You’ve got your design all ready. Everything about it is perfect for promoting your business. But you still have to choose the color of the custom t-shirt you want to print it on. This is a fun process, but you should be aware that there are drawbacks to choosing the wrong color and you don’t want to be disappointed because of an avoidable mistake.

Here are some tips for choosing the perfect t-shirt color:

First, let’s review some basic color theory. You’ve seen the color wheel at some point in your life, but in case you’ve forgotten what it looks like, here it is:


In the middle, you see the primary colors: red, blue, yellow. Connected to them are the secondary colors that are created when the primaries are combined: violet, green, orange. Surrounding all of those are the tertiary colors that are created when the primaries are mixed with the secondaries: red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-green, yellow-orange, red-orange.

Things get a little more complicated when you start adding white and black to the colors on the wheel. This is when you need to start using terms that artists and designers are very familiar with: hue, tint, tone, shade.

  • Hue is simple: it’s the pure color that you see on the above color wheel.
  • Tint is what you get when you start adding white to the hue. Tints are used to lighten a color.
  • Tone is what you get when you add grey to the hue. Tones are used to dull a color.
  • Shade is the result of adding black to the hue. Shades are used to darken a color.

Via HubSpot

Now, how do you use this basic color theory to choose the perfect shirt color? First, you need to decide what kind of color context you want for your design. Color context refers to the phenomenon that occurs when two or more colors are put next to each other. For example: Look at these pairs of circles and how different the center color looks from one to the other.

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Each pair’s center color is the exact same–it just changes its vibrancy based on the background color, which is what’s referred to as contrast. The more contrast your design has on the t-shirt, the more vibrant your design will appear. However, you may not want a super-vibrant design if you’re going for a more subtle approach.

Luckily, we can help with choosing a high-contrast garment or a more subdued one. It just depends on the kind of harmony you can achieve to create a visually-pleasing garment. To achieve such harmony, there are color schemes that can guide your decision.

Complementary: Complementary colors are directly across from each other on the color wheel. For example, red and green, or yellow and violet. A complementary color scheme will add more contrast to your design, but this works better if you have a design that is monochromatic (which we’ll get to in a minute). For instance, if you have a blue and white logo, you can consider putting it on an orange shirt if you want the logo to be very vibrant. However, if you have artwork that is already complementary, say variations of yellow and violet, putting that on a yellow or violet shirt may make the entire garment difficult to appreciate.

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Analogous: Analogous color schemes are created by using three to five colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. For example:

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If you have the analogous colors on the left in the above image in your design, you can add to the harmony by choosing a soft yellow t-shirt. This is considered low-contrast, but it is very aesthetically pleasing.

Monochromatic: Monochromatic colors come from the same hue family, just with various tints, shades, and tones. For example:

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While a monochromatic scheme won’t add a lot of contrast by itself, if your design is monochromatic, you can consider putting it on a color that is complementary to your main color to make it look vibrant on the garment. With the example above, a green-hued t-shirt would really make the design pop.

Triadic: Triadic color schemes consist of any three colors that are equally spaced on the color wheel. For example:

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Triadic color schemes can get chaotic if you don’t choose some tints or shades to act as buffers to the main colors. For that reason, if you have a design with the colors above, you can choose an orange garment that will fit the scheme, or you can choose a neutral like black, white, or heather grey to let the design stand by itself.

Split-Complementary: A split-complementary color scheme consists of a main color and the two colors on either side of its complement. For example:

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The above example has a lot of contrast while shades and tints of blue keep it appealing. To best complement a design with this color scheme, it’s usually a good idea to choose a neutral. This will keep the design vibrant without making the colors muddy by adding another red or orange.

Tetradic/Double-Complementary: This is exactly how it sounds: two complementary colors used on at the same time. This kind of color scheme works best on a neutral to avoid the garment becoming overpowering.

Here’s an overview:

Via Canva

Ultimately, the choice you make for your t-shirt depends on your goals for the garment. If it’s being made for a fun event, you can go high-contrast with bright colors. If you are trying to advertise your brand, you may want to play it a little safer.

No matter what you choose, Mountain Screen Impression’s expert team can help you make the perfect choice for your brand new custom t-shirt.