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Made in Britain

February 15, 2016

T-shirt labels explained!

By: Peter Gregory

Dashes Graphic

For many t-shirt startups, the arrival of that first batch of labels and swing tags is a brand-defining moment. The t-shirt label is more than a blank space to show a logo — it’s tactile, real-world proof that your t-shirt venture has graduated from the status of a small ‘paying hobby’ to a legitimate commercial operation.

But what t-shirt labels does your business legally need to add, what is each t-shirt label there to do, and what are the pitfalls you need to avoid? In this helpful guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about t-shirt labels and swing tickets. 

The Basic Function of T Shirt Labels

First and foremost, a label exists to carry a message. The label’s job is to clearly display all of the information your customer needs, and all of the brand & pricing information the seller wants to show, in an easy-to-find, unobtrusive location.

We’ve been in the labelling business for decades, and we’ve printed millions of labels and tags for t-shirt designers and manufacturers just like you. What we’ve noticed over the years is that — whenever we make a label or a tag for a t-shirt, it’s there for one of two reasons…

If the label is showcasing the designer’s brand (like a neck label, for example) or if it’s advertising a price (like a swing tag) then it’s there for commercial purposes. The label’s job is to help sell more t-shirts. 

If the label shows wash care instructions, country of origin, cotton/polyester blend or size, then it’s a compliance tag. This kind of messaging keeps consumers safe and informed. It also keeps the t-shirt seller compliant with all relevant local labelling laws. 

Your t-shirt labels will have to communicate both commercial and compliance related messages, but you won’t always need to buy more than one label yourself. If you’re working with pre-made blank t-shirts (like some of our vinyl screen print designer clients), you’ll often find that the wash care and size labels have already been stitched into the hip seam for you, and all you need to do is add your branding (a process called relabelling). In fact, most of our t-shirt labelling customers can fit everything they need onto two sides of a loop-fold woven label and a swing tag. 

What’s legally required on a t-shirt label?

It might surprise you, but in the UK you’re only legally obliged to include a label that states what materials your garment is made out of (see footnote 1). You’re not legally required to include a wash care label or any branding at all.

In practice, everyone puts wash care and branding labels on their products, for two very good reasons…

You could be missing out on up to 84% of your sales if you don’t add a label, according to research from the UK Fashion & Textile Association (see footnote 2). With those kinds of numbers at stake, it’s just not worth the risk to not add a label. 

Some countries legally require wash care and country of origin labels on any garments sold to consumers in their jurisdiction. You might not be selling internationally yet, but if you want to do so in future, your t-shirts will need these labels in place. 

A potentially bigger legal pitfall that many new t-shirt designers overlook is copyright law. You don’t have an automatic legal right to alter, relabel and sell every blank t-shirt on the market. Some t-shirt brands are protected by copyright, and you could potentially get sued if you add your designs to the wrong type of t-shirt. If you’re concerned about this, let us know — we can put you in touch with a number of t-shirt manufacturers who are happy for their garments to be relabelled.

Common t-shirt label types and what they do:

You’re free to add labels wherever you want on your garment, of course, but for the purposes of this guide we’ll walk you through the most common placements and functions. 

Neck Labels Establish Your Brand

A neck seam label is an everlasting advertisement that links your business to the t-shirts it creates. When the person wearing your t-shirt sees your label on the neckline, they should feel that they’re wearing a really high-quality item that makes them feel good. 

The size of your label, the fold (see our label folds guide here), the message, the font and the logo will all contribute to your brand image. Materials matter, too. Woven satin gives a smoother, lighter feel than a damask woven label, whereas a chunky taffeta weave sets a retro vintage tone that can tie in perfectly with your brand’s offering. Even thread types can set a tone. Glittery threads like Lurex, when woven tastefully, can deliver a premium luxury feel.  

Swing Tags Help Retailers Sell Your T-Shirts

It’s certainly important to get your logo and brand name onto the neckline of your t-shirt, but if you’re selling to shops, then the swing tag is going to be absolutely vital. A swing tag (also known as a ‘swing ticket’) is the stiff paper or card tag that ‘swings’ from the neck or hip line of your garment. It’s your product’s very own business card — it should showcase your business and leave plenty of room for practical functions like the retailer’s pricing sticker. 

A swing ticket should be easy for the consumer to find, and it needs to be made of materials that line up with the image you’re trying to present. Swing tags can have matt, gloss and/or foil finishes, they can be hole-punched and sealed with metal or nylon eyelets and you can cut them in any shape you can imagine. Our advice is to start with the basics, making sure that you’ve left enough room for things like the barcode and your website or discount codes (if applicable) before getting stuck in to the custom detail work. 

Size Labels Explain The Physical Fit

When you order blank t-shirts for relabelling, they’ll usually come with a size tag attached to the neck or hip seam. Depending on the country you’re buying from (…and the country you’re selling to) you might not need to do much here, but our advice is to always check your sample t-shirts with a tape measure before ordering additional size labels. 

There are different sizing standards on every continent. A “USA small” is very different to a “Japan small”, for instance. Some of our t-shirt designer customers have found that the chest measurement on S-labelled mens t-shirts can vary by as much as 6 inches (from 32 inches to 38 inches). The same goes for L-labelled mens t-shirts (a mens large can be anywhere from 38 to 46 inches, depending on country of origin. 

Whatever size stock you find yourself working with, you’ve got to be up-front about your sizes and make sure the consumer knows what they’re buying, especially if you sell online. If a customer loves your t-shirt designs but the garment they order simply doesn’t fit them, it’s a bad customer experience that costs you money to fix (…and you do have to fix it — see footnote 3). It also does your brand no favours. 

Wash Care Labels Help Your T-Shirt Live Longer

Wash care labels can be woven in black-on-white or white-on-black — whatever you need — and you can specify everything from wash temperatures to ‘do not bleach’ instructions. Here at GB Labels, we invite customers to add 3 lines of custom text to their garment. If you have any specific care instructions, or just simple tips to help a consumer to keep their t-shirt looking brand-new, you can do so. 

How to add custom t shirt labels

It’s not enough to just order the labels, of course. You need to find a way to physically attach the labels to your t-shirts. There are two options for this: you can stitch them yourself or you can employ a stitching service to do it for you. 

Some t-shirt manufacturers will stitch custom labels on to your garments for you for a fee. In theory, this makes it easier because you just have to worry about packaging your t-shirt orders, but there is a trade-off, because you have less control over the process. 

Every business is unique and a good labelling choice for one t-shirt designer might not be right for you — it all depends on where your business is at and what your plans are. If you need some advice on label attachment methods, just give us a ring. We know of a few really good businesses that our customers have used and we’re happy to point you in the right direction. 

Remember To Think Long-Term

Whatever you choose to do, our advice is to pick the best long-term solution you can afford. If you’re only selling small volumes now, but your product is already set up to be sold in Australia, the USA and other key markets, then you’ll be positioned for rapid international growth when the time comes. 

And don’t forget that we are here to help. We can make labels in a vast range of colours, finishes, sizes, shapes and formats. You really do have a lot of choice and you’re free to get creative. If we feel that you’re pushing your label design beyond what will look good or work practically, we’ll let you know (see footnote 4).

Thanks for reading!



Footnote 1:

If you would like to learn more about textile labelling law, you can read the official guidance from the Government’s Department for Business Innovation & Skills at the following link:


Footnote 2:

“Use of GINETEX symbols removes the needs to use written care information on a label and means there are no translation issues to consider. A recent survey revealed that 84% of UK consumers would never or rarely buy clothing that did not contain care information.” – taken from the The UK Fashion & Textile Association’s advice on care labelling, which can be read in full at https://www.ukft.org/business-advice/labelling/

Footnote 3:

“Online, mail and telephone order customers have the right to cancel their order for a limited time even if the goods are not faulty. Sales of this kind are known as ‘distance selling’. … You must refund the customer within 14 days of receiving the goods back. They do not have to provide a reason.”

You can find out more about the UK’s rules on online and distance selling at the link below: https://www.gov.uk/online-and-distance-selling-for-businesses 

Footnote 4:

We recommend no more than 6 colours on a damask woven label and ideally just 2 colours on a satin woven label. If you want a lot of small text, we would encourage you to keep to a font size of 10 points or larger. You can technically go to 8 points if you really have to. We typically recommend you use satin labels, which are comfortable to wear and long-lasting, but we’ll listen to your ideas. 

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