Tips for making shirts to sell

Create shirts to sell

Create printed or embroidered shirts to sell

Now and then we get print orders from people who want us to produce printed or embroidered shirts that they wish to sell for a profit. Some prove to be extremely successful. Others, sad to say, end up as money losers.

The same could be said for shirts that are used as promotional giveaways. While you may not be expecting to sell these items for profit, the whole point of making promotional giveaways is to have people wear them. If those items stay in dark drawers, you’re losing advertising value on your investment.

While no one can predict what shirt designs will be a hit and what won’t, here are a few suggestions you can use to put the odds in your favor.

Product appeal

The first item of business is to get a preview of how attractive your design is to others. By attractive I really mean will people want to buy it and wear it?

One of the hardest lessons for a designer to learn is that what’s attractive to him or her may not be as attractive to others. They don’t live inside your head. They may not have your artistic vision or like what you like.

It pays to get feedback on your designs. Your aim should be to find out from strangers if they would buy the item you wish to sell. You’re looking for honest feedback, not just predictable compliments from your strongest supporters.

Feedback gives you valuable clues if you’ve hit the right chord. We have seen designs we loved that unfortunately went nowhere. We have also seen designs we weren’t very yipee-skippy about, but they surprised us and sold very well. The results surprised us but feedback would have given us more insight.


One great indicator of the success of a shirt design is to sell it by showing people a copy of the design. Even better, you could order a sample or two of the design and have a real prototype for people to look at. Costs vary with this. At Creativity On we can produce a print prototype of a t-shirt for around $20. Embroidery costs more because an embroidery file must first be made; this process is called digitizing. A pocket logo design would ballpark at $45 plus the garment and the embroidery.

We have found, however, that many people are not good at visualizing something until it is a tangible product. Once they see the final product, they “get it.” Creating a prototype sample garment is a great way to make pre-sales without shelling out a bunch of money to produce an inventory. If your pre-sales go well, the money you collect upfront will also help to pay for the first production run.

The big picture

Garment designs we have found to be most successful as items to sell were tied into a charity or a cause. Customers were both buying the garments and supporting something whether it was an organization or a point of view. The shirt represented something emotionally important to the people who bought and proudly wore them.

So, ultimately, it’s not just the shirt design that’s important. It’s the message. It’s the meaning. Will the people you’re targeting support the message(s) on the garment?

Designs from scratch

Chances for success improve when the design is rendered by someone skilled in graphic art. That may sound like a no-brainer, but we sometimes get submissions from people who do not understand the requirements of the media. Their designs look unintentionally slapped together. Hiring a skilled artist familiar with design and rendering software is a good, recommended move.

Companies, schools, churches, and non-profits sometimes don’t want to spend money on the services of a graphic artist. One good solution is to hold an art contest. Form a committee of judges to select a winning design.

The cooler something looks, the more people will want to wear it. Of course, what’s cool is quite subjective. That’s why feedback is important.

Give yourself time

The more you set yourself up for making a rush order, the more you risk. In best cases you would give yourself time to complete a design, have it reviewed by people, and make adjustments to the art based on feedback. You would also give your printer or embroiderer adequate time to order product, create prototypes, and perform the production work.

Create a sales plan

To be the most successful with your shirts, develop a strategy for selling garments or giving things away for promotional value. Have an action plan, and if necessary, designated helpers to follow-through with that strategy. If you’re selling shirts, define your market and decide how you’re going to implement your sales plan.

Advantages of direct-to-garment printing

Compared to screen printing, DTG printing does not require that you print as many shirts to be economically feasible. You can just print one. In screen printing, the more you print, the more you save. Very short runs like a dozen shirts are costly.

With DTG you can save or conserve money and also take advantage of DTG’s main benefits which include the ability to print photos, full-color graphics, color gradient blends, drop shadows, and other digital effects.


Check under Garment Printing in the navigation bar at the top of this page. If you have questions, please call Jolene at (503) 991-5266 M-F 9am-5pm Pacific time.

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