Making custom T-shirts is one of the big reasons I got a vinyl cutter. I spent years mentally designing graphics and logos and slogans for shirts I would love to wear, but could never find in a store. Now that I’ve got my own cutter and heat press, I can finally make custom shirts for myself, friends and family. So, for my fellow T-shirt enthusiasts, I am sharing my tips on how to get the right decal size for a shirt using my HTV size chart.
I’ve already published a few heat press time and temperature charts for Siser, ThermoFlex and Cricut HTV vinyl – you can download them for free. It seemed to be a logical next step to create a shirt decal size and placement chart as well.
The problem I’ve found with other charts on the internet is that they’re not that helpful. Firstly, most published charts are just poor quality copies of each other, and secondly, they focus mainly on infant and children’s sized clothing and don’t provide any good information on proper sizing for women’s shirts, or realistic information about garment proportions.
So here are my guidelines for determining the proper size and placement of a vinyl decal on a shirt.
Tip #1: Use my 50% rule to get the right decal size for shirts
If you are designing a shirt and you’re not sure how big to make it, grab a shirt out of the closet that you love and measure that graphic. I pulled out every graphic tee in the house, from my 3XL shirts to Kerri’s L and XL shirts, to infant-sized tees.
After measuring every shirt and every graphic, I figured out a general rule that I stick by for images with center placement:
- Lay the shirt flat and measure the width between the armpits.
- The maximum width of your shirt decal design should be 50% of that measurement.
- The minimum artwork width should be one third of the shirt width (unless you are doing a graphic down one side or something).
For example, a Gildan Softstyle 64000 XL shirt is 24″ from armpit to armpit. The maximum graphic size should be 12″ wide, and it should be 8″ wide at a minimum.
This ratio holds true for men’s shirts, fitted women’s shirts and children’s shirts. I even took a trip to Walmart with a tape measure and measured professionally designed shirts produced at scale. The result is the same. The majority of shirt designs are 50% of the overall shirt width.
How tall should I make my t-shirt decal?
The vertical measurement of a shirt decal is more of a matter of personal preference. Large shirt graphics are very popular right now, and it’s not uncommon to see shirt decals that go right to the bottom hem (especially Marvel or other superhero graphics, and especially on kid’s clothing).
When I make shirts for myself, I lay out the design so it doesn’t go below my navel. I’ve got a gut, and I feel weird about having a graphic on the lower half of my stomach. But that’s just my baggage. If the design looks good, make it as long as you want.
The more important element to consider is vertical design placement – i.e. How far below the neckline should you place your HTV decal? That’s not as cut and dried. Different shirt styles should use different placement measurements, and that’s what I’ll focus on in my guide.
HTV Decal Size and Placement guide
So if you’re looking for the chart, this is where to see the preview and get the download link from our Resource Library. In terms of placing your HTV design, the exact measurement is going to vary from size to size and from style to style. I’ve presented the chart in two styles, one visual, and one with more detailed information. Click either image to download the PDF.
Decal placement on men’s shirts vs women’s shirts
The reason there is not a universal measurement for men’s and women’s shirts is that shirts are designed and cut differently for men and women. Men’s shirts generally have higher necklines, and women’s shirts often have lower necklines, plus the obvious difference of the bust line.
For reference, measure around your chest at the armpit. About halfway between that horizontal line and the neckline of your shirt is where you want to place the top of your HTV. (Ladies will know about problems with decals placed too low on the shirt – the design can be stretched across the bust, or just awkwardly placed.)
If you’re not sure where to place the decal, take measurements of clothing you already own. Note the distance from the bottom of the neckline to the top of the design and find a measurement that works for you.
Mini Case Study: Same design, 2 sizes on different style shirts
To illustrate the importance of different design sizes for different shirts, here are two photos of Kerri and me in matching shirts. I am wearing a 3XL men’s shirt and Kerri is wearing an XL women’s shirt. The overall design width is 11″ for my shirt versus 9″ for Kerri’s. The design on my shirt starts at 3″ from the neckline (of a crew neck shirt), whereas the design of Kerri’s shirt starts at 1⅜” below the deepest part of her v-neck shirt.
The design for the back of both shirts is the same: 5″ x 8.5″. Placement on the back of my shirt is at 3¾”, while the decal starts at 3½” on Kerri’s shirt.
Decal size and placement for back of shirt
Artwork on the back of a shirt generally follows the 50% rule, but bigger designs are generally OK. Why?
First, the design starts higher on the shirt because the back neckline is higher than the front neckline. Second, because the design is higher, you don’t have to worry about the decal curving into the armpit. So feel free to add an inch or two to your design for a rear decal.
As for placement, the general rule is to start your design about three inches from the neckline for an adult shirt (either men’s or women’s). Decrease that to 1″ or 2″ below the back neckline when making toddler or children’s shirts.
HTV sizing and placement for hoodies
Hoodies are really fun garments to decorate because there is a lot of space to work on, the fabric is thicker and more forgiving of multiple HTV layers, and there are unique locations to press on. There are also areas where extra precaution is required, like when you are pressing around zippers and pocket seams.
For a front graphic, I start with the 50% rule. Measuring the garment before you cut your vinyl is a better way to determine decal size. Hoodies are generally larger than shirts, so you will generally be able to apply larger vinyl decals. Don’t be fooled into thinking HTV size for an XL shirt will work for and XL hoodie!
As for placement, hoodies (both pullover and zip up) generally have higher necklines than shirts, so your placement measurement will probably be taller than other garments. You can usually place your design 3-4 inches from the neckline. (Lots of hoodies that feature logos or word art display the HTV right across the middle of the chest.)
Before you cut your design, make sure the design isn’t so tall as to overlap the pocket. If you want a taller design, be sure to have a pressing pillow to place under the pocket seams so your HTV adheres evenly to the garment.
Other places to press HTV on hoodies
When I said hoodies are super cool to work with because there are so many places to apply HTV, I was serious. Here are some great places to apply HTV other than the front:
- around the opening of the hood
- side of the hood (like a football helmet decal)
- pocket corner
- upper and lower sleeve
- side wraparound
HTV size and placement for tank tops
Design size for tank tops follows the same rule as for t-shirts. Measure the distance between the armpits and make your design 50% of the width (at most).
As for placement, because most traditional tank tops have a scoop neck, you will probably want to reduce the distance between the neckline and the design. For example, if you would normally place a design 2.5″ below the neckline on a t-shirt, you might want to reduce that to 1.5″ below the neckline on a tank top.
(If your tank top has a high neckline, treat the placement like you would a t-shirt.)
Similarly, because most tank tops have a narrow back, placing full sized artwork might be a challenge. Artwork on the back of tank tops like racerbacks are better suited to “locker patch” designs – small square artwork at the top of the shirt, just below the neckline.
Some styles of women’s tank top, like spaghetti strap or camisole, have a very low back. I generally wouldn’t put HTV on a garment like this, but if pressed, I would try to place the artwork about 1″ from the neckline (or in this case, the back line).
Decal size and placement for v-neck shirts
When deciding how big to make your HTV decal for a v-neck shirt, simply follow the 50% rule as laid out above. The tricky part comes in placing the vinyl on the shirt. Unlike a crew neck (round neck) shirt the deeper “V” will require you to make an adjustment. Instead of placing your decal 2.5″–3.5″ below the neckline like you would on a crew neck shirt, place the design 1.5″ to 2.5″ below the deepest part of the V.
Remember: placement will vary according to shirt size!
Pocket size HTV decal for shirts
Most commercial t-shirt printing shops list the pocket decal as 4″ x 4″. Double check the size of the pocket on your garment before you cut, because it might be smaller. (The pocket on one of my 3XL shirts is 4″ x 4″). I have no idea if t-shirt pockets are standardized, I don’t see many people carrying cigarettes in their shirt pocket anymore, which seemed to be the main function they served, aside from accessorizing with a snazzy pocket protector.
One tip for pressing on a pocket: try to find some padding to put inside the pocket because there are seams inside that can affect your press. You could cut a few layers of corrugated cardboard to fit, or use an old mouse pad or fold a washcloth to pad out the pocket.
If you want the pocket decal for a plain shirt and you’re not sure where to place it, use a ruler to mark a horizontal line from the left armpit. Then mark a vertical line from the left edge of the neckline. Center your design where the two lines intersect.
Youth shirt decal size and placement
Just because kid’s clothing is smaller, doesn’t mean the graphics have to be tiny. Use the 50% rule to get the right graphic width, but feel free to make your graphic as tall as you want. As I said earlier, graphics on kids shirts are getting longer; kids love bigger, colorful graphics on their shirts.
When placing a decal on a child’s or youth shirt, start the design 1″ to 2″ from the neckline. If you’re not sure, check out some other graphic shirts for kids and see where those graphics are placed.
Decal size and placement for toddler shirt
The 50% rule is the biggest blessing for decorating infant clothing. You can make things very easy by just measuring the width of the garment and making the design up to 50% of the width.
Since the garment is so small, most of your designs will probably end up square-ish, so the placement is less of an issue than with other shirts. Measuring from the neckline isn’t as important with infant and toddler clothing since there isn’t a lot of room to place your design anyway. Most of your designs will probably look fine if you center them and place 1″ to 1.5 inches from the neckline.
Tips for making large size HTV shirt decals with a Cricut or Silhouette machine
If you have a Cricut machine, you know right off the top that your maximum cutting width is 12 inches. Actually, it’s 11.5″ because Cricut needs a 0.25″ margin on each side of the mat. This size is good if you are making decal designs up to an XL men’s shirt, but what about designs for 2XL and above?
If you have a Cricut Maker 3 or Explore 3, you can use the matless cutting feature with Cricut’s Smart Iron-On to cut oversize designs. If you want to use non-Cricut vinyl, like Siser or ThermoFlex, you’ll have to cut on a mat.
You can easily adapt by using Cricut’s 24″ mats. The longer mats allow you to make wider designs simply by turning the artwork 90º. This simple trick will allow you to make decals for oversize clothing even with a basic cutter.
If you have a Silhouette Cameo 4, you can uses the matless cutting feature to make your designs. If you want to make designs over 12″ wide, simply rotate the design 90º in Silhouette Studio and you’ll be able to cut wide designs without any problem.
Final thoughts and further reading
HTV size and placement on shirts can be puzzling for beginners, but with a bit of practice you’ll find your comfort zone. Hopefully, having a simple guideline like the 50% rule will help you get the right size for your garment. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to throw out vinyl or even a new t-shirt after a mistake!
But remember, these are just guidelines. The world is full of beautiful exceptions and all-over graphics are very popular! If you’ve got a vision to do something unique, try it!
Suggested further reading:
Photo of child by Thgusstavo Santana