RubyRags Relaunch: First Steps to Launching a T-shirt Store


2020 has been… well, not what most us would have expected. While we’re happy to report we’ve weathered the storm pretty well, it did leave us with a little more down time than we’re used to. So, what better time than now to relaunch our t-shirt site RubyRags. RubyRags has been a fun side project of Littlelines since 2007 and we’ve been wanting to revamp the site for a while now. This article will walk through the design process of making a stellar shirt in addition to some things to consider for those of you starting a new line from scratch.

Why t-shirts? 

First of all it is 2020, and there’s a pattern of way more shirts being sold than their counter parts, for reasons we won’t go into. Secondly, it’s an amazingly creative outlet, allowing you to design custom shirts for a specific demographic or even just creating custom shirts for yourself(if other people like and purchase them, that’s a bonus). Lastly, the money, a simple t-shirt company can be launched with nearly no investment. Everyone owns t-shirts and the possibilities to generate revenue are almost endless.

Getting Started

Designing a shirt may seem like a pretty simple task, in fact, I’m sure you already have ideas in mind for some cool designs. However before beginning I encourage you to consider the following:

1. Overall goals

2. Audience

3. Printing Process

4. Design 

Overall Goals

The goals of one store can vary heavily from the goals of the next. Outlining these goals can be as simple as “I want to create some cool shirts for me and my softball team” or something much more complex like “I want to design shirt to raise awareness for a social issue”- perhaps even going a step further and donating a portion of the profits to a cause. Something like this could heavily influence things like your price points and ultimately even the final design. Either way it’s important to have these goals written down and understood before proceeding, as they’ll directly relate to the next step which is understanding who you’re targeting these designs for.

Know your Audience

Now that you have some goals in mind it’s important to know who your designing for. Design 101: you wouldn’t design a shirt the same way for your 5 year old niece as you would for a 40 year old web developer(or maybe in that case you would, I’m not judging). Spend some time getting to know your audience. Consider things like their general age range, does there seem to be a dominant gender, or are there any religious or cultural implications.

From this research you’ll be able to better understand the types of imagery, saying or slogans, and colors that will best suit this demographic. These factors also play into choices like how much you’ll be able to charge for your products.

Pick a Printing Process

This is a big one, the next step is deciding how your going to produce your t-shirts. I’m going to quickly go over the two main options for t-shirt production which are screen printing and a process called Direct to Garment or DTG. Screen Printing is considered the tradition printing technique. It involves pushing ink through a screen, a mesh stencil, onto the shirt. For this process each color used in the design is printed separately, thus requiring it’s own screen. The process is a little tricky to understand and requires some learning to master but fear not most printing companies offer a service to separate the colors for you.

This gif shows how a design is broken up into separate colors
PIC. 1 (This gif shows how a design is broken up into separate colors)

The ink is pulled across a stencil using a blade and leaves a single layer of saturated color. The process is then repeated for the remaining colors in the design. Screen printing is known for producing high quality prints with vibrant colors, which is better suited for certain types of shirts.

Pros and cons of screen printing:


  • Results in bold graphics with vibrant color
  • Buying in bulk can drive down the price point of individual units


  • It’s a laborious process and thus you should only use a few colors(1-3 recommended)
  • Not ideal for small quantities, while ordering large quantities can lead to back stock
  • Initial screen setup creates an additional cost

We’ve found that screen printing works best for large events, like when we were responsible for designing RailsConf. We knew we needed large quantities of shirts and buying the shirts in bulk allowed us to obtain the shirts at a fraction of the price.

Direct to garment or DTG is a newer method that uses a digital printer to apply the ink to the shirt. Large DTG printers apply a single layer of water based ink to the shirt that is quickly absorbed. Because of this the process there is no limit to the number of colors that can be used, and more elaborate and detailed designs can be printed. Tricky things like gradients are easily achieved and duplicated perfectly with DTG printing. 

Same design idea but the left might be better suited for screen printing, less colors simpler design. While the right design shows how we can push the design, adding more color and detail as those aren’t a concern for DTG printing
PIC. 2 (Same design idea but the left might be better suited for screen printing, less colors simpler design. While the right design shows how we can push the design, adding more color and detail as those aren’t a concern for DTG printing)

While this method is precise and produces high-quality results the ink is not saturated into the fabric as well as other methods like screen printing.

Pros and cons of DTG printing:


  • Great for small orders
  • No inventory, items can be printed on demand
  • Creates no initial costs at store launch
  • Highly detailed prints with no limit on colors


  • Colors are not as vibrant as other methods
  • Not ideal for large quantities

Left, screen printing. Right, Direct to Garment or DTG printing
PIC. 3 (Left, screen printing. Right, Direct to Garment or DTG printing)

This means that certain types of t-shirt designs work better for each of these methods but it goes beyond just the design. Think about the quality of the final output and quantities you’ll want to produce as they relate to your overall goals. Other things to consider coincide with final processing. Do you need to ship this inventory? Do you want to be responsible for shipping? Utilizing third parties companies like Printful or Printify you can easily create print on demand stores where they’ll handle payment processing, printing of the designs, and even shipping.

All this comes at a cost- you won’t be sitting on inventory but you will see a pretty significant increase in the individual unit price. With screen printing you could order 50 shirts at lower costs but you may find yourself storing 20 of them if not sold. Now that you have all that data in hand it’s time to design your shirt.

The Design

Ruby Rags Samples

Placement: The first part of this is deciding where the design is going to go. Typically the design will go in one of four places. The most common is a large print centered on the front of the shirt. The second is a smaller design up on the chest of the shirt, usually more placed to the left, known as a pocket design. The third is a large design placed in the center of the back of the shirt. Lastly we have the ability to design shirts with designs located on the sleeves.

It’s best to have this in mind before starting as there may be restrictions on size and placement of graphics from the company you have decided to work with to produce your garments. For example, Printful supplies its users with a template they can download that shows the print area and size acceptable for printing.

Printful’s Direct to Garment printing template showing placement area and size constraints
PIC. 4 (Printful’s Direct to Garment printing template showing placement area and size constraints)

Color: Moving along to the next step, selecting color for your design. Two items to consider here, the first of which is the garment you are printing. The color of the shirt and material you select will in many ways set the tone for the rest of the design. 

Shirts come in a variety of materials and colors. For this reason selecting one can seem like a daunting task. Start by talking with your printer, as they may only have certain fabrics and colors available. The most common options are 100% cotton, a 50%/50% blend of cotton and polyester, and lastly there are some tri-blend options. Truth is it comes down to personal preference but one thing to make sure of is that the shirt is comfortable. 

When choosing a color it’s important to note that the most popular shirt colors are white, black and gray. Being neutral colors they are safe and match most things. Again this is where knowing your audience will help, as there’s nothing wrong with using color when appropriate. If selecting a black or darker colored shirt emphasize brighter colors and utilize white. The main goal is to get good contrast so the graphic is easily visible. When using lighter colors like white you should use darker colors to get the same level of contrast out of the design.

Start designing your shirt by selecting a theme or concept and do some research on it. The goal of design can be based on mostly imagery or typography, focusing on just a slogan/saying. Maybe you’re working with an existing brand and can use their existing colors or you may want to incorporate a logo. Find references for the types of illustration styles your wanting to accomplish. Then start by sketching these ideas out.

Find references and sketch out ideas- even the most basic sketches will help you get moving towards a final product
PIC. 5 (Find references and sketch out ideas- even the most basic sketches will help you get moving towards a final product)

When creating the final art for your shirt there are many free tools available to download. There are even shirt templates loaded with graphics, typography examples, and color pallets to get you started(some of these tools and templates may even be hosted by the printer you’ve decide to work with). If you find yourself wanting to do a custom design maybe use a program like Photoshop or Illustrator as they produce the most widely used file types you will need to provide to your printer. Generally you will need to submit your t-shirt design in vector format- likely in an AI, PDF, or EPS file format.

Pro tip: as you start out into design keep it simple. Spend the time you need sketching from references and then scan your designs in to a program like Illustrator. In terms of color use, a helpful tip is to remember to use the shirt color itself as of the part your design. This makes the design more dynamic and appear to be part of the shirt not just placed on it. There’s a lot to this and we’ll go more into program specifics in a future article where we’ll show you the process of converting them into the working files your printer will need.

Utilizing the shirt color to create negative space within the design
PIC. 6 (Utilizing the shirt color to create negative space within the design)

2020 has provided us with a chance to slow down, and given us all extra time. Why not use the time to learn a new skill, help raise awareness, make something fun for that upcoming reunion, or finally launch that new company/brand that you’ve been thinking about. For us it was the perfect opportunity to work on something that’s been a fun passion project of ours for years. If you’re a ruby enthusiast and find yourself in need of a cool Ruby-inspired t-shirt head over to and check out what we have cooked up.

Tags: Design, UI/UX, Strategy, SEO

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