What makes a great idea? Is it the initial concept or the final output that matters most? I think it’s an easier question to answer if you look at something simple but by no means less interesting, the top T-shirt print designs of all time.  This is part one of a two-part series. 

Great Idea or Brand?

If you look at the top-100 most iconic T-shirt prints of all time you will find the majority of designs celebrate a brand like Coca-Cola, a musician such as Bob Marley, political figure like Che Guevara or Barack Obama, universities, professional sports teams, movies, TV shows, fashion brands, rock bands, or comic book heroes.

Far less of the most iconic t-shirts celebrate a unique phrase, not associated to any commercial product, that has been embraced by society, at least among those who wear T-shirts, as an iconic expression. Some classic examples include:

Great Idea: T-Shirt Print Design

I’m with Stupid

This is an all-time favorite? Considered to be the granddaddy of the directional T-shirt. It has sold in the millions. Is it juvenile or light hearted as if poking fun at all of us? Maybe the expression isn’t the great idea but rather the finger pointing design on the shirt.  Although the finger has been used in many other successful designs, this one is considered the most classic.  

Great Idea: T-Shirt Print Design Tuxedo

Great Idea: Tuxedo T-shirt

The comfortable expression of luxury/formality or the passive protest of it in general? I think the designer was thinking outside of the box for this great idea. The look will always mess with your eyes if someone is wearing one in a crowd or with a jacket. It has this strange transformative power. Call this a body costume category of T-shirt. Other popular forms have been the T-shirt muscle man and woman, and bikini woman body.


Great Idea: T-shirt Print Design

We are all protectors, or maybe we think we are? Very popular.  I can only comment that I used to be a lifeguard when I was young and I did not like to wear my tank top that had lifeguard emblazoned on it. Wasn’t it obvious? Why else was I sitting on this lifeguard stand all day for?

Smiley Face – Have a Happy/Nice Day

Great Idea: T-Shirt Print Design

A great idea and an international hit.  And why not? First developed as a 1943 Swedish film promo, this design should disqualify itself for commercial association, but it wasn’t until 1972 when two Philly guys printed this T-shirt design along with Have a Happy Day that the millions of copies were sold and it became iconic. So it fits into this category because it is the simple smiley face and expression that people identify with and not some ancient film. Somehow Have a Happy Day became Have a Nice Day over the years.

A great idea can come in simple packages and Prototype can help you refine and then deliver your vision.

Prototype is a fashion product development agency located in Bali, Indonesia. We offer a unique one-stop solution to overcome the hurdles any business faces to bring a product to market. By outsourcing your design and production department to our expert team, your business can benefit from both our expertise and our strategic location in Southeast Asia