Have you read the stories of T-shirt millionaires spreading
around the web?
That’s what TJ Mapes and two of his friends did in 2009 when they started RIPT Apparel.
Now, thousands of people are earning a good income selling cool t-shirt designs
using Print on Demand.
It’s a great way to build your portfolio as a designer,
because you don’t need to worry about upfront costs and you can quickly get
feedback on your designs based on demand. Learn all about print on demand in this tutorial.
What Is Print On Demand and Why Does It Matter?
Print on Demand (POD) is a process where a designer teams up with a supplier to print their designs on white-label products like t-shirts, mugs, or blankets, whenever someone buys it online.
Print on Demand t-shirts is a growing market. A 2017 report from consulting firm Credence Research shows that the custom t-shirt printing market is expected to cross $10 billion by 2025.
The only con is that you’ve got no control over packaging and the printing customization is limited to the methods used by said party. Shopify’s post on POD has more information about the pros and cons of POD.
Print on Demand, Not as Easy as it Sounds
It’s impossible tell which design will click. A design might
look artistic to you, but your customers might disagree. And just when you think
you’ve found a promising design, it might be too late because a many designers
have seen it and are already copying the trend.
That’s exactly what happened when POD designers started
applying the concept of this now-viral Hogwarts-themed shirt to every niche imaginable.
Without knowledge of your target market and proper research,
you could waste a lot of time and money designing POD merchandise that doesn’t
sell. To avoid that, this tutorial will show you different ways to research
profitable designs for different POD niches, and show you where to find images
and fonts to use to create those designs.
Top 7 T-Shirt Niche List and Print on Demand Product Ideas
Print on Demand has several niches. Each niche has its own
set of slang, reasons for buying, and popular t-shirt design ideas, so knowing your
niche makes it easier for you to create items they’ll want to buy.
Below are some of the most popular t-shirt ideas today, plus
some print on demand products where you can use them.
People love their pet, which is why the pet industry is $72.13 billion industry last year based on data from the American Pet Products Association.
You can go for the common sub-niches like dogs, cats, or birds, but there’s also a market for uncommon pets or large animals, such as horses, lizards, wolves, and hedgehogs.
Placeit has plenty of pet t-shirt templates available to choose from, such as the one below:
Statement shirts are great conversation starters. Humor-related POD merchandise could have funny images, punchy one-liners, nerdy jokes, or even memes.
If you want to give potential buyers a feel of how a shirt would look like when worn, use t-shirt mockups from Placeit.
You might hate your job right now, but there are millions of
people who wake up every morning proud of what they do.
Not all jobs are popular though, some have more passionate
employees than others. For instance, lawyers or accountants don’t get as much
love compared to nurses, army, or firefighters.
4. Sports, Lifestyle, and Hobbies
Another reason people buy custom-printed merchandise is to
show off their hobbies, sports, or lifestyle.
Here are three popular niches to consider for your t-shirt business:
1. Sports Niche Ideas
2. Hobby Niches
3. Lifestyle Niches
- Digital nomads
- Work-at-home Mom (WAHM)
5. Family and Relationships
Have you ever seen a shirt saying “Worlds #1 Mom” and thought, “who
would actually wear this?” Shirts like this are popular, especially on Mother’s
Day. You can also find custom-printed
items for single dads, newly-engaged women (“bride-to-be”), sibling love, newlyweds, and grandparents. There’s
even a t-shirt niche list that includes friends and co-workers.
6. Location and Travel
any tourist destination will have a couple of shirts and collectibles designed
after their local attractions.
Travel quotes, architecture, local delicacies, and maps are
also used in travel-related print on demand merchandise.
7. Seasonal Designs
Christmas sweaters aren’t the only POD item you can sell on
holidays. Seasonal designs to put on a shirt include Thanksgiving, graduation,
Valentines, Halloween, and other holidays. Religious holidays like Hanukkah or
lesser known holidays like National Pasta Day also have their place in the
market, but only if you time your promotions well.
How to Choose a Niche
POD shirts, jewelry, shoes, and other custom-printed
merchandise are what people call “impulse
buys,” so the best way to sell them is to tap into people’s emotions.
People purchase these items because they want to show off
their individuality, whether it’s their job, pet, hobby, sport, or a country
they just visited—the design shows something about them.
Another factor to consider when choosing a niche is the
market size. You could have a niche you’re extremely passionate about, but if there aren’t
enough people there you’ll quickly run out of customers. One way to check a
niche’s audience size is to use Facebook’s Audience Insight tool or check the
keyword search volume for your audience on Google.
Read the following tutorial to find out how to research a niche:
- CustomersHow to Define a Target Audience (For Your Marketing Plans)
- MarketingHow to Define, Analyze, & Seize a Market Opportunity
- MarketingHow to Do Market Research Right for Your Small Business
Selecting a huge niche also gives you room to branch out
into sub-niches. If you want to sell job-related shirts, you can break it down into different categories such as nurses, firefighters, and teachers.
From there, you can even break it down further into smaller niches such as
pre-school teachers, or ER nurses.
How to Conduct a T-Shirt Market Research for Your Chosen Niche
Now that you’ve chosen a niche, it’s time to research what
to put on your designs for them. You can use your preferred method for
collecting information, be it bookmarks, Pinterest pins, or an excel file, the
important thing is you find a way to save and organize the information you’ll
collect during this research.
Below are different ways to research designs to put on a
shirt and other print on demand products.
1. Finding Cool T-Shirt Design Inspiration through Amazon Merch
Merch by Amazon is Amazon’s very own platform for POD
A free tool from Merch Titans
allows you to search the cool t-shirt designs uploaded to Merch by Amazon based
on keywords, the marketplace it was uploaded to (i.e. Amazon.com or
Amazon.co.uk), and the type of merchandise (i.e. shirts or hoodies).
The search results
- Design Image
- Items sold
The results aren’t 100% accurate as they’re based on the
tags and descriptions store owners use on listings. If a design is listed with
multiple or related keywords, they can show up on your results.
You can also search Amazon’s website for t-shirt ideas using
the process Dan Vega described in his video here:
2. Searching with Pinterest and Facebook
Facebook is a social platform, but it’s a good way to find print
on demand t-shirts because this is where competitors are promoting their
designs using Facebook ads.
Just type your niche’s keyword and the word “t-shirt” or whatever print on demand
merchandise you’re selling into the search bar. You can also use promotional
words like “on sale” or “limited time offer.” Some people search
based on POD platforms, so they use search words like “Teespring” or “Redbubble”
so they see all posts with these platform’s URL or name.
You can also filter the search results based on the date of
the post, so you only see the latest designs promoted on Facebook.
The same method can be used for to find t-shirt design ideas
on Pinterest, except in this case you’ll use the number of “pins” to gauge a design’s popularity.
Pinterest will also help you narrow down you search by displaying popular
keywords associated to your initial search.
This shirt design found on Pinterest has over
1000 pins, a good sign that cat lovers would purchase a shirt with a similar
You don’t even need to design a cat from scratch to create
something similar to this design, as there are lots of graphic options for cat t-shirts on Placeit like the ones below:
3. Search Unique Mug and Shirt Design Ideas via Etsy
Etsy is a marketplace for handcrafted products but you’ll
also find print on demand products there. To find creative t-shirt design ideas,
just type your niche’s keyword in the search bar. You can also try different
keyword combinations like “niche + joke”
or “niche + another niche” to get
unique shirt design ideas.
Take note of the designs with lots of reviews, but make sure
the reviews are for the item you’re viewing and not for another design. The
reviews below are for the item “Reasons to be a mermaid mug,” but
you’ll see that last review is for a different product.
4. Search for Cool T-Shirt Designs via POD Platforms
You don’t need to create a website to sell your POD designs
because there are dozens of marketplaces that’ll allow you to upload your
designs on their site, so you can earn when someone purchases it from them.
Not only can these sites help you sell your designs, they
can also help in your POD and t-shirt market research. Just type the keywords
for your chosen niche, then filter the search results based on hot t-shirt designs
or the newest listings added.
Below are other POD marketplaces
where you can find design inspiration:
You can also search for t-shirt
ideas on Teeview, a website that
consolidates designs from Teespring, Sunfrog, and Teezily.
5. Searching for Unique Shirt Designs
via Google Images
Finally, there’s the tried
and tested method of searching for t-shirt design inspiration using Google
Images. Go to
then type the niche you’re trying to research.
Try a combination of different keywords, such as:
- Niche + funny
- Niche + joke
- Niche + quotes
- Niche + slang
Google Autosuggest will also show
you other phrases to use in your research.
The search results may not be
limited to shirts, but some of these quotes are short and snappy enough that you
can easily fit them into a mug or hoodie.
Caution: Many of the images you’ll find on Google images are copyrighted. Be careful not to use an artist’s images or copyrighted items to avoid a lawsuit. Use the results of this search for inspiration only.
Combine some of the quotes here
with a professionally-designed running t-shirt template design on Placeit, and you’ll have some wall decal or t-shirt ideas
ready for a promo test.
6. Searching T-Shirt Design Ideas via Reddit and Other Social Platforms
Your niche doesn’t have to be
news or politics for this tip to be useful for you. Whatever is trending in
your niche, there’s a good chance that you’ll find a clever quip about it in
one of these platforms.
Platforms where you can search trending, viral, or meme items:
- 9Gag. A
website and social site where you can publish and curates jokes and memes for a
variety of niches.
- 4Chan. It’s similar to Pinterest in a sense
that it’s a bulletin board for images, but the difference is you don’t need an
account and you’ll see lots of comments on some images, which might be helpful
in your research
- Reddit. The site is divided into different
communities, and some communities will have sub-groups (a.k.a. “sub-reddit”) to
further organize the conversations. The best posts get the most replies and
votes (a.k.a. “upvotes”) from community members.
Not everything you find in these
websites is applicable to POD, as majority of the information you’ll find here
aren’t yet commercialized. These are just content people talked about, so
you’ll need some creativity to imagine how the information can be translated to
a hoodie or POD blanket design.
The relationship category on 9Gag
is full of jokes and complaints about relationships. But there are posts like the
one below where the image’s concept or a text version of it might well on an
apparel design. It’s also a good sign that the post has over 2600 points and
Caution: Be careful not to use an artist’s
images or copyrighted items to avoid a lawsuit.
You can find many unique quotes
on sub-reddit threads, and almost none of these quotes are trademarked because
these are from ordinary Reddit users being their sarcastic or funny self.
Unfortunately, digging into Reddit to find puns and jokes is a chore because
there are so many active conversations to track.
Simplify your research easier by
searching for “pun trains,” the term
used when users play off on each other’s puns. Another way is to look up
Reddits dedicated to jokes. You can also find a detailed tutorial of using
Reddit to search T-shirt designs on MerchPursuits.
7. Combining Niches to Create Cool T-Shirt Designs
Combining niches allows you to
hone in on a more specific target customer, while giving your designs are more
unique and authentic feel.
One typical example of this is
the “Niche + Born in (month)” combo,
where you combine a positive trait or niche with a target buyer’s birth month.
Designs like this makes buyer feel special, because they think they’ll be the
one of the few with an item like it.
Here’s a combined niche idea:
Mermaids + birth month via Etsy. Use a different image or icon then combine it with
a unique typeface and you’ll get a unique design ready to sell.
You can also combine relationship
and job niches, like this design for a “Mom who raised a firefighter” shirt from Etsy.
A Word on Avoiding Copyright Issues and Using Mashups or Parody
Some designers and POD entrepreneurs use mashups and parody
to avoid copyright problems. Since ideas are too vague to copyright, a
different execution of one idea from a popular franchise or trademarked
character like what happens in parodies and mashups presents a gray area for
For instance, the idea for a hilarious dad can’t be copyrighted, but the plot and character details that makeup the character’s personality can
be protected by copyright. That’s why Peter Griffin of Family Guy can’t be
considered a copyright infringement of Homer Simpson. Whatever similarities
they have, they also have differences in storylines and character traits, which
makes both of them independently, and could separately be copyrighted..
That’s why ‘fair use’
is a typical defense against copyright claims.
Unfortunately, “only a legal court can decide whether a
design falls under fair use and because lawsuits involving copyright claims are
usually complex and involve heavy fine plus settlement, they are tried at the
Federal level”, according to Atty. VikasBajaj.
Of course, you want to avoid getting into court in the first
place. Teespy has a few pointers that can help you avoid in this post.
Where to Find Images, Fonts, and Mockups for Your Chosen Designs
Former Graphic Designer now Bootcamp Media CEO Jimi Shabir, says, “It’s always better to create unique images, especially
if you’re creating something to be sold. But sometimes, using stock photos is a
necessary shortcut to multiply your design output.”
Shabir has a point. If you spend days perfecting one design,
you’ll find it hard to test new designs fast, and your designs may already be a
saturated trend by the time they hit the market. Using stock images creatively will help you design more
Placeit is a good source for design templates, mockups, and other design elements you may need.
Why Wait? Get Started Now
Remember what famous writer Austin Kleon wrote, “Steal like an Artist.” Don’t copy other
people’s designs; use it as inspiration to create something better or unique. I hope you’ve gotten plenty of inspiration from this tutorial.
In the case of designers, this means trying a different
font, angle, icon, color, or a different image. With proper research, you don’t
need to reinvent the wheel to come up with a unique and profitable design. Try
the research methods mentioned here and don’t forget to use images safe for commercial
use such as those found on Placeit.