Can You Use a Trademarked Logo on a Shirt?

Ensuring your shirt designs fall within the legal limits of the law can be trickier than it might seem at first glance. If you have an idea for a shirt that includes a trademarked logo, you’ll need to know what the laws surrounding trademarks have to say. So, can you use a trademarked logo on a shirt? 

You cannot use a trademarked logo on a shirt without permission from the company that owns it. This is especially true if you plan on selling your shirts.  If a logo has been trademarked, then it can only be used without permission for informational or editorial purposes. 

If you’ve got a great idea for a shirt design, but you’re not sure if it’s legal to actually make, you’ve come to the right place. In our guide below, we will break down what constitutes a trademark, as well as the law surrounding their use in shirt design. 

What is a Trademark?

Before we dive into the reasons why it’s probably not a good idea to use a trademarked logo on a shirt you plan to sell, it would be good to first get a solid understanding of what a trademark is. Especially since trademarks are often confused with copyright and vice versa.

A trademark protects intellectual property like logos, designs, phrases or symbols that represent a brand.  

As we stated above, it’s not uncommon for people to confuse a trademark with copyright. If you’re making shirt designs that involve existing brands, you’ll definitely want to know the difference. 

Copyright protects original works, whereas trademarks are more about the symbols used to represent a brand. For example, if you have a popular TV show that uses a logo in its intro, the logo would be trademarked, whereas the actual episodes of the show would be copyrighted. 

Are All Logos Trademarked?

Once a logo is in use it does have some protection via trademarked law. Still, most big businesses will officially register their logo right away as a trademark, to ensure its protection. 

If a logo hasn’t been registered, the company using it may have to go through the tedious process of proving that they were using it first. That’s why it’s always best to just go ahead and register any trademark you want to use. 

What is the Difference Between a Logo and a Trademark?

If all logos in use have some degree of protection, then it’s only natural to ask what the difference is between a trademark and a logo. 

In many cases there is effectively no difference, because the logo is the trademark. Still, technically the logo is just the design and the trademark is both the design and the protection. 

Is There Any Way to Use a Trademarked Logo on a Shirt?

So far we’ve mainly gone over what you can’t do because of a trademark. Now let’s turn our attention to what you can. 

If you really want to use a trademarked logo on a shirt, you can approach the company that owns it and request permission to use it via a “permission to use logo agreement”. Oftentimes this is done through a letter or an email.

You’ll want to be sure to explain why you want to use the trademark and how it will be used. You can point out that you are essentially doing free advertising for them as well.

If your luck holds they will get back to you and allow you to use their logo in a limited way. 

When people try to claim you can use a trademarked logo, they often point to “fair use.” However, in most cases fair use will not be enough for you to use the logo. 

Fair use only covers using the logo for informational or editorial purposes. That won’t really cut it if you’re planning to sell your shirts online. 

The best solution here, if you don’t want to approach the company that holds the logo you want, is to create your own. Still, where and how do you do that exactly?

Placeit is an excellent service that includes a logo maker, so you can create and trademark your own logo. Below we’ve listed some of the benefits of using Placeit to create your logo, so you can know if it’s right for you: 

  • Designs from real artists: All of the designs on Placeit are from real working artists who know what they’re doing. 
  • A variety of options: With Placeit, you are loaded with options for your new logo. You can choose from thousands of professionally designed logo templates, so that you find the one that really represents your brand best. 
  • Great user interface: Not only does Plastic have top notch designs, but it’s also quite easy to use. As long as you can click the mouse, you can make a logo in Placeit. 

Placeit also has thousands of t-shirt design templates, they are all fully commercially usable, and come with free fonts and graphics.

While there are other options out there, we strongly recommend you go with Placeit, because they have a proven track record of quality. 

Once your logo is in use, it does have some level of protection over it. Still, you can optionally register your logo as a trademark so you get additional levels of protection.

If you live in the US, you can register your trademark through the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). 

The process is quite simple. First you simply send in an initial application that says you intend to trademark the logo. Then you will go through a process where the government requests additional information via response forms and intent-to-use (ITU) forms. They will walk you through the process and you’ll have your trademark in no time.

If you have a really good design, and you want to protect it with a high level of protection, registering a trademark is a good idea. However, if you just plan to create logos to sell on t-shirts online, then it likely won’t make sense to pay the registration fees to register each logo.

So Really, Can You Use a Trademarked Logo on a Shirt?

The bottom line is, in the vast majority of cases you cannot use a trademarked logo on a shirt, as it violates trademark law. The only exceptions are if you get permission directly from the company that owns the trademark, or if you’re using it for informational or editorial purposes. Alternatively, you can always make your own logo and get your own trademark. 

If you’d like to make a logo of your own, the easiest and best place to do it is through the service Placeit. Placeit has an easy to use logo maker, with thousands of commercially usable templates and designs by the top artists in the field.