T-Shirt printing artwork -Creating a distressed or vintage look.


We get asked, quite regularly, how we can help create a ‘distressed’ or ‘vintage’ look for our t shirt printing customers.

The answer is three-fold.

  • 1 Select the right garment.
  • 2 Add the ‘distress’ into your artwork.
  • 3 Use the correct ink.

Select the right garment first

There are a number of garments from various different brands which will give you a head start. They will have undergone some additional processes to make them look a little bit tired, a little bit worn.

It is not 100% necessary to begin with a vintage looking garment. Normal garments can look very effective with the addition of distressed artwork.

Here are some options.

EP31 Organic Vintage T (ladies version EP32)

EP’ stands for Earth Positive. This T shirt comes from a fairy extensive rage of ethical t shirts, hoodies and sweats. The entire range is FAIR WEAR and there is a scheme in place to measure and mitigate the carbon foot-print for these garments.

If you want to maintain the ethical status of this garment, consider using water-based inks.

Our range have all been approved by the Soil Association and are approved by the Global Organic Textile Standard.


Stanley/Stella Imagines Vintage T-shirt

Stanley Stella Trips Vintage

This garment goes the extra mile with ‘distressed’. Difficult to see in this picture, the vintage look is achieved with some careful damage done to the neck and arm cuffs. Imagine a small mouse nibbling the edges.

This effect is unique amongst our vintage range of products and coupled with the faded dye finish, this really is as holistic a concept for the ‘lived in look ‘that there is.

This garment is popular with our ‘lifestyle’ brand customers such as little surf shops and niche outdoor sports brands.

There are mens and ladies T-shirts to match.

B&C Denim Collection plug in T-Shirt for men

If you want to go ‘extreme’, then this one might be for you. Zoolander might call this ‘Derelicte’. B&C call it the ‘plug in’.

Shabby chic and Deconstructed might be other nouns for this look…….cough!

You probably need tattoos and a mop of hair to pull it off which makes it a good option for Hipster Bike Gangs and radical surfers pushing the edge.

If you couple this with a discharge print, you have the whole package. Ladies version also.

This is by no means a definitive list, for more information ask one of our expert sales team

Add the ‘distress’ into your artwork.

Any artwork can be distressed.

All you need to do is add an ‘overlay’ in Photoshop. There are hundreds of disruptive template patterns to choose from by simply doing a google search.


The final effect will vary enormously depending on what type of overlay you use. It is also fun to play with textures.

It is possible to find textures by doing a google search and then convert them to greyscale, boost the contrast and then remove the black to leave the white, which you overlay on your artwork.

Search for sack textures

Once you have created the look you are after, you now need to consider how it is to be printed.

Use the correct ink.

You have 2 ink options.

Plastisol or waterbased inks.

For vintage designs, we would recommend water based inks.

These are split into regular and discharge.

The final result .

On light coloured garments, regular waterbased inks can be used but on dark garments we need to use a discharge water based ink which has a bleaching agent in the ink. This removes the garment colour while laying down the ink pigment at the same time.

The image on the left shows 2 prints. Discharge is on the left and plastisol is on the right.

You will see that the discharge ink has penetrated the fibres of the garment and you can see the weave. The plastisol print has covered the weave and sits on top of the t shirt material rather than penetrating. This will produce a different feeling. Plastisol is a rougher, heavier feel.

The same design realised in 3 different ways.

If you need help with vintage overlays, we can offer a design service.

Ask your account manager for more info.

Author: Arron Harnden


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