This week I’m going to give you the full lowdown on one of my personal side hustles: I make money selling T shirts online.
Selling T shirts online is an awesome way to make money from home. Depending on the effort you want to put in, it can bring you a little bit of extra cash each month, or you can even build it into a full time home business.
And while you might think that this side hustle is best suited to creative people, I’ve managed to make some decent money without any design skills to speak of.
I’ve mentioned this side hustle in several other posts, but I realised that I’ve never written a complete post on it.
So I’ve put this guide together for anyone looking to get started.
In this post, you’ll find out exactly what I do to make a recurring passive income selling simple text-based T shirts online, with no physical products or start-up costs.
Read on to find out how you can start selling T shirts online this week!
By the way, this post contains affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase or sign up for something through one of my links, I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting my site!
- 1 Selling T-shirts online to make money
- 2 How to start selling T shirts online
- 3 What if I have no design skills?
- 4 Best place to sell shirts online
- 5 Can I do Print-on-Demand in my country?
- 6 How to avoid copyright infringement with T shirts
- 7 How to advertise T shirts online
- 8 Can I make money selling T-shirts online?
- 9 How to be successful selling T shirts online
- 10 Resources to start selling T shirts online
Selling T-shirts online to make money
The easiest way to sell T-shirts online to make money is through a print-on-demand platform (POD).
Print-on-demand is an AWESOME system because it allows anyone to start their own online business with no money!
Basically, print-on-demand is when you design T shirts and other products to sell. But the designs are only printed onto the products once a customer has bought one. So there’s no waste or surplus stock.
This keeps the costs and risks low for everyone.
Let’s look at the process in more detail:
First, you upload a design file to a POD website (let’s say Merch by Amazon, because that’s the main one I use). The site creates a mock-up of what your design would look like printed on a T shirt.
You set your price, write a description, and list your T shirt for sale, using the mock-up as a product image.
Your T shirt is now available to buy online, even though doesn’t exist in physical form yet!
When somebody buys it, the POD company prints out your design onto an actual shirt and ships it off to the customer for you.
And then they send you a royalty payment at the end of the month!
You don’t need any stock, any equipment or even your own website. You don’t have to deal with customer service or shipping – the POD companies handle all that.
Literally all you need is time, internet access, and some basic design program or app (which you can get for free – more on that later).
It’s a great way to make money online because it’s so hands-free. You don’t have to deal with any physical products yourself.
It can also be a source of passive income: you can keep selling shirts and making money even when you’re not actually working.
How to start selling T shirts online
Sounds good, right? So how do you actually get started selling T shirts online?
Choose your platform
Step 1 is to choose your POD platform. There’s nothing to stop you listing the same design on multiple platforms, but I’d recommend focusing on just one to start with.
My top recommendation is Merch by Amazon! This is Amazon’s own POD platform and it’s the one I use.
The main advantage of selling on Merch by Amazon is that your products will be sold on Amazon (obviously) and you get to benefit from their huge customer base and traffic.
However, Merch does have a short application form and wait list. So get over there right now and hit ‘request invitation’ to get the ball rolling!
If you don’t get in, don’t worry – just pick a different POD site for now and reapply in future.
(There’s a list of other POD sites further down this article).
Make some designs
So once you’re all set up with a POD account it’s time to create your first design!
Check the instructions of the site you signed up to for specifications such as design size and file size. You can find Merch’s specifications here.
You can create your design in any design program you like. Obviously, if you already have software like Photoshop then use that.
If you’re starting from scratch and you don’t have any design software, there are free programs you can use!
I make a lot of my T shirt designs in Gimp. This is a free open source image editing software. Merch even have templates to use in Gimp.
I found Gimp a bit tricky to use at the beginning, but there are loads of free tutorials on YouTube. So just invest some time to learn the basics and you’ll be fine.
Another option is Canva. This free design site is a lot more user-friendly for beginners. However, you will have to pay a monthly fee if you want to download your designs with a transparent background. The transparent background is a requirement to sell T shirts on Merch, but not other products such as PopSockets.
There are also lots of free or very cheap mobile apps you can use. Usually these are kind of limited, but a useful way to knock out some designs on the go. Here’s a list to start you off.
Once you have your first design, follow the instructions to upload onto your POD site and you’re away!
Make MORE designs!
A lot of the time, POD is a numbers game.
Simply put, the more designs you have out there, the more you’ll sell.
And you can’t expect every shirt you make to sell. So put up as many as you possibly can!
On a podcast I once listened to with a pro T shirt seller (sorry, can’t remember what it was now), he said that only 2 or 3 in 10 shirts actually sold at all, and only 1 in 10 shirts really took off. Personally, I’ve found my stats are even lower than that 🙁
So you have to put a lot of different designs out there before you find out which ones will be your best sellers.
Luckily, the beauty of the Print-on-Demand system is that you’ve got nothing to lose if your shirts don’t sell!
If they don’t sell, they won’t be printed, so you don’t end up with piles of unsold stock.
At the beginning of your Merch career, I would recommend focusing on VOLUME of designs. Don’t spend hours and hours on beautiful works of art if you don’t know whether they’ll sell.
Create a large number of simpler designs targeting a number of different topics or niches. Then when you start making some sales, you’ll see what kind of niche to focus your energies on going forward 🙂
What if I have no design skills?
So as I mentioned in the introduction, I have NO design skills. None. Not an artistic bone in my body!
So how am I succeeding in this business?
Well, you really don’t have to be a designer or artist to create good T shirts designs.
Simpler is usually better!
Text only designs
Most of my designs are just plain text.
You can use popular phrases, in-jokes or slang that appeal to a particular niche.
Do you have any hobbies? Are there any catchphrases or jokes that only fans of your hobby would get? Things like this make great T shirt slogans!
A good starting place for research is to look at memes or inspirational quotes in your niche on Pinterest.
I have a series of T shirts that are just funny or slang words in a foreign language that I speak. The T shirts are aimed at people studying the language, or who are interested in the culture associated with the language. Several of these sell very well, and they’re literally just one word that took me all of 2 seconds to type out!
You can still make a plain text design attractive by choosing an interesting font. Most design programs come with plenty of fonts, or you can download them for free from sites like 1001 Fonts (just make sure it has a commercial licence).
If you do want to create slightly more advanced designs, you can purchase basic design elements from websites such as Creative Market. You can buy things such as patterns, textures, fonts and clipart which you can mix and match into your own designs.
I love Creative Market because they have 6 free design goods every week, and many of these are suitable for print-on-demand designs! But again, do check the licence before you use them.
Creative Market has lots of cheap bundles of repeating patterns which work really well for POD products such as PopSockets, phone cases and notebook covers (the availability of these products depends on the platform you’re selling on).
Under the terms of their licence, you can’t use an element exactly as purchased if you want to sell it for money. But you can add some slight modification – such as using a pattern as the background, and adding a word or initial in a fancy font on top – and you’re good to go. This has worked really well for me selling PopSockets on Merch.
Best place to sell shirts online
Print-on-demand has been growing like crazy over the last couple of years, so there is a huge range of sites to sell your designs on!
I recommend focusing on just one site to begin with. Then once you know what you’re doing, upload your best selling designs onto a few different platforms and see what works for you.
Most sites have a range of products in addition to T shirts. So if you know that you really want to sell tote bags, for example, that will help you narrow down your choice.
Merch by Amazon
Merch is Amazon’s own POD platform. It’s the main site I use and it sends me a regular pay cheque each month!
I would definitely recommend Merch as the first site you sign up with. I think it’s just easier to make sales on Amazon, because you get to benefit from all their natural traffic.
Plus, all Merch products are available under Amazon Prime, which influences the buying decision for many people.
In addition to T shirts, you can sell hoodies, sweatshirts and PopSockets on Merch.
PopSockets started selling quite well for me over the Christmas period. You only make a small royalty on PopSockets, but on the other hand they’re very quick and easy to create designs for!
Originally Merch only let you sell in the US marketplace, but now you can sell your T shirts on Amazon UK and Germany as well. You don’t need to be based in these countries to sell there since it’s all online!
You might not have all the different products and marketplaces available when you first sign up, but they are rolling them out to all users.
There is an application process to get into Merch. But if you don’t get accepted straight away, no worries.
There are many other print-on-demand platforms, including some which integrate with Amazon so you can still sell on Amazon’s marketplace.
I’ve recently discovered Printful and I’m looking forward to testing them out.
Printful have LOADS of different products that you can put your designs on. They have several different types of basic T shirts, hoodies, tank tops etc.
In addition, there are all kinds of other products such as leggings, dresses, baby clothes, phone cases, tote bags, caps and mugs.
They also have several items with an all-over print option (with Merch, your designs are confined to a small space).
Printful integrates with Amazon, Etsy, eBay, Shopify and several other platforms, so you can maximise your sales by selling the same item in multiple places.
This could be a great second option if you don’t get into Merch, especially with the Amazon integration!
Other print on demand sites to sell shirts online
There are loads of different POD sites out there. Here are just a few that I’ve heard good things about:
- Teelaunch (Here’s a tutorial on Amazon integration with Teelaunch and Shopify)
Can I do Print-on-Demand in my country?
One other great thing about selling T-shirts online with print-on-demand is that it’s completely international. Wherever you are in the world – UK, India, the Philippines, etc – you can design and upload your shirts from your own home and sell them in the USA, even if you’ve never set foot in that country.
If you are wondering how to get paid by Amazon without a US bank account, I use a website called Payoneer.
Payoneer in effect sets up a US account in your name so you can give the payment details to Amazon (or any other site that requires a US bank account for payment).
You can then withdraw from your Payoneer account to a foreign bank account for a small fee.
That said, different POD sites may have different payment methods and/or restrictions. I am not familiar with all of them so please check the T&Cs of the site you’re interested in before signing up.
How to avoid copyright infringement with T shirts
When you come up with designs to sell online on Merch or elsewhere, it’s really, really important that you avoid any copyright infringement.
At best, you could lose your account. At worst, you could face legal trouble!
I hope it goes without saying that you can’t use logos or brand names belonging to brands or celebrities. And you should never copy someone else’s design, or use a design element (such as image or font) that you don’t have the rights to use.
But even lots of people who would never knowingly use a copyrighted design get caught out, simply because so many common words and phrases have been trademarked by various businesses!
Therefore I strongly recommend that you check every phrase you’re thinking of using through the official trademark and/or intellectual property office of any country you’re intending to sell in.
Here are the key places to search:
- United States Patent and Trademark Office
- UK Intellectual Property Office
- European Union Intellectual Property Office
Also, check the content policy of your chosen POD site carefully to see if they have any rules against certain types of content like violence, drug use or obscenity.
Be aware of any specific rules you need to follow. For example, on Merch by Amazon, sexual innuendo is OK on adult shirts (as long as it’s not outright pornographic) but not on child size shirts. If you submit a shirt that breaks these rules, the shirt will be rejected, and too many rejections mean you could lose your account. Here’s the Merch content policy for reference.
How to advertise T shirts online
Now, if you’re just looking for a low key side hustle for a little extra income, you can just upload your shirt designs and wait for customers to stumble across them on Amazon or wherever.
But if you want to take things to the next level (perhaps go pro with your T shirt business), you’ll want to think about advertising your shirts to drive more traffic to your sales pages.
Personally I don’t advertise my T shirts, because this is just a side hustle for me. But here are some methods that work for other people:
If you’re selling on Merch, you might have the opportunity to use Amazon Advertising (formerly Amazon Marketing Services/AMS) to promote your shirts within Amazon.
I haven’t tried this myself but I hear it works very well, especially to give a head start to new designs in a competitive niche.
This is great for very niche shirts. Facebook ads let you target users based on all kinds of very specific criteria, and when people see something that seems to be just made for them, they’re more likely to click through and buy.
I would recommend doing your research or maybe even taking a course in Facebook ads before diving in. While they can be very effective, it’s also possible to lose money if you don’t know what you’re doing.
This is a free way to promote your shirts, but it will take some work to build up your account! It can help to get on some group boards. Check my free guide for more advice on that!
Start a Facebook group and build a community
This is a more time consuming method of promotion but it can work very well if you have a lot of shirts in a particular niche (perhaps based around a hobby you take part in).
If you can build up a thriving Facebook group or other online community around this niche, by sharing memes, videos, discussion topics etc, you can build up an audience ready to buy your shirts.
You could also try building up an Instagram account in your niche.
To save time on building up your own Instagram or Facebook account, you can contact established influencers and ask them to advertise your shirts for you. Depending on the size of their account, some will post a picture and shout-out in exchange for a free shirt, and others will charge you.
Can I make money selling T-shirts online?
You might be thinking all this sounds good so far, but can you really make money selling t shirts online?
The answer is yes – definitely! I only do this as an extremely part time side hustle, but I’ve been making a regular passive income from Merch by Amazon from over a year now.
And as with most side hustles, the more time you put in, the more you can expect to get out. It’s even possible to build this up to a full time income.
My earnings on Merch by Amazon
Here’s how my results look just over a year in:
I am writing this post in February 2019 and my January sales haven’t been finalised yet.
Now, I want to explain a bit about my Merch journey so you can understand the highs and lows!
I joined Merch in October 2017. I made a few sales in my second month, and built up from there.
When you first join Merch, you are only allowed to upload 10 designs. Once you’ve sold 10 shirts (any design), you ‘tier up’ and get a total of 25 designs. Then you tier up to 100, then 500, then 1000, and so on.
I only had 10 designs for sale over Christmas 2017, but sold enough over the holiday period that I managed to tier up to 100 straight away! Inspired by this, in January 2017 I got stuck in and uploaded another 50 or so shirts.
From around February 2017, I pretty much forgot about Merch.
To be honest, I was kind of burned out. Since I’m not really a creative person, I ran out of ideas, and I wanted to concentrate on my blogs and other ventures.
So from February to November 2018, I don’t think I uploaded a single new design.
But still, I earned an average of over $100 per month, completely passively!
Amazon paid a direct deposit into my bank account every single month, without me doing any more work. Pretty cool, right?
In November 2018 I realised I was missing out on some serious earning potential, and decided it was time to take Merch seriously again!
I wanted to prepare for the Christmas shopping period. I also had a lot more free time since I quit my job to blog full time.
So in November, I created a LOT more designs in preparation for the holidays. Also, my account had also been enabled for UK sales, German sales and PopSockets since I last checked in, so I took advantage of these new opportunities too.
(By the way, PopSockets sell well for me, but I haven’t had much luck in the UK or German marketplaces.)
By Christmas 2018 I had about 250 designs live, and in December 2018 I earned over $1,000!
Obviously my success that month was mostly due to the Q4 shopping frenzy, but it definitely helped having more products live.
I’m writing this post in February 2019 and my January sales haven’t been finalised yet. However, I can tell you that while my January earnings were down on December, I’m still earning more than I was this time last year due to all the extra designs.
Excited to see where Merch takes me in 2019!
How to be successful selling T shirts online
Based on my experience as a very lazy and passive Merch seller, you can see that it’s possible to make money selling shirts simply by uploading designs and waiting for them to sell.
But if you want to make MORE money than me, and FASTER than I did, I would recommend a more proactive approach!
Here are some things you can do to be more successful selling your T shirts online:
You could just create random shirts about whatever random topic you think of.
Or, you could be tactical about it, and research what kind of shirt is already selling well, in order to create your own version. There are lots of videos about how to do this research for free online.
I have recently signed up to Merch Informer, which is a site that has lots of software to help you research bestselling products, as well as create your own! I’m finding it really easy to use so far and it’s definitely taking a lot of the guesswork out of Merch.
Learn about keywords
Amazon is a kind of search engine, just like Google. So it makes sense that you can apply Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics to your Amazon listings.
Take the time to research and learn about the search terms that people use when they’re looking for shirts, and make sure to use them in your product title and descriptions.
Niche shirts can be much easier to sell than generic shirts if you can market to the right audience. Start off with niches that you know personally, so you’ll have an idea of what’s popular. Once you have a shirt that takes off for you, create more products in the same niche!
Scale your designs
One way to create a lot of designs quickly is to look at ways to adapt and scale your existing designs.
I don’t do this as much as I should, but I always do it with my popular shirts, to see if I can replicate their success.
For example, say you have a shirt that says ‘I love my pug’. The shirt is selling well, so you want to make more along the same lines.
There are two ways you could do this. First of all, you can easily adapt your original design to make ‘I love my labrador’, ‘I love my chihuahua’, ‘I love my rottweiler’, and so on…
Not to mention all the different cat, fish, rabbit etc breeds to try.
Also, it could just be that people really, really want pug shirts. So you can brainstorm other designs in the same pug niche, and see if they sell as well.
Prepare for events/holidays
Novelty shirts often sell well for special seasonal events and holidays. You can find calendars of special days online for inspiration. Make sure you upload your shirts well in advance!
In addition to the obvious ones like Christmas and Halloween, think about holidays from different cultures, and one-off events (I hear the 2017 solar eclipse was huge for some Merch sellers!)
Create shirts for specific clients
Just because you can potentially reach millions of customers on Amazon, doesn’t mean you need to target all of them.
Some people have great success approaching local businesses, churches, events and so on, and offering to create custom shirts for them.
Often, the business will already have their own logo, so you don’t even need to do any design work!
Merch even lets you create a private listing, so you get a link to show to your clients, but it won’t show up in a general Amazon search.
This can be a great way to make some guaranteed sales and tier up in the early stages.
To make more sales, more quickly, don’t wait for customers to find you – put your shirts out there.
You could use paid ads on Amazon or Facebook, pay an Instagram influencer to advertise your shirt, or build up a brand on social media.
Resources to start selling T shirts online
You don’t need many resources to start selling T shirts online. All you need is some way to create your designs!
One of the reasons I love this side hustle is because it’s so easy to get started for free 🙂
That said, here are some of the resources I have used to help my Merch business:
A free open source design software, similar to Photoshop.
Another free design program, easier to use than Gimp but not as advanced. (You need the paid version if you want transparent backgrounds.)
An amazing membership site for Merchers which includes research tools, design tools, a listing optimizer, trademark check, analytics and more.
Use Payoneer to receive bank transfers from Merch and other sites if you’re not based in the US.
A source for cheap (often free!) design elements such as fonts, patterns and graphics.
I hope this guide gave you some insight into my own Merch journey and has given you some inspiration to start selling T shirts online for money!
This can be a really great online business idea and it’s so easy to start up, so do give it a go if you’re intrigued 🙂
If you have any questions, drop them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to get back to you.