The t-shirt business is a big business – likely bigger than you think. You’ve probably heard of sites like Threadless and DesignByHumans, but there are dozens and dozens of other t-shirt sites, and many designers who are dedicated entirely to creating some of the world’s coolest shirt designs. In this post, I’ve collected 50 samples of what I think constitutes some of the best and/or coolest designs out there.
Of course, I recognize that this list is pretty subjective and that there are countless other great designs that didn’t make this particular list, simply because I didn’t see them! It’s a big internet out there, folks! Really big.
Still, I hope you’ll enjoy these. I think they’re pretty awesome!
Why it rocks: We’ll start with this nice monochromatic and surrealistic image of a moustached and bearded man – whose facial hair was apparently the inspiration for the name of this piece. There is all kinds of machinery coming out of his head, which makes it a bit odd, but very cool looking.
Why it rocks: All geeks unite! This is a great tribute to our inner lions! It’s a really interesting fusion of animal and human, with the glasses, the shaggy hair and "emo" swoop.
Why it rocks: A beautiful watercolour background combines together with a strange scene of soldiers playing guitars, rather than shooting off their guns. The juxtaposition makes for a truly interesting statement on war!
Why it rocks: Here’s a really cool, trippy design with beautiful bold colours. It’s so wavy and dynamic that your eyes just can’t rest anywhere. Very cool.
Why it rocks: Love this one. It fits right into the whole trend of cute, fuzzy animals and combines it with a message about helping save the environment. It may be blue, but it’s great if you’re green.
Why it rocks: This one just has a really strange and surreal image, with eyes popping out of the character’s head. However, it’s still abstract enough to not seem overly morbid.
Why it rocks: A knight in shinning armour with a cool, quasi-retro treatment. Enough said.
Why it rocks: Here’s another one from the adorable animal trend. You just have to feel for this pink elephant who is trying to paint himself grey to fit in with all the other elephants! I think it’s adorable.
Why it rocks: Sea monsters are cool, and I really like the effect of having a single solid mass of colour for this giant squid! I’m also a big fan of designs that go all the way to the bottom of the shirt, which this one does! Totally digging this design.
Why it rocks: An interesting twist on the Eden myth, having the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil actually comprised out of serpents. A unique idea.
Why it rocks: Invasion of the critters! Another cute and funny shirt design – though I’m not sure who is doing the invading here. Is it the fuzzy creatures or the purple squid-blobs? Or both? Either way it doesn’t look good for us Earthlings!
Why it rocks: I’ve never been to London, but Big Ben remains a recognizable in this eerie design. Stunning use of colour here.
Why it rocks: I had a nice bright orange Atari t-shirt back in high school, and this clever design is wonderfully reminiscent of it. I’d never noticed the similarities between the video game icon’s logo and the famous Eiffel Tower. Very clever design.
Why it rocks: It’s beautiful. Wonderfully detailed and evocative. GoMedia at their finest here.
Why it rocks: Wings are a really popular design element these days, and nobody does them better than GoMedia. Just a really nice collage-like design. The colours work really well together, too.
Ecko Red 6 by Syne68
Why it rocks: Okay, so it’s more of a tank-top, but it’s still a really interesting design. I really like the black tiger and the pink tiger stripes. Maybe I should get this one for my wife!
Why it rocks: It may be a bit difficult to see, but we have a nice image of an astronaut and the earth, combined with all sorts of interesting, abstract cut-aways, grunge and splatters. It makes for a really cool looking shirt.
Why it rocks: This one is just a simple play with the positioning of the graphic, but I feel that it works particularly well and makes for an awesome t-shirt.
Why it rocks: The Designious t-shirt design collection is awesome! You can’t buy any shirts from them – just the designs – but I totally felt they needed to be represented here. First, with some awesome heraldry!
Why it rocks: Second, with this cool audio tape design. More wings!
Why it rocks: Finally, with this epic skull! I’m not a huge fan of the massive skull trend that I’ve seen in apparel over the past few years, but I had to include at least one, and nobody does skulls better than Designious (there’s even a skull in their logo).
Why it rocks: I totally dig the collage effect here, collecting some of the world’s most dangerous predators together in one awesome design.
Why it rocks: More snakes! This time, we have a really cool reinterpretation of Medusa. Notice how she doesn’t have snakes for hair, but rather hair that ends in snakes. Also, some really beautifully subdued colours in this one.
Why it rocks: There is a cool illusion going on in this one. It’s really nothing more than a collection of squares, but it gives the impression of a something blurred and obscured. It’s a really trippy effect!
Why it rocks: I just like this one. The eyes have something of an ancient feel to it, like something out of ancient Egyptian hieroglyph or something, which is appropriate, given that the cyclops is a figure of ancient myth. Nice, simple use of colour here, too.
Why it rocks: Reminds me of a really cartoonish and colourful take on Reservoir Dogs. I’m not sure if this was the artist’s intention, but it’s my first impression when I look at this one. Either way, these little dudes in suits have attitude, and so will you if you’re wearing this shirt!
Log by Greg Abbott
Why it rocks: This cartoony, single eyed log is strange and bizzare and cool all at the same time. It makes for a very interesting t-shirt!
Why it rocks: A guitar wielding, blues playing robot? How cool is that? Cool enough to put on a t-shirt!
Why it rocks: The combination of the black and white and splash of bright green go really well on this burgundy t-shirt. The typography on this one is really interesting too.
Why it rocks: Here’s another one for those of us who like to think green. The hand drawn quality of this design gives it a natural and organic feel, while the graphics themselves remind us of the full cycle of life – death and regeneration.
Why it rocks: This is one of my favourites. The execution is incredible. The lighting effect is wonderfully vibrant and the overall concept is just too cool – a deer jumping so high that it looses it’s antlers in clouds. I never would have imagined anything like that!
Why it rocks: Here’s a great tribute to imagination and the power of the artist’s mind. The shirt features a really cool looking collage, seemingly being created by the painter at the bottom of the shirt. Oh, and if you haven’t noticed yet, I totally love t-shirt designs where the artwork is off-centre.
Why it rocks: The primary reason that I love this design is the fact that most of the graphics are all congregated there in the bottom quarter of the shirt, printed right to the lower seam. I just love this technique, especially when combined with these beautiful, bold colours.
Why it rocks: I like the way the artwork really fills up the shirt in this one. Another great use of colour, combined with a real sense of majesty, through such an incredible and majestic creature as the whale. The addition of the moon is a nice touch, too.
Why it rocks: I think that the beauty of this one comes in its mystery. Everything about the boxer is obscured by shadow, giving him a more universal identity. Meanwhile, the grungy parts remind us that fighting is a dirty business.
Why it rocks: For all you typography addicts out there – a simple but beautiful use of type.
Why it rocks: Who hasn’t had days like this? A day where you feel like your head is just full of smoke instead of zombie food (or what most people call brains). Here’s an awesome t-shirt for those kind of days.
Why it rocks: Three things strike me about this one. First, it has great use of colour. Second, the graphic uses a truly exceptional form of perspective (straight up). Third, I love the way the design fills the entire shirt. Very cool.
Why it rocks: Another shirt for the typography addicts. And an education for the rest of the world. Truly, words aren’t always meant to be read. Sometimes they are just meant to look beautiful!
Why it rocks: This one makes use of one particular retro trend that has become really popular over the past few years – combining rounded and square corners on the same graphic. This one does it particularly well, with a good mix of size and colour.
Why it rocks: Personally, I’m not a big Jim Morrison fan, but if you are, you’ll probably love this shirt. For me, I’m just drawn to the bold watercolours of this one. Simply lovely.
Why it rocks: Strong but subdued colours predominate in this design. There is just a really strong sense of spiritual tranquillity here that I am really drawn to. Very nice.
Why it rocks: Here we have surrealism bordering on the abstract. Things just don’t seem to fit quite right, and are those dragon heads, or tails, or just some kind of weird and creepy tendrils? I really dig this one, and again I love the colours.
Why it rocks: It’s like Medusa’s long lost brother. Not only does he seem to have serpentine hair, dude also has snakes in his beard too! I wonder what happens when you look at him!
Why it rocks: Here’s a cool concept. The numbers 1997, created entirely from text about events that actually happened in 1997. I think it’s a band t-shirt, but would also be great if ’97 was a significant year in your life!
Why it rocks: Skeletor – comprised entirely of coloured bones. If, like me, you were a total He-Man nut as a kid, this t-shirt needs no other reason to rock your world.
Why it rocks: The combination of the vintage style angel with more the modern grunge and half-tone techniques makes this one really stand out to me.
Why it rocks: As a guitarist, I totally love the configuration of all these really cool swirls into that beautiful and timeless Stratocaster body. The title of the shirt is also great – I love my reverb!
Why it rocks: That classic image of soldiers raising the flag as a symbol of hope and glory takes a sinister twist here as zombies seem to stake their claim to this piece of land! The eerie green sky really complements the overall feel of this design.
Why it rocks: Because the author of this post is a proud Canadian and thinks that his country, like this t-shirt, totally rocks!
Well, there you have it folks! The ultimate roundup of awesome t-shirt designs. Hope you enjoyed looking at them as much as I enjoyed collecting them! Oh, and if you’re feeling inspired and are thinking about tackling your own apparel design, here are some additional resources for you!
- Huge Collection of T-Shirt Design Mockup Templates
Links to a wide range of t-shirt templates, and other apparel too!
- 19 Free Blank T Shirt Template Designs
Another collection of free t-shirt templates. A few repeats from the link above, but some other good ones too!
- GoMedia Arsenal Templates
These premium templates will cost you a bit, but if you’re doing a lot of t-shirt design, the modest investment will probably be worth it for templates of this quality!
An awesome online t-shirt gallery to inspire your own creations!
Another great gallery to find inspiration. Not quite as great as Emptees, in my opinion, but still solid.
A blog dedicated entirely to t-shirts. All kinds of interesting stuff for you to check out!
- How to Create Photorealistic T-Shirt Mockups
Learn how to mock up your t-shirt designs using GoMedia’s Arsenal!
- The Ultimate Round-Up Of T-Shirt Design Tutorials
An awesome listing of various t-shirt tutorials from CircleBox Blog’s own Callum Chapman!
- Photoshop T-shirt Design
You can download this PDF tutorial about how to make a killer t-shirt design in Photoshop, without breaking the bank!
- 4-Color Process Separations In Photoshop
This awesome video tutorial will teach you how to seperate the colours of your full colour t-shirt artwork and get it ready for print! Really interesting and informative.