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Art and Soul: A look at Design Services with Graphic Illustrator Kate S.

It happens to the best of us. We know we want a cool design on our custom shirt, but something’s off with our idea. Either we’re drawing a blank in coming up with the perfect art for our design, or the fonts we’re using seem off. Fortunately, Custom Ink has you covered with our Design Services team. Whether it’s with a simple upgrade on your existing design or a personalized piece of art to represent yourself or your business, Design Services can elevate any design to a piece of art worthy of any cause.

Black and white illustration of woman wearing glasses

Kate’s self-portrait

The Design Services team includes a number of talented Graphic Illustrators who take on all the hard work that goes into taking your ideas and turning them into eye-catching art for your custom gear. We were lucky enough to talk to Kate S., one of our artists, and learned more about the role and all the magic that happens behind the scenes.


CI: What do Graphic Illustrators do?

KS: Graphic Illustrators work together with our customers and sales experts to provide custom solutions for design requests. We combine text with illustrations, and we may base these on customer-provided photos or draw them from scratch. Our goal is to make sure the final printed product will look great and communicate the message and values of the group or event.


CI: What tools/programs do you primarily use for your work?

KS: I spend 90% of my time working with vector artwork in Adobe Illustrator, but I also use Photoshop and Clip Studio for sketching and for manipulating some special types of files. I use a graphics tablet to draw on the computer, and a small notebook and pen to quickly jot down ideas.

Illustration of two Golden Retrievers with text Molson & Maple below

Kate helped bring popular Instagram stars Molson & Maple to life on a shirt with her art. The custom design helped launch their successful Fundraiser!

CI: What is your favorite part of your role?

KS: There’s a lot of variety in the type and complexity of requests we see and it’s really interesting to see what ideas our customers have come up with. And there’s always something new to learn too! I appreciate the challenge.


CI: How is creating art for a t-shirt and custom apparel different than your normal method of creating art?

KS: The context where the design will be seen is very important. I have to think about whether the main idea will be clear if someone’s looking at a shirt from several feet away, and also how the design will actually drape and fit over the shape of a human body. A sheet of paper has very clear boundaries and you draw on it to fill a specific shape, but when you put a design on a shirt you have different constraints. I usually start by deciding on the overall shape of the design—for example, a circle to show togetherness or an asymmetrical organic shape to show spontaneity. I also think about the number of colors that can be printed based on the design budget, and the level of detail that can be printed clearly on a shirt.

Illustration of a bust with planets coming out of the brain

Kate brought a customer’s vision to life in this vivid 4-color design.

CI: Do you do art outside of your role? 

KS: Yes, as a hobby I draw my own art in pen and ink and digitally.


CI: What are your biggest influences on the art you create for this role?

KS: My peers on the team are a great inspiration, and I’ve learned so much from them. Poster designs, packaging designs, and really most kinds of design seen in the wild are a good source of inspiration for art styles and trends. And I love comics. Even a single illustration in one design on a shirt has a narrative, no matter how simple, and there’s a lot to learn from studying the way stories are told in comics.


CI: How much of your own style are you able to put into customer requests?

KS: One design can look quite different from the next, as far as style goes, although I think everyone on the team can recognize each other’s work. For custom design requests, we love to see inspiration images so that we know we are on the same page about style as the client, since describing style in words is more limited. I combine that guidance with my experience of what prints well in order to synthesize a style that captures the right mood and will result in a quality printed product.

Illustration of cartoon tiger on books and school supplies with text Ms. Little's Learners

Our Graphic Illustrator team can handle all sorts of styles—here is a cute class shirt that Kate designed.

CI: Do you have any tips for people looking to create strong t-shirt designs?

KS: Know what you’re trying to say and make sure the most important thing is the most visible thing on the shirt, be it your company name or a photo of your dog. You can convey the reading order through scale, position, and contrast. When we read a design we first look at the largest thing at the top of a design with the most contrast. Don’t be afraid to make it big, fill up that space. Stick to one or two fonts to achieve cohesiveness. Bigger text can be funkier and more decorative, for smaller text think about whether your font choice will be readable.


Feeling inspired to start designing your own custom merch with our Design Services team? Find out more information here, or unleash your inner artist with our Design Lab! 

Kendra is the Copywriting Support at Custom Ink. She has a background in art but she loves writing, so she finds a compromise between the two by creating comics in her free time.

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    • Troy Marsh

      Thank you for a non-fluff, insightful article. As a ‘graphically challenged” yet creative person, the CUSTOM INK Design Services artists have contributed to a number of my designs over the years. This ‘value added’ professional service makes you the “go-to” vendor for my companies needs.

    • bruce watruba

      good day, i tried for 2 months too get a modified design for logging from custom ink and i was told if i ordered a min. of 6 shirts you would alter my design free, i’ve saved the e-mails. i then got transferred from one person to the next and each time starting over my idea plus suddenly there would be a fee to do it?? in the past i had great service from custom ink however something changed. i asked to deal with one person to accomplish my design asap, i think that’s where the problem started. i still think it is a good company and their products are 2nd to none but i had to order my last shirt order from another company.
      respectfully, bruce

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