Thursday, May 3, 2012

How To Create Camp T-shirts Kids Will Love To Wear

Originally posted on 4/27/11. 

Odds are you still have that long sleeve 'Northface knock-off' Young Life shirt you got at Winter Camp your first time as a camper years ago. There's something special about a YL shirt. You see someone wearing one in the airport when your miles from home and all of a sudden you feel connected, reminded that you are a part of something way bigger than yourself.

YL shirts are like walking billboards. In my 16 years with YL, wearing a YL shirt
at least once a week, I've rocked that logo (both old & new) close to 1000 days of my life! Think about the potential of how many folks will see the Young Life logo on a t-shirt. That is motivation for us to do a good job designing shirts that our high school friends will love to wear.

Here Are A Few Helpful Tips:

Ask For Help From Kids
Involve other kids. Give them ownership. Let them choose what the shirt looks like. You have kids in your school who have creative/artistic gifts. They might not be in your YL club, but what better way to get them connected?  Invite your YL friends to come over and look at shirts online with you. Invite them to go to the mall and point to shirts they would be excited about wearing. Find out what they like, then make it happen. 

Steal From Other YL Leaders, But Do It Legally
Leaders have been creating cool shirts for years. Connect with other leaders here in the comment section below this post, on the Facebook Wall for Young Life Leaders, and ask others what they have done in the past that has been successful. Remember that we want to be above reproach as a mission and imitating other company logos without approval is a no-go. Here is a link to some other basic guidelines for keeping it legal. If you have more ?s, you can contact Creative Services at the YL Service Center
(719) 381-1893.

Steal From Local Businesses, But Do It Legally
If you have a hip, locally own fried chicken dive or coffee shop where kids love to hang out, this might be a great logo to steal. Locally owned places are more likely to give you their permission to rip-off their logo because it promotes their business, but get it in writing! This is tough to pull off in larger areas because typically if a place is cool to hang out at for one school, its too far away for other schools. Don't divide the area by making a shirt that favors one high school over another.

Steal From Professionals, But Do It Legally
There are people who get paid lots of money to create t-shirts teenagers will think are cool. You can look at their t-shirt designs for free at places like:

American Eagle




Don't copy their shirts, but these ideas can often be great jump starts. Again, use the time designing a shirt as contact work time with kids. Give them ownership. 

Play Off The Program 
In the past we've contacted the summer program team ahead of time to find out what their "repeater line" is going to be and who their characters are. If they are Bird Watchers who say "BAM!" a lot, then we would put a picture of a bird on the front of the shirt and the phrase "BAM!" on the back. We pass them out on the last night of camp when kids have no clean clothes left. They are grateful for the fresh smelling shirt that reminds them of some of the hardest belly laughter they've ever had. 

If you do this, DON'T reveal the shirts until the end of the week and give away the program. Also, be gracious to the program team if they are still working out the details of the program and/or don't want to give away their surprise ahead of time. 

Get High Quality Shirts
Spend the extra $1-2/shirt to get those soft and comfy American Apparel T's. If a kid likes how a shirt fits and feels, they will be much more likely to wear it. In the past we have had great success ordering shirts from Retro Fashions. They do free shipping, great design work, and lots of YL shirts. You can also easily build your own shirts at The Young Life Store. Other suggestions from the comments below are Hands On Originals and Universal Stylz

Right Sizes & On Time
Try to find out from your t-shirt company if the style of shirt you order is typical in size or runs small or large. Get as accurate sizes as you can from the kids going on the trip, but the rule of thumb is that 80% of females want a small. I've even found that ordering a few Youth Larges makes people happy. 

Order extras if your budget can afford it. This helps ensure that everyone gets the right size.  You can give the extras away to the camp staff and assigned team or use them as club prizes in the fall. Ask leaders to get their shirts last. 

Make sure you order your shirts early so they will be there in plenty of time to get them on the bus. Ordering early means less rushed shipping cost and less stress!

Does anyone out there have any creative ideas for summer camp t-shirts that you would be willing to share in the comments below?


  1. AA Vnecks were a huge hit with us. But don't put a big centered logo on the looks weird.

  2. I've had a lot of great experience with Hands On Originals. They do a lot of YL shirts (the girl I typically work with there (Julie Michels) is actually a volunteer leader) and are really great about giving honest opinions and help. They're also super willing to work with you if you're unhappy about the design.

    And, like you mentioned in the blog, make sure you give yourself a LOT of time!! Just in case you need to make small changes to the design, order number, etc. It's easier on everyone if you aren't waiting until the last minute.

  3. Thx for the comments. The website for HOO is

  4. Also a couple really good sites to look at for T-Shirt ideas to get ideas from are and Just look at the graphic tee's :D

  5. nice t-shirt design :-) check my site and find more Custom mens shirts

  6. Here are shirts I've designed for Chiles High School Young life! They went over great with the kids! If anyone wants to use any, just let me know!

    1. Hey Nicole

      I'd like to use this design but on the back make it have to do with Young Life camp this summer. Prob keep the moustaches on the back too. Could I get your permission to use this design? my email is

      Beth Doner

  7. Love the mustache shirt Nicole! Hilarious!

  8. I used to be on YL staff and know a thing or two about the joy or sometimes the ordeal of getting camp t-shirts made. I now work for a design company that makes such tees. We do custom art for every order which means you will never have that awkward embarrassing moment at a work week where you realize the colors and dates may be different but that guy over there is wearing your same camp tee. Along with the security of originality you have the ability to send us an idea you’ve been spit balling to run with, or if you’d rather us work our creative mojo we can run wild for you (creatively of course). If you’re interested in creative, original, worry free design from someone who has stood in your shoes walking life with high school kids feel free to shoot me an email: and check out our website

  9. Definitely got an edge on designs.. Really feels good to provide camp shirts that kids would love.. =) Go for more!!
    We design great-looking shirts, too. Guess a lot today would showcase what they got. But see the difference when you land on ours! =)
    Have a great day!

  10. Check out

    1. These are awesome shirts Travis! Thanks for sharing! -Drew

    2. I added your site to the list of helpful sites on the blog to the right.