Have you seen all those people with Etsy stores or merch shops selling t-shirts and wondered how do I sell t-shirts online too?
You know you could totally sell t-shirts, mugs, onesies or even baseball caps if you just knew the secret to design and sell t-shirts online.
Or maybe everyone tells you your one liners should be on t-shirts and you are ready to give it a try.
I had a lot of questions about how to sell t-shirts and mugs online to diversify my income stream.
I’m sharing what I’ve learned so you can diversify your online business too. In this article I’ll be covering:
- Print on Demand vs Drop Shipping
- How does Print on Demand (POD) work
- What program should you use to design t-shirts, mugs and other merch?
- Commercial Use Fonts & Trademarks
- The best Print on Demand company for you
- The best eCommerce platform – online shop – to sell POD products on
I tried a lot of options and spent a lot of time researching before I launched my shop. I hope I can save you time so you can put your effort into generating income.
This article covers A LOT of information – I encourage you to Pin It so you can refer back to it easily and often.
What is Print on Demand (POD)
Let’s start at the very beginning, what is POD? Print on Demand or POD is the method of using a third-party printer to print one item at time and ship that product to your customer for you.
From t-shirts to cloth face masks, books and even dog water bowls you can sell a ton of items print on demand.
When simplified, the print on demand apparel and accessory process goes like this:
- You create (or buy) a design
- Upload the design to the POD program
- Place the design where you want it on the item
- Provide the POD company a customer’s address
- And click finish.
The POD company prints your design on the merchandise and ships it to your customer.
It’s. That. Easy
Depending on the POD company and eCommerce storefront you use, you can automate many of the steps through integrations.
The coolest part is the POD site brands the packaging to make it look like it came directly from you. You’ll see this noted on POD websites as white label.
What is Drop Shipping
You may also have heard about drop shippers and wondered if that’s the route you should go.
Drop shipping is when a seller doesn’t own products themselves and passes customer orders to a third party to ship the product – which is technically what a print on demand company is doing for you.
However, the drop shipping industry is very large and more often a drop shipper is fulfilling orders for finished products.
Are Print on Demand Sites Expensive to Use?
If what you want to know is how to start a t-shirt business with no money here’s your answer.
One of the best parts about using a print on demand company to print and ship customized t-shirts and accessories is that you have no inventory or upfront inventory costs.
You don’t pay the POD company until you accept your customer’s payment.
You’re selling shirts and swag online without inventory and it doesn’t cost you any of your own money.
Many popular POD sites are free to use without a membership fee.
Other POD companies have monthly fees or may offer a monthly paid membership to access premium services including lower printed product costs.
When it comes to comparing product prices at different POD sites, it’s important to remember the old saying, sometimes you get what you pay for.
One of my favorite POD sites charges just a little more for printed products BUT they include awesome customized packaging with every order.
One place you should spend your money on is buying samples of your print on demand products.
Its important to order samples to check the quality of what you are selling with your own eyes.
Who Pays for Shipping When You Sell POD Merch?
A question I hear often is “who pays for shipping when you sell t-shirts online?”
We all know online shoppers have gotten spoiled by Amazon Prime’s free shipping option.
As a print on demand product seller you have three main choices on how to handle shipping costs.
- Include the shipping price in the product price and market it as free shipping
- Charge your customer the full shipping cost
- Charge you customer a flat shipping fee that covers part of the shipping cost and roll the rest of the shipping cost into the price of your product.
Additionally, most popular POD companies separate the cost of shipping from the base printed product cost.
This allows you to offer upgraded shipping options if that’s important to you or your customer.
How to Design T-shirts to Sell Online
I don’t know about you, but one of the questions I was most curious about was what program do you need to design graphics for t-shirts and other POD products.
The answer made me so happy – and if you already have an online business you are going to love this answer too.
All you need is Canva. Really.
There are experts out there that say you need Adobe Illustrator to design t-shirts, mugs and other merchandise to sell on Etsy, Shopfy, Facebook Shops or anywhere online.
If your plan includes making print on demand physical products a primary income stream for your online business, then yes, learning and using Adobe Illustrator should be on your to-do list.
But if your plan includes adding physical products as an additional income stream to your existing online business, all you need is Canva.
If you aren’t familiar with Canva, it’s a web based graphic design program that makes graphic design accessible and doable for anyone. I encourage you to check out!
How to use Canva to Make T-Shirt Designs
Canva offers both a free and low-cost paid option.
I highly recommend the low cost paid plan for physical product design due to the ability to download transparent designs, among other things.
Canva makes creating transparent designs to upload to your POD site’s product maker very easy.
One of the tricks to using Canva to make t-shirt graphics and sayings is to set the custom design to a really large pixel size. That when you download it and re-upload it you can keep it crisp.
Which brings us to formatting and what format should you download your t-shirt designs in? For the most POD companies PNG or JPG are fine.
Each POD company provides specs for each product. The specs will tell you the max pixels to upload and if there is a PNG or JPG preference.
Where Do You Get Fonts for T-Shirts to Sell Online?
Canva offers a lot of free fonts and graphics.
I personally only use Canva’s free fonts for physical products that I plan to sell.
I’m not an attorney and I don’t want to take a chance of interpreting Canva’s terms of service incorrectly or their terms of service changing. I prefer to err on the cautious side when it comes to legal things.
If there is a graphic or paid font on Canva that you really want to use you can email them directly for an answer in writing.
Is it Legal to Use Unique Fonts and Graphics on T-Shirts?
I totally understand if you want to brand the look of your swag with a customized font. I have a couple unique brand fonts myself.
Many t-shirt designers buy fonts, patterns and other graphics from sites that specifically sell fonts and graphics for commercial use.
Font Bundles, Creative Market and The Hungry JPG are where I buy commercial use unique fonts and graphics for my POD products.
I still recommend you read the terms of service on each product you buy from those sites as occasionally they do vary.
Earlier I mentioned that popular sells.
As a beginner I don’t think you don’t need to spend a lot of money on customized branded fonts.
Stick with tried and true popular free fonts and add in just one or two branded options.
How to Respect Trademarks when Making POD Merch
Before we get to the good stuff – what POD site to use – I’d like to address one more legal issue.
But first, please be a good human and don’t steal other people’s ideas when you are designing your products
If you see a unique saying you love, google it to see if its available to purchase. If it’s not, then use your own creativity and come up with something even better.
Now let’s talk about Trademarks.
There are lot more trademarked sayings and graphics to be aware of then just Disney and pro sports teams.
I’m always surprised when I discover something like the saying make it happen is trademarked.
So how do you check for Trademarks?
Again, I am not an attorney and this isn’t legal advice.
There are, however, websites including the US Trademark Office, that you can search for free.
Still not convinced you should do the work and check if your ideas are already trademarked?
Rumor is that Etsy will ban sellers on their first Trademark infraction. Don’t be that urban legend.
Want to know more about trademarks?
Check out attorney Andrea Vetter’s article that answers common trademark questions including what can and cannot be trademarked.
Okay now that we’ve gotten that out of the way let get to the good stuff!
The Best Print on Demand Site for Your Online Physical Product Shop
It’s finally time to talk about one of the biggest print on demand questions.
Which print on demand site is the best use to sell t-shirts, mugs and accessories on Etsy, Shopify, Facebook Shops or anywhere online?
This is kind of like one of those trick questions because there is no perfect answer.
Each Print on Demand company prioritizes different factors including
- Price point
- Speed of production
- Print quality
- Product selection
- Shipping times and options
Some print on demand printers are located on the east coast of the US and some on the west coast.
An upstart POD company in North American is located in Canada and there are many more print on demand sites shipping from Europe and China.
Only you can decide which of those key factors are most important to you and your future customers.
Before you start looking at the websites and product catalogues of the popular print on demand companies – listed below – take a minute to decide on your shop’s priorities.
Knowing what’s most important for your store will help you narrow down which POD company to work with.
Popular Print on Demand T-Shirt and Mug Sites
One of the key things I’ve learned about selling t-shirts, mugs and other accessories is that popular things are popular for a reason.
Embrace popular in the world of POD.
And you goal is to sell!
From colors to fonts to POD sites, when you are starting out there are benefits of going with what’s popular.
There are A LOT of companies that print POD merch.
You could spend weeks researching them all.
Or, you could start your online product shop in a reasonable time frame by choosing a free to use popular print on demand site that meets your needs.
Speaking of not getting side tracked, when you start to look at all the POD product catalogs you are going to want to sell. it. all.
Just remember you have to start somewhere.
Pick one or two products and keep the others on your Trello idea list and try try try not to get sidetracked! Yes, I speak from experience.
The list below includes free to use popular Print on Demand sites in the US and Canada.
Printify is a large Print on Demand company that offers some of the easiest options for new Print on Demand shops.
Select from over 250+ different items T-shirts, hoodies, mugs, bags, decor, stickers, and more.
Simple setup with the most popular ecommerce platforms. Automatic syncing.www.printify.com
Printify also has an easy to use product set up tool and easy integration with eCommerce platforms. Their base product price points are competitive meaning more profit for you.
Printify doesn’t print the items themselves but works with 90+ print provider locations that you choose from depending on the product you are printing on.
Printed Mint is one of my favorite Print on Demand printers.
Design Beautiful Products. With over 100 different products, the possibilities are endless.
Custom Packaging. Make your packages stand out with custom packaging totally unique to your branding.www.printedmint.com
Printed Mint’s product prices are often just a little bit higher and their product set up feature takes a tad bit more effort than some other POD companies, but Printed Mint’s custom branded packaging alone is worth considering them for.
Based in Arizona, Printed Mint integrates with Etsy, Shopify and other popular Storefronts. They also have a great customer service team.
Shirtly has become a popular Print on Demand company during 2020. When other companies faltered this Canada based company pick up the ball and ran with it.
Shirtly takes care of order production and shipping, with the fastest turn around times.
We manage automated order production and shipping.www.shirtly.com
You focus on selling custom apparel.
Shirtly’s product catalog is the smallest on this list, but it includes popular ecommerce t-shirt brands and styles. And based on reviews, they more than make up for their smaller product selection with production speed and quality.
Both time and quality are meaningful to customers. Shirtly recently announced plans to expand with a US based facility.
I have a bit of a crush on teelaunch’s large product catalog. In addition to popular t-shirts, mugs and accessories they also offer Polar Camel tumblers and stemless wine tumblers in an awesome rainbow of colors options.
Additionally, teelaunch offers a large catalog of products designed for your customer to personalize.
… teelaunch was created for the store owner who has a store and wants to stick to being creative and not waste time & money fumbling through the printing and shipping process.www.teelaunch.com
teelaunch’s free integration apps can be found in both Shopify and Etsy’s app stores.
CustomCat might be your best POD site if your shop plans include a variety of apparel and athletic apparel. I’m always blown away by the range of clothing they offer at competitive prices.
CustomCat has developed a proprietary, web-to-product manufacturing system and fulfillment solution that marries the premium pricing of low volume, customized product while eliminating costly setup.
Digital Printer Products (T-shirts, Hoodies, Jerseys, Sweats, & More)
Embroidery Products (Hats, Backpacks, Dress Shirts, & More)www.customcat.com
Based in Detroit, CustomCat’s product set up tool is also user friendly with easy Shopify and WooCommerce integration. They also offer API integration with additional platforms.
As mentioned earlier, there many more POD sites in the US and when you look across Europe and China.
I didn’t included the POD sites Printful or Gooten on this list. Prior to 2020, Printful was a rock star but 2020 has been a tough year for them. If they recover I’ll add them to this list.
Gooten has a great catalog of products but has received mixed reviews from users in North America during 2020. If they offer what you want to sell, you can always order a sample and judge for yourself.
Where Should You Sell Your T-Shirts and Mugs
Now that you know where and how to design your t-shirts and accessories, and you know what POD company you are going to use to print and ship them, its time to figure out where you are going to sell your t-shirts from.
And like choosing a Print on Demand site, I encourage you to make a list of what’s most important to you in an online eCommerce store before diving into the many options.
- Where do your future customers shop online?
- Do you need to validate your product idea?
- Do you have a warm list of people ready to buy?
- Do you want to own your storefront or be a part of a larger shopping platform?
Maybe your answers conflict or you don’t know yet.
Many POD shop owners sell their t-shirts, mugs and accessories on multiple eCommerce platforms.
And not to sound like a broken record but after exploring your options pick one and just get started.
Popular Places to Sell POD T-Shirts Online
There’s no doubt that Etsy is a popular place to sell print on demand t-shirts, mugs and accessories.
Etsy is global online marketplace that puts your products in front of people who are searching for things to buy – and that’s a huge benefit.
With an Etsy shop you are able to validate your product’s design without investing a lot of money.
For just 20 cents a listing you can test to see if the market is interested in what you are selling (if you click here and open your Esty Shop you’ll get 40 FREE listings)
The Etsy Seller Handbook contains 100’s of articles on how to set up and make the most of their eCommerce platform.
Setting up and maintaining an Esty store is pretty simple and straight forward.
There are a couple notes to consider when using Etsy to sell your POD products.
You don’t own your shop so you can’t put an email sign up box on Etsy. They do, however, let you highlight your social media accounts so you can encourage shop guests to find you at alternative locations.
Etsy shops are free to set up and maintain – create a shop today and take an insider’s look around Etsy.
Shopfiy is an eCommerce platform with the features you need to start, run, and grow your business online.
Unlike Etsy, with Shopify you aren’t part of a larger marketplace (although there are rumors that option is coming) you are selling from your own eCommerce platform.
If you have a warm audience Shopify is a great option.
You can create a shop for your POD products using a free Shopify theme and redirect your warm audience to your Shopify shop to purchase your t-shirts, mugs and other merch.
While your people are on your Shopify site they won’t be tempted away by other sellers t-shirts and mugs.
And just like with your WordPress or similar website, you can use all your email marketing tools and techniques to generate interest in your POD products and nurture repeat customers.
Another marketing advantage of Shopify was announced in the Spring of 2020. Shopify and Pinterest joined in a new partnership that makes creating shoppable Product Pins for your Shopify products quick and easy.
You might be thinking all of this sounds great but is it’s hard or complicated to set up a Shopify store?
Shopify’s shop free themes are very easy to setup and customize. I found it much easier then setting up a WordPress site.
If you run into a setup snag the Shopify customer support team is very helpful. And their free Shopify Academy is amazing.
To be fair this platform isn’t perfect for everyone.
There is a small monthly fee and if you are starting from a very cold audience it will probably take time and considerable marketing effort to see sales.
You can try Shopify for free (no credit card required) so sign up and look around to decide if it’s the right fit for you.
There’s a new kid on the eCommerce block called Facebook Shop (with Instagram Shop planned to come right behind it.)
During the Spring of 2020, the team at Facebook and Instagram announced a new eCommerce shopping platform focused on small business owners.
Facebook Shops make it easy for businesses to set up a single online store for customers to access on both Facebook and Instagram. Creating a Facebook Shop is free and simple.https://about.fb.com/news/2020/05/introducing-facebook-shops/
If your customers spends a lot of time on Facebook and Instagram this could be a great option for you.
I’m not usually an early adapter of new technology or platforms but I’m really excited about this one!
There are a couple ways to you can use Facebook Shops to sell POD products.
If you have a lot of t-shirt, mug and other product designs you want to sell on Facebook Shop a great option is to integrate your Shopify store with Facebook Shop.
With the Shopify integration, when someone buys a t-shirt through your Facebook Shop they will complete the transaction on your Shopify site.
Any POD integrations you have set up will automatically occur the same as if you customer started their online shopping visit on your Shopify site.
New to all of this and that was a little ever your head?
If you want to test out the waters of Facebook Shop without using Shopify there is another way you can use this new eCommerce platform.
Let’s go back to the POD t-shirt example and walk though a quick and easy way to use Facebook Shop to sell a t-shirt
- Create you Facebook Shop
- Upload your t-shirt mock-up to a Collection in your Facebook Shop
- Someone buys the t-shirt
- The transaction is completed (a purchase is made) thought Facebook’s platform
- You put the t-shirts order in at you POD site
- Your POD site prints the t-shirt and ships it to the customer
Your profit is the difference between what Facebook collected for you and what you pay the POD site (minus FB’s and any other transaction fees.)
If your target audience spends a lot of time on Instagram or Facebook this is a great opportunity to reach them with you POD t-shirts, mugs and other merchandise.
Amazon is a whole animal unto itself. And the Amazon animal has to be fed A LOT. The competition selling t-shirts on Amazon is fierce but so is the opportunity make a lot of money.
If you have a unique design that’s doing well on other online shopping platforms, then absolutely give selling on Amazon a try.
Do you already have a WordPress website and find all of these options overwhelming?
Then your eCommerce solution might be to use the website you already have and to build your shop with the Woocommerce plug in.
I haven’t tried this option but many of the major POD sites have WooCommerce integrations that automate the POD process.
WooCommerce also offers a Facebook Shop ingratiation extension.
The most important step is pick an eCommerce platform to start with, test your designs then expand into the next best platform for your products.
Regardless of which storefront option you choose, ff you already have an online business, blog or company website make sure to set up a Shop tab on your navigation menu that redirects visitors to your print on demand products.
That was a lot of information, right? If you haven’t yet, pin this article now so you can easily refer back to the information and the links provided to the popular POD companies and eCommerce platforms.
Head over to Canva and start creating your t-shirts graphics and sayings. Brand them by buying commercial use unique fonts and graphics.
Don’t forget to double check for trademarked sayings and be a good human, don’t copy someone else’s work.
Check out the product catalogs from popular POD companies and make a short list of 2-3 products to start with. Select a POD company that best meets the expectations of you and your future customers.
Then upload your designs and order a couple samples of your t-shirts.
While you wait for your sample t-shirts to arrive get started building out your new online shop. Choose an eCommerce platform that checks off the most boxes on the list of features you are looking for.
Designing and selling t-shirts, mugs and other merch online using a POD company takes a bit of work on the front end. But once you get up and running there are a lot of integrations and automation that will reduce your hands on time.