When designing a t-shirt, choosing the colors can be the trickiest part. Not only do you have to pick colors for the design, but you also have to consider the color of the shirt itself, and make sure that your design shows up well on the t-shirt. Whether you’d call yourself a color whiz or not, we’re going to give you a basic breakdown of color theory, and how it can help you make your next t-shirt design your best one yet.

First, a great resource we recommend checking out is Adobe Color CC. It makes it super simple to pick one base color and see all of the different combinations that would go well with it.

Let’s cover some basic color theory by going over four basic color types:

  • Monochromatic
  • Analogous
  • Complementary
  • Triadic

Monochromatic Colors

What are they: Monochromatic color schemes are derived from a single base hue and extended using its shades, tones and tints. Tints are achieved by adding white and shades and tones are achieved by adding a darker color, grey or black.

Tip: Luckily, there isn’t a ton to warn about here. Simple, monochromatic designs work every time! They look really clean, make complex designs simple, and they get worn time and time again. When in doubt, go monochrome.

Analogous Colors

What are they: Analogous colors are groups of three colors that are next to each other on the color wheel, sharing a common color, with one being the dominant color, which tends to be a primary or secondary color, and a tertiary. Red, orange, and red-orange are examples. Analogous color schemes are often found in nature and are harmonious and pleasing to the eye.

Tip: Make sure you have enough contrast when choosing an analogous color scheme. Choose one color to dominate, a second to support. The third color is used (along with black, white or gray) as an accent.

Complimentary Colors

What are they: Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are considered to be complementary colors (example: red and green). The high contrast of complementary colors creates a vibrant look especially when used at full saturation. This color scheme must be managed well so it is not jarring.

Tip: Complementary colors are tricky to use in large doses, but work well when you want something to stand out. Complementary colors are really bad for text.

Triad Colors

What are they: A triadic color scheme uses colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. Their color harmonies tend to be quite vibrant, even if you use pale or unsaturated versions of your hues.

Tip: the colors should be carefully balanced – let one color dominate and use the two others for accent.

We’ll admit that designing, like screen printing, is more of an art than a science. And even though we just gave you a bunch of rules on how colors work, we also think rules are made to be broken! So don’t be afraid to step outside of these boundaries if it feels right, because odds are, it is.

Get started creating your vision – we can’t wait to see what you come up with and bring it to life!