6 Tips for Custom Company Shirts That Look Great, Feel Great and Drive Profits in 2019
January 26, 2021
Every company needs company shirts. Full stop.
From the smallest startups to the biggest corporations, company shirts bring legitimacy to your business. Uniforms bring professionalism, consistent branding, and if done right, style points. For employees, they bring team cohesion along with feeling valued and looking good. Plus, hey– a free shirt.
But what makes for a great company shirt? And where can it go wrong?
If you’re in the market for custom company shirts, this post will provide all kinds of info about:
• How to choose the right apparel
• How to know what print locations to go with
• How to choose the right colors
• How to include the right information
• How to create a design that works
• How to order for a group of different sizes
Plus a whole lot more pro tips to make sure you come away with a company shirt you’re proud of.
For our example order, I’m using a company that I completely made up. Let’s say “Big Jim” at Leer Plumbing has a business card and that’s about it. So it’s time to get professional– and get some company shirts. This is where our journey begins.
Big Jim sits down at his computer after a nice home-cooked meal and pulls up our Design Studio to create his new company logo shirt. He searches through the hundreds of files on his desktop, finds the logo his cousin designed for him, and uploads it.
Within minutes, he has arranged a simple design and picked out a shirt. Time to place the order. And have a beer.
But wait. Does this work? Or could it be a lot better? Let’s use this order as a jumping-off point to go through my six tips, applying them to this hypothetical company. You listening, Big Jim? Let’s do this.
1. How to choose the right garment for your company shirts
Your first choice is probably the most important one, as it’s what you and your team will be wearing every day– while you work. That last part is crucial.
What you want is a shirt that hits the basic trifecta: appropriate, comfortable, and looks great. But with so many options, making this choice can be a daunting task. You might find yourself spacing out.
The best way to narrow it down is by asking the following series of questions. The answers to these will help us with a lot of the decisions to be made in putting together our example order:
• What is the purpose of these shirts? (Uniform, promotional giveaways, casual?)
• Who will be wearing them? (Executives, middle management, laborers?)
• How often will they be worn? (Every day, single event, special occasions?)
• Under what conditions? (Outdoors in the heat? Or temperature-controlled environments?)
• What is the budget per shirt? (Can you afford to get something higher quality?)
Let’s check back with Big Jim and see how these questions apply to his order. The purpose? To be a uniform. Who will wear them? Laborers. How often? Everyday. Under what conditions? Sometimes hot. What’s the budget? Middle range.
Big Jim is about to order a standard 100% cotton long-sleeve: the Gildan® 240. Is this the right shirt?
While a T-shirt is appropriate for this type of company, and cotton may be the right fabric option for its comfort and breathability, this particular item is 6 oz weight (per square foot), which is on the heavier side. That means it can get hot. And with cotton being moisture-absorbing, it can get sweaty.
So this shirt fabric is probably the wrong choice.
The long sleeves don’t help either, as they trap heat. Plus, sleeves tend to get in the way. What’s the first step to take when you’re about to get to work? Rolling up your sleeves. Why would a plumber need sleeves in the first place? Big Jim’s crew members often find themselves elbow-deep in a toilet.
Let’s skip the sleeves on this one, and instead go with…
A much better choice at the same price point is the short sleeve, 100% cotton Hanes® Nano-T®. Unlike the Gildan®, it’s made of ringspun cotton; a fabric type that produces better prints because of its smooth surface.
It’s also a lighter weight at only 4.5 oz and has a tear-away tag. More comfortable, less sweat.
We have achieved the trifecta! You in, Big Jim?
Company shirts for management, salespeople, service, and retail
Here’s a quick look at some other garments choices, mainly polos and button-ups, which would be appropriate to customize for higher-ups in the company, or for the customer-facing side of businesses such as retail, customer service, restaurants and bars, outside sales, and service jobs for special events such as caterers, DJs, photographers, etc.
The reason I don’t have to spend much time talking about these company shirts is simple: there’s one way to customize them that I would recommend above all others: embroidery on the left chest.
Because of the different fabric types, printing on them can have mixed results. And by mixed I mean bad.
A nice simple embroidered left chest logo is the way to go. Classy, to the point, and will work on any fabric. You may need to have your logo simplified by our Art Department (no additional charge), and you may want to omit extraneous info, like the phone number and web site– they won’t read well anyway.
Click on the images above to go to their product page and get more info. They are just a small sample of the items we offer. And yes we have models with faces.
If you can’t find what you need on our website, that doesn’t mean we can’t get it. Contact one of our Project Specialists today– they are experts at finding the right garment for your specific needs.
2. How to choose the right print locations
When it comes to choosing your print location, there are good reasons why the standards are standard– and I go into detail about that in a previous post about screen printing size and placement. It’s important to know them before trying something alternative.
Going back to our example order, Big Jim’s design is set up as a full front, and while this is a standard location for a typical T-shirt, it’s not necessarily best for a work shirt.
The standard for a company shirt like this would be the left chest and full back combination. The back of a tee tends to be better as an ad than the front, and in this case, for a plumber, it’s the backside that gets the most views (as shown in Big Jim’s cartoon character image), and the left chest is just the classic place to put your logo.
Big Jim’s design has too much information and details to go on the left chest, so I simplified it down just the company name, which is also a standard. Having the phone number included on the left chest would be redundant.
An extra step of customizing these company shirts would be to have your employee names embroidered on the right chest.
This adds a personal touch and provides a head start on familiarizing customers with their name. Being on a first-name basis can go a long way towards establishing rapport– and getting better reviews. What do you think, Jim?
Big Jim says he will be hiring new people soon and also isn’t sure of everyone’s size, so he prefers to not get names put on the shirts. Plus he feels that workers may be going through multiple shirts each as they tend to get stained or damaged.
(Yes, I’m putting words in his mouth because I made him up and he can say whatever I want him to.)
For your company, you may want embroidered names. It’s an especially great decision for a sales team, or for people in the service industry such as wait staff. But not for someone named Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff.
Embroidered names are more affordable than you might think, so don’t let cost be a factor. Get in touch with one of our sales reps for a quote or use our Design Studio to calculate one right away.
3. How to choose the right colors for your company shirts
But take it all with a grain of salt, and don’t go changing your brand colors if they’re already well established. There are simple reasons for choosing certain colors over others.
In the case of Big Jim the plumber, is ash gray the right choice?
Remember that plumbing is a dirty job, and on any given day, a plumber can encounter all kinds of grease, grime, and things I don’t have to mention. On a lighter color shirt, especially white, any dirt or stains can be embarrassingly apparent.
No one wants to see that.
So although ash gray is a better choice than white, you run into the same problem, just to a lesser degree.
Simple solution: Choose a dark shirt color. The darker, the better.
Brilliant, I know. It took me 15 years in the business to gain this kind of knowledge.
Let’s say Big Jim doesn’t want black or charcoal, so let’s go with the classic and noble navy. Now his choice of black ink will not contrast enough against navy, so we’ll switch the ink color to white.
Looks good, but there’s something that happened with the color change that needs to be fixed. Do you notice anything about it that’s off? If you’re thinking the cartoon image is now negative, good job.
How do we fix it? It needs to be inverted.
What is inverting?
Simply put, inverting is switching an image from positive to negative, or vice versa. Here’s how it should look:
We have a function in our Design Studio called “Switch to Negative” that can do this, but it’s limited in the sense that it can only do the entire image. So you end up with a big white (or black) box that you don’t want to be printed.
What to do? Unless you have some Photoshop skills at home, the solution here is to ask our art department to invert part of your image to make it look correct.
This typically will involve adding a thin white outline to define the edge. It only takes us a couple minutes and we don’t charge extra. So just ask for inversion in your order notes, or let your sales rep know you want it.
Full color vs limited colors
Now that we have our shirt color and the inverting thing locked down, let’s talk about ink color choices. We do offer “full color” printing and it’s easy to think: the more colors the better!
But I’d warn people to be careful here, for several reasons.
Let’s say the original cartoon that Big Jim had for his logo was full color and looked like this:
Sure, we can print that. But here’s the thing: It adds significant cost to the order.
In fact, each additional color will increase the cost. In this case, we would be adding seven extra colors, plus the white.
That’s a lot. And for what?
While it can be a bit more eye-catching, it doesn’t add any real meaning or anything to the brand. It could even take away some of the professionalism by looking too cartoony. Here’s our example order with a full-color print:
This is when you want to think about who your target market or demographic is. Going full color might be a good idea if you run a daycare center or a burger joint. Or if you have a logo that is only recognizable by its array of colors.
Or maybe you just love colors. Cool. But for a plumbing company, there’s no need to go all-out on the colors.
Adding just a light blue would be nice, but it could look off with light blue type but a monotone character. And we wouldn’t make him light blue too. So in this case, less is more. And when it comes to spending money, less is less.
There’s another good reason not to go crazy with the number of colors: the fewer colors, the more likely it will match easily with the other parts of a person’s outfit. This is important to people. So I’ve been told.
For that same reason, stay away from bright, bold colors if possible. At least not the main color. For example, if your company colors are red, orange, and brown, make the shirt color brown and the logo red and orange.
People tend to look better in the darker, more muted colors: blues, blacks, grays. Think of men’s suit colors. Not everyone looks good in bright red or orange, but everyone looks good in navy blue.
Pro tip: Using halftones
So we’re back to one color, but how about adding some different tones of that single color? We can do that.
They’re called halftones, and it’s basically just turning shades of gray into fields of different sized dots that are so small that the human eye recognizes it as variations in tone. Halftones are everywhere if you look close enough. If you’ve ever peered at a comic book through a magnifying glass you know what I’m talking about.
The other nice thing is that they will take on a lighter shade of the shirt color they are printed on. In this example of printing halftones of white ink on a navy shirt, we get lighter shades that look gray/blue. If there were also forest shirts in this order, the lighter shade would be olive.
Our Art Dept sets these up all day every day, and we take care of everything. If you want to see some examples, we have a running series on our Instagram page called the Weekly Halftone if you’d like to peep some examples.
Halftones are relatively easy to accomplish on our end, they don’t cost anything extra, and they add dimension to your design, so why not? It also helps with definition, depth, and contrast. Let’s go with it.
Note: I don’t recommend using halftones for type unless you add a white outline. The reason is that those little dots don’t make a very good edge. It ends up looking fuzzy. Ask the Art Dept for assistance if you want to use halftones for type.
High-visibility safety colors
If your company does construction, contracting, work on or near roads, or any type of job where you need your workers to be visible, you will want to go with safety colors. They are essentially fluorescent colors; also known as day-glow or neon.
The primary color of this group is called Safety Green (although it looks like Fluorescent Yellow). Safety Orange is popular as well. These colors are very bright and highly visible, even from a distance, and no doubt have saved countless lives.
Many of the major brands have this color, but if you don’t see it, just ask. Keep in mind that sometimes the safety colors will be a 50/50 cotton/poly blend, such as the Jerzees® Dri-Power™ Active T-shirt. You can get this safety baseball cap to go with it, which features reflective stripes as well. It’s the ‘belt and suspenders’ of safety combos.
And then there’s the safety trifecta: green (yellow), orange, and reflective stripes.
4. How to write a message that works for your company shirts
In its most basic sense, a T-shirt design is a message. As a business, it’s crucial to know what message you’re trying to convey and to put that message out there with clarity and confidence. What message is Big Jim’s design conveying?
First, let’s take a look at the most obvious message, which is the tagline in quotes: “Plumbers do it at the crack of dawn.”
It’s a clever pun and appeals to a certain demographic (me) but what’s it doing for the business? And what’s it saying to anyone without a silly sense of humor? It might read as crude, or at least lacking a certain level of professionalism.
So what should it say? We could use the other bit of info from the business card: “Family Owned and Operated Since 1995”.
It’s a step up. It does establish a sense of trust and gives some additional information. But otherwise, it’s a passive statement and somewhat cliche. What you really want to do is give the reader an instruction, also known as a call-to-action.
What is a call-to-action?
A call-to-action, or “CTA” if you’re in marketing, is a way to take a potential customer a step closer to doing business with you by explicitly telling them what to do next. Apparently, people love being told what to do, because you hear and see these everywhere, from TV commercials to magazines to the sides of buses:
Pick up the phone now! Start saving today! Get your life back!
They can even tell you what not to do:
Don’t delay! Don’t settle for less! Stop wasting money on products that don’t work!
What would be a good call-to-action for your brand? What do you want your customer to do? What’s their first step?
Let’s say Big Jim just wants people to call him up so he can get the ball rolling. How about… Call the best– flush the rest?
No. But that is a little better. What would really make it effective is adding some value for the customer as well. What do they get out of it? How about a free estimate? Boom.
Now we have his call-to-action: Call us today for a free estimate! Simple, clear, professional.
5. How to create a design that works for your company shirts
Now we get to the overall design. You might be thinking: NOW we get to the design?
Each tip so far has been based on simply setting up the order correctly, or I should say, ideally. But what if the customer wants to rethink the whole thing? What would we do if we were to start from scratch? Do we even want to?
There’s something to be said for legacy designs and logos that have been around since a company’s start. But even the most established brands need to refresh occasionally. Some companies have gone through crazy transformations.
Knowing when to give yourself a refresh is an important decision, especially if you have a well-established brand. I’d submit that right before a major promotional purchase (such as a big T-shirt order) is a great time to do it.
That being said, the more established your brand is– especially if your logo is iconic– the more time and effort you should spend on a redesign. Don’t do it just to do it, especially if you have name or image recognition.
Let’s take a look at our example company, and let’s say that Leer is not a very well established brand (as you might guess).
Where did we leave off with this order? We fixed the garment type, the print locations, the shirt color, ink color, and the message. Now it’s time to evaluate the design itself– which includes the image, the type, and the information as well.
It looks pretty good for a local, mom-and-pop-type company. It’s simple and to the point, with no glaring mistakes, and would probably work fine. But could it be better? Could we take this company to another level with a new look?
Remember what I was saying about their previous tagline being crude and unprofessional? The same could be said about the cartoon plumber image, complete with butt crack.
Sure, it’s cute– but is that what you want your company seen as?
Let’s say Big Jim is also setting up a new website, plus a new business card, and maybe even a hat, with money he won at the racetrack on a horse named “Pipe Dream” (hey, if I’m just making stuff up).
Sounds like it’s the perfect time for a new design!
Whether you are doing the design yourself or hiring someone else, there should be a few different versions to decide between. If not, you’re doing it wrong.
I highly recommend trying a variety of typefaces, clip art, layouts, and combinations before making your final choice. Keep it black and white first– you can always add the colors and bells and whistles later.
So here’s a set of quick designs for Big Jim to decide between:
With these variations, I was going for a strong and straightforward professional look leaving no doubt as to what the company does, how established they are, and the level of quality to expect. I chose a couple of clean, modern fonts that made the designs simple yet stylized.
Using plumbing imagery like wrenches, faucet, plunger, a water drip, and a house makes the business clear, even from a distance. And our new plumber character is looking trim and fit compared to the last one.
One big change to point out is taking out the word “services”, then combining “Leer” with “Plumbing” as the business name. It’s another way to avoid any confusion, and it has a better ring to it. I also included the “Family Owned and Operated” tagline.
Each of these would work well, and oftentimes it comes down to personal taste.
And the personal taste of my invisible friend Big Jim tells him to go with the third one over. (Actually, it was chosen by my colleagues Max and Naj after they carefully deliberated for ten seconds). Let’s roll with it.
The next step is incorporating it into the T-shirt design, with colors and print locations. So here’s my new design, along with a mock-up and some additional notation about the choices:
With this redesign, we have achieved a couple more levels beyond the base trifecta: adding value and effectiveness. What I mean by that is a perceived value has been added to this company by having a strong professional design. And effective in the sense that it works as an ad.
Obviously, what works well for one company might not be right for another, and this is just one example. But hopefully the principles I’m showing you here can extend into different types of company shirts. Your company shirts.
Adding your website to the design
Those of you who read all these blogs posts will know that I’m skeptical about whether anyone ever copies a phone number from a T-shirt. I don’t necessarily dissuade anyone from putting it on there, I’m just skeptical. But a website is different.
Nowadays everyone has a smartphone in their pocket, and they’re much more likely to visit your website before calling your phone number. So have your website in place, and try to get a URL that matches your business name.
Should you add it to the design? If your URL is identical to your business name, you don’t need to print it on the shirt.
For example, let’s say Big Jim was able to get the ideal URL for his business: LeerPlumbing.com. In that case, there’s no need to put that on the shirt because it’s redundant.
People tend to use Google to get to your website, rather than typing the exact URL. That’s why optimizing search results is an integral part of establishing your business these days.
Now let’s say Big Jim couldn’t get LeerPlumbing.com because it was already taken. Uh-oh. Competition.
So if he had to get something weird, like Leer-Plumbing.us, that’s when he would add it to the T-shirt design. And business cards. And his truck. And anything else he can print it on.
It would be crucial to differentiate himself from any similarly-named competition.
6. How to order the right sizes and quantity of company shirts
You made it to my last tip, good job. This last tip is about placing the right order. This can be a big question for a lot of people, and easy to screw up– that’s why a wrote a whole post about size breakdowns for group orders.
For the purpose of this post, I’ll give you the quick version of how this topic relates specifically to company shirts. Follow these simple rules and you won’t screw this up.
Get everyone’s sizes
Sounds simple enough, but easier said than done. What I would suggest is using a spreadsheet to keep track of everything, and a point person to help collect the information.
Some people may not be sure about their size. Have them consult the sizing chart, which you can find on each of our product pages. Here’s the Hanes Nano page for our example order.
We provide a handy visual sizing guide for each product, with real people (who work here!) that looks like this:
If an employee still is unsure, go the extra step (after the required ridicule) and have them measure a shirt they own that fits, then compare it with the actual measurements for the new shirt, which can be found on the same page.
If you’re ordering anything fashion fit make sure to let people know because if they don’t like the more streamlined fit of those types of shirts, they might want to order a size larger than they normally do.
On some, it’s more flattering, on some it’s too tight– it depends on body type and personal preference. Big Jim might want the 3XL after seeing the chart.
Order ladies’ styles for the ladies
There are a couple reasons why they make separate styles for the ladies: one is obviously that their bodies are shaped differently than men. The other is that some ladies prefer a different cut shirt than men’s or unisex. Typically they have shorter sleeves, a more contoured fit, shorter torso length, a more open neckline, and a different sizing formula.
Check to see if the men’s style you’ve chosen has a corresponding ladies’ style; often they do. For our example order, here’s the ladies’ version of the Hanes Nano.
What’s nice about using the corresponding style is that everything will be consistent– other than the cut. So the color will be identical, along with the weight, feel, stitching, etc.
Order more than you think you need
This may seem like a tactic for getting you to order more shirts, but it’s a legit good idea. For one thing, it’s better to have a few extra than being a few short. The extras are great to have in a pinch when an employee loses, stains, or damages their shirt.
And if your business involves doing dirty jobs like plumbing, it’s best to get a few extra shirts for each employee. Maybe more than a few for some people. You know who they are.
On top of that, when you put in a reorder, it’s considered a new order, so the price per item will be higher– especially if you’re placing a much smaller order than the first time.
Bottom line: put together the biggest order you can to reduce the cost per item and avoid having to reorder right away.
Consider matching companion items
Finally, as simple as it is, a T-shirt is a fine uniform. But if you really want to complete the look, consider adding a hat, apron, hoodie, or another companion item.
In the case of our example order, the staff of Leer Plumbing would look great with a matching navy baseball cap. And when it comes to customizing a cap, nothing is better than embroidery.
Printing on a cap is fine, but embroidery is more classy and professional, will last longer, and it’s more affordable than you might think– especially if you order it all together.
Here’s a closer look at what happens to Big Jim’s new logo when we digitize it for embroidery. It will typically mean simplifying the design first to remove details that don’t translate into stitched threads, then the digitizing process happens.
Digitizing involves setting up the proper stitch counts, order, styles, tightness, and colors, optimizing the graphic appearance and textures of the design. Luckily, you don’t need to know any of that stuff. Leave it to the pros.
The first thing to notice about the image above is that there is some detail loss (which is why we want to simplify the logo as much as possible). Keep it simple!
The second thing to be aware of is that the colors might not be identical. Although we have dozens and dozens of thread colors, they don’t always match exactly with their ink counterparts.
If you do need a specific color, such as a Pantone match, we can order it for you. In the case of Leer Plumbing, this light blue color is close enough for Big Jim.
There you have it, my top six tips for customizing great company shirts. For those of you who scrolled to the end, here’s a simple breakdown of the entire post. Look for an infographic coming soon.
- Choose the right garment
• Ask a series of questions to help you decide.
• Go for the trifecta of looking good, feeling comfortable, and being appropriate.
• For executives, always go with left chest embroidery.
- Choose the right print locations
• Unless you have something specific in mind, go with the standards.
• Standard company shirt print location is the left chest and full back combination.
• Left chest print is always a simplified version of the logo or design.
- Choose the right colors
• Avoid lighter colors. Stains are not a good look, especially if they are work shirts for a dirty job.
• Avoid bright or crazy colors as the main garment color, as not everyone looks good in hot pink.
• When choosing between company colors for the shirt, go with the darkest or most muted.
- Write a message that works
• Be aware of what your message says about your company and if it’s aimed at your target market.
• Avoid taglines or statements that are crude, unprofessional, or don’t add any value.
• Use a call-to-action, giving the reader instructions on the next step to becoming a customer.
- Create a design that works
• Consider refreshing your look, as many brands do throughout their history.
• Go for a look that is professional and authoritative, inspiring confidence and trust.
• Follow good design guidelines as far as the number of fonts and colors used.
- Place the proper order as far as sizes and quantity
• Get everyone’s sizes and preferences if possible, and order extras for each employee.
• Order different styles for women (ladies) and children (youth) as they require different cuts.
• Consider adding companion items such as caps, aprons, hoodies, etc.
And remember, if you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to call our sales team, they are the best in the business. You can reach them at 1-800-620-1233 or you can live chat with them. And after you get your great new company shirts printed, make sure to post a photo and share your story in a review!
About the Author
A graduate of the Multimedia program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Imri Merritt is an industry veteran with over 10 years of graphic design and color separations experience in the screen printing industry.