How to Create that Vintage Look with Custom Apparel


In apparel design, there’s never a one-size fits all approach. Maybe you want a shirt that’s super clean and minimal. Or maybe you need some sweatshirts that are colorful and bright. Whatever your preference, it’s important to have a vision in mind for your design style before printing.

One request we often hear from people is to make something with “that vintage feel” to it. Granted, this is a bit vague: but from our experience, we’ve been able to nail down a few tactics that work well for creating vintage style apparel. So if this is the kind of style you’re looking for, read on for some design ideas on how to create a vintage look in your shirts and apparel.

Go retro

Sometimes the best tactic is making the design itself a blast from the past. For example, take this Nintendo Power Glove tee we printed for Do317. They had a great idea for a retro t-shirt and we were happy to help them make it happen. The Nintendo Power Glove tee is a great example of referencing a cultural icon from yesteryear and putting it on an awesome shirt. You can read more about how this shirt was made here.

Do317 - Throwback Design Example

Distress your designs

Another method of creating a vintage look is to apply a distressed layer or reduce opacity to your design before printing. This is what gives designs that faded or worn look even when they're brand new. When used along with a nicely textured material, distressed designs can be perfect for vintage apparel. Additionally, applying a thinning agent to plastisol ink will allow the shirt to show through the design, which creates a more weathered look. 


Create transparencies from weird shapes

One of our favorite design experiments is to create new transparencies from odd shapes. Most people could fit a logo or words inside of a square or circle. But what about inside the outline of a bison? Or a rhino? Or what if we made a geometric bear? Full disclosure: we've done all of these things. But the main takeaway is to let your imaginiation run wild and see what comes out!


Mix textures and shirt cuts

Creating a vintage style shirt isn't all about the design though. You can also experiment with different shirt material textures and cuts. Screen printing on a baseball tee is a good way to make something that stands out from the rest. You can also print a standard design on a textured tri-blend shirt to give it a bit more depth. This Penny & Sparrow baseball tee is a good example of blending both of these tactics.


Although this list is by no means comprehensive, we hope these design ideas can get the creative juices flowing. Have more questions about designing custom apparel? Let's have a chat.