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What are Graphic Tees?

J. Beam
J. Beam

Graphic tees are T-shirts with a graphic design located somewhere on the shirt. The image is typically screen printed on the front of the shirt, but some have designs on the side, the back, or the sleeves. Graphic tees have been making rounds in the fashion circuit for years, but they became extremely popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s as designers and clothing manufacturers of all sorts and sizes began taking advantage of a variety of graphic design techniques made possible by computers and technology.

The term “graphic tees” is used to describe T-shirts containing images, rather than describing the style or fit. Other terms associated with T-shirts include “vintage,” which can describe both style and a fit, “athletic,” which describes fit only, and “pocket,” which describes a style. Crewneck, v-neck, and deep-v also describe style. The term “novelty” typically describes a T-shirt with witty, humorous, or obnoxious words or phrases printed on it, but novelty tees could also be considered graphic, especially those containing easily recognized images.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

The images on these tees range widely from random art and licensed characters to bands and company logos. They are available for both genders and all ages, though are most abundant in youth departments and catalogs for young men and girls. Graphic tees displaying licensed characters, such as those created by Disney, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, are most popular amongst younger children, while older kids gravitate towards name brand graphic logos and artwork created by new and emerging music groups.

With technology like iron-on transfer paper, computer imaging software, and printers, it has become easy for people to create their own graphic designs for T-shirts. Companies offering to make tees from personal designs are also common, giving kids and would-be designers easy access to custom shirts.

The care instructions of graphic tees should be noted on the fabric care label, as some labels instruct the garment to be washed inside-out to avoid fading or cracking of the image. Higher quality fabric and printing methods may require no additional attention than the normal wash and dry.

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Discussion Comments


Anyone remember those dreadful graphic tees that were available in the 1970s? It was fairly common to go to a tee shirt shop, pick out a shirt and an iron on transfer and then the artwork would be applied to the shirt. The problem with the technology used to make those shirts is the transfer didn't bond very well with the fabric in the shirt and would flake off within a few months with regular washing.

Screen printing directly on fabric has prevented the problem and iron-ons have gotten better over the years. It's not uncommon to have a graphic tee last for years with proper care.

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