Custom T-shirt Design

I bought a Silhouette Cameo just before Christmas last year, and have been having a lot of fun creating custom graphics for my Etsy shop with it ever since.

It is an electronic cutting machine that connects to my mac. It is similar to a printer in the way it works, but it doesn’t print it cuts the designs you send from the Silhouette Studio software. You can use it for paper, vinyl and fabric, I bought mine mainly for use with Heat Transfer Vinyl to make t-shirt graphics. You need to create a design for each color, and then layer them. I have only made 1 and 2 color designs so far. I create my designs in Adobe Illustrator, then export the file as a CAD DXF file into the Silhouette Studio software, where I get them ready for cutting from there. I just prefer to use the design program I am used to, as it has more features is just a better illustration program is general. Once my design has been imported into the Silhouette Studio, I then prepare the page size and duplicate the design as many times as needed so I can print them all on one sheet of vinyl. I also flip the design, as this is necessary for Heat Transfer vinyl so that when I print the design onto my shirt, it is facing the correct way. There is a front and back on the vinyl, with a sticky film that is revealed once you peel away the areas that you don’t want from your design, which makes it easy to keep in place on your shirt.

There is quite a learning curve with this machine, as the blade has many settings and the cutting needs to be adjusted to the right speed using the software. The thickness of the material also needs to be indicated. There are a lot of built in settings which come up when you select your material but I have found whilst wasting vinyl and paper that these sometimes need to be adjusted. So now I take a screenshot of the settings which work for each product that I use regularly and refer to that. Sometimes your material will not be in the built in options at all, for example Glitter Heat Transfer Vinyl. And then the setting for this will all differ depending on which brand of vinyl or paper you use… Are getting the picture of why it can be a little complicated to get the settings right?!

So once you’ve cracked that and you’ve cut your design, you then have to peel away the parts of the vinyl that you don’t want on your shirt. There is a nifty tool called the ‘weeding tool’, which is basically a pointy metal stick that you use to get the material away from the sticky backing (which my Heat Transfer Vinyl brand has but they don’t all have this – It’s called ‘Revolution’.)  Sometimes there are places where I need to use a blade to complete a cut, but mostly it cuts the design out pretty well. It is definitely a little fiddly with complex designs but also very satisfying when you see the design revealed (and fun to peel!)

Once your vinyl is ready, you simply place it on your shirt and press it with a heat press. Ask the manufacturer of your vinyl for the best temperature and time settings to use. I took some photos of a custom wholesale order I made today for Kiddie Kouture in Beverly to demonstrate.

The really great thing about making designs like this, is you can make anything you want, whether it be a short run or a custom name and number shirt for a birthday party. I used to get my designs made into screen-printed vinyl but the most cost effective order number is 50 sheets and they are large sheets so I would actually be getting around 200-300 of the same design as I would repeat it on the sheet (so I would often make designs in the same color schemes on purpose to maximize what I was getting.) The problem with this is you end up with a lot you don’t use. The Silhouette Cameo has allowed me to only make as many as I need. It’s a little more time consuming but more cost effective in the long run. It is just super fun to be able to make any design you feel like without worrying if they will sell in massive quantities. You can get very creative and just play around.

I’ve made the following custom designs for my Etsy shop using my machine, where you can specify the name and/or the age that you want on the onesie or t-shirt. This is where the custom capabilities become really useful. Next up, I’m making an ‘Archie-saurus’ Dinosaur T-shirt for my son Archie’s 5th Birthday Party! Please send me a message if you have any questions on this topic or any custom t-shirt design requests.

Custom T-shirt Designs