I have a growing t-shirt and merch business where I “design” apparel and other merch like mugs and iPhone cases. I have a little secret though…I have no idea how to design any of it.
My Photoshop and Illustrator skills are extremely limited. Sure I can crop an image and change the color of a background, but to be honest, I lack the technical know-how and the artistic ability to make anything besides circles and squares.
That’s why I rely on different websites and apps to help me create designs that people buy again and again. Some cost money…oh no! Some are free…yay!
I use these designs on all of the top merch sales channels like Merch by Amazon, Redbubble, Teelaunch, Cafepress, Zazzle, etc. I also put them on my own Etsy stores and Shopify site using Printful and Printify to fulfill my orders. If you want to get into more merch, it also works great for making journal designs to put on Amazon KDP.
Text-Based Design Apps
I did the math for the last 3 months*, and the merch I sell with JUST text made up for 67% of my sales! As an experiment, I just opened up an additional Etsy shop that is strictly text designs, and it is already doing some sales.
*This isn’t counting Amazon KDP low content journals. Text only designs only made up 27% of those sales.
Most of the text designs I do are actually made on my phone in two minutes per design. Crazy, right?
Each of these apps is free, with additional paid versions that get you more fonts.
Over App (iPhone and Android)
This app is great for making flyers and images for social media. I believe they call it “Over” because the main function is placing text over images. For merch designs, you can just use the transparent background option.
I use this app when I want to make a basic text design with one font. It is great for showing big bold text. You can also play around with some things like color and shadows. Note – if you do make a shadow, make sure the opacity is at 100% otherwise Printful and Printify can’t print the file.
WordSwag (iPhone and Android)
When I want to get a little fancier with the text, I’ll use this app. Wordswag has what seems like an infinite amount of combinations of text styles to make some really interesting typography mixes that my customers seem to love.
I’ll often put some text into the app and just keep shuffling the options until I find something really cool. Seriously, it gets hard to pick the right one. You’ll get so many cool designs that the difficult thing is narrowing it down to your favorite one. It’s kind of difficult to explain how the text looks, so download the FREE app, watch the video above, or check out their website in the link below to see what it can do.
Graphic Designs (free and paid)
Once again…I’m not a designer, yet I still “design” all of my Merch. I used to pay someone using Upwork for designs, but now I just use these 2 sites to make everything since it saves a ton of money, I can customize them more, and I can make a quick design when I see a trend popping up.
Canva (Free w/paid upgrades)
This one I found on accident. I always saw a lot of videos and tutorials on how to make t-shirt designs with Canva, but that was back when you had to fish through different stock images and text that you’d have to put together in a stylish way. That took time and imagination that I lack.
Now they have tons of pre-made t-shirt templates you can use either as inspiration or as a set template to make your designs. The amazing thing about this is it is 100% free. Paying for Canva Pro will get you the best designs they have, but the free ones are still pretty amazing.
PlaceIt (subscription and pay per design)
I’ll admit, the layout of the site isn’t that great and the search is all over the place, but the templates available and unique artwork makes it totally worth the subscription. They’ve got everything from kawaii styles and 8-bit video game images to gothic and meme-worthy images. PlaceIt is where I get my best holiday style designs too.
If you don’t want to be stuck with a monthly subscription, you also have the option of buying the design for about $3. It’s free to play around with it before you buy, so you can get the design you want.
Where to Upload these Designs?
The internet is now littered with all of my designs on t-shirts, mugs, posters, phone cases, and even things like dog beds. Some sites are better than others for making money, but I find the more places you are, the more opportunities there obviously are to make money online.
Print on Demand (POD) Sites
I upload to all the usual suspects: Amazon Merch, Redbubble, Spreadshirt, Cafepress, Zazzle, and a few more. And yes, I did write those in order of which ones make me the most money to the least.
If it seems overwhelming to upload to each individual site, it is. That’s why I love Orbitkit which automatically posts your designs to the top merch sites with one click. As of this writing, Orbitkit can post to:
- Society 6
- Fine Art America / Pixels
- Design by Humans
Yeah, that’s a plural stores. I have multiple Etsy shops with different themes/niches for each and then one general store. Etsy makes me the most money, but unlike the POD sites, I am in charge of my own customer service and having the orders fulfilled. God forbid I have to actually earn my money, right?
I currently use Printful and Printify to fulfill these orders. If you can’t figure out which to choose check out this post for how I do it. Spoiler – I use both.
Occasionally I’ll use Printed Mint as well. They are pricey, but if a customer wants a little more gift wrap options, Printed Mint is the only one that offers that.
This is sort of like a print on demand site, but also way different. I’ll write more about how this works and how to make journals for sale on Amazon later. But for now, you basically create a cover design and interior files containing just blank lines if you want.
My Own Shopify Store
I took one of my niche Ety stores and expanded it into my own Shopify merch store. To be 100% candid, this doesn’t make the most money for me. That being said, it has the capability of making me more than all the other sites combined.
Right now all of my traffic and sales come from SEO and Pinterest. To really make money with this, I’d just have to start focusing on email marketing to my customer list and also work on advertising on different platforms. Why don’t I? Ah, probably laziness and worry of spreading myself too thin. Even with that lame work ethic, I’m still pulling in several thousands of dollars per year without touching the site in about a year. So keep judging 🙂