There are a variety of different software programs you can use. Some are free, others are not-so-free.
Free software like Canva, Paint.net and Gimp can work fine, but you will be limited to what you can do.
I started out using Photoshop, but invested in Adobe’s Creative Cloud Suite so I could learn Illustrator.
Illustrator creates vector files that can be scaled up or down with no loss in quality or resolution.
It’s also best for drawing shape-based designs because it’s much easier to manipulate and warp shapes compared to Photoshop.
For example, in Illustrator you can stack two shapes on top of each other and delete part of either shape to make a new shape.
Photoshop is still my go-to software out of comfort and know-how, but I’m forcing myself to do more in Illustrator.
I don’t think the average person needs to learn both. Just pick one. They both work fine for printing on T-shirts.
Need a Visual?
This video will explain the major differences between Photoshop and Illustrator (pixel vs. vector software), and it’s in layman’s terms without all the techy talk!
Software Options for POD
Here is a list of software programs you can use…
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Illustrator
- Photoshop Elements
- Corel Draw
- GIMP (free)
- Paint.net (free)
- Inkscape (free)
- Canva (free)
- Picmonkey (free)
- Affinity Designer
- Word Swag (free app)
- Over (free app)
- Gravit (free)
Illustrator and Photoshop Alternatives
I always recommend people learn Illustrator or Photoshop because they are loaded with features and have become the industry standard for designing.
But they might not be in your budget.
Rumor has it that GIMP and Photoshop Elements are great alternatives to the full version of Photoshop.
I tried GIMP (free) very briefly and HATED it — probably because I learned Photoshop first, so my head wanted to use the Photoshop logic to maneuver around.
On the other hand, many others love it so it depends on what you prefer.
Give it a try if you don’t want to buy Photoshop. You may love it too. 🙂
Inkscape, Gravit (free) and Affinity Designer are great, less expensive alternatives to Illustrator.
These programs create VECTOR files.
Once again, vector files can be scaled up (increased in size) with no loss in quality.
Having said that, my T-shirts created in Photoshop look perfectly fine and clear. Also, Merch By Amazon even gives you a Photoshop template so they even approve the use of Photoshop for their program.
Photoshop is also much less expensive than Illustrator, and that’s another reason many people use that over Illustrator.
I Teach Photoshop & Will Help You Learn It Quickly
If you are interested in learning Photoshop, I have a course that will shorten the learning curve tremendously. You can learn more about it here.
When I become more comfortable with Illustrator, I will eventually teach that as well.
What’s great about both programs is since they are owned by the same company, once you learn one, it’s easier to pick up the other because the tools are very similar in many cases.
Hi Lisa. Great article! I have a couple of questions concerning this content and I think you can help. I use photos primarily, for my new print on demand outfit. Many products like beach towels require big pixel files (8000 x 16000) and must be uploaded in jpeg or sometimes png? I love the idea of re-sizing up and down in vector format. Can I convert back into jpeg format once I’ve re-sized to meet the apps requirements?
Besides a lot of scaling up/down images, I would also like to be able to encompass the standard design elements like “add text” ect. Which app do you suggest would be best for me based on my needs? Grateful Brent
Yes, you most certainly can! Once vectorized, you can save as any format.
I use Photoshop and Illustrator but I understand that is kinda pricey for many. You can use Canva for free. They have an app version too. All you do is import your image and add text.
Hi Lisa & Brent,
I use Autodek Graphic, mostly on my iPad. It’s a small one off payment and having tried illustrator for iPad I can categorically say Graphic bests this hands down. I’m sure illustrator beats this on the desk top but I’ve not tried it out yet. The desktop graphic is nice and easy to use if you’ve used the iPad app.
Thanks for sharing this tip, Vincent. Never heard of this one.
I’ve been using an older 2nd hand bought version Photoshop for ages, years, to touch up photos which is fine but having recently read articles about the controversy with Adobe third party licensing I’m glad I never upgraded to monthly version, I have looked into 2 alternatives, the new versions of Gimp and Inkscape ( FREE) being a newbie at this tee shirt clothing designing need to keep costs down . After scouring YouTube to find tutorials found there are plenty now , it’s amazing what these two programs can do which Photoshop doesn’t , if your serious about starting logos and text design then learning vector drawing is a must , Inkscape is free , Gimp has some great options similar to Inkscape which you can use to help finish design when using clothing templates to adjust bits pieces but remember to work in large formats to able to scale down . As for photos that’s going to be hard rip away from Photoshop . Saying that I found best app for tweaks to colourise photos on your mobile is undoubtedly Snapseed which my Canon camera allows me to download load direct to mobile ( and remote control taking pics) great for on the move , hopefully this helps others on next to nothing or no budget to get started
Yep. A lot of people love Inkscape. I tried to use it on my Mac but their latest version wasn’t compatible. I also tried Gravit Designer. It’s very similar to Illustrator in a lot of ways. I loved it so much they gave me a discount and I’m going to feature them on my channel. I am using vector/Illustrator much more now compared to PS and it’s been a GAME-changer with creating things with shapes.
But I always go back to PS for my favorite custom shapes and I like to use it for distressing things because I have a lot of good brushes. And I love that I can just paste those shapes right into Illustrator since they are already vector. So I go back and forth but have no regrets about buying the Adobe suite. It has paid me back 10 times over, especially now that I’ve learned to do some very unique stuff for my brand by manipulating letters in Illustrator. That said, I understand wanting to keep costs down. I plan on doing a video on Gravit Designer. It’s much less expensive than Illustrator and I was blown away at how similar the shortcut commands are.
Thank you Lisa! This was a great article very important stuff here. I agree, I didn’t like GIMP that much. There is definitely a learning curve. Gimp is good for people who have lots of time on their hands and on a budget. Thank you again!
If you were starting over would you work on your illustrator skills along with photoshop or would you still focus on photoshop?
I would have started with Illustrator, honestly. I do use it somewhat now that I purchased in Feb, but I’m so comfy in Photoshop that it’s hard to convert. They are very similar in their operations but Illustrator produces vector format files, which is best for large files. Having said that the pixel art that Photoshop uses looks totally fine on the shirt.
It’s taking me a lot longer to learn Illustrator though. I just find Photoshop much easier.
You would want to learn illustrator over photoshop if you can. It’s a vector image designing software versus photoshop which is raster. Things you create in illustrator can be resized big or small and never lose it’s quality.