Guest Post from Michael Essek: 3 Simple Rules For T-Shirt Success


Here at TeePublic, we've been fans of Michael Essek's Print-on-Demand tips for a while, so we're pumped to be running another entry in conjunction with him today. (Be sure to check out his previous blog entries on TeePublic’s blog here!) Like what you see? There's more where that came from on his website, so do check it out! With no further ado...take it away, Michael!


3 Simple Rules For T-Shirt Success 

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not make mistakes.

In fact, I’m over cautious about most stuff - I’d usually rather do nothing than risk making a mistake.

(Or maybe I’m just lazy).

But despite my best efforts and the ton of mistakes over the past few years - I have managed to grow a reasonably solid business off the back of my artwork.

So with that in mind, here’re some mistakes I’ve made that I think you should try to avoid:

1. Short Term Thinking & Action

If you think short term, you’ll make short-term decisions and get short-term results.

For example - if you try to copy designs that you see are selling well (instead of creating your own original stuff) - then you might get a small short-term bump (perhaps) - but you won’t have anything to show for it in the medium- to long-term.

Likewise, if you create designs for a thousand different niches and markets with no real rhyme or reason - you may pick up occasional sales and get a small stream of income going - but you are unlikely to be able to build any real ‘brand’ out of all that effort.

But if you focus on getting to know and serve a particular niche or market well - you’ll get a whole heap of long-term benefits.

You get the knowledge and the ability to reach a particular market…you build up a portfolio of designs that you can market and re-market to those particular people…you could even become the ‘go-to’ brand or artist in a particular space.

So don’t be blown about by every trend that comes along - instead, focus on creating designs that could really serve you long term...and that you could build some kind of ‘brand’ around in the future.


2. Not Creating ‘T-Shirt-First’ Concepts

As Print-On-Demand technology develops and anyone anywhere can print anything on any product, it’s tempting to think of T-Shirts as ‘just another product on which to whack my designs’.

But T-Shirts as a product category have things that make them unique - and designers who understand that will find themselves creating designs that naturally lead to more sales.

In other words - just because you can print almost any kind of artwork on a t-shirt doesn’t mean you should - and it certainly doesn’t mean that people are going to connect with it and buy it.

Instead, you want to create concepts and designs that really ‘click’ when applied to a t-shirt - in a way that that same design won’t necessarily work on a phone case or a poster.

(Some designs will, of course, work everywhere, and across a bunch of different products - and that’s fine.)

But if your goal is more T-Shirt sales - then you’re missing out if you aren’t regularly creating concepts and designs that work exclusively for t-shirts.

Some obvious examples include:

  • Any design that ‘labels’ the wearer (eg. Mama Bear)
  • A statement, quote or phrase that the wearer is trying to promote/represent (eg. Black Lives Matter)
  • Any design that fakes a ‘real world’ impression (eg. a Fake Pocket or fake Blood splatters on the shirt).


3. Not Designing For The T-Shirt

Don’t be fooled - this sounds like point 2 but is in fact quite different.

Concepts and designs are two different things.

Concepts are ideas - perhaps sketches of ideas - but they aren’t finished artwork.

Lots of designers and artists are great at designing (the technical skill of creating aesthetically pleasing artwork) - but are perhaps less good at the concept side (deciding what to create in the first place).

When I talk about ‘not designing for the t-shirt’ - what I mean is that people often create artwork that isn’t recognisably a ‘t-shirt design’ at all.

To illustrate this point:

I will occasionally post one of my designs to Reddit or imgur or somewhere like that - and will usually receive comments like...

  • “Where can I get this?”
  • “Ok, where do I buy this shirt?”
  • “This is my new fave shirt!”

The thing is - I didn’t upload a picture of a T-Shirt.

 I only uploaded a picture of the design. (Usually a close-up, thumbnail type of image).

so viewers have assumed that this is a T-Shirt design - simply by looking at the artwork itself in isolation.

And that’s what I mean by ‘designing for the shirt’.

In practical terms, this usually means features such as:

  • Clear, bold lines
  • A limited colour palette (3/4 colours max)
  • A standard t-shirt layout - eg. text on a circular path around a graphic.
  • Some ‘treatment’ or effects of some kind - vintage textures, use of halftones etc.

These design characteristics tend to indicate to the viewer - ‘Hey - this is a t-shirt graphic!’(without ever explicitly saying so).

And that’s what you want in your designs - t-shirt designs that actually look like t-shirt designs!

If your concept works as a shirt (step 2) and your design looks like a T-Shirt design (step 3) - then you’re much more likely to be generating sales.

Until next time,

Michael Essek




 Thanks for reading and of course, a big thank you to Michael Essek for sharing his expertise with all of us once again! Michael recently published a new guide to selling on Teepublic, so be sure to check that out!

And be sure to check out Michael’s previous blog entry for TeePublic on how to create rhyming phrases.

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