American Flag on Shirt Rules: The Do's and Don'ts of Custom Printing

by John Amato

The American flag has always been a symbol of patriotism, freedom, and unity. It’s an emblem of the United States, a representation of its history, culture, and values.

Over the years, the American flag has been used in various ways, including as a design element on clothing, especially shirts. People want the flag on their shirts for various reasons, including:

  • Patriotism
  • Marking national holidays
  • Showing allegiance and support in sports events
  • Showing pride and support for the military

Whatever the reason, it’s always important to treat the flag with respect and follow flag etiquette.

That’s why you want to deal with a company that knows how to print the USA flag and has the experience to back it. So, what exactly are the American flag on shirt rules?

Do’s of Custom Printing the American Flag on Shirts

American flag on left shirt sleeve

It’s understandable that noble desires and intentions can make you eager to wear the American flag on your shirt. If you wear it, ensure you remain on the right side of the American flag on shirt rules by following these guidelines:

1 - Do Properly Display the Flag

The flag is most commonly placed on shirt sleeves. But since this isn’t a hard and fast rule, it can be placed elsewhere too.

The golden rule is to keep it stars before bars when aligning and positioning the flag on the attire. The idea is to have the stars always face the front of the body, with the stripes behind them, in a charging forward style.

Alternatively, picture yourself wearing the shirt or it being mounted on a flagpole. You should see the union first, followed by the stripes, whether you turn to the right or left sleeve. The union, or canton, is the blue background with the 50 stars.

The direction the flag points to is up to the client’s discretion when it’s not being printed on shirt sleeves.

Lastly, the flag needs to be displayed in its entirety, and not cut off at the edges. The image must preserve the proportions of the flag and not distort its image.

2 - Do Use American Made Clothing

Using high-quality American-made shirts is a crucial aspect of custom printing the American flag.

Since the flag is a powerful symbol, it deserves to be displayed on a high-quality material that will last and maintain its integrity.

While there’s no stipulated code on the material for custom-printed products with the American flag, choosing a shirt made in the USA shows your true passion for this country and ensures the shirt will be comfortable, durable, and long-lasting.

Additionally, using a high-quality printing process will ensure that the flag’s design is crisp, vibrant, and long-lasting. Such methods include:

Remember, the choice of material should maintain the flag’s integrity upon printing, and ensure its durability and longevity.

If you’re unsure about the type or quality of material used, don’t hesitate to consult reputable professionals, such as Jupmode, to get started.

American flag on shirt rules photo snippet

3 - Do Use the Correct Color Scheme

The American flag has a specific color scheme that needs to be accurately represented in any custom-printed design. 

While the official colors of the flag are white, red, and blue, the numerous shades of blue and red can lead to varying expectations for a print. 

Thankfully, using the Pantone Matching System (PMS), simply referred to as Pantone colors, helps establish consistent expectations and values for colors, as the table below demonstrates.

Color/Shade PMS Code Flag Color Meaning/Significance
Old Glory Red (deep vibrant red) 193 Vitality, hardiness, and valor
White Pantone white Purity and innocence
Old Glory Blue (shade of navy blue) 282 Vigilance, perseverance, and justice

The red, white, and blue colors appear in the following proportions: 

  • The blue field appears in the upper left-hand corner of the flag (remember the exception when printing on the left sleeve). It covers the flag’s entire width and one-third its height. 
  • The seven red and six white stripes alternate and are of equal width. There are 13 stripes in total, representing the 13 original colonies. 
  • The blue field contains 50 small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in five rows of six stars and four rows of five stars.

Don’ts of Custom Printing the American Flag on Shirts

non-traditional use of American flag and colors in logo

Printing the American flag on clothes and costumes has historically been controversial, with some speculating that it might even be illegal. 

The American Legion, a leading authority on U.S. flag etiquette, respect, and education, explains that it’s permissible to wear items of clothing that look like the United States flag. However, such clothing can’t be made from an actual flag.

After all, the flag is a powerful symbol of our country’s democracy. Therefore, observe the following rules:

1 - Don’t Improperly Display the Flag

Improperly displaying the American flag on a shirt is a violation of the United States Flag Code. While there are no penalties for such violations, since this code isn’t enforceable by law, it’s still important to show respect for the flag and honor its symbolism and significance.

Here are some instances of improper flag display on shirts:

  • Displaying the flag upside down: The American flag is always displayed right-side up, with the blue field in the upper left-hand corner. It’s only permissible to display the flag upside down when signaling distress or a dire emergency.  
  • Using less than 50 stars: The stars on the American flag represent the 50 states of the United States. Using a flag with fewer than 50 stars can create confusion or imply disrespect to the current official flag.
  • Substituting stars for other symbols: The stars on the American flag are five-pointed and white. Substituting them with other symbols like political symbols or corporate logos is disrespectful.

2 - Don’t Distort the Flag’s Design

Whether you’re custom printing shirts for official or unofficial purposes, it’s unacceptable to distort the American flag design. Avoid engaging in any of the following practices:

  • Adding extra elements to the flag: The flag can appear distorted if any text or logos are added over it, which can be interpreted as disrespecting the flag. When text accompanies the flag on a print, it must always be below the flag—never vice versa. 
  • Using low-quality material: Printing the flag on low-quality material can degrade its color and image, making it look blurry, faded, or distorted. 
  • Improper proportions: The American flag has specific proportions for its stars, stripes, and colors. Failure to maintain these proportions when printing the flag on a shirt can cause distortions and absurdities in its design.

3 - Don’t Use the Flag Disrespectfully 

When it comes to creating custom-printed American flag shirts, it’s important to ensure that the flag is treated with the utmost respect. Some disrespectful uses of the flag when creating custom shirts include:

  • Using the flag as a decoration: Since the flag isn’t a fashion accessory, it may not be used as a decorative element or ornament. This includes using the flag as a background for other design elements or adding decorative elements to the flag itself. 
  • Using the flag for commercial purposes: Don’t use the American flag for commercial purposes like advertising or marketing. It must be treated as a symbol of the country and its values, not a marketing tool that implies endorsement by the United States government. 
  • Using the flag in a disrespectful manner: Abstain from using the flag in a manner that communicates disregard for what it represents. This includes using the shirt it’s printed on as a rag to clean up grease or spills. 

Get Your Shirt Custom Printed at Jupmode

Excited by the prospect of working with experienced designers and custom printers who’ll get it right when creating high-quality branded merchandise?

Reach out to Jupmode to alleviate any anxiety about breaking any American flag on shirt rules, guidelines, or specifications. 

You can even tour the Jupmode store and production facility to get a glimpse of our scale and tech, and how we work. 

We’re tried and tested, as Christina assures: 

Used for company t-shirts. Excellent price, quality, design team, and quick shipping. First time customers, but we'll be back! Thank you, Jupmode.
- Christina P.

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  • Comment Author: robert paul smyre
    Is it illegal to have someone’s likeness or object printed on U.S. FLAG? For instance a person’ silhouette or AR -15 gun.
  • Comment Author: John Amato

    Thanks for pointing out our mistake, Chris. It’s updated.

  • Comment Author: Aloi, Kristin

    🇺🇸🇺🇸 I’m so happy that Chris Nanai, pointed out the count in your article describing how many stars and stripes and their meaning. It was acknowledged back in May 28, 2024 and I’m still reading the wrong multiplication of stars. I’m sure it’s an over sight not being corrected yet. That it your company would immediately fix that for others to read. God bless America.

  • Comment Author: Chris Nanai

    Thanks for the info… You may want to proofread the star requirements you list… You said 9 rows of 6 stars and 4 rows of
    5 stars… That’s 74 stars… It should be 5 rows of 6 stars and 4 rows of 5 stars… For a total of 50 stars…

  • Comment Author: Michael Hogan

    We had a debate and a restaurant recently about The thin Blue line on the American flag printed on a T-shirt.
    Is this acceptable or not? We know what it stands for and there are many other variations but again it seems disrespectful to the flag and our country. Your input would be most appreciated.
    Thanking you in advance,

    Michael Hogan
    Daytona Beach

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