will become consumed with thoughts of cleanliness. Is that a stray speck? Kill it!

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)
GIMP 2.6: Freeware

What is it? GIMP is an open source raster based graphics program that runs on Linux, Windows, and OSX.

The Good: It’s free. GIMP is fairly robust and competes with Photoshop’s capabilities on a number of levels, especially for the beginner user. It has channels, layers, masks, custom brushes… pretty much all the basic tools you’d expect from a graphics program – plus plenty of free plug-ins. Did we mention it’s free?

The Not-So-Good: No Pantone libraries. The interface takes some getting used to and is a common complaint even among faithful users (though it’s said to be improving). Can makes something as simple as creating text as complicated as possible. It’s called GIMP.

Those are the three most common names in software we hear our users talking about. Are there any others we missed that are worth a look?