When we think about what makes a good-looking custom printed T-shirt, we tend to think of the design. But did you know that the print placement can make it or break it? And I mean really break it.
In this post, we’re going to look at one of the most unfortunate (and common) mistakes when it comes to placement, and I’ll show you how you can easily avoid it, with some example graphics to demonstrate the idea and a few quick case studies using actual jobs.
But first, pop quiz…
What is standard placement?
Without scrolling ahead (no cheating) where would you guess is the center point, or “anchor point” of a standard front print area?
If you guessed that the center is in the actual center, you would be wrong. If you put the center on the chest, just above the nipples, you are correct. Good job.
This is also called the anchor point. No matter the size, a typical design should extend outward from this point. This is especially important on ladies tees, where the placement is generally a bit higher than on men’s.
This is all to avoid…
the most unfortunate print location of all…
The BELLY PRINT.
The dreaded belly is exactly what you would think: any design where the majority of it, or a significant part of it, sits on the belly area. The cause of this is usually customers setting up their order with the placement too low.
It’s not a flattering look, and if you’re hoping your promotional shirt actually gets worn, and maybe even worn multiple times, make sure your print is on the chest and not the belly. So it doesn’t look like someone ate your logo.
I’ve seen way too many shirts with a print that is too low and it makes me think that it must be a common misconception. That’s why I’m writing this post. I want to help you make your custom printed tees look as great as they can possibly look. And correct placement is a big part of it.
Typically, our Art Dept will fix a design that is placed too low and will notate that on your proof. Other times, if it looks close enough they will push the order through without adjustments, hoping to fulfill your intention. In those cases, it’s up to you, the customer, to make sure your placement is correct.
If you have a design that will definitely extend over the belly area, how can you make sure to always avoid a belly print? It’s easy– once you understand some T-shirt design fundamentals and printing guidelines.
To start, let’s go over some basics.
Print Placement vs Print Location vs Print Area
The print location is a broad category (center chest, upper back, etc). Print placement is the exact measurement where the design will be printed (2” from the bottom of the sleeve, etc) and determines the print area.
For a better explanation of these terms, read my post Does Size Matter? Learn These 9 Crucial Printing Terms To Help You Place the Perfect Order.
If your design is a regular full front size, the standard placement for that will start at 4” from the bottom of the collar, and the design will extend as far down as it goes, to the edge of the maximum print area.
If your design is a small center chest, that changes things a bit. For example, on ladies’ garments, specifically tanks, v-necks, and scoop necks, the placement should be about 1” from the bottom of the collar.
If your order is set up for standard size and placement, we’ll take it from there: our Production Department always makes sure the placement is correct and will work with your design and garment sizes.
Where is your anchor point?
The GIFs below show you how standard placements can vary based on the different shapes of any given design, while starting with the same anchor point. Occasionally these rules will change, based on the design itself.
As this horizontal design is sized larger, it continues to extend out from the center anchor point, until reaching the outside boundaries of the print area.
Once the size of the graphic extends from the center anchor point to the top boundary of the print area, the top boundary becomes the new anchor point, until reaching the max width.
In this example, the size of the graphic extends from the center anchor point to the top boundary of the print area, the top boundary becomes the new anchor point, and then resizing the design will extend it downward until hitting the bottom boundary to reach the max height.
Got all that?
How to tell if your design is a belly print:
Sometimes it’s not clear if particular design should be considered a “belly print”, but there are a few indicators we can look for.
If the main subject, focus, or weight of the design is on the bottom portion of the print area, it’s most likely a belly print.
If the secondary subject, focus, or weight of the design is on the bottom portion of the print area, it’s possibly a belly print.
Some not-so-obvious belly print examples:
Although the print location starts up high, an inch from the collar, as usual, the main, heavier part of the design sits lower, directly on the belly. So how do we fix this? There’s a couple of ways.
Make the design smaller.
The most simple design fix of all is to just shrink the whole thing to something more modest. While we lose some detail and visibility, this is a much more flattering look. And something that will get repeated wears, since they won’t feel as much like a walking billboard.
Rearrange the design.
If your brand guidelines are flexible, a better way to go would be to modify the design in a way that makes it horizontal rather than vertical. Now all the elements are going across the chest, for a flattering and legible look. Ask one of our designers if they can help you with your artwork.
Exceptions to the rule:
Not every print that covers the belly area is belly print. There is no hard and fast rule, but if we look at the examples below, there are reasons why these examples are fine the way they are.
The design extends the entire length of the print area. There are various elements competing for real estate, so the focus, subject and weight of the design is not concentrated in one particular area.
And visually, they just work. Call it the “eyeballing” test.
One more exception to the rule is if you meant to do that. There are some clever designs to be made for an expecting mother. (But what size do you get?)
If you notice in the example above, the design is tastefully off to the side rather than directly in the center of the belly and stealing attention from the baby bump.
There may be other instances where you intentionally put a print on the belly, but I can’t think of any right now. Bottom line, as long as you meant to do it.
Case study: Frozen Bakery
Here’s a customer-submitted design that clearly creates a belly print with its secondary focus. I’m showing it on a model wearing a 3X-Large T-shirt so you can see that regardless of shirt size, the belly placement is a problem.
Here’s the easy fix:
Scaling down the secondary subject and moving it up closer to the main subject gives the design a single focus and weight.
Case study: Pig Out
Here’s an example that is a bit more tricky. There is lots of different text and things going on. And that pig ends up smack dab on the belly.
To fix this one, we need to do some strategic rearranging of the elements, mostly to get everything pushed up closer to the chest as much as possible while keeping the customer’s overall concept intact.
This was rearranged entirely using our Design Studio, so no Photoshop or anything like that needed. You’ll notice I switched around some of the type, to save room– but also to make more sense (the location should be on the sign). And while the whole thing might look a little scrunched compared to the original, it will look much more flattering on everyone who wears it.
Case study: Eclipse Tees
This was a job submitted by a man who lived in a small town in Idaho, which was getting inundated with tourists from around the world because it was the best viewing in the country to see the 2017 solar eclipse:
The design he submitted was clearly a belly print, so I called him up to discuss the job. He explained to me that “this event was the biggest thing in Idaho since the international fiddle competition” and that he was planning to sell 300 shirts.
So I told him we should give the design a makeover, and that we should print on black t-shirts for a better look. He was open to it, and soon a new and improved design was born.
As you can see, the type is now at the top, with a stronger font, the arch has been removed, the eclipse centered, and most importantly, it’s no longer a belly print. The bottom of the design fades out just as it reaches the top of the belly.
The customer loved the new design. In fact, he ended up placing two more orders, numbering in the hundreds of T-shirts per order. Guess everyone else loved them too.
So let’s all avoid that belly print, shall we?
Imri (pronounced em-rye) , also known as “M”, joined RushOrderTees in the spring of 2015, bringing over 10 years of graphic design and color separations experience in the screen printing industry. Over the next three years, he helped transform the Art Department, improving the overall quality, efficiency, and customer service of the team, while making some beautiful T-shirts along the way.
A graduate of the Multimedia program at University of the Arts in Philadelphia, he has explored various creative pursuits, including art and design, marketing, DJing, and even producing comedy shows. He brings his well rounded skill set and forward thinking approach to every project he’s involved with at Printfly / Rush Order Tees.
He lives with two cats, loves roller coasters, music, and fried pickles.