How to design a t-shirt that sells (Our process explained)

Black t-shirt with print on. An IPad with a black and white artwork of the print.
I’m designing T-Shirts for more than ten years. I was lucky enough to have a few bestselling designs over the years. I’m very grateful for that.
And that’s why I decided to share my process of how I design T-Shirts that sell.

1 – Get a good idea for your T-Shirts

The inspiration for T-Shirt designs is everywhere around us. Literally everywhere. On the streets, in the stores, on the bus, in online shops, at home in bed while reading a book… and once you develop an interest in T-Shirt printing, you will start to notice them everywhere.
To find bestselling designs, start looking for patterns that repeat, like certain design styles or motives.
Some resources I use to research designs online:
  • POD Sites like Amazon (if you’re outside of the US, change your delivery address to a US zip code to see all available T-Shirts), Redbubble, Spreadshirt, Teezily, etc.
  • Mintees: A marketplace for T-Shirt designs (also has artwork for sale)
  • MerchInformer: A paid tool that gives me a lot of data about Merch by Amazon (e.g. which T-Shirts are currently selling on Amazon). They also offer trademark checks and online courses for MbA sellers. They help you with finding relevant keywords and offer lots of other amazing features.
  • Follow some artists/brands on social media

Once you figured out themes and topics that are trending, get creative, and make your own thing. Unfortunately, many people out there follow the principle of copying designs that sell and just make them a little bit nicer by adding an image or change the fonts. No one likes copycats, and for the customer, it’s not exciting either to have tons of T-Shirts with literally the same design. So instead of designing the x-millionth dog T-Shirt that the customer will never see, it’s better to niche down and do something unique that sells. ?

 2 – Check for copyright issues & protect yours!

Checking for copyrights, trademarks, and image rights should be a mandatory step of your design process. You’d be surprised how many words and sayings are copyrighted, especially for T-Shirts.  This is a serious issue and can jeopardize your business or provoke severe legal problems.
Pixel by pixel copy and derivative theft is a big issue as well.
I have several designs that have been copied. A lot. Fighting against it is often a lost cause, especially when Asian sellers are involved. For every copied product you manage to take down, three new ones pop up.
At some point, you just have to decide if you really want to invest that much time in trying them to prevent copying a single design over and over again. Maybe it’s better to just let this design “go” and spend your time on creating stunning new designs instead. ?
Tip: Always make sure to have the correct documentation to prove the ownership of your designs. With this, you can issue takedowns if necessary.

3 – Sketch your ideas

Now it’s time to get creative!
In this stage, I usually brainstorm the layout and sketch different styles of typography. I also decide how to position the text or image.

4 – Draw that bestselling T-Shirt design

Before you set up the design file, check with your printer.
You want the following information:
  • Print size
  • Resolution
  • File format
  • Color space (if applicable)
For DTG printing, almost every software can be used to make your T-Shirt design! There is no right or wrong, as long as the final image meets all requirements of the printer.
Nowadays, I even design most of my T-Shirts on my iPad Pro.
You can also hand draw and then scan the image at a high resolution.
The only thing to keep in mind is that your design needs a transparent background (check out this blog post to see what happens when you have a white background in dtg printing).
Don’t forget to design for the media you’re using and go big. Don’t be afraid to use all the available space! Your T-Shirt will sell more when the design is clearly visible and readable on small preview images.

5 – Is your T-Shirt design good enough for selling?

Do an honest review of your artwork: Is it good enough to appeal to potential buyers? How does it compare to other T-Shirts (in the same niche)?
If you feel that your design cannot compete yet, keep practicing. Maybe you need to improve your drawing styles, develop a feel for good typography, or level up your drawing software skills.
Most skills can be learned, and every master was once a beginner.


6 – Print and sell your T-Shirt

If you have a printer, go ahead and print your work.
Alternatively, you can upload it to a Print on Demand platform. Pay attention to good keywords and descriptions for your listings. Without them, your awesome design cannot be seen by possible customers!
Usually, it’s a good idea to order a test print of your design. This helps you to fix any flaws your design may have (like unwanted lines or small artifacts).
Before you start selling T-Shirts, check the legal regulations that apply to your country.

The T-Shirt design process.

So that’s it: The way I design my T-Shirts.

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