6 Ideas for Printing Personalized Holiday Gifts That Everyone Will Love
February 24, 2022
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If you’re looking for a great way to surprise your family or staff with customized gifts that are memorable, valuable, and even funny– you’ve come to the right place. I’ve compiled a few ideas to use as a jumping-off point for your own custom holiday gifts to make everyone on your list happy.
First, a couple general tips for ordering customized gifts.
Make it about them
Whatever the design concept, try to make it about the group– not about you or your brand. As tempting as it might be to give everyone a new sweatshirt emblazoned with the logo of your latest business venture or project, you might not get the same joy and appreciation as you would when you follow one of the ideas in this post.
When everyone is included and celebrated, everyone is happy.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to combine a little self-promotion into your custom apparel order. The trick is to make sure it doesn’t seem like a marketing ploy thinly disguised as a gift.
How do you do that? It’s pretty simple. Order a high-quality garment and keep your design/logo subtle enough that they don’t feel like a walking billboard or a spokesperson for your company. Make it about the garment, make it about them.
If you’re a company ordering branded items for all the employees, follow the lead of our CEO, who last year gave employee appreciation gifts, including a T-shirt, a cozy hoodie, a backpack, a notebook, pen, and water bottle. All branded with the RushOrderTees logo, but not overtly– with style and class. Think: small print, low contrast, muted colors, etc.
It made everyone feel appreciated and part of the team, and the items are so high quality I still see people wearing and using them a year later. But this post is aimed at creating unique customized gifts for your friends, family, or group. To get more ideas for company purchases, read my buying guide on getting end-of-year swag for your team.
Recruit a partner
Two heads are better than one– not to mention that splitting costs will help. You can splurge on higher-quality garments, or a more colorful print, or make the order bigger to make sure everyone is included. Plus, it’s more fun to conspire, right? They can also help decide on the idea that will be best for everyone.
A male/female team is the best bet, especially when it comes to figuring out sizes. I’ll get into that at the end of this post. Just make sure your partner is willing and able to help put it together– and knows how to keep a secret.
And now, here are a few ideas for you to create memorable customized gifts for your friends, family or coworkers.
Printed T-shirts and sweatshirts
This is our number one customized gift, and for good reason: everyone loves T-shirts, sweatshirts, and hoodies. That’s why business is booming. Sure, you could always get the latest trendy design out at the stores, or at Amazon, but what’s even better is to put some thought into it to create your own custom design for your family, friends, or coworkers.
It makes your gift one to cherish forever. Or at least until next year.
Here are 6 design concepts to use as a starting point to your own spin on, along with examples and a few tips to help you get it right. Since it’s winter, you might want to go with long-sleeve tees, or better yet, sweatshirts.
1. Group photo
For most of us, it’s only on special occasions like holidays and reunions that we get to see our entire extended families. Make those moments count with a carefully taken group shot: When everyone is there, you have good lighting and a nice background. Take a high-quality photo. Take a few. Get them to “say cheese” or some funny word that isn’t as cliche.
A good photo will result in a better print, and make everyone happy about how they look.
Then, instead of putting it in a nice picture frame and hanging it on the wall like everyone else, take it to another level with a shirt design that everyone can enjoy as they go about their day– and take their entire extended family along with them.
Here’s an example with a lovely looking stock photo family. Instead of a square, I put them in a nice oval design with a border and some text below it. This is just one example of many possibilities. For even more ideas, check out my post on ways to make better custom photo t-shirts with borders, masks and frames.
This particular print, which is full color, would need to be a digital, direct-to-garment print, otherwise known as DTG.
Screen printing this kind of image is not recommended if you want full color.
Using digital printing is great for smaller orders. If your order is going to be more than a couple dozen, you should use screen printing. The thing is, for this group shot and most others, we’re talking about a lot of colors, which can get cost-prohibitive. Screen printing pricing is partially based on number of colors, and for this we would need seven or eight, maybe more.
So, what to do? Simple. Switch to grayscale to screen print it. Not only is it more cost-effective, but it has a classic/vintage look. Some people might appreciate it more than full color because of that. Here’s the same design, but printed with black, white, and gray ink. Three colors rather than eight. This alternate choice can apply to the rest of the ideas in this post, as well.
2. Memorable moment
For a group of friends, the only thing better than reliving great memories together is making new ones. If you don’t have an opportunity before the holidays to take a new group shot, dip into the archives and find that photo everybody remembers. Play around with some concepts for it. Have some fun and don’t be afraid to come up with a crazy idea.
Just don’t get too crazy– unless you want them to end up as a never-worn novelty: a pajama top at best, and an oil mop for the garage at worst. Balance out any goofiness with some restraint. As long as the group gets the joke, no one else has to. Similar to my advice about branded swag, make something people will want to wear out. Even if it’s just to the local diner.
3. In loving memory shirts
If your family or friend group has recently lost a loved one, consider if it’s a good time to make some memorial shirts for everyone to have. We print these all the time at RushOrderTees. It’s a great way to keep the person’s memory alive and keep them close to your heart (literally). My advice here, as usual, is to keep it simple and classy.
Black and white image, some kind of border or frame, their name, and their years alive. Be warned, though: this gift is likely to bring people to tears. So be prepared for that emotional moment, and to be thanked for a gift they will treasure.
4. Celebrating love
Why wait for an anniversary when you can honor the relationship of your mom and dad now? Or grandmother and grandfather, if you’re lucky enough to still have them in your life. A shirt like this will show them how much you care about them, and at the same time, teach the younger family members the value of a lifetime of love.
5. Joke or funny family saying
Laughter is the best medicine, and it also makes a great gift. If you’re the type of person known for a healthy sense of humor, you probably already have a few ideas you’d like to put on a shirt. I could give you some examples of funny T-shirts, but there are literally gazillions of them. Ok, figurative gazillions? The point is, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
That being the case, a good tip is to avoid anything arbitrary– anything that can be easily found elsewhere. Pretend it’s an ad or a brand. Here are a few examples of silly family sayings that I found floating around:
“The Davidsons. In our family, crazy is a relative term.”
“Why be normal? (When you can be a Davidson)”
“The Davidson Family. We put the fun in dysFUNctional.”
Ideally, you should use your own family’s catchphrase, put a spin on something already out there, or come up with a new one. Similar to the memorable moment idea, make it about something shared– something personal to you and your friends, family or coworkers. An in-joke. The more unique the better. Also, avoid being too obvious or literal when using graphics.
6. “Sweaterize” your design
We all remember those ugly sweaters from holidays’ past, and we’ve all seen the trendy new ones you can get at Target or wherever for that Ugly Sweater Party coming up (yep, everyone is doing them and no you cannot escape). But what if you could turn any design into an ugly sweater look? Recently, we’ve found an effective way to apply this style to any design.
But does any design work for that holiday sweater look? Not really. You want to use design elements that mimic the style, and add your own twist to it. You can easily create something in our Design Studio and then just have our Art Department “Sweaterize” it for you. Put the instruction in your order notes or contact one of our sales reps to help you place the order.
Pro tips: Keep it simple. Keep the number of colors low. Repeat elements such as trees, snowflakes, and small geometric shapes. If you have Photoshop or the free app Photopea, make your own “pixel art” which is the starting point for the ugly sweater look. Make a canvas only 200 pixels wide by 300 high max. Then start painting with pixels and get us that file!
Bonus idea: Vinyl names and numbers
Moving on, I can’t forget about vinyl– because names and numbers are a great addition to put on the back of your holiday gift shirts. I wouldn’t recommend them for every idea in this post, but it’s something to think about– especially for funny family shirts, and especially they’re into sports. Or, for a group of friends who regularly meet for some kind of fun activity.
Vinyl names and numbers– sometimes referred to as personalization– is an awesome way to make your custom gift even more customized with the addition of the family member’s name on the back, and their number.
What number you ask? How about the last two digits of their birth year? Or give it some other meaning.
This could especially work well for a family of sports fans. Put a funny image or saying on the front that includes a reference to your family– and your favorite team (just void using their logo or formal name). Then add the vinyl names and numbers on the back. Can you guess where my hyothetical family the Johsnsons live?
For a group of friends or associates, maybe you skip the numbers and just want to put their nickname on the back. This would be a great idea for meet-up groups, coworkers, or getting the old band back together. We have a few different font options so it doesn’t have to look athletic. You may however, end up looking like a cult. But like, the kind that just plays board games at bars or goes on mud run challenges.
Pro tips for ordering the correct sizes
When buying apparel for a group, this is one of the biggest questions. You might be wondering how to do this without ruining the surprise. It can be a little tricky, but here are a few tips. Make sure you have a pen (or smartphone) and do these things:
Ask the parents
This is to find out about the younger ones of course (kids might be the toughest to judge), but if you get a conversation going, and maybe the parent will divulge their own size as well. Tell them you’re thinking about getting their kids T-shirts, make a mental note about the sizes, and then let the conversation turn to his/hers and yours.
Pretend it’s about something else
This is when you’ve got most sizes and just need a few more people. Bring up your own size and how you’ve grown/shrunk, or maybe broaden the topic to the way T-shirts and clothing– in general– fits these days. Ask them out of genuine curiosity and most likely you can get their size from this conversation. Sneaky!
This is easier than it sounds, but maybe I’m biased because I’m in the business. There are only so many sizes. Think about your own size and then compare yourself to big uncle Bob and little nana Lily. Two sizes up or down? And once you’ve got it narrowed down to two different sizes, and still can’t figure it out, maybe get both? It doesn’t hurt to have any extra one.
Size them up
By this I mean if you’re deciding between two sizes, get the larger one. A shirt too large can still get worn, but a shirt too small might stay in the box. If you’re getting “fashion fit” or “slim fit” shirts, you usually do want to order a size larger than the person would normally wear. It might shrink a bit in the wash anyway.
And if you’re ordering hoodies or sweatshirts, having a size up is comfortable, cozy and even fashion-conscious. Most people love comfy, oversized sweatshirts. So go big then go home.
Here’s a handy visual chart (below) showing our recommended breakdown. For more general info for buying a bulk order, check out my blog post Choosing The Right Sizes for a Bulk Order.
Bonus bonus idea: Embroidered caps and scarves
It’s winter, so of course a nice warm beanie or scarf would make a welcome gift. Take it to another level by personalizing it with embroidery. Keep your design small and simple because the print size is small, at least for the beanies. Use the family monogram, family crest, or even just a short loving message. If you want to find out a selection of scarves we have available, give our sales reps a call.
One thing to avoid is embroidering a different name on each cap or scarf. The price gets very high. So like I said a couple times now, pick a design that will work for everyone. You can always mix the colors of the items to make them different.
Two upcoming blog posts will get into the embroidery print method, the best items to embroider on, and how to best optimize your artwork for it. It will be part of the “Ask The Expert” series I’ll be interviewing our embroidery department manager, so expect a behind-the-scenes deep dive about what goes into this classic form of decorating apparel. Until then…
Happy designing, and happy holidays!
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 20 years of graphic design and color separations experience in the screen printing industry.