Got an Idea for a T-Shirt? Here’s How to Earn Money From It on the Side

Josh Waldron is usually skeptical when he hears stories about
people making colossal amounts of money working side hustles.

While killing time at an airport in February 2017, he read an
article about how a man made $10,000 per month selling T-shirts
online using print-on-demand services, which allow people to sell
without owning a print shop. Waldron’s doubts washed away as the
article laid out the business model.

The process seemed carefully documented and could be replicated
on a smaller scale. “So that’s why I was willing to jump in,”
he says.

Later that day, the 34-year-old founder of web-design company
Studio JWAL and operator of a miniature golf course in Waynesboro,
Virginia, signed up for Amazon’s print-on-demand service,
Merch by Amazon.
Once he was approved a few months later, he started creating

Waldron says that last year he earned a couple of hundred
dollars each month selling his products without dedicating much
time to it. Here’s how he and others sell T-shirts online using
print-on-demand services.

How Print on Demand Works Two computer screens show Merch by Amazon

Print on demand is the process of printing custom designs on
products such as T-shirts, hats and sweatshirts that are made to
order instead of printed in bulk.

These services are appealing to side hustlers because most of
the work is done by a third-party company. After setting up a
profile, designers can start uploading their designs for review.
This is when the designer can preview the shirt to see how it will
look and also when the company examines the shirt for any possible
trademark violations. After the shirt is approved, the designer
creates a product description, sets the retail price and makes it
available for purchase.

That’s it for the designer. No need to worry about managing
inventory, shipping, returns or customer service. The third-party
company handles it all.

This hands-off model is ideal for people like Terri Broussard
Williams, 40, of Austin, Texas, founder of Movement Maker Tribe, a
political and philanthropy blog. She uses print-on-demand services
to create merch associated with her blog and public-speaking work.
She always wanted to sell merch but had no idea how to go about it
until learning of Spreadshirt. She opened her shop
in August 2018 and now makes $100 per month from her designs.

One of the trade-offs with these services is that your profit
margin will be slimmer because the company is doing a majority of
the work.

Waldon says if he lists a T-shirt for $16.99 on Merch by Amazon,
he earns $3.11 per shirt. The higher the retail listing price, the
higher the cut for the designer. (Each print-on-demand service is
different; to help you decide which service is best for you,
we’ve highlighted below some of the pros and cons of different

Do I Need a Graphic-Design Background? A young woman holds open her jacket to show a T-shirt with a message.

Even though it helps to have a background in graphic design, it
is possible for people with no Adobe Photoshop experience to sell
shirts. “I’ve tried, but I failed miserably,” Broussard
Williams says of her attempt to learn Photoshop and Adobe

Instead, she outsources the design work to a graphic designer
she’s worked with in the past, and they collaborate on shirts.
Overall, she’s spent about $200 outsourcing her design work. If
you don’t know any graphic designers, Waldron says, you can find
freelancers on services such as
or Upwork.

But if you don’t want to outsource your designing, there are
options. You can read articles and watch YouTube tutorials from
experienced online T-shirt sellers to learn how to use creative
suites such as Photoshop and Canva, a program that allows you to
use royalty-free fonts to create images.

“So I think it’s doable for anyone,” Waldron says. “I
feel like for me it’s definitely easier because I can just hop
into Photoshop and kind of put an idea together. But there are
other alternatives if you don’t have Photoshop experience.”

Tips for Success

Below are some tips for starting off in the print-on-demand
T-shirt industry from people who have been successful.

Put Your Stuff Out There

Newbies trying print-on-demand for the first time need to be
bold and brave, Broussard Williams says.

“You’re selling [a] product, and you’re putting it out for
the whole world to see, so for some people that might be
intimidating,” she says. “It might be easy to assume that no
one wants to buy your message, but I’ve learned people do.”

If your designs are not selling right away, don’t fret. Stacy
Caprio, 27, who lives in Chicago and runs the website,
started selling T-shirts on services such as Merch by Amazon,
Redbubble, Printful and Printify in early 2017. She says it took
over a month to earn her first sale.

“Test it for a month. Put some [designs] up and see if you get
any sales because I think that’s the best way to see if that’s
something you want to continue with,” she says.

Caprio has experience using multiple print-on-demand services to
sell her designs. Although she no longer actively uploads new
designs on these services, she still earns between $200 and $300
per month in residual income.

Find Your Niche A man poses for a picture in front of his home office

When coming up with designs, remember that the riches are in the
niches. If you’re into a particular activity or hobby, then focus
on that topic, Waldron says. In the beginning, he had a difficult
time getting his golf-themed T-shirts noticed because that category
was saturated with competition. One topic he noticed early on that
didn’t have much competition was bowling. Waldron says his wife
is a great bowler, so they brainstormed designs and phrases that
appealed to bowling fans.

He says the more specific the niche, the less likely you’ll
face competition from other designers. So find a topic and put your
efforts into creating the best designs possible.

Have Great — Original — Designs

Waldron warns people to be careful when it comes to trying to
create designs based on trending topics. You might have an
excellent idea for a shirt that involves a celebrity or current
event, but you might not be able to use it.

“It gets tricky because something’s probably been
copyrighted, so the easiest ideas are just the ones that you come
up with on your own, like purely out of the dark, and then you can
go online and you can check the trademark database,” he says.

You can look up trademarks by going to the the United States
Patent and Trademark Office Website and using the
Trademark Electronic Search System
. There you can search for
certain terms and phrases to see if someone owns an active, or
live, trademark or copyright.

Also, a simple Google search will help to see if someone has
already beat you to the punch and created a T-shirt with a similar

Waldron says he learned early on that Merch by Amazon doesn’t
play around when it comes to trademarks and copyrights. One of his
designs was a vector image of a character that had some slight
similarities to the superhero Iron Man holding a golf club iron. He
says he tried to make him look not too “Iron Man-ish,” but the
design didn’t pass. “They squashed that one pretty quick,” he

Don’t Neglect Your Product Descriptions

After your design has been created and approved, you don’t
want to ignore your product descriptions and titles. “If you put
all the energy into making a cool shirt and then you do one
sentence for your description, you’re kind of wasting the little
real estate that Amazon gives you,” Waldron says.

For example, let’s say Waldron is uploading a funny bowling
T-shirt about the 10 pin, a pin that right-handed bowlers have
trouble hitting. He’s not going to title it “10 Pin T-shirt.”
He’s going to call it “Funny Bowling T-Shirt -10 Pin Design,”
or something similar.

The goal is to think like a shopper and anticipate how they
would search for your item if they didn’t know it existed, he

When writing the description, make sure to include part of your
product title, such as the saying on the T-shirt, if there is one.
He says, for example, “Are you looking for a great bowling gift
for your family or friends? This ‘Living on a Spare’ T-shirt is
the perfect gift, and sure to generate laughs at the bowling

Print-On-Demand Services to Consider A smiling woman wears a T-shirt with a message on it.

A couple of quick Google searches will reveal several companies
offering print-on-demand services.

Each of these services has its own pros and cons regarding
product quality, profit margins, audience size and speed of

Below is a list of some print-on-demand services, with details
from people who have used them.

Merch by Amazon

Amazon’s print-on-demand service is the biggest player on the
block, according to Caprio and Waldron. Caprio says she preferred
using Merch by Amazon over other services because of Amazon’s
massive built-in audience and its reliable product-delivery

One of the most significant hurdles is that you must go through
an application process to sell on the platform. Caprio waited six
months for approval. Waldron says he was approved in about two
months and credits his web-design experience for giving him an

Here’s where you can find out more about
Merch by Amazon


Printful features many high-quality T-shirts and items to put
your designs on. The service has a profit calculator
available so designers can see how to price products to obtain
their desired profit margin.


Printify allows designers to
save 20% on their costs with an optional premium membership for $29 per
month. Caprio says it’s great if your demand is strong and people
are buying your items often. Here is a breakdown of the
pricing structure
for Printify.


Spreadshirt has a
wide variety of high-quality items and many customization options.
Designers can put their images on short- and long-sleeve shirts,
hoodies, mugs, phone cases and more. Buyers have the freedom to
select their shirt and font colors. Broussard Williams says she
typically earns between $2 and $3 per shirt.


Redbubble sells baby
clothes, greeting cards, wall art and bags in addition to shirts.
Caprio liked using Redbubble because it gave her the opportunity to
put her designs on unique items such as onesies. Here is a
breakdown of the
base prices of the items available
on Redbubble.

Matt Reinstetle is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He
covers side hustles and the gig economy. Follow him on Twitter

This was originally published on
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Got an Idea for a T-Shirt? Here’s How to Earn Money From It on the Side