3 Easy Steps For Creating Vintage T-Shirts


There’s nothing better than a nice, worn-in t-shirt. Don’t get me wrong, a fresh new shirt with bright, vibrant colors is great as well, but there’s a unique feeling about a wonderfully worn t-shirt that you keep around for years. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could create that look and feel right away though? Well, we’ve got a secret for you: you can.

There are different steps you can take on the design side, as well as which type of inks and t-shirts you print with, that can help you achieve a perfect vintage look and feel for your t-shirt. Here’s 3 ideas for you on how to make it happen.

1. Print on a polyester/cotton blend or a tri-blend t-shirt


If you’re not familiar, there are essentially three main types of t-shirt fabric:

- 100% cotton
- poly/cotton (or 50/50) blends
- tri-blends made up of polyester, cotton, and rayon)

Since poly/cotton blends and tri-blends are made up of different materials, the fabrics are going to naturally have a vintage, heathered look to them.

The ink is going to react differently with each of these shirt fabrics as well, and that is something you can use to your advantage. Something unique about water-based printing is that the ink only dyes the cotton of the t-shirt, not the polyester or the rayon. Meaning, if you print on a 100% cotton shirt, your print is going to come out very bright and vibrant — not ideal for a vintage look.

For more details and visuals, check out our Visual Guide to T-Shirt Fabrics.

However, if you use a poly/cotton blend or a tri-blend t-shirt, this means that water-based ink is only going to dye part of the print area, leaving you with a beautiful heathered look.


Notice in the photo above, the print is clear and still easily readable, but not quite as vibrant as you’d normally see. That’s because it’s printed on a blend, and not every thread in the shirt is being dyed. If this same design was printed on a 100% cotton t-shirt, or even a blend of a particular color, the print could be much bolder in color.

If you’re wondering which poly/cotton blends and tri-blends are great to print on, we recommend checking out the Next Level 6210 (poly/cotton) or the Canvas 3413 (tri-blend).

2. Make sure your shirts are printed with water-based & discharge inks


While water-based and discharge screen printing is the method of choice for any t-shirt project here at Real Thread, it’s particularly important to use when aiming for a vintage, distressed look and feel. Since the ink literally soaks into and dyes the fabric of the t-shirt, rather than sitting on top, the print is going to naturally have an incredibly soft, worn in feel right away, like a t-shirt you’ve had for years.

For best results, be sure to wash your shirt once before wearing. After a wash is when the ink really sinks into the t-shirt fabric, to the point that you can’t even feel the print on the t-shirt.

Also worth noting: Since water-based ink reacts differently with each shirt, make sure you check with a t-shirt expert to make sure you’re going to get the visual effect you’d like. Water-based printing can still carry a very bold, vibrant print depending on the fabric of the shirt, so consulting someone to make sure you’re going to get your desired print effect is key.

3. Enhance your design with textures


Though printing on poly/cotton and tri-blend t-shirts is the most natural way to create a vintage looking t-shirt, there are things you can do to your design on the front end to achieve that look, regardless of the shirt material. 

One way create a vintage look for your design is to overlay your t-shirt design with a texture. Textures are a great way to add an extra dimension to your design, and ensure that your print has a faded, vintage look, regardless of the t-shirt fabric.


In the picture above, you can see the small blemishes along the diamond, on parts of the typeface. Those effects were added in by the designer ahead of time to give the shirt a wonderful worn look.

To get this look, check out our texture packages we’ve created to get started:


This should give you a great launching point for your next t-shirt design! Have additional questions? Get in touch with one of our t-shirt experts, and we’ll be sure to guide you towards getting the perfectly vintage, faded custom t-shirts you’re looking for.

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