The 2021 t-shirt design trends represent a broad spectrum of artistic abilities and creativity that helped support individuals, communities, and social movements across the world. While it’s easy to say, “it’s just t-shirts,” these shirts provided people with a creative outlet where they could freely and safely express themselves. Through all of this, we saw our community create a powerful collection of t-shirt designs that reminded us that even something as simple as a cotton t-shirt could inspire change in the world.
Explore our 17 new t-shirt design trends for 2021 below to see how you can get the look for your next t-shirt creation.
1. Book Designs
Books bind together our community in more ways than we know. Popularized by independent bookstores from all over the country, this design trend single-handedly helped support these businesses during the height of COVID-19 closures to ensure that they could stay open in new formats, pay employees, and continue to serve their communities.
Get the look: Whether books are the main subject of your design, or you use them as part of the structure, they can add great context to your t-shirt. This is also a great way to subtly add text to your design.
2. Strong Statements
Sometimes your t-shirt just needs to say what it needs to say, boldly and clearly. In a year where we have to keep our distance and limit in-person conversation, being able to stand for something without saying a word has led to an increase in these bold design choices. This popular design trend is especially effective if your apparel is advocating for a cause, political campaign, or social movement.
Get the look: Find the perfect word or sentence that communicates what you hope to share with your community and the world. Keep your shirt minimalist and straightforward by writing your text in a bold, easy-to-read font, or have fun with bright colors and handwritten letterforms.
3. Multi-Colored Words
Add a splash of energy to any text-based design by making the letters a variety of colors. The color palette that you choose for the letters will set the mood of the shirt. Keep it simple with a few colors in your palette, or go all out and make every letter a different color!
Get the look: Start by creating your text-based design. You will likely want to use a bold font to help with legibility once the different colors are applied. Next, select a handful of colors to use as your color palette for this design. (Remember, when screen printing shirts, you need to stick to 8 colors or less!) You will likely want to think about the mood of the design, your brand, and the intended audience of the shirt when picking your colors.
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4. Tarot Cards
One of our favorite design trends this year is the use of tarot cards on shirts, with the artist’s own twist on this iconic design motif. With their unique imagery, symbolism, and aesthetic, tarot cards offer up a wide range of elements to draw inspiration from. This design style is a great direction for those looking for a symbolic visual representation of their message.
Get the look: Tarot cards come in a deck of 78 cards, each card with its own imagery and symbolism. Find a card that best represents that style and messaging that you’re going for. Apply your message to the design that best represents what you want to say.
5. Handwritten Typography
Bring a distinctive tone to your design with your very own hand-drawn fonts. Your hand-drawn letterforms can have a range of different moods, so it can be funky, retro, bold, or delicate. The flexibility and individuality you have when creating your own lettering makes it a great choice for almost any t-shirt you’re designing.
Get the look: Because of the diversity in font styles, the first step of designing your tee is deciding what type of mood you want to evoke with your letterforms. Then, start playing around with making that design more interesting by using fun colors, adding lines or other design elements around the letters.
6. Hand-Drawn Designs
Hand-sketched designs always hold so much character and importance. These textured, pencil-like drawings are a great design trend for the upcoming year. The crisp, detailed line work allows so much room to let your imagination flow.
Get the look: Start with an easy sketch of that thing you want to create. Continue to build and build until you’re happy with your drawing! Want to give it that pencil-like feel? Use thin, textured lines in a dark grey or black color for your drawing.
7. Warped Text
Distorted text is the perfect way to make your plain text stand out on your t-shirt. There are endless possibilities with warping! You can even throw it way back to the ’70s with a wavy retro design!
Get the look: One great approach to achieving this design style is to draw two wavy lines, one on top of the other. Then, make your text fill the area between those two wavy lines, no matter how crazy that letter may look! This gives you the “warped” look. Pro tip: Block or Bubble typefaces work best with this trend.
8. Minimalist Rainbows
Representing joy, hope, and wonder, rainbows continue to be a top t-shirt design trend and are a great addition to any design. Many shirts pair their rainbow design with a clean and simple typeface that’s either arched along the arch of the rainbow or framed underneath as a quote.
Get the look: Stylise your rainbow in a unique way, with a specific palette of colors that match your aesthetic or branding. Let the rainbow image stand alone, or add a word or quote to bring extra meaning and inspiration into your design.
9. Doodle Artwork
There’s always room for more playfulness in your life, and in your wardrobe! Doodling can be done in any which way; thin lines, wavy lines, shapes of all colors and sizes, you name it. Let your imagination take over and then print it on your merch!
Get the look: Your design doesn’t need to be perfect. Get funky with your linework and the way you represent the forms you are trying to illustrate. Pro tip: draw something without ever erasing or hitting “undo”. See what you can create!
10. Arched Text
Take the typography in your design from ordinary to extraordinary by using arched text. Whether it’s applied as a full circle, or as a partial-circle, adding a curved effect to the text in your design is an easy way to enhance the quality of your shirt’s design to make it a must-have for your community.
Get the look: To help frame the elements in your design, try arching your text to match the curve around a circular semi-circular image, or, use a partial curve to wrap your text around a square corner. Want to really spice it up? Create a serpentine effect by separating your text into two text boxes and angle them in different directions.
11. Bendy Bodies
Give your design some personality by adding bendy figures to your design. Typically hand-drawn and paired with bright colors, these playful characters are a great way to flex your creative muscles and present human figures with a little added personality.
Get the look: Not an artist? No problem. Trace over an image of a human figure, but let those lines get loose and wavy. You’ll be amazed at what you can create!
12. Hand Illustrations
Hands have the ability to tell so many stories, literally and figuratively. Sign language and hand symbols are a direct, yet silent way to communicate your message in your t-shirt design. On the other hand, -haha, get it?- you can also use them to show a sense of community, companionship, and connection.
Get the look: Hands aren’t the easiest thing to draw. A great reference point is to look up some hands doing sign language. Cartoon hands are fun too. Not confident in your drawing skills? You can find a variety of hand clipart in our Design Tool!
13. Clean and Simple Text
Make a statement with your shirt design by using a sharp typeface that is clear and easy to read. This design trend was frequently used on awareness and advocacy shirts to help the creator of the design get their message across to anyone who sees it.
Get the look: With over 200 free fonts to choose from, our design tool is the perfect place to replicate this design trend. If you need help deciding which clean/crisp font is right for you and your design, check out our blog post on our 25 favorite t-shirt fonts or use one of our free typography t-shirt templates.
14. Illustrative Figures
As digital drawings become more and more popular, these illustrative portraits have become a go-to design idea. They bring the perfect amount of personalization and playfulness to your t-shirt. You can choose to style this as abstract or as realistic as you’d like!
Get the look: Start your drawing with a reference photo beside you, or ditch the pencil and paper and find an online source! There are a variety of apps where you can create your own character and personalize its features.
15. Repeating Text
Say it a little louder for the people in the back. Repeating your message is a surefire way to get your point across. It will make the desired impact, and result in a well-designed shirt at the same time. This t-shirt design idea is perfect if you aren’t super design-savvy, but still want to create a trendy tee on your own.
Get the look: Select the bold message that you want to communicate. Then, simply pick a compelling font that matches the tone and mood of your message and cause, and then repeat it. You can also use text where part of the message changes a little bit on each line.
16. Animal Portraits
From animal rescues and wildlife organizations, to famous pet celebrities, animal portraits continue to be a popular design choice and a top trend for custom apparel. We love this design trend due to how versatile it is. You can feature your animal on the shirt by using a simple line drawing that outlines its body and a few facial features, or, you can get super detailed to match its unique personality.
Get the look: Gather source photos of the specific animal you plan to illustrate. Work off these photos to create a vectorized illustration that can be easily screen printed on apparel, tote bags, mugs, and more.
17. Flipped Text
Give yourself a reason to take a stunning mirror pic by using the flipped design and typography effect. This design style is a creative twist on the repeating text design trend and is just as easy to create.
Get the look: The fun part about these designs is that it can be whatever you want them to be! Create that perfect design, and if you’re feeling bold, just flip the image entirely. It might not make sense until you look in the mirror for the ultimate selfie!
2021 is just getting started, and we can’t wait to see what our community of creators design this year. Follow us on Instagram to stay up to date on the latest trends and see what others are creating. Did we leave our a trend that you think deserves to be here? Let us know!
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Photo credit for featured image: Parker & Bell