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How to Design a Beautiful Graphic POD T-Shirt in Canva

How to Design a Beautiful Graphic POD T-Shirt in Canva main article image
Posted on February 21, 2021 by Helen Montgomery
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In this article you will learn to create a graphical t-shirt design in the cloud-based graphic design app Canva. You’ll do it by revising one of Canva’s pre-designed templates to make it completely unique — and beautiful — while saving time and effort. You’ll also get workflow and Print-On-Demand (POD) design tips to help you get your t-shirt business up and running quickly. 

Why Would Experienced Designers Use Canva?

Whether you’re an absolute beginner or a seasoned designer, you’ll find Canva to be one of the most useful tools in your design toolbox. In the competitive world of POD-based business, Canva can be your secret weapon for building an inventory of attractive designs quickly. It’s filled with tools, such as its branding kit, for streamlining your workflow without being tied to your desktop computer. That’s why even experienced designers, who are fluent in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, use Canva daily.

Are you constantly multi-tasking, traveling, or dealing with kids and family responsibilities while working from home? Then you’ll find yourself reaching for Canva all the time. Because it’s cloud-based and responsive, Canva is often the fastest way to create and save a draft of a design concept on your phone, iPad, laptop or Chromebook. With the Canva phone app, you can save quick t-shirt ideas whenever and wherever inspiration strikes, especially when a device with lots of memory or system resources isn’t handy.

Canva is Ideal for Newbie Designers

If you’re a beginner, you can use Canva’s suite of tools to design everything you need to start a POD business. That includes your initial inventory of t-shirt creations, plus banners and logos, and even Pinterest and Instagram posts, all while saving both time and money. 

You’ll save time, because Canva has a much lower learning curve than Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer. Are you familiar with Microsoft Word/Powerpoint, or Pages/Keynote on MacOS? Then you’ll find that many of Canva’s basic functions and keyboard shortcuts are similar. Just follow the steps in this article and “learn by doing.” You’ll probably master all the Canva essentials you need for t-shirt design in just an hour or two. 

You’ll also save money, because you can test drive Canva with a free account. Take your time, get comfortable with the interface, and then upgrade to Pro to unlock the features we’ll be using in this tutorial, such as downloading with a transparent background.

Ready to start the tutorial? Before you begin, you’ll need to get some information from your POD company: t-shirt image file requirements.  

Get Your POD-Specific T-Shirt Design Dimensions

There is no shared “industry standard” for t-shirt design templates. Each print shop will have its own file requirements, with surprisingly large variations from one printer to another. There’s a good reason for this: each printer knows which dimensions and resolutions are going to work best with its equipment, inks, and sublimation processes. In other words, a design that works beautifully for Printer A’s machinery and ink may be too large, small or pixelated to work with Printer B’s setup.

Here are some t-shirt length/width pixel dimensions from a few POD companies (current as of the date of this article). As you can see, some printers require specs that are double those of other printers! 

  • Amazon Merch: 4500 x 5400
  • Printful: 3600 x 4800
  • Redbubble: 2400 x 3200
  • TShirtGang: 2200 x 3000
  • Printify: 4500 × 5700 (In Canva, you’ll need to settle for a shorter design, since Canva’s maximum image length is 5500 pixels.)

So to ensure quality — and to avoid having your beautiful design rejected when you try to upload it  — design within a Canva file that is set up for your POD company’s dimensions. 

Workflow Tip: Go to your POD company’s website, log into your account, and get the t-shirt pixel dimensions. Save them in a file or note-taking app that you can sync across all your devices so you can access them later.

Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Canva’s DPI Limitations

Some experienced designers shy away from Canva because its DPI (Dots Per Inch) is set by default to 96 for PNG images, with no option to increase it. And it’s true that POD companies usually require transparent PNGs of 150-300 DPI. Canva does allow you to download a high resolution PDF of your design, but T-shirt printers can’t work with PDFs, which don’t preserve transparency. 

Among the dozens of POD companies, a few have interfaces that will automatically resample the DPI of lower resolution PNGs. But some of the biggest, such as Amazon Merch, will only accept a 300 DPI file. Don’t let that stop you from using Canva, though, because there’s a simple and free workaround.

After you download your transparent PNG design from Canva, just use the DPI converter offered by the video editing site Clideo. There’s no need to set up an account with your email to use the tool. Simply upload your PNG to Clideo, select 300 DPI, click the button, wait a moment, and download your new high res file. Clideo preserves the original dimensions and transparency, so it’s all done in just a few clicks: https://clideo.com/dpi-converter

Of course you can use onboard tools if you have access to them. On a Mac desktop or Macbook, you can change the DPI of your Canva design using Preview’s Tools > Adjust Size (just be sure to check the resample option). Or you can use Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer. But if you’re on the road, or just want to save time and system resources, the Clideo DPI converter does the job.

Now let’s get to the fun part: designing!

Step 1: Create a new design in Canva

Log into your Canva account. Then click the “Create a design” button in the upper right of the screen.

Look below all the suggested designs, and click the “Choose Custom Size” button.

Type in the width and height recommended by your POD company. Let’s make a design for TShirtGang, a reliable POD company that specializes in t-shirt printing. Enter 2200 x 3000 and click “Create new design.”

Now you have a new blank canvas that’s just the right size.

Step 2: Choose a simple template in your niche

See that pane on the left? Canva opens it automatically for you, and it’s filled with all kinds of templates. Today we’re going to design a commemorative bridesmaids t-shirt, and even though we’ll customize it heavily, starting with a template is a quick way to jump start your creativity.

You could spend quite a bit of time scrolling through all of the templates. But since Canva allows you to search for a niche, let’s do that to save some time. Canva’s search tends to work best with broader terms, so we’ll type in “bride t-shirt.” 

Canva will show you some nice, simple t-shirt templates. Which one to choose? Look for these three characteristics:

  • Plenty of white space
  • Short text
  • Simple graphics

“The Bride’s Besties” looks good. The saying is very brief, so it’s ideal for a t-shirt. There’s plenty of space on the canvas. And there are just a few simple icons, which will be easy to move or replace later.

T-Shirt Design Tip: If you’re new to t-shirt design, stick with very short phrases. Why? The shorter the phrase:

  • The more options you’ll have for selecting a t-shirt friendly font (more on that below).
  • You won’t need to do lots of finicky resizing to fit a long phrase into the allowed space.
  • The text will be easy to see on a mockup. 

Bonus Design Tip: Avoid rectangles, squares, long straight lines or boxes. Why? Even experienced t-shirt printers may not always align a box or straight line perfectly. Your POD company will probably replace a misaligned shirt for free, but handling issues like this is a hassle and time waster. Simply eliminate this potential problem — and unnecessary bad reviews — in the design phase.

Now click on “The Bride’s Besties” template. It will be automatically loaded into your blank canvas.

Step 3: Give your t-shirt design a new file name

It’s time to rename your design file to something unique and logical. 

Click File in the upper left menu. A new pane will open. Click the pencil icon next to the “Untitled Design” name.

Delete the old name and type in a new one. Think of a name that will make it easy to locate in your Canva account later. Be sure to hit enter after you have typed it in.

Workflow Tip: This is a good time to decide on a naming convention for your Canva files. Canva allows you to search all your designs, so be sure to include identifier words in the title. Here is one method, though feel free to modify to suit your preferences:

Tee + Niche + 2-3 Words from Slogan + Version

So in this case, we’ll name the file:

Tee-Bridal-The-Brides-Besties-V1

You could also include color and style words. For example, if your design is for a premium women’s t-shirt with pink graphics, your file name might be:

Womens-Premium-Tee-Bridal-Brides-Besties-Pink-Womens-V1

Bonus Workflow Tip: Canva automatically saves your work. Yes, you can give your fingers a break from manually hitting Control+S to preserve your changes! 

Step 4: Find a beautiful graphic on Creative Fabrica to embellish your design

Let’s replace the little stars on this template with some beautiful graphics from Creative Fabrica. Unconventional “boho” (bohemian) style weddings have become quite popular, especially for younger couples. We’ll target that market and add some boho graphics to our t-shirt.

Log into your Creative Fabrica account and do a search for “boho wedding.”

To filter out brushes, presets, plugins and extensions, scroll down to the image Categories and click “Illustrations.”

Creative Fabrica will now show mostly graphics and image packs. Some nice options here! The eye-catching, cheerful colors of that Boho 25 Elements Watercolor Wedding Pack on the right look promising. Select that one.

Now you’re taken to the page on Creative Fabrica with some details provided by the artist. The sample images are so pretty! We just need to check for a few things:

  • Is there a Commercial License? Check! (Make sure you properly read through Creative Fabrica’s commerical license for POD on beforehand)
  • Does the package include transparent PNGs? Check!
  • Are the images 300 DPI? Check!
  • Are they large enough to work on a t-shirt? Check!

Before you download this package, be sure to do two things:

  • Follow the designer. Creative Fabrica will send you email alerts when the designer releases new items.
  • Add to your Favorites. 

T-Shirt Design Tip: Keep these things in mind when selecting graphics for t-shirts:

  • Look for transparent PNGs. While it’s possible to remove the background from a JPG, it’s also extra work. And the results aren’t always successful. 
  • Look for 300 DPI. You’ll get the best results when you start with a higher resolution image.
  • Look for image sizes of at least 4 inches, and preferably larger. Again, starting with a larger image means a higher quality print on the final product.
  • Look for images that would be recognizable from a distance, without lots of fussy details. Try to imagine how the graphic will appear from several feet to several yards away.

After downloading this file from Creative Fabrica, unzip it. 

The next step is to select an image or two to add to our design.

Step 5: Edit the Canva template graphics.

First, let’s remove the little stars to make room for our pretty boho images. You can click on each star and hit the Backspace/Delete key to remove each one separately. Or if you hold down the shift key while clicking each star, Canva will group them and you can delete them all at once, like this:

If you delete some of the type by mistake, just click the “Undo” icon at the top of the screen and it will come right back:

Now you have this canvas to work with.

Let’s upload a few of our boho images to Canva. Click the Upload icon on the far left, and then the “Upload media” button, like this:

Canva allows you to upload from your device, Google Drive, Dropbox, or even Facebook/Instagram.

After selecting the images and clicking the “save” or “open” button on your computer, Canva will store them in your account, like this:

Flowers are such a big part of every wedding and would be very appropriate for this design. So let’s add the yellow flowers to our design. When you click on the smaller one, it will automatically appear on the canvas.

Because Canva placed the flower right in the middle of our design, and underneath the type, you may find it difficult to select the flower to move it. The easiest way to grab it is to click the “Position” tab in the upper right, and select “To front.” 

This makes it super easy to move and then resize the flower.

Let’s add the other two images. We’ll repeat the steps above, clicking each image, bringing it to the front, and moving it. For now, the sprig of flowers has been placed on the top right, with the second flower on the bottom right.

To balance the design, we’ll copy the sprig of flowers, position it on the bottom left, and then flip it horizontally as shown below:

We will do more with these floral elements in a moment. But first, let’s change the font to something that will really make our design stand out.

Step 6: Edit the Canva template font

Now we will find a font that coordinates nicely with our pretty boho flowers. 

Canva’s text boxes operate similarly to text boxes in Microsoft Word or Powerpoint. In this template, each word is in its own text box. Hold the Shift key down while clicking on each to select them all. Then click the font box in the upper left.

Now you’ll see a font selection pane. A handwriting or script font would look nice with our flowers. 

Click “Handwriting” and scroll down. To test out a font option, just click the font and Canva will show you a preview of what it looks like in your design. Don’t worry if some of the letters are cut off. You’ll be able to adjust them in a moment. 

Let’s select the font called Sunday. It has a quaint, “shabby chic” feel, while still being easy to read.

That works! Now you will do some resizing of the “Besties” text box. Click on a corner to select it.

Then grab one of the edge lines and pull to the right to make “Besties” fit properly.

With this new font, the text boxes are bunched together a little too much. They need just a slight amount of repositioning. So click each text box, then move until you like the placement. You can use your mouse to drag, or even the arrow keys to nudge in tiny increments. 

It feels like those words should be a brighter color, don’t you think? Select all three text boxes as you did before, holding down the shift key as you click on each one. Then click the font color button at the top. A color selection pane will open to your left.

See how Canva generates pre-selected color chips based on the colors in the flowers? This is an easy way to select colors that won’t clash with your images. The bright coral from the first flower image should work nicely. Click on it, and the type will automatically change color.

T-Shirt Design Tip: For t-shirt designs, avoid fonts with extremely thin strokes or terminals (serifs) or elaborate ornamentation. Words that are printed on fabric need to remain readable even after repeated washings, and the thinnest parts of a font may not hold up. 

Now let’s tweak the positioning and arrangement of the flowers.

Step 7. Adjust the size and placement of the images

We’ll make a few small adjustments to the flowers now. We’ll tilt the flower at the top using the rotation tool that appears underneath the image. Click on it, then turn it.

We’ll make it a little smaller as well. Just grab a corner of the image box, and resize as you would in Powerpoint or Word. 

Next, we’ll repeat the rotation with the sprig of flowers at the top.

Now we’ll make it larger and move it closer to the flower.

Repeat with the other sprig of flowers and the large yellow rose. Try not to overlap the graphics with the text. Here we’ve made the yellow rose smaller, rotated it slightly, and resized and positioned the sprig of flowers just as we did at the top of the design:

Now you have a cute, fun design! 

T-Shirt Design Tip: When designing a t-shirt, try to avoid overlapping graphics over and under fonts. When elements are separate, you keep the words readable, make the overall design easier to grasp, and avoid tricky ink sublimation issues in print shop production. 

Let’s wrap up the final steps.

Step 8: Download as a transparent PNG, then upscale in Clideo

When you create in Canva, you can make the background color the same as the t-shirt you’re designing. So if your market prefers black t-shirts, just change the canvas background to black to get an accurate visualization of your design. 

Yet you can’t use an image with a colored background, since POD companies require transparent PNGs for t-shirts. Luckily, Canva makes it easy to download your design as a transparent PNG without adjusting the background. Simply click the Download button in the upper right of the screen, check the “Transparent Background” box, and download. Like this:

Now go to the Clideo DPI converter.

Upload your design. Be sure to select 300 DPI before you hit the “Convert” button.

When Clideo is finished, download the new file. Don’t worry about the black background. It simply indicates that the transparency was preserved.

Now you can upload the 300 DPI design to your POD company. Here’s what the TShirtGang  mockup looks like:

Congratulations on creating a beautiful POD t-shirt design with the help of Canva and Creative Fabrica!


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Comments
3 Comments
User

June 25, 2021

omg, FINALLY! I couldn't find an answer anywhere for how to get a 300 DPI image from Canva while keeping the transparent background. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Valentina24

February 22, 2021

Wow, this is a very helpful tutorial! Canva is indeed awesome, I've been using it now for quite some time, and it's super easy to use.

Linnea

February 22, 2021

Great article! Love your design and it looks great with the floral designs. Canva is my go-to software when it comes to image editing.


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