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For hundreds of years prosperity for a clothing designer meant making the most durable, comfortable, or stylish clothing on the market. Then everything changed. Recently with the advent of garment printing and machine embroidery it has become possible to add another dimension what makes clothing appealing to a customer. While the use of these techniques in marketing and political activism is quite unsurprising, there has been another major genre that t-shirts have become a medium for, and that is humor.

A legitimately funny shirt can sell hundreds of thousands on a single design. The question is, what makes an excellent, hilarious design? And how can you make one yourself? Here are a few ground rules to help you put together your own hilarious design.

Keep it Simple

Dpcted Apparel

Every design student hears this over and over, but it’s a surprisingly difficult lesson to embrace. Always think about where your design will be displayed and the circumstances under which a viewer will see it. A joke on a shirt is usually situated on someone’s chest, and staring for any length of time will be uncomfortable for the wearer, viewer, or both. If your joke or humorous graphic takes more than a few seconds to read or “get” then it shouldn’t be on a shirt at all.

On the same note, make sure that your design doesn’t use more than 3 colors at maximum. Using too many different colors will make your design look busy and distracts from the point (unless your graphic is something instantly recognizable like a rainbow).

Have a Target Audience

Pick a demographic of people that your joke will appeal to. There are very few jokes that will amuse middle aged moms, college students, office workers, and tweens. If you instead focus your efforts on one of those groups you can work to emulate their subculture and become much more effective overall.

Make “inside” Jokes

The reason I put quotes around “inside” is because you want your jokes to reference things that most people will understand, but that they will feel special about for understanding. Great examples of this type of idea are jokes referencing historical trivia like Theodore Roosevelt’s “big stick” foreign policy or Julius Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul. Most college educated people have read about and will recognize such references, but won’t expect others to understand it, and be encouraged to buy the shirt specifically because it makes them feel that they appear more educated than the average person.

Get the Size and Location Right

This is as important as it is vague. The size of your design is completely dependent on what you’re trying to communicate. If you were making a shirt that said “if you can read this you better be buying me dinner” it makes a lot of sense for the design to be small and located somewhere that people shouldn’t be peering too closely. On the other hand if you are displaying any sort of image design you need to be sure that it’s large enough to be recognizable at a reasonable distance.

Also consider whether a non-standard location would complement your joke. It’s not difficult to print your design off center, at the bottom, or on the side of your shirt. However make sure you don’t do this just because you think it might be fun, it needs to make sense with your actual joke or it will just look like a printing mistake.


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Posted by Alice Jenkins

Alice Jenkins is a writer, graphic designer and marketer. When Alice isn’t nitpicking her own logo designs, she writes about social media, small business branding and fashion design. Alice writes for PensXpress, a business that specializes in personalized, imprinted pens.

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