ShirtOps: How to Make T-shirts for Tech Conferences that People Actually Wear

Over the last 6 years I have helped organize over 10 different conferences (all the LASCON conferences, all the DevOpsDays Austin conferences, AppSec USA 2012, and even a couple for my church) and for most of the events I have been in charge of swag. T-shirts, bags, shot glasses, lanyards, usb keys… You name it, I have swagged it.

From all these conferences I have learned a few things, and specifically I have learned a bit about making t-shirts. T-shirts are a funny thing. Everyone has opinions, however as an organizer you have to learn that most of those opinions are wrong. I have had lots of bad ideas recommended to me by well-meaning organizers and friends: Print the logo big! Put all the sponsors logos on the back (also known as the “the NASCAR special”). Have a big design on the back which I like to call “the restaurant shirt.” Then there is the design someone on the team knocked out with MS Paint.

Everyone has good intentions, but as the one in charge of making the shirt you have to lead them through the process. Show the team what good actually means. In this presentation I highlight the last several years of DevOpsDays Austin t-shirts and walk you through the process of how to make t-shirts people want to wear after the event is over.

Links from the presentation:

If you have any other tips, add to the comments and/or tweet with #shirtops.


Filed under Conferences, DevOps

7 responses to “ShirtOps: How to Make T-shirts for Tech Conferences that People Actually Wear

  1. Chubby Eric

    #DevOpsDays Austin shirts dominate!
    My only tip is the super soft and thin shirts are not as complimentary for us large guys. (XL and up) They seem to contour our curves a bit more than a thicker shirt does.

  2. Lesley

    My tip is v-necks for the girls – much more flattering!

  3. hayzel

    Why is it that people think its okay to make graphic designers work for free?!
    Hell, you can’t even get a plumber to come to your house without a fee whether they do the work or not.

    • While I appreciate some designers don’t want to do design contest work, it’s really the only way the low end of the market is going to get graphic design. As a small nonprofit conference, it’s either that, have one of the random techies helping put together our event do it, or don’t do it at all. There’s no world in which we go contract a design firm for one of our t-shirts. Heck for this blog we’re working with the kid of one of our colleagues for a mascot. You have to accept there’s different tiers of commerce in any sector, and there’s both supply and demand for design work on the low end.

      • KirkR

        My son is a photographer and he gets this stuff all the time. “But it’s great exposure to potential customers.” to which he replies “But YOU’RE a potential customer. Pay me.” Different tiers of commerce for any sector? Does that apply to plumbers, doctors, etc.? There’s something about any work that requires artistic talent that makes people think it should be free or really cheap.

  4. Charlie Coffey

    If you’re giving out tshirts at a conference, you’re paying thousands to exhibit there, so it’s not like you’re on the bottom rung of commerce and you can’t afford to pay designers a couple of hundred. The competition is fine for the winner but not for the other people who give their time for free, for nothing.

    I have to make tshirts for conferences so I appreciate you comment about good design, but as I worked up from a writer to a marketing manager, I know how much artistic workers are taken for granted. I had to work for nothing for newspapers and magazines making the actual product that was sold, while the advertising salesmen made a proper wage. It took me years of borrowing money I’m still paying off in my 30s to get a decent paid job, and the sad truth is if you cant borrow this money or live with your parents in adulthood to save on rent, it’s incredibly tough to make it in the arts. This is how creative people are treated in a society where people devalue things they cant see instant financial gain from.

    • Well so we do pay, $500-$800 based on the tier of 99designs service. And as mentioned in the article we’re a nonprofit conference, we don’t have a lot of money to burn.

      If artists don’t want to participate they don’t have to – but if they do want to, I don’t see a good reason I shouldn’t choose a winner and pay them. I wouldn’t do this if I were doing it for my company, I’d want a relationship and care with my branding and blah blah. But for tshirts for free events etc., this is an appropriate step above “see if anyone’s family member will do it for free” – the selected artist does get a payday, this isn’t “for exposure.” I can’t help but feel like most of the negative commenters here are complaining about some other scenario they feel strongly about, not the actual thing we’re talking about here.

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