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How to Design a Trendy T-Shirt in Illustrator

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Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

In the following tutorial, you will learn how to make a shirt design in Illustrator.

We'll start with some basic tools and vector shape building techniques to create the main shapes. Using blending techniques and a subtle gradient, you will learn how to add shading to your T-shirt design in Adobe Illustrator.

You'll learn how to use a simple opacity mask, and for the final touch you will learn how to create and add the Planet Express ship to your T-shirt illustration.

If you don't have the time to learn how to how to make T-shirt designs in Illustrator, you can always try Envato Elements, where you can find a massive collection of amazing shirt designs to choose from.

t shirt template illustratort shirt template illustratort shirt template illustrator

What You'll Learn as You Create This T-Shirt Illustration

  • How to set up a grid in Illustrator
  • How to warp shapes in Illustrator
  • How to add shading in Illustrator
  • How to mask in Illustrator
  • How to make a shirt design in Illustrator

Follow along with us over on our Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel:

1. How to Create a New Document and Set Up a Grid

Hit Control-N to create a new document. Select Pixels from the Units drop-down menu, set both Width and Height to 850, and then click that More Settings button. Select RGB for the Color Mode, set the Raster Effects to Screen (72 ppi), and then click Create Document.

Enable the Grid (View > Show Grid) and the Snap to Grid (View > Snap to Grid). To start off, you will need a grid every 10 px, so go to Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid, enter 10 in the Gridline every box and 1 in the Subdivisions box. Try not to get discouraged by all that grid—it will make your work easier, and keep in mind that you can easily enable or disable it using the Control-" keyboard shortcut.

You can learn more about Illustrator's grid system in this short tutorial from Andrei Stefan: Understanding Adobe Illustrator's Grid System.

You should also open the Info panel (Window > Info) for a live preview with the size and position of your shapes. Don't forget to set the unit of measurement to pixels from Edit > Preferences > Units. All these options will significantly increase your work speed. Now that you're set, let's learn how to design for T-shirts in Illustrator.

set up gridset up gridset up grid

2. How to Create the Sun

Step 1

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L) from your Toolbar and focus on the color settings. Remove the color from the stroke, and then select the fill and set its color to white (R=255 G=255 B=255). Move to your artboard and hold down the Shift key as you click and drag to easily create a 470 px circle—the grid and the Snap to Grid should make it easier.

With this shape selected, focus on the control panel. Make sure that the alignment is set to Artboard, and then click the Horizontal Align Center and Vertical Align Center buttons to easily move your circle to the center of the artboard.

circle centercircle centercircle center

Step 2

Make sure that your white circle is still selected and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Set the Offset to -90 px and click OK to create your new shape.

Keep it selected and focus on the Gradient panel (Window > Gradient). Just click the gradient thumbnail to fill your selection with a gradient, set the Angle to 90 degrees, and then focus on the gradient sliders.

Double-click the left one and set the color to R=193 G=3 B=75, double-click the right one and replace the color with R=252 G=194 B=68, and then click on the gradient bar to add a third gradient slider. Select it and set the Location to 50%, and then double-click it and change the color to R=250 G=65 B=34.

circle linear gradientcircle linear gradientcircle linear gradient

3. How to Add Hills to Your Illustrator T-Shirt Design

Step 1

Select the Rectangle Tool (R) and use it to create a 360 x 100 px shape. Fill this rectangle with R=252 G=194 B=68 and place it as shown in the first image.

Switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A), use it to select the top-right anchor point that makes up your rectangle, and drag it 60 px up, as shown in the second image.

rectangle yellowrectangle yellowrectangle yellow

Step 2

Make sure that your yellow shape is still selected and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag.

Check the Absolute and Smooth boxes, move the two sliders to 5 and 3, click OK to apply the effect, and then go to Object > Expand Appearance to expand the effect.

zig zag effectzig zag effectzig zag effect

Step 3

Select your white circle using the Selection Tool (V) and press Control-C and then Control-F to easily add a copy in front.

Hold down the Shift key to select this copy along with your yellow shape, and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder).

pathfinder intersectpathfinder intersectpathfinder intersect

Step 4

Reselect the Rectangle Tool (R) and use it to create a 320 x 130 px shape. Fill this rectangle with R=247 G=73 B=1 and place it as shown in the first image.

Switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A), use it to select the top-left anchor point and drag it 100 px up, as shown in the second image.

rectangle orangerectangle orangerectangle orange

Step 5

Make sure that your orange shape is still selected and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag.

Keep the existing settings, click OK to apply the effect, and then go to Object > Expand Appearance to expand the effect.

zig zag effectzig zag effectzig zag effect

Step 6

Select your white circle using the Selection Tool (V) and press Control-C and then Control-F to add a copy in front.

Select this copy along with your orange shape and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel.

intersect pathfinderintersect pathfinderintersect pathfinder

Step 7

Reselect the Rectangle Tool (R) and use it to create a 450 x 120 px shape. Fill this rectangle with R=193 G=3 B=75 and place it as shown in the first image.

Once you're done, go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag. Increase the Ridges per segment to 5, click OK to apply the effect, and then go to Object > Expand Appearance.

rectangle dark pinkrectangle dark pinkrectangle dark pink

Step 8

Again, select your white circle using the Selection Tool (V), and then press Control-C and Control-F to add a copy in front.

Select this copy along with your dark pink shape and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel.

intersect pathfinderintersect pathfinderintersect pathfinder

Step 9

Reselect the Rectangle Tool (R) and use it to create a 440 x 100 px shape. Fill this rectangle with R=121 G=3 B=70, place it as shown in the first image, and then go to Object > Path > Add Anchor Points.

Switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the anchor point highlighted in the first image and drag it 30 px up, as shown in the second image.

rectangle burgundyrectangle burgundyrectangle burgundy

Step 10

Make sure that your burgundy shape is still selected and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag. Lower the Ridges per segment back to 2, click OK to apply the effect, and then go to Object > Expand Appearance.

zig zag effectzig zag effectzig zag effect

Step 11

One last time, select your white circle using the Selection Tool (V), and then press Control-C and Control-F to add a copy in front.

Select this copy along with your burgundy shape and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel.

intersect pathfinderintersect pathfinderintersect pathfinder

4. How to Add Shading to the Adobe Illustrator T-Shirt Design

Step 1

Select your yellow and orange shapes and press Control-C > Control-F to add copies in front.

Unite these two copies using the Unite button from the Pathfinder panel, fill the resulting shape with black, and then go to Effect > Path > Offset Path.

Set the Offset to 30 px, click OK to apply the effect, and then go to Object > Expand Appearance to expand it.

unite pathfinderunite pathfinderunite pathfinder

Step 2

Select your sun shape and add a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F).

Select this copy along with the black shape and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel. Move to the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and drag the resulting black shapes below those yellow and orange shapes.

Make sure that your black shape is still selected, focus on the Appearance panel (Window > Appearance) or the Transparency panel (Window > Transparency), lower the Opacity to 25% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

sun shadowsun shadowsun shadow

Step 3

Select your orange and dark pink shapes and press Control-C > Control-F to add copies in front.

Unite these two copies using the Unite button from the Pathfinder panel, fill the resulting shape with black, and then go to Effect > Path > Offset Path.

This time set the Offset to 20 px, click OK to apply the effect, and then go to Object > Expand Appearance to expand it.

unite pathfinder offset pathunite pathfinder offset pathunite pathfinder offset path

Step 4

Select your yellow shape and add a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F).

Select this copy along with the black shape and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel. Move to the Layers panel to drag your resulting black shapes below the orange one.

Make sure that this black shape is selected, lower the Opacity to 50% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

shadow blend modeshadow blend modeshadow blend mode

Step 5

Select your dark pink shape and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Set the Offset to 20 px, click OK to create the new shape, and fill it with black.

Select your orange shape and add a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Select this copy along with the black shape and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel.

Keep the resulting shape selected, lower the Opacity to 60%, and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

offset path shadowoffset path shadowoffset path shadow

Step 6

Select your burgundy shape and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Set the Offset to 20 px, click OK to create the new shape, and fill it with black.

Select your dark pink shape and add a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F). Select this copy along with the black shape and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel.

Keep the resulting shape selected, lower the Opacity to 25%, and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

offset path shadowoffset path shadowoffset path shadow

5. How to Add Trees to the Adobe Illustrator T-Shirt Design

Step 1

For the following steps, you will need a grid every 5 px, so go back to Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid, just enter 5 in the Gridline every box, and click OK.

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 70 px circle, and fill it with R=193 G=3 B=75.

Switch to the Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C) and click the top anchor point, and then use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select the same point and drag it 120 px up, as shown in the third image.

anchor point toolanchor point toolanchor point tool

Step 2

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 20 px square, fill it with black, and place it as shown in the first image.

Switch to the Delete Anchor Point Tool (-) and use a simple click to remove the bottom-left anchor point.

Continue with the Selection Tool (V) and hold down the Alt as you click and drag this black triangle to easily duplicate it. Add two copies, rotate them, and place them as shown in the third image.

Once you're done, select all three triangles along with the shape that lies in the back and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel.

delete anchor point tooldelete anchor point tooldelete anchor point tool

Step 3

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M) and use it to create a 10 x 150 px shape. Fill this rectangle with R=121 G=3 B=70 and place it as shown in the first image.

Switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A), hold down the Shift key to select the top anchor points, and go to Object > Path > Average. Just check the Both box and click OK to easily turn your rectangle into a triangle.

average triangleaverage triangleaverage triangle

Step 4

Select the two shapes that make up your tree and place them as shown in the first image. Press Control-G to Group these two shapes if you like to keep things more organized.

Add several copies of this group (Control-C > Control-V), resize and spread them roughly as shown in the second image. Play with the colors and remember that you can use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to quickly grab colors from other elements in your design.

tree grouptree grouptree group

6. How to Add Clouds to Your T-Shirt Design

Step 1

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L) and create a 280 x 80 px shape. Fill it with R=252 G=194 B=68 and go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Zig Zag.

Just increase the Ridges per segment to 3, click OK, and then go to Effect > Distort & Transform > Roughen.

Make sure that the Absolute and Smooth boxes are checked, move the two sliders to 15 px and 1, click OK to apply the effect, and then go to Object > Expand Appearance to expand it.

zig zag roughen effectzig zag roughen effectzig zag roughen effect

Step 2

Pick the Rectangle Tool (M) and use it to create a shape that covers the bottom half of the shape made in the previous step.

Once you're done, select both shapes and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel.

minus front pathfinderminus front pathfinderminus front pathfinder

Step 3

Pick the Anchor Point Tool (Shift-C) and click the two anchor points highlighted in the first image.

Switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A) and use it to move the left anchor point about 20 px to the left and the right anchor point about 20 px to the right, as shown in the third image.

edit anchor pointedit anchor pointedit anchor point

Step 4

Make sure that your cloud shape is still selected and focus on the control panel, where you can easily adjust the size.

Lower the Width to 270 px and the Height to 40 px, and then place your shape as shown in the first image. Keep it selected and go to Object > Transform > Move (Shift-Control-M).

Just set the Horizontal value to -20 px and Vertical value to 20 px, and then click the Copy button to add a copy of your cloud 20 px down and 20 px to the left from the original one. Fill this copy with black.

cloud shapecloud shapecloud shape

Step 5

Pick the Selection Tool (V) and remember to hold down the Alt key as you click and drag your yellow cloud shape to duplicate it.

Lower the width and height of this new shape to 195 px and 30 px, and then place it as shown in the first image. Keep it selected and go to Object > Transform > Move (Shift-Control-M).

Set both Horizontal and Vertical values to 20 px, click the Copy button and fill the resulting shape with black.

duplicate cloud shapeduplicate cloud shapeduplicate cloud shape

Step 6

Select your black cloud shapes and press Control-8 to turn them into a compound path (Object > Compound Path > Make), and then select the sun shape and press Control-C > Control-F to add a copy in front.

Select this copy along with your compound path and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel. Press Control-8 again to turn the resulting group of shapes into a new compound path, and then lower its Opacity to 40% and change the Blending Mode to Soft Light.

cloud shadowscloud shadowscloud shadows

7. How to Add the Birds

Step 1

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L) and create two 35 x 30 px shapes. Fill these shapes with black and place them as shown in the first image.

Once you're done, select both shapes and click the Unite button from the Pathfinder panel.

unite pathfinderunite pathfinderunite pathfinder

Step 2

Reselect the Ellipse Tool (L) and this time create two 40 x 35 px shapes. Fill these shapes with a random color and place them as shown in the first image.

Once you're done, select both shapes and click the Unite button from the Pathfinder panel.

unite pathfinderunite pathfinderunite pathfinder

Step 3

Select the two shapes made in the previous two steps and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel. Make sure that the resulting shape is filled with black (R=0 G=0 B=0).

bird shapebird shapebird shape

Step 4

Add your bird shape and two more copies to your design, as shown in the first image.

Select all three shapes and go to Effect > Warp > Flag. Check the Horizontal box, drag the Bend slider to 25%, click OK to apply the effect, and then press Control-G to group all your bird shapes.

warp effectwarp effectwarp effect

Step 5

Select your group of bird shapes along with the sun shapes, go to the Transparency panel, and click the Make Mask button. Remember to uncheck the Clip box to mask from your sun the shapes that make up the bird.

opacity maskopacity maskopacity mask

8. How to Add the Planet Express Ship to the T-Shirt Illustration

Step 1

For these final steps, you will need a grid every 1 px, so go one more time to Edit > Preferences > Guides & Grid, enter 1 in the Gridline every box, and click OK.

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L) to create a 112 x 32 px shape and fill it with R=193 G=3 B=75.

Switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the right anchor point, and drag it 2 px down, and then select the left anchor point and drag it 2 px down and 2 px to the left.

ellipse toolellipse toolellipse tool

Step 2

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 114 x 18 px shape and place it exactly as shown in the first image.

Select this rectangle along with the shape that lies in the back and click the Minus Front button from the Pathfinder panel.

minus front pathfinderminus front pathfinderminus front pathfinder

Step 3

Focus on the right side of your new shape and make sure that the Rectangle Tool (M) is still active. Create a 16 x 7 px shape, fill it with R=252 G=194 B=68, and place it as shown in the first image.

Switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the bottom-left anchor point, and drag it 5 px to the right, as shown in the second image.

Select the shape that lies in the back and add a copy in front (Control-C > Control-F), and then select this copy along with the yellow shape and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel.

yellow rectangleyellow rectangleyellow rectangle

Step 4

Using the Ellipse Tool (L), create four 5 px circles. Fill all these shapes with R=252 G=194 B=68 and place them in a perfect row, as shown in the first image.

Switch to the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 111 x 2 px shape, fill it with the same color, and place it as shown in the second image.

yellow circlesyellow circlesyellow circles

Step 5

Now, for the more challenging part, you will have to pick the Pen Tool (P), create the shapes shown in the following images, and fill them all with R=121 G=3 B=70.

pen tool vector shapespen tool vector shapespen tool vector shapes

Step 6

Using the Rectangle Tool (M), create a 22 x 13 px shape, fill it with purple, and place it as shown in the first image.

Keep this shape selected, switch to the Direct Selection Tool (A), and focus on the control panel, where you can set the Corner Radius to 7 px.

Corners RadiusCorners RadiusCorners Radius

Step 7

Pick the Ellipse Tool (L), create a 24 x 33 px shape, fill it with R=193 G=3 B=75, and place it roughly as shown in the first image.

Select this ellipse along with the purple rounded rectangle and click the Intersect button from the Pathfinder panel.

Intersect PathfinderIntersect PathfinderIntersect Pathfinder

Step 8

Select all the shapes that make up your Planet Express ship and press Control-G to Group them. Place this group as shown in the second image, and your T-shirt design in Illustrator is complete.

planet express shipplanet express shipplanet express ship

Congratulations! You're Done!

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial and can apply these techniques to make T-shirt designs in Illustrator. Once created, you might want to check how your design would look on a T-shirt. Check out Placeit, where you can find plenty of T-shirt templates for Illustrator designs.

Now that you know how to design for T-shirts in Illustrator, feel free to adjust the design and make it your own. You can find some great sources of inspiration at Envato Elements, with interesting solutions to make T-shirt designs in Illustrator.

t-shirt templatet-shirt templatet-shirt template
t-shirt templatet-shirt templatet-shirt template
t-shirt templatet-shirt templatet-shirt template

Amazing Shirt Designs From Envato Elements

Envato Elements is an excellent resource for amazing shirt designs. Here's a short list of some of the most popular T-shirt design templates for Illustrator designs.

T-Shirt Template for Illustrator Designs: Part 1 (AI, EPS, JPG, PNG, SVG)

This first collection comes with 37 amazing shirt designs with different themes such as camping, adventure, traveling, American football, vintage surfing, music, windsurfing, or kitesurfing.

t-shirt templatet-shirt templatet-shirt template

Off Road Adventure Illustrator T-Shirt Template (AI, EPS, PSD)

Check out this Illustrator T-shirt template and use it whenever you wish to add a design on a T-shirt with just a few clicks.

Illustrator t-shirt templateIllustrator t-shirt templateIllustrator t-shirt template

T-Shirt Template for Illustrator Designs: Part 2 (AI, EPS, JPG, PDF, PNG, PSD, SVG)

This pack features 30 amazing shirt designs that could be perfect for camping adventure, surfing, Father's Day, or old garage designs.

t-shirt templatet-shirt templatet-shirt template

Typography T-Shirts Design Template for Illustrator (AI, EPS, PSD)

Want to keep it all text? Search no more! This Illustrator T-shirt design template is the perfect solution. The text and colors are fully editable, and you can scale your design without losing any quality.

Illustrator t-shirt templateIllustrator t-shirt templateIllustrator t-shirt template

T-Shirt Template for Illustrator Designs: Part 3 (EPS, AI, JPG, PDF, PNG, PSD, SVG)

This collection grants you access to 16 amazing shirt designs. The themes go from summer vacation to girl power, funny birthday messages, and much more.

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Want to Learn More?

We have loads of tutorials on Envato Tuts+, from beginner to intermediate level. Take a look!

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