How to make and sell custom merch in 2023
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Are you a YouTuber, influencer, musician, or creator looking to expand your business? Or perhaps an aspiring entrepreneur with a burning passion to launch custom merchandise? Then you’ve come to the right place:
We have all the tools and tips to get you started! In the era of custom merch and print on demand, this couldn’t be a better time to offer custom products online. Merch can help you monetize your audience and truly elevate your brand!
In this article, we’ll cover the basics of why and how to make and sell your own merch, so let’s get started!
Why should you make merch?
Aside from a new revenue stream, there are many more reasons why you should sell custom merchandise. Not only is it a great way to earn passive income, but it’s also the cornerstone of successful marketing.
Some of the greatest benefits of creating and selling merch include:
- More fan engagement and web traffic—selling custom products to your fans will create extra buzz around your brand and drive consistent traffic to your site.
- A stronger sense of community and belonging—merch helps existing fans feel connected to you and creates a deeper sense of connection, loyalty, and trust.
- Better brand exposure and visibility—creating your line of merch builds brand awareness and recognition, and helps spread the word.
- Another way for fans to support you—believe it or not, most fans are more than willing to support their favorite creator by purchasing their products.
And, last but not least, selling custom merchandise is an excellent way to offer something new and exciting to your fan base, and grow your business!
There are several ways to create and sell custom merch online—all with varying degrees of cost. But, one of the most cost-effective and low-risk strategies is to use a print-on-demand service (POD) provider like Sellfy.
How much does it cost to make merchandise?
Selling merch with Sellfy’s print-on-demand costs next to nothing:
- The production cost is already included in the final price of the product.
- Order fulfillment, printing, and worldwide shipping are handled by Sellfy’s print-on-demand partner and paid for by the customer.
- There’s no need for your own inventory as products are stored at Sellfy’s POD service provider’s warehouse.
In other words, you can make and sell print-on-demand merch with no upfront costs!
Since you won’t need a physical inventory, your only potential expenses would be design services (unless you’re an artist) and marketplace or eCommerce platform fees. However, you can always add your expenses to the product cost.
How to make outstanding merch
Assuming that you already have an audience, the first step to making great merch is to pick a niche product with high market demand.
The top three things that will help your custom merch line stand out are:
The key is to offer quality products that your fans will happily use. Creating custom merch that your fans can relate to is crucial for your success. Ideally, your merch should align with your brand’s vision and your audience. And, the best way to find out is to simply ask your audience!
1. Find inspiration and come up with a concept
In general, three main custom merch categories have proven to be the most popular among buyers:
- Custom clothing (custom t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, hoodies, leggings, socks)
- Accessories (tote bags, stickers, phone cases)
- Home goods and decor (wall art, mugs)
Even Statista has confirmed that the most popular online shopping category is clothing, so it’s safe to say that custom t-shirts and hoodies will never go out of demand! There are hundreds of products to choose from, but this is clearly the best type of custom merch for making a profit.
We also have an in-depth article on 10 bestselling merch items to help you make a choice. Now that you hopefully have an idea of what type of merch sells best, we can narrow down your concept and focus:
- YouTuber—create YouTube merchandise that your subscribers can relate to. For example, if you host a comedy channel or you’re well-known for your humor, you can use your jokes and catchphrases on your own merch. Take a look at how to make YouTube merchandise for more inspiration.
- Musician or band—if you’re known for your music, using certain lyrics from a song could appeal to your audience. To learn more, check out how to create and sell music band merch.
- Artist or designer—this one is a no-brainer: simply use your art designs on your own merch. It’s a great way to market yourself as an artist!
- Social media influencer—let’s say that you’re an influencer who also happens to be a pet owner, e.g. someone who loves cats. Use that on your own merch and add some catchy cat owner quotes.
- Content creator—create and sell merch that embodies all the reasons why your followers love your content (e.g. cause, belief, hobby, passion, etc.).
Another way to find out what fans would love to see you sell is to check your stats. For instance, Instagram Insights will show you what type of content from you has been the most popular among followers.
Aside from checking in with your fans, it’s also a good idea to explore current trends and do some market research. For example, you can check what’s trending with free tools like Google Trends or Ubersuggest. Then there are Google’s keyword suggestions that can be helpful as well.
And, finally, I highly recommend stalking your competitors’ profiles and websites to see what they sell! Not only will that inspire you, but it’ll also help you understand what’s missing—perhaps they’re selling similar products, but at a much higher cost?
2. Design your custom merch
Once you’ve found your niche product, you can start with the fun part—design! You have three options:
- Explore royalty-free graphic resources
- Use free programs and design tools
- Hire a freelance graphic designer
Explore royalty-free graphic resources
Coming up with your own custom merch design can feel like a challenging task. But, the good news is that you don’t have to create custom merch designs from scratch!
Online resources that offer royalty-free graphics, photos, and fonts:
- Vexels—vector graphics made specifically for t-shirts and other merch.
- Shutterstock—thousands of high-quality free photos and vectors.
- Flaticon—1,720,000 icons in every category. Requires artist attribution for free use.
- Freepik—similar to Flaticon, but requires a Premium Freepik License for commercial selling.
- Creative Market—a marketplace with over 880,000 pre-designed vector graphics.
- Etsy—another marketplace similar to Creative Market.
Plus, on many of the above-mentioned sites, you can also find plenty of merch design inspiration. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there shouldn’t be copyright infringement on any of your designs. Most, if not all, royalty-free graphic sources don’t permit reselling their designs. Even if they do, you still need to pay a commission or buy a commercial license.
Use free programs and design tools
The most commonly used design programs are Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. With these programs, you can use vector designs to create multi-dimensional illustrations, logos, or typography.
The drawbacks are the price tag and the steep learning curve. But, on the positive side, Adobe has many helpful tutorials with sample files. For example, here’s a tutorial on how to create eye-catching graphics for your t-shirt. You can also go for a cost-free alternative like Inkspace, which is an open-source design tool with just as many features as Illustrator.
But, if you’d rather not spend hours trying to learn Adobe, Inkspace, or Illustrator, then your next-best online design tool would be Canva. Not only is Canva completely free, but there’s also a separate section dedicated to t-shirt design with thousands of premade templates.
Hire a freelance graphic designer
You probably won’t need a designer for something as simple as throwing together an image with a catchphrase. However, complex designs with a personal touch may require some extra help.
Good and reliable designers aren’t easy to come by, which is why most creators turn to online marketplaces to find skilled freelancers. It’s important to work with a designer who thinks like you and understands what you’re looking for. If you’re unsure about picking just one designer, you can also try working with multiple designers at once by launching a t-shirt design contest on 99designs.
Once you’ve found your designer(s), you need to communicate your vision as clearly as possible to get the perfect design. Tell them about your ideas and target audience. Include details about colors, visual style, product type, and print specifications. Or, alternatively, send examples of designs that match your style.
Perhaps, our article on 21 trending t-shirt designs can give you some ideas.
Here’s a list of websites for finding a freelance designer:
- Upwork—the biggest freelance marketplace for finding outstanding talent.
- Fiverr—a beginner’s space where some artists list their skills for as little as $5.
- 99designs—a marketplace with a design category dedicated to merch.
- Dribble—a great platform with established designers for hire.
A couple of words on color palettes
As far as product colors go, it’s good to stick to what generally works well together. It’s also worth keeping an eye on Canva’s design trends and Pantone’s Color of the Year (plus, their seasonal color trends). The latter has even influenced product development and purchasing decisions!
But, if you want to stick to being original, you can play around with color palette generators:
- Coolors—for randomizing colors and exploring trending palettes.
- Colormind—for generating color palettes that can be applied to existing products.
- Colorhunt—for staying up-to-date with the most popular color palettes.
- ColorSpace—for generating thousands of schemes based on one color.
3. Set up and customize your merch store
So, you’ve got your product and design. Or, at least, the know-how of creating and designing merch. Now, what’s next? Where can you sell your products? If you’re a creator with a substantial follower base, then the quickest and easiest way to sell is through a fully hosted store on an eCommerce platform like Sellfy.
Let me tell you why:
Sellfy was specifically built for creators like you who want to sell merch without hidden fees or complicated setups. What’s more, print on demand is a built-in Sellfy feature that’s available on all plans.
So, you can start selling merchandise right away at no cost—not even eCommerce platform fees—and forget about searching for third-party POD service providers. It’s a win-win!
With a Sellfy merch shop, you get:
- Mobile-first design
- Full store customization
- Instant payouts
- Discount codes
- Advanced VAT & tax settings
- Multiple payment options
- Excellent customer support
And, depending on the type of plan you choose (free or paid), you can also sell physical, subscription and digital products alongside merch.
Ready to set up your online store? Just follow these steps:
- Choose a subscription plan (Starter, Business, or Premium) and set up an account with a valid email address, or start a free trial. Remember, you can always upgrade your plan and get access to additional features.
- Customize the look of your online store with the Store Customizer tool, or use one of Sellfy’s premade store themes like Mode.
- Optional bonus: download Sellfy’s mobile app in the App Store or Google Play to keep track of your store’s performance and receive notifications of new orders.
And, that’s it! That’s all you have to do to set up an online store so you can make merch. That was easy, wasn’t it?
4. Add your products and order samples
After setting up your store, you can start adding products:
- Go to your dashboard’s Products section and click Print on demand.
- Choose a product category (clothing, bags, mugs, stickers, posters, or phone cases) and upload your designs, or add custom text to your products. Then, name your products and write descriptions. Hit save and your merch will be live on your store page!
- Follow Sellfy’s print-on-demand tips and best practices to prepare the perfect design file and get the best print quality.
Once you’ve created your products, you can go ahead and order samples to showcase your merch in photos and videos (note that you’ll have to pay the full price of the product).
This is a great way to promote and sell your products. Many creators use video platforms like YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok to showcase themselves or their friends and family members wearing their merch. Personally, I’ve seen TikTok creators with merch line videos that bring in thousands of sales!
5. Create merch mockups
Don’t want to spend money on samples? No worries—there’s another way!
You can use Sellfy’s existing product photos (you get them when you’re editing your products) or tools like Placeit to create engaging visuals.
Placeit has thousands of free mockups and design templates. In addition to the templates, you can even create and purchase t-shirt designs for just $2.95—everything from pop culture and 8-bit video game images to memes and classic styles!
As you can see, using mockup generators like Placeit is relatively cheap, and their templates are easy to use for those with limited experience. However, you should also keep in mind that, at some point, your fans may want to see photos and videos that showcase your merch.
Luckily, if you already have an existing following, the chances of getting enough sales so you can re-invest in your business are likely to be high. So, you can probably count on getting a budget soon enough!
How to sell your custom merchandise
We’ve reached the final step: selling and promoting your merch. And, social media is the first and most obvious go-to marketing tactic, so let’s get into that.
Actively promote on social media
To make sales, you need to create a strong online presence and get people excited about your merchandise.
Any of the following channels are great for promoting your merch:
- Instagram—for creating Reels, Stories, Posts, or using Shopping.
- Facebook—for creating Stories, Posts, Facebook Groups and Pages, and Live videos.
- TikTok—for creating short-form videos and going Live.
- YouTube—for creating long-form videos and going Live.
But, don’t stretch yourself too thin at first! It’s probably wise to stick to the platforms you’re already using, or where ever your audience is.
Showcase your merch in your content
As I’ve mentioned before, the best way to appeal to your fans is to wear merch in your social media posts. Take photos or videos and showcase yourself wearing your merch. Give people a sneak peek of the cool designs or go live and talk about the products you’re planning to sell!
Build social proof with word-of-mouth
Word-of-mouth is another powerful marketing tactic:
Let your inner circle (family, friends, colleagues, or followers) promote your own brand by showcasing themselves wearing or using your products in their content. This is an incredible way to build trust, gain social proof, and get your brand noticed!
Besides word-of-mouth, you can also build social proof with reviews. Ask your followers or anyone who has tried your merch, to leave feedback and tag your account in their post.
Create a branded hashtag for your merch
If you do use word-of-mouth marketing, it’s a great idea to also create a branded hashtag. With a branded hashtag, you can be pretty sure that your merch will be seen by thousands of people. Plus, most people love tagging their favorite brands in their content!
Don’t be shy—become a TikTok star!
TikTok has recently become the number one platform for building a large audience in no time. Many creators have flocked to TikTok to post videos and grow their small businesses. You can do that too! All you need is a smartphone with a good camera. For lighting, you can use a ring light or just natural sunlight.
The coolest thing about TikTok is that once you’ve posted a few videos, those videos will keep on showing up on anyone’s (not just your followers’) feeds forever! You don’t even need to make new videos every time.
In fact, that’s why TikTok has become so popular—anybody can discover your brand because the algorithm is super beginner-friendly and works surprisingly well. You just have to use 1-3 relevant hashtags and you’re good to go!
You can literally go from a new face to an overnight TikTok star. Some creators have gained as many as one million followers in as little as six months to a year on the app.
To learn more about TikTok marketing, go to how to make money on TikTok.
Run a free giveaway on Instagram
Another tactic that works well is doing a free Instagram giveaway because people love free stuff. To find out how to do that, check out our blog post on how to run Instagram giveaways.
Doing giveaways is also good for encouraging people to try your products and tag you in their feedback. Also, don’t forget to add your store link to your Instagram bio and other social media accounts. Alternatively, link to your products in your Stories or use Instagram Shopping.
To learn more about Instagram marketing, take a look at our selling on Instagram article.
Use paid advertising if your budget allows
If you already have a fan base, you don’t really need to go beyond word-of-mouth, giveaways, and other promotional strategies. However, if you’re just starting your merch venture, you should probably try paid advertising.
Using targeted ads may sound daunting, but you can actually control how much you spend on them. Plus, your products will be able to get in front of your target audience, which isn’t always easy to achieve with organic traffic. For instance, you can boost a post on your Facebook Page for more visibility. Plenty of businesses end up getting tons of potential customers that way.
Aside from Facebook, you can also give Instagram advertising a try. Instagram allows you to define your ad budget and schedule, as well as your ad format. To understand how to use it, I recommend that you read our article on how to sell on Instagram in 9 easy steps. We’ve covered absolutely everything you need to know from A-Z.
Drive sales with Sellfy’s built-in marketing tools
Did you create a Sellfy store? If you did, you’re in luck:
We have all kinds of built-in marketing tools to help you promote your merch and get sales. Our creators love these tools because they’re very effective!
So, here’s a list of Sellfy’s best marketing features (note that the availability of these depends on your subscription plan):
- Coupons and discounts—add a discount for any number of products, run a holiday sale with a start/end date, drive urgency with flash deals, or offer freebies to customers.
- Cart abandonment—see stats of unfinished orders and set up emails with special offers to recover revenue from missed sales.
- Upselling—offer additional discounted products as soon as a buyer adds your product to the cart.
- Embed options—embed customizable Buy Now or shopping cart buttons, single products, or your whole store page anywhere on the web to attract sales.
- Analytics—not a marketing tool, but deserves a mention as you can keep track of store visits, top products, traffic sources, business performance, etc.
Stay connected with email marketing
It’s actually ironic how underrated email marketing is nowadays—it’s the most direct communication channel that connects you to your customers without social media.
I mean, think about it:
What if, someday, all social media platforms ceased to exist? It doesn’t sound like something that could easily happen, but we all know how many times Instagram and Facebook have been down for hours. This is exactly why you should use email marketing. It helps maintain a profitable relationship and acts as a source of leads and higher engagement.
You can use Sellfy’s email marketing tool to:
- Send out occasional newsletters
- Collect a list of subscribers
- Announce big launch dates
- Promote upcoming products
- Get feedback via surveys
- Share important news
- Talk about merch store updates
- Surprise fans with free giveaways
- Let fans know about special offers
- Target specific audiences with information
- Directly engage with your fans
Plus, Sellfy makes sure that your email list complies with GDPR (relevant for businesses registered in the European Union).
Build excitement around new merch
Every now and then, you should replace an existing product or launch a new one.
There’s something called a product life cycle—the journey of a product from its first launch to its gradual decrease in popularity. Generally, there are four stages of the product life cycle: introduction, growth, maturity, and decline.
At the introduction stage, the product enters the market and, after some time, goes into the growth stage with the help of marketing. At this stage, it’s important to maintain sales with promotional campaigns, shipping to new locations, etc.
When the product reaches the stage of maturity, it starts to slow down, signaling the market’s oversaturation. Even though the maturity stage can last for a long time, the decline stage is almost always inevitable for the majority of products.
And, when that happens, it’s important to understand what’s behind the decline. If the entire market is shrinking, it’s time to pursue an entirely new market or niche. However, if the decline is specific to only your product, there are actions you can take to minimize that. For example, you can make some changes to your existing merch.
But, above all, what truly gets people excited is new stuff. It doesn’t have to be an entirely new product—even just a fresh new design will do. To sum it up, you should always make sure people remain enthusiastic about the future of your online business so that they keep coming back for more!
For instance, you can launch:
- New products
- New designs
- Limited edition merch
Get creative and make your own merch!
So, are you ready to get creative and start selling your own merchandise? I hope that this article has given you the motivation and the tools to make your own merch. Keep checking back for more inspirational articles on our blog, and best of luck in your business!