What if we said that race t-shirt designs are the most important part of a race?

We’d be wrong.

Nonetheless, t-shirt designs are a really important part of races, along with the preparation, participants, and volunteers.

A good race t-shirt design can do several things:

1. Support a cause or company
2. Be a souvenir
3. Create a sense of community among participants
4. Make you look cool

Whether you’re perpetually training for marathons, just like to volunteer and support good causes, or are a designer yourself, this article is relevant to you.

The Rise of Custom T-Shirt Designs

Custom T-Shirt Design rose to prominence over several decades in the mid and late 20th Century.

Since the 1970s, musicians and companies such as Coca-Cola and Disney have been using screen-printed t-shirts to advertise their products and promote their brand. It really took off in the 1990s when it became more popular for all types of business to create custom merchandise with their logos and slogans.

The rise in these t-shirt trends doesn’t only have to do with fashion, but with brand association.

The same is true for race t-shirt design: having an appealing shirt is not only a way to visually express your brand and sponsorship. It is also an opportunity to promote camaraderie among participants and volunteers. It something tangible and usable that will live on long after the event.

Did you know?

Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald was reportedly the first one to use the term “T-shirt” in print in his 1920 novel This Side of Paradise. Prior to this, it had been an undergarment for men adopted early on by groups such as the Navy and the Cooper Underwear Company.

What to Include in your Design

“Good design is good business.” Thomas Watson Jr.

Focus on clarity and content.

It’s unfortunate when you participate in an event and want to get a shirt but don’t like the design and won’t wear it again once you pass the finish line.

Have a race t-shirt design that’s simultaneously stylish and effective at communicating your brand and message. Know the race and the kinds of people involved. Should it be a more professional or humorous? Should it appeal to just adults, or to kids and families? Who will be wearing the shirt?

Tips to consider when designing:

  1. Colors are key.
  2. Use the shirt color as part of the design.
  3. Try to limit your design to three or fewer colors
  4. Don’t use too much text
  5. Know where you want to eye to focus (the logo, the event title, etc.)
  6. Design for your target audience
  7. Less is usually more. Keep it simple and make it pop.
  8. Support the sponsors either in the main design or on the back of the shirt.
  9. Keep design anchored around the top and center of the shirt (this will look the best on the most people)
  10. Consider the cost (the more colors you use the more it will cost).
  11. Think, would you wear it?

With so much variety and innovation regarding t-shirt design in the 21st and the popularity of graphic tees, there really is no right or wrong answer when it comes to your design. Just try your best to create something visually pleasing and effective and clearly promotes the race or the cause it supports.


Blue Ridge Graphics is a family-run business with 38 years of screen printing experience (and counting). Get in touch and get started with your own race t-shirt designs!

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