If you’ve got a passion for design, you might be wondering how you can monetise your skills and make a career out of doing what you love. One way to turn your penchant for graphics into a fully-fledged side hustle is by becoming a T-shirt designer. But just how can you design and sell T-shirts for a living? In this definitive guide, we’ll go over how to create a striking design, how much you can realistically expect to make from this venture and how to start printing your T-shirt designs.
What Does a T-Shirt Designer Do?
Although designing the T-shirts you plan to sell will take up a large amount of your time, becoming a prolific T-shirt designer will involve a little more than simply creating your designs.
Whether you design T-shirts for a company or set up a freelancing T-shirt design business, here are a few of the areas you’ll need to hone your skills in to be successful:
- Market research – you’ll need to stay ahead of the trends to make sure your designs are what your audience wants
- Brand development – T-shirt designing is a competitive business, so making sure your brand is unique will help set you apart from the rest
- Marketing & promotion – getting your T-shirts in front of your customers will be key to making sales
Why Should You Become a T-Shirt Designer?
Starting your own T-shirt designing business can offer many benefits, such as:
1. High profitability
Everyone wears T-shirts, so venturing into this profession means your services will always be in demand. With such a wide and limitless audience, it’s easy to find your niche and it’s not as risky as launching into a brand new field.
2. Growing industry
As well as the majority of the general public wearing T-shirts, there will always be a demand for them because they get worn out and new ones need to be bought. Although T-shirts have never been out of date, their popularity is certainly on an upward trajectory right now.
Recent research from Grand View Research showed that the t-shirt printing industry reached a revenue of about 3.64 billion USD in 2020, with experts expecting the growth rate of this industry to climb around 9.7% between now and 2028.
As with any freelancing business, T-shirt design can allow huge levels of flexibility – on how and when you work as well as the type of commissions you take on and the ways you decide to sell and market your goods.
Likewise, the types of T-shirts you design can vary as well. You could specialise in branded merchandise working for bands, or designing uniforms for chain restaurants, or even sell your designs online directly to the customer.
4. No experience or degree needed
As long as you can create professional T-shirt designs that your customers or clients like and want to buy, there’s no prior experience or education necessary. However, you will need to be proficient in your design tool of choice – whether that’s a free online tool like Canva or classic design software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.
5. Do what you love!
The biggest benefit of all is getting to do something you’re passionate about – and get paid for it!
How to Start a T-Shirt Business: Step-by-Step
You’re sold! But just how do you launch your T-shirt design business? Here are all the key steps you’ll need to take.
1. Hone your design skills
Being able to create a range of expert designs will be essential to a successful career as a T-shirt designer. Before launching your business, get some practice using a variety of tools, including the Adobe Creative Suite and try online design tools to find what works best for you.
Adobe Illustrator is one of the most popular design tools for making T-shirts thanks to its fast processing speed and vector capabilities.
Need to polish up your design skills? Why not take an online course before starting your business venture?
2. Choose your audience
Choosing your audience at the early stages of planning your business allows you to target your entire business plan around appealing to the right customers. You’ll need to compete with many already established brands, so finding a niche that’s both unique and profitable will be important at this stage.
Undertake customer research through surveys and competitor research to see what sells well and who you’re up against.
3. Create your brand
At this point, you’ll have an idea of the direction you want to go with your business and who you want to appeal to – this information will help you develop a distinct brand that’ll make your business memorable and engaging.
As well as deciding on a company logo and business name, you should also work on your marketing collateral such as your business cards and any print you’re planning to include with your T-shirts, like clothing tags or thank you notes.
4. Register your business
Before you can start selling your T-shirt designs, you’ll need to register your business to make sure you’re paying the right tax on your incomings. If you’re running a T-shirt business on your own, you can set up as a sole trader on the Gov.uk website.
If you’re working with someone else, you’ll have to register as a limited company, which separates the business’s finances from your personal ones.
5. Start designing
Now you’re ready to roll, all that’s left is creating your designs. Once you’ve made your designs, it’s a good idea to mock them up on T-shirts so you can show customers images of what the design will look like once it's been printed onto the T-shirt.
6. Sell your T-shirt designs
Next, you’ll need to decide what platform to use to sell your custom T-shirts. Setting up your own website or online store on a marketplace like Etsy or Amazon is an easy place to start. Another option is to book out markets to sell your prints from a stall – this option is particularly effective if your T-shirt designs are targeted towards local audiences. Just make sure you’ve got plenty of business cards to hand out!
7. Marketing & promotion
Now that customers have an avenue to purchase your designs, you’ll need to make sure they know about it. That’s where your marketing strategy will come in. From promoting your new business on social media to sending out flyers in the post, it’s important to use a variety of digital and offline tactics to make sure your reach is as wide as possible. Here are 18 small business marketing ideas to get you started.
How to Make Money Designing T-Shirts
One of the most common questions from budding T-shirt designers is how much you should sell your T-shirts for.
In order to run a profitable business, there is a little bit of maths involved – but don’t worry, it’s really basic stuff that’ll essentially mean that what you’re selling your products for is worth the time and material costs to create.
To keep it simple you can stick to this formula:
(Materials X 2) + Labour + Expenses = Retail Price
When it comes to labour, don’t sell your efforts short – pay yourself an actual hourly salary (you are technically your own employer now!).
Expenses include tools and equipment you’ve had to use, packaging, delivery costs as well as any fees from setting up an online shop or market stall.
It’s also important to compare your prices with your competitors to make sure what you’re selling your merchandise for is around the same ballpark figure. It’ll also help you see whether the price you’ve set for your products is realistic.
How Much Do T-Shirt Designers Make?
This will depend on many different factors – including whether you’re working for yourself or working for an employer. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a T-shirt designer in the UK is £35,071 (December 2022), but that will only be taking into account designers who are paid by companies.
If you’re launching a T-shirt business as a side hustle, the amount you’ll make will depend on how many T-shirts you design and sell in your free time, as well as the price you set.
Can You Copyright a T-Shirt Design?
According to UK law, copyright protection is automatically instated in any original work. That means from the moment of creation, your design will have copyright protection.
Broadly speaking, you can copyright any work that you create – whether that’s published or unpublished – and although it’s not always necessary to legally register a claim, it may be wise to document your creations for extra security in some cases.
How to Make a T-Shirt Design: Top 5 Design Tips
If you want to know how to design art for a T-shirt, you’ve come to the right place. Whether you need tips on setting up your design or how to come up with design ideas for your T-shirt, we asked our in-house Studio team for their top tips.
1. Know your printing process
Certain printing processes will result in a different effect. The most common way to print T-shirts is through screen printing, which can either be done at home or on a larger, commercial machine by a printing company. If possible, ask your printer for a sample or place a test order before you start selling your T-shirts designs.
2. Add your personality
For clothing and merchandise for businesses, it’s important to capture the company branding, whilst also making the T-shirt desirable to wear. If you’re creating T-shirts with retail in mind, your brand should come across in every design to make your shirts recognisable. Have a clear vision of what your customers will like
3. Pick complementary colours
According to colour theory, colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel (like blue and orange) go well together – these are known as complimentary colours. You can also choose three colours that are equally spaced around the wheel to give you a split-complementary colour scheme. Want something a little different? You can create an analogous colour palette by picking the three colours that are next to each other in the wheel.
4. Sketch out the design first
Like with all good things in life, when it comes to T-shirt design, you shouldn’t rush the process. One of the best ways to create your design if you’ve got designer’s block is to sketch something rough on a page without committing to it. Then go for a 15-minute walk and come back to pick what you like and what you want to change about your first draft.
5. Be inspired by your surroundings
Still stuck? Take a look around you and pick the first thing that grabs your attention. It might be some crisp leaves blowing in the wind, a fresh cup of coffee or even a tangle of wires on your desk. Challenge yourself to get creative and make a design using that!
How Big Should a T-Shirt Design Be?
If your design is going in the middle of a T-shirt, your design should be large and take up most of the front of back of the shirt, depending on which side you want the design to go. Adding a design to the top left or right hand corner of the shirt is also a popular option – these graphics are often smaller in size.
At instantprint, the maximum area of the personalised T-shirts that we can print your design on measures 430mm x 320mm.
How to Print a T-Shirt Design
Ready to start printing your own T-shirt designs online? Check out our full range of personalised T-shirt printing in a choice of sizes and colours – perfect for an easy way to start printing!