5 methods to get vintage looking custom shirts (while spending less on the printing)

When I told my business partner I was going to write an article about how to get vintage looking custom shirts, he said “oh good, because everyone wants that!”

And of course they do. They’re more interesting, they’re often better looking, and they can sell better if you’re ordering shirts to resell for your business.

Plus, you can often get vintage looking shirts while spending less per shirt.

Here are a few methods to get a vintage look and save money doing so:

how to make shirts look vintage

A multi color process print on heather shirts for a vintage effect

1 - Use one layer of traditional ink

We call this “punk rock white” at the shop.

With traditional ink, IE plastisol ink, you really need to put down two layers of white ink to make it pop and look bright.

So if you just put down one layer, it’s more faded looking, more vintage, if you will.

Punk rock white is the cheapest vintage method possible, because it’s just 1 color of ink (the cheapest way for us to print shirts anyway) and just 1 layer of the ink.

If you’re looking for a dark shirt with a vintage looking print, this is a great technique.

how to make t shirts look vintage

Punk Rock White on a Black Triblend shirt

vintage screen printing

This was a 2 color print, black ink and straight discharge ink on an orange 50/50 blend. Because it only partially discharged, it came out as a textured yellow print with the black as a trim color.

2 - Use a blend that doesn’t discharge well

At Vacord, we specialize in discharge printing, which is a method of removing and replacing the shirt’s color so that you get a really soft, vibrant print.

Discharge ink only works on natural fibers, like cotton, so on 50/50 poly/cotton blend shirts or tri-blend shirts, using discharge doesn’t give you a super vibrant print, but that’s what you’re going for here!

The resultant print is going to be more faded, more subtle, and look vintage. It’s an easy way to get the look you’re going for.

3 - Use heather garments

Heather garments are the shirts or hoodies you see that aren’t a solid color, but instead have a variety of thread colors that are basically the same color, which gives it a non-solid look.

And that variety can show up in a discharge print, especially if you’re doing a clear discharge print (IE just going for the bleach effect of discharge and not adding color to the ink).

And often heather garments are a blend of polyester and cotton (and/or rayon, another common synthetic fiber) and remember that cotton discharges but polyester doesn’t, which will result in an imperfect discharge print, which leads to the vintage look that you’re going for!

custom vintage shirts

This is just a 1 color print, but the fact that it's on a black heather shirt makes everything more interesting than yellow on a standard solid black shirt.

custom t shirts vintage

Both the white and the red ink in this print have some distressing to make it look vintage and to give it a 70s feel.

4 - Put a distress pattern on your artwork

This one is done before your shirts get anywhere close to the press, and it isn’t done at all with screen printing itself.

If you search for “distress layer” or “texture overlay” you can find patterns that look sort of like marble or cracking, and you can take those into Photoshop or whatever image editing program you use and lay it on top of your artwork to make it look “distressed.”

This distressing is transferred from your artwork to the screen to the shirt, so your printing can end up looking worn and vintage, just from the artwork technique. And it’s all done pre-press.

5 - Print tone-on-tone on a heather shirt

We already talked about heather shirts, but if you print the same color on a heather shirt, you can get a really subtle print that looks vintage.

For example, if you print forest green on a heather green, those greens aren’t exactly the same so the design shows up because of the difference in the colors, and also because the print will be a solid green while the shirt color has some texture to it.

how to make t shirts feel vintage

Red ink on red heather shirts presents an interesting monochromatic effect while still having plenty of contrast.

Combine these methods for even more effect!

If you’re going for a vintage looking print, you can combine these methods to get a more dramatic or pronounced result.

Distress your artwork and print it with punk rock white!Print discharge on a heather shirt!

Choose a discharge ink that is similar to your shirt color but choose a blend shirt so that discharge print has a low contrast!

Hopefully some of these methods have given you some inspiration on how you can create your own vintage looking shirts.

If you’d like to talk with us about screen printing some vintage style shirts, use the contact form below and just let us know how we can help or what questions we can answer and we’ll get back to you soon. Thanks for reading.

vintage custom t shirts

Vacord focuses on quality results for your custom shirt needs

Vacord knows all the techniques

Hopefully everything here makes sense!

If you want to start your first order, or have any questions, use the contact form below or email us at info@vacord.com and we’d be happy to help!

Have questions about your own vintage-y order?

Send in information about your project to get a quote or answers back by email

Start a conversation. Let us know what questions you may have, or what your project would be like.

Not sure of all your details? That’s fine. We can figure things out together and give you advice on how to get the best results for your specific needs.

Use this contact form or email us at info@vacord.com.

We look forward to working with you.

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We'll review your info and figure out prices and best approaches for your specific needs

We'll email you back within a business day with answers or pricing

We work with you to discuss the best approach for your order

When you're ready to go, we'll invoice you and start the printing! (two week turnaround is standard)