How to Design T-shirts Using Paper by FiftyThree and an iPad

Published: July 31, 2018

After launching my first t-shirt store a couple of years ago, I had a lot of people asking how I design my wares. Usually this conversation starts with them questioning my drawing abilities: “I’ve seen your handwriting and sketches … you’re a liar, Mr Ahmed!” (my friends are brutally honest).


The truth is I’m not a great sketch artist – and my handwriting is still at a pre-pen license levels from primary school. For some reason, pens and pencils hate me as if I deeply insulted their ancestors in the long-forgotten past. They just refuse to co-operate with my hands. But I do draw and design my own shirts, and ironically, it’s a digital app with an analogue name that’s come to my rescue.

I’ve been using Paper by FiftyThree since it first launched a few years ago. I’ve sung its praises a million times before, and will sing its praises a million times more now that I use it so intimately in my design process.

See, I consider Paper to be the inspiration layer in my t-shirt design workflow. By getting ideas quickly out of my skull and onto something physical, I make sure my designs don’t just rot in my brain. There’s nothing worse than having design ideas that you never take to phase two.

I usually start out with an idea that’s in desperate need of being sketched out. You can find me at different cafes around Auckland jotting the initial sketches into the app. The ink pen tool in Paper is my favourite, and generally I just scribble and make mistakes with this until I have an outline I’m happy with.


I then jump into Adobe Illustrator to take the rough outlines from Paper, and turn them into something that’ll work in print. This is usually the most time-intensive part of the process, turning a faux-analog digital sketch into a vector image that still looks inky.

Illustrator’s line width tool is a life-saver in this situation, allowing you to vary the width of your paths so they taper like an ink line would.

Next I stick the freshly made Illustrator design onto a t-shirt mockup to see what it looks like on the final product. Sometimes the idea in your head has to change dramatically when you see what it actually looks like on a shirt. Luckily for me, the illustration above was pretty much spot-on and just needed a bit of accenting with a red bubble background.



I then order some samples with shirt, take some model photos, and bang – I’ve got an Auckland-themed t-shirt business that keeps me addicted to design and illustrations.

So there we have it – how I turn inky digital sketches into semi-popular t-shirts that some people have bought, apparently. If you want to buy an Aucklandia t-shirt that was designed using the Paper by FiftyThree app, just click on one of the images above and it’ll take you to the store.