Posted by Megan Robnett - September 12, 2023

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Can I print that? How Copyrights and Trademarks work

The internet is chock-full of ideas for things you may want printed on your new t-shirt or hoodie. We get asked all the time about things people have seen on Pinterest, Etsy or other printer’s social media pages, wondering if we could recreate them so they could get them printed local. Although we would love to print everything for everyone, the answer that we usually give is “sorry, we can’t print other people’s designs” or “sorry that graphic is trademarked.”

For the most-part we try to audit what is being printed to keep the risk of infringement down for our customers. But because we aren’t perfect all the time, when our customers load content into our designer, they assume liability for what they are having printed, including any copyright and trademark infringement. If your unsure what a Copyright or Trademark is, and why it’s important, read on.

What is Intellectual Property (IP)?

You may hear or read the term ‘Intellectual Property’ from time to time, but what is it? Intellectual property is something material or non-material (not physical) that represents a creative or original idea of someone else. This could include, but isn’t limited to, symbols, logos, designs, characters, written scripts or manuscripts, music, inventions, images, quotes, etc. The hard thing about intellectual property is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be registered to be protected, but it’s often registered using a patent, trademark or copyright if it’s used in commerce.

Talking copyright vs trademarkGirl with custom tshirt that says 'Say no to copyrigt infringement, Say yes to custom designs'

The two main types of intellectual property we come across when printing on-demand products are copyrights and trademarks. Copyrights usually cover IP that can be physical in nature, such as written music, videos, photos, drawings, software, paintings and artwork, books, and more. The term ‘Copyright’ infers that you are making ‘copies’ of someone else’s published work.

The number one thing we are asked to print that we can't are Disney characters. Hate to break it to you, but any local printer who is printing any Disney character for something that is being sold for a profit puts themselves and you at risk for a cease-and-desist letter and possibly even being sued for Copyright Infringement. That’s a hard pass for us.

There are some exceptions to this however. Hanford West High School came to us last year and they were putting on a production of Beauty and the Beast and wanted to purchase printed cast t-shirts. With their license to use the musical stage adaptation, they also had the right to use a specific illustration for any of their printed goods, including any of their cast roster t-shirts.

A trademark is generally something that is non-tangible, but that has monetary value to someone because it can represent an idea or brand. This can include a name or logo for example. The key to the term ‘trademark’ is that the mark has to be used in ‘trade’ or business. Most trademark infringements that we see are for Major and Minor League sports team logos, as well as the use of college and college team logos. It can be disheartening to know that even the use on MLB logos on little league uniforms have been sanctioned in the past. These team logos are BIG business, generating millions of dollars each year to the franchises, which is why it's a big No-No to print them without the proper licensing.

Using Original Artwork

There could be other things to consider when using existing work, such as Fair Use laws and Public Domain, but to be on the safe side, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. This is why it’s important to work with a professional garment printer who is ethical in their printing processes. A quality printer will steer clients away from using copyrighted or trademarked works and suggest creating original artwork instead. Most commercial printers have resources where they pay licensing fees to have access to store graphics that can be used in many of their print works. A good garment printer will often take these stock graphics and alter or update them, to customize them for the clients needs. This cuts down on graphic design time and costs while still providing clients with something unique and customized just for them.

(Disclaimer: We are not lawyers. If you need legal advice on trademarks, copyrights, or intellectual property rights, please speak with your legal counsel.)


If you need help on coming up with usable artwork for your next printed t-shirt or hoodie, send us a message at We also have 2000+ ready to go templates that can be customized in our online designer 24/7, start designing now.


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