hunt and peck t shirt

How I Designed My Own Line of Merchandise in Two Weeks for $13

You can quickly design and sell products online, no experience necessary.

When a friend made me a logo for my website, I dreamed of putting it on other things – T-shirts, camping gear, and cool swag for the house. I thought it could be a nice way to support my blog.

Fast forward a few weeks, I launched my own line of merch and opened an online shop selling products on my blog, Facebook and Instagram.

My initial investment? $12.99.

Wondering how you can create your own merchandise for free and sell it online?

I will show you!

A few of my designs.

Selling online has never been easier

It’s easier than ever to create and design your own merch.

I know this to be true because, 15 years ago, I ran an ecommerce bag company. I had to source every component, sew my own prototypes, find a manufacturer, ship the product and manually build my online store.

This took months to figure out, and then the work really began: driving back and forth from the manufacturer in New Jersey with my car packed to the brim with bags; going to the post office every day, and painstakingly updating my website as stock fluctuated.

At a tradeshow with my Flicka Bags in 2007.

I definitely did not want to go through that again.

Luckily, I didn’t have to.

Today, all that work has been replaced by easy-to-use software open to anyone with internet access.

In other words, you don’t have to make your own products to make your own products.

I’ll walk you through the exact process I used to set up a shop.

1. How to create your own designs if you’re not a designer

This is the fun part! I’ll boil down the process into three steps, the last of which is optional. No sweat.

1. Find a graphic

Instead of starting from scratch with a blank computer screen or piece of paper to create a design, I began by thinking about the look I was going for and searching for royalty-free graphics.

I used Canva for this. Canva is an incredible tool you can use to not only find cool graphics and imagery – but to actually create your designs using those graphics. You can make everything from social media posts to presentations to – you guessed it – designs for T-shirts and other products to sell online.

I couldn’t have made my line of products without it. Canva has a free version, which is good for many things, but I strongly recommend using Canva Pro for product design for three reasons.

The first reason is the image library. It’s amazing! You get access to over 100 million stock photos, graphics and even video and audio tracks that are royalty-free and ready to use. Your ability to create something unique is much greater with a bigger library.

The second reason is the Pro version lets you save your designs with a transparent background (whereas the free version does not). Backgrounds can make your designs look like they are on a piece of paper, which for many items, especially clothing, won’t be the look you’re going for.

Here’s an example of the difference:

The third reason to go with the Pro version is it comes with the “magic resizing” tool. It’s essential to make your designs the exact size so they will be centered and won’t look fuzzy on your products. The free version doesn’t have the resizer.

Canva Pro costs just $12.99 a month, and you can cancel anytime. This fee is the only money I paid upfront to get my online store up and running.

If you want your create your own brand, you will need a way to distinguish it, which is where a logo comes in.

A logo doesn’t have to be intimidating – it can be as simple as coming up with a name and a font you like.

You can even make this type of simple logo with Google!

Real quick, here’s how to do that:

  1. Log into your Google account and go to docs.google.com/drawing
  2. Click on the T icon
  3. Choose your font and color
  4. Add basic shapes and lines by clicking on those icons in the toolbar

Canva takes logo creation a step further by providing you with thousands of logo templates and font choices: you search by topic and are served up designs that you can easily customize with the name of your brand.

I wanted my logo to have an image all its own, so I opted to have a graphic designer create one. If you’re not so lucky to have a graphic designer as a good buddy, you can easily hire one on Fiverr or Etsy.

Fiverr is a great resource for any digital need, by the way. In fact, you could find someone on Fiverr to handle the whole design process if you wanted.

My logo has a visual element and my blog’s name. I like having both so I can slice and dice it according to the design I’m putting together. In addition to a jpg version of your logo, be sure to get a PNG file of it so you can resize it without it getting blurry.

3. Add a message

This step is totally optional. But it can give your items some real personality and even add a design element, especially if you’re using an interesting font.

Here’s an example of one of my designs where I incorporated these three steps (graphic, logo, and message) to create a sweatshirt:

As a person who drives an 80s campervan, this sweatshirt is right up my alley – “on brand” as marketers would say.

2. Choose a print-on-demand shop

You may be wondering at this point how you go from creating designs to putting them on products you can sell online?

The answer is with a service called print on demand, or POD.

Print on demand is essentially custom printing that digitally transfers designs onto all kinds of items. The process eliminates mass production because products are printed individually.

The growth of print-on-demand companies has been revolutionary for small business owners because the technology makes it possible to produce goods in small quantities at a reasonable cost.

Because products are made after they are purchased, there are no upfront costs or inventory to manage. This process is also much less wasteful than traditional manufacturing.

I learned about traditional manufacturing the hard way years ago when I searched for factories to print fabric for my bags. In order to make a profit with those old mechanical printing presses, fabric factories had to make thousands of yards per run. It’s no surprise they weren’t interested in the “little guys” like me.

(Someday I’ll write another post about the time a factory in central Pennsylvania bumped me for a larger order from Old Navy …)

Thankfully, I don’t have to drive anywhere, or beg anyone, to print my designs this time around.

Instead, I simply log into a print-on-demand website and upload them, from the comfort of my own home.

What are the best print on demand companies?

Choosing the right one POD for you depends on a few factors, the most important being where you will sell them.

If you have your own website, you definitely want to consider selling directly from your website. This enables you to make a better profit margin and have more control of all aspects of your shop, including the look of your shop and communication with customers, which is super important.

If you don’t have a website, I don’t recommend building one just to sell products, because you will need an audience in order to make sales – and that takes time to develop. You’re better off selling on an established, high-traffic website while you build your brand, at least to start.

The best print on demand companies if you DON’T have a website
Redbubble

Redbubble is my pick for the best place to create and sell your products if you don’t have your own website.

Selling on Redbubble is easy. You create an account, upload your designs and boom – you’re in business. There is no integration needed and it’s completely free to use.

Redbubble commission is higher than other print-on-demand companies – 20 percent on average.

You can put your designs on everything from wall clocks to face masks to throw blanks to T-shirts and more.

Selling through Redbubble gives you great exposure because the site is popular and does well in Google search, meaning someone might actually discover the cool T-shirt you designed and want to buy it!

The downside is you can’t sell your Redbubble merch on Instagram or Facebook. Keep reading if those are your preferred channels…

Society6

Society6 is similar to Redbubble. It’s a place where you can upload your designs to dozens of products and sell directly from the Society6 website.

Society6 is also free to use. The commission rate is lower than Redbubble, at 10 percent. However, if you’re selling wall art – framed or canvas art prints – you have the ability to earn more by setting your prices higher.

Society6 emphasizes giving artists exposure. You’ll find regular spotlight features showcasing artists and their work, and you can include your branding and curate collections in your shop.

You can’t sell your Society6 products through Facebook or Instagram, but you can use these channels to promote your shop on Society6.

Minted

Minted is an online marketplace featuring original artwork curated by Minted. You might know the name from its popular holiday cards.

This isn’t the place to sell if you plan on creating designs with graphics; it’s more of a fine art venue.

Not everyone can sell on Minted – artists are hand-picked through monthly design competitions. But those who do will reap the benefits of this selective site that does a great job of showcasing artists.

Design-wise, Minted is a cut above its competitors – which is one reason why it’s more of a household name for shoppers than its competitors. Sellers also benefit from less competition than on mega sites like Redbubble, giving them a better shot at making sales.

Minted pays designers 6-10 percent commission. While the rate is lower, if you’ve got the talent and make the cut, it’s worth a shot.

Spoonflower

Spoonflower started as a custom fabric printer and has expanded to home decor items like wallpaper, pillows, and blankets.

Printing on fabric is different than other items because of what’s called a “repeat”: instead of one image, your artwork has to be duplicated across the fabric.

Simply put: it’s trickier to design fabric than T-shirts.

Spoonflower has tools to help, but I do notice a lot of designs on the site that didn’t quite get the repeats to look right.

If you’re curious, you can always try. You don’t even need a login to upload artwork and see how it looks.

The best print on demand companies if you DO have a website or want to sell on Etsy or social
Printify

The print-on-demand company I use is Printify.

Printify is a huge print-on-demand service with hundreds of products you can customize and sell on your own website or through a big online marketplace like Etsy, Facebook or Instagram.

Printify is free and its platform is clean and the easiest to use of all the POD companies I tested. Printify has more than 200 products offered by manufacturers who are vetted by Printify and continually reviewed by users.

You get to choose the manufacturer for your goods and set your own prices or just leave the default 40 percent, the highest profit margin of the POD companies in this review. Printify also receives high marks for its free support, available 24/7.

Unlike the sites mentioned above, you can’t sell products on Printify.

Printify integrates with other retail websites including Etsy and eBay, making it a snap to upload your products to those sites. At this time, Printify doesn’t offer Amazon integration.

If you have your own website, you can pull in the items you designed through an integration, a process that took me about five minutes.

Printful

Printful is easily confused with Printify, both in name and what the companies have to offer.

In a Printify versus Printful comparison, there are several differences.

Design process. With Printify, you create your designs elsewhere and upload them to Printify’s website.

You can do that on Printful, too. But it also gives you the option to create your designs within its platform and gives you access to clip art to work with – a nice option for beginners looking for a super fast way to make designs although much more limited in scope than Canva.

Integrations. Another area where Printful leads is integrations: Printful currently has more options than Printify. Not only can you set up your shop on Etsy, eBay and Amazon, you can directly integrate with many website builders as well, including Shopify, Weebly, Squarespace, Square, Wix, Webflow and Woo Commerce.

Profits. Printful’s item prices are higher than Printify on the whole. While both platforms allow you to set your own prices, to be competitive each recommends a percentage. Printful’s 30 percent default is 10 percent less than Printify’s 40 percent.

The cost to use both platforms is free, but both offer additional features through subscription plans. I found that Printify’s free version gave me everything I needed, while Printful’s free version is missing some key features, such as the ability to create product photos without a background.

Printing. Printful does all its printing in-house, meaning you can’t choose suppliers. On the plus side, Printful gives you the option of warehousing items so you can reduce shipping times.

Interface. I prefer Printify’s interface. I actually found it so easy to use it bordered on being addicting … I set out to make a few T-shirts and before I knew it had created a line of 25 products. It really was that easy (and fun)!

3. Set up shop

The last step is actually the easiest if you’ve chosen the right print-on-demand company for your needs.

Selling directly from print on demand websites

If you’re selling on Redbubble or Society6 , there’s not much to this step – you are open for business when you created products and set up payment.

One step that’s highly recommended, although not necessary, is personalizing your shop with a banner and bio information. You can add links to your social channels, giving buyers the option to follow you.

Setting up shop on your own website

If you have your own website, you’ll need to do additional work to set up shop on your domain.

If your website runs on WordPress, you can use the free Woo Commerce plugin to pull in my products from Printify.

Woo integrates with both Printful and Printify. This means all the product photos and order information travel automatically between the two platforms – a huge time saver. This happens through an integration triggered by clicking a button. Super easy.

Once your store is connected, I recommend adding a shop policies page and categories so customers can easily find and sort your items on your website. I also recommend adding tags to optimize your product photos for Google search.

To add new products, you create and publish them in your print-on-demand dashboard.

If you want to sell on Etsy, eBay, or Amazon, you can open your shop directly through your print-on-demand dashboard. Uploading your products to these sites is as simple as clicking a button. You will also need to set up payment and tax information in order to start selling.

Selling on social channels – Instagram, Facebook

You also have the option of selling on Facebook and Instagram. You can either make these your primary channels or use them to augment your shop’s sales.

To sell on these channels, you need to create a business page on Facebook and a business account on Instagram. Don’t worry if your Instagram account is personal – you can convert it. On Facebook, you will create a new page and link it to your personal page, if you already have a Facebook account.

Facebook’s business interface is a hot mess if you ask me, but there’s no getting around it. You need this page to sell on either of these channels, as well as advertise your products.

When your business page is up and running, you can proceed to setting up your shop.

How to set up your shop in Facebook:
  1. Go to Commerce Manager
  2. Click shop
  3. Follow prompts to set up checkout and catalogue
  4. Customize the look of your shop
  5. Hit publish
How to set up your shop in Instagram
  1. Convert to a business or creator account
  2. Connect your account to your Facebook business page
  3. Upload your product catalog
  4. Publish/submit for review
  5. Turn on Instagram Shopping.

That’s it!

You are in business.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful and wish you the best of luck converting all your creative ideas into cool products and a side (or maybe even main?) hustle.

Good vibes coming your way! 👌🏝️


Advertising Disclosure: recommendations in this article contain links that may pay me a small commission, at no cost to you, when clicked. As always, thank you for your support.


2 thoughts on “How I Designed My Own Line of Merchandise in Two Weeks for $13”

  1. Oh my goodness this was so helpful!!!! For quite a while now I have said I would love to make my own shirts but had no idea where to start. You laid it out simply! Thank you!

    1. I’m glad it was helpful, April! Best of luck with your shirts and I should warn you that it’s pretty addictive … once you start designing it can be hard to stop 🙂

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