How to make your own merch that stands out and sells well

By Susanna read
How to make your own merch that stands out and sells well

Are you a YouTuber, influencer, musician, or creator looking to expand your business? Or perhaps an aspiring entrepreneur with a burning passion to launch a merch store?

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 products online. In fact, having your own merchandise is the cornerstone of successful marketing and a way to demonstrate what your business represents.

clothing most popular type of product
As revealed by Statista’s survey, clothing and footwear are the third most purchased products online.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of how to make your own merch in just five steps:

  1. Find inspiration and come up with a concept
  2. Design your custom merch
  3. Create your own merch with Sellfy
  4. Customize your merch store
  5. Launch and promote your merch

Read on to find out how to bring your ideas to life!

Step #1: Find inspiration and come up with a concept

how to create merch

Assuming that you already know your audience, the first step is to decide what kind of merch you’re going to sell.

According to research that analyzed the top 30 YouTuber merch designs, t-shirts, hoodies, and caps came out on top. Of the group analyzed, 90% sell t-shirts as a mainstay product and 66% sell hoodies. Embroidered hats come in at 40%, sweaters at 33%, followed by socks at 26%.

To sum it up, here’s a list of the most popular custom merch products:

  1. Clothing (t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, hoodies, leggings, socks)
  2. Accessories (bags, stickers, phone cases)
  3. Home goods and decor (wall art, mugs)

It’s safe to say that t-shirts and hoodies will never go out of demand because, unlike e.g. hats, most people wear these items of clothing in their daily lives. Statista has also confirmed that the most popular online shopping category is clothing. There are hundreds of products to choose from, but this is clearly the best type of custom merch for making a profit. 

Aside from t-shirts, hoodies, and hats, a great example of just how popular sweatshirts are is the success story of Muhoov. This Estonian company created their own merch by offering sweatshirts that celebrate neighborhoods and promote a sense of belonging. Needless to say, their brand became a local hit within less than a year. 

muhoov sweatshirts-min
Muhoov’s Instagram feed has customers showcasing their love for their hometowns.

Now that you have an idea of what sells, you can make a better-informed choice depending on your audience.

Let’s go over a few ideas of what you can use on your merch:

  • YouTuber—create something that your subscribers can relate to. For example, if your channel is about comedy or you’re well-known for your humor, you could use your own jokes and catchphrases. Take a look at these 37 creative YouTuber merch examples for more inspiration.
  • Musician or band—if you’re known for your music, using certain lyrics from a song could really appeal to your audience.
  • Artist—this one is a no-brainer: use your own art designs on your merch. This is an excellent way to market yourself as an artist!
  • 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 in your marketing and add some catchy cat owner quotes. Or, if you’re e.g. a beauty influencer, you could go for designs that evoke a sense of beauty, body positivity, or aesthetic appeal. 
  • Creator—create merch that embodies why your followers love your content (e.g. a cause, belief, hobby, or passion, etc.).

The main takeaway? Creating merch that your followers can relate to is crucial for success. Ideally, your merch should align with your brand’s vision and your audience.

chase for adventure merch-min
YouTuber merch example: popular channel Chase for Adventure created their own travel apparel for fans.

Pro tip: If you’re unsure, get direct feedback. Ask your fans what type of merch they’d like to see and then deliver. Not only will you find inspiration, but you’ll also ensure that your fans are willing to buy from you. Another way to see what they love is to check your social media stats. For instance, your Instagram Insights will show you what content is most popular, so use that on your merch. If you’re a Sellfy seller, you can also check with Sellfy Analytics. Another option? Look into your own wardrobe and see what you bought—this might give you an idea of what to sell!

If you’d like to explore some of the current trends, it’s a good idea to perform market research. You can check what’s trending with free tools like Google Trends or Ubersuggest.

google trends
A Google Trends search query example of what t-shirts people search for.

And last, but not least, always keep an eye on Google’s keyword suggestions as demonstrated in the image below:

google keyword suggestions-min
As you can see, people search for unique graphic t-shirts as well as vintage shirts. So, there’s an idea for your business!

Step #2: Design your custom merch

how to design your merch-min

Once you’ve decided on a concept for your merchandise, you can start with the fun part—design! You have three options: create the design yourself, use a template, or leave the job to someone else.

Exploring graphic resources

Coming up with the design for your merch can be a challenging task, especially if you lack experience. But, the good news is that you don’t actually have to create anything from scratch.

vector graphics for tshirt design-min
Vector graphics available for purchase on Creative Market.

There are plenty of online resources that offer royalty-free graphics, photos, and fonts: 

  • Vexelsvector graphics made specifically for t-shirts and other merch. License needed for selling: Commercial.
  • Shutterstockthousands of high-quality free photos and vectors. License needed for selling: Enhanced.
  • Flaticon1,720,000 icons in every category. You’ll need to properly attribute the artist if you want to use their free version. If you opt for their paid subscription, then attribution won’t be needed (even if it’s for commercial use).
  • Freepik—similar to Flaticon, but you’ll need a Premium Freepik License to be able to sell commercially.
  • Creative Marketover 880,000 pre-designed vector graphics that can be used for merchandising. Licenses needed: Commercial or Extended Commercial.
  • Etsy—similar to Creative Market. License needed: Extended Commercial.
tshirts designs on etsy-min
Available t-shirt designs on Etsy.

You can look for inspiration on the above-mentioned sites, as well as change the graphics to make them your own.

Using programs and free design tools

The most commonly used design programs are Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. With these programs, you can use vectors in your design (which is needed for screen printing and embroidery) to create multi-dimensional illustrations, logos, or typography. 

The drawbacks? The price tag and the steep learning curve. On the positive side, Adobe has many helpful tutorials with sample files. Here’s one awesome tutorial on how to create eye-catching graphics for your t-shirt.

Adobe‘s t-shirt design tutorial.

Another alternative to Adobe is Inkspace, an open-source design tool with just as many features as Illustrator. The only difference is that it’s free.

Important note about copyright: Whatever designs you pick, make sure there’s no copyright infringement. Most, if not all, royalty-free image sources don’t permit reselling their designs. Even if they do, you still need to pay a commission or buy a commercial license. It’s also good to keep in mind that if you use e.g. Sellfy to create custom merch, we don’t assume liability for copyright or trademark infringements. To learn more, here’s an article that covers everything you need to know about copyright.

For someone who isn’t a designer, bringing your ideas to life can be tricky, but certainly not impossible. 

Instead of spending hours trying to learn Adobe or Illustrator, you can try the following design tools or software (paid and free):

  • Canva—arguably, the best one for design amateurs. Canva has a number of features, like a separate section dedicated to t-shirt design with thousands of premade templates. The amazing thing about Canva is that it’s 100% free. Paying for Canva Pro will get you the best designs they have, but the free ones are still pretty amazing.
  • Placeit—perfect for mockups. They have thousands of templates available for purchase—everything from cute styles and 8-bit video game images to gothic or meme-themed ones. Their templates are easy to use for those with limited experience. If you don’t want to get stuck with a monthly subscription, you can also buy and download a design for just $3.

canva tshirt design-min

Hiring a freelance designer

Collaborating with a freelancer can be a fun experience when you’ve found the right person. It’s important to find a designer who thinks like you and understands what you’re looking for. Consider their personality, design style, and expertise. 

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.

99designs tshirt design contest
99designs‘ t-shirt design contest.

Once you’ve found your designer(s), you need to communicate your vision as clearly as possible. Tell them about your ideas and target audience. Include details about colors, logos, visual style, product type, and print specifications. Send them examples of designs that match the style you’ve envisioned. Give them everything they need to know so you can get the perfect design.

You probably won’t need a designer for something as simple as throwing together an image with a catchphrase. However, more complex designs may require some extra help. Good and reliable designers aren’t easy to come by, which is why most people turn to online marketplaces to hire skilled freelancers.

freelance designers
Designers on 99designs.

Here are the top websites for finding a freelance designer:

  • Upworkthe biggest freelance marketplace in the US. You can find some outstanding talent on this site, but it might take hours of research and portfolio browsing.
  • Fiverra beginner’s space where artists list their skills for $5. While it’s a cheap option and doesn’t scream quality right away, it’s still possible to find a great designer. 
  • 99designsa graphic design marketplace connecting freelancers with anyone who needs creative work. It’s a good option for eCommerce businesses because it has a whole design category dedicated to clothing and merchandise. They also have an exclusive selection of the 10 best t-shirt designers to hire.
  • Dribble—a platform with established designers. You can browse portfolios and click on “Hire me” if you find a style that you like.

Then there’s also Freelancer and Guru for finding a match.

What about color palettes and design trends?

As far as colors go, it’s good to stick to what generally works well together. But, if you want to be safe, you should go for black. A study by Printify found that black is the safest color option for anything. Multicolor came in second (53%), then pastels (43%) and, finally, white (25%).

The Pantone Colors of the Year for 2021 are Ultimate Gray and Illuminating.

It’s also worth taking a look at Canva’s design 2021 trends and Pantone’s Colors of the Year (plus, their seasonal color trends). The latter has even influenced product development and purchasing decisions!

But, if you want to be completely original, I’d suggest playing around with color palette generators:

  • Coolors—this free tool randomizes really cool colors and also lets you explore trending palettes.
  • Colormind—auto-generates a color palette that is applied to a design. This is an excellent option if you want to see what the colors actually look like on a product.
  • Colorhunt—a great tool for staying up-to-date with the most popular color palettes.
  • ColorSpace—a generator that creates thousands of schemes based off of one color that you like.
trending color palette 2021
Current trending color palettes in 2021 by Coolors.

Step #3: Create your own merch with Sellfy


Do you want to start selling merch and receive instant payouts? If you do, you’ll love Sellfy. 

We’ve built an easy-to-use eCommerce solution that doesn’t have any hidden fees or complicated setups. As a Sellfy seller, you’ll be able to enjoy the mobile-first design, SEO optimization, and many more features that I’ll cover in the next steps. So, let’s proceed!

Choose a subscription plan and set up an account

All you need to start using Sellfy is a valid email address. There are four Sellfy subscription plans available, including a free one. You’ll start with a 14-day free trial to get a better feel of Sellfy and then you can choose the plan that fits you best. Remember that you can also upgrade your account at any time. An upgrade will give you access to additional features.

Add your merch products


If your email address has been verified, you can start adding products. All you have to do is find the Products section on your Dashboard and go to Print on demand. Choose a product category and simply start adding graphics or text to the product(s).

Important note about the image quality: Please follow our print on demand tips and best practices to prepare the perfect design file. This is crucial for achieving great print quality.

When you’re finished, click Continue to name your product and write a fitting description. Hit Save product and it’ll appear on your store page.

Optional bonus: Sellfy’s mobile app

If you’d like to keep an eye on your business performance and receive notifications of new orders, feel free to download the Sellfy mobile app in the App Store or Google Play.

Step #4: Customize your merch store

Sellfy's store customizer

The great thing about having a Sellfy store is that it’s completely customizable—from product pages to navigation and text color. You can also choose the layout style, the number of products per page, and so much more.

Just head to Store settings > Customization to play around with the tool. You can also check out our customization guide or have a look at our recent store customizer intro to become familiar with the features.

Step #5: Launch and promote your merch

launching and promoting merchandise

We’ve reached the final step: launching and promoting your merch. The easiest way to do that is via social media, so let’s go over various marketing tactics.

Pre-launch stage: building anticipation

Like most store owners, you need to create a strong social media presence to get people excited about your merchandise. But don’t stretch yourself too thin at first—try to keep a few actionable strategies. It’s also good to stick to 2-3 social media platforms (or you’ll get overwhelmed), such as: 

  • Instagram (to create Reels, Stories, Posts, or use IGTV and Shopping)
  • Facebook (to create Stories, Posts, and Live videos)

First, you could start off with word-of-mouth marketing, i.e. your inner circle (family and friends, colleagues, or followers). Let them promote your brand by showcasing themselves wearing or using your products in their photos. This is the easiest way to get your brand noticed. If you’re a YouTuber, you could film product showcase videos and upload them on your channel.

Another tactic that appeals to fans is wearing your own merch in your content. Take photos or videos and post them on social media. Create Instagram Stories and Reels to give people a sneak peek of the cool designs. And, on Facebook, you can either go live or use Facebook Stories and posts.

instagram filters-min
Don’t forget to use Instagram’s awesome filters when you promote your merch!

As an example, the word-of-mouth tactic worked really well for Hoaka (a Canadian swimwear and apparel brand that promotes body positivity). They relied completely on the Instagram platform for marketing. Clearly, you don’t always need to have several social media accounts. Sometimes, one will work just fine. The owners of the brand and their family members also showcased themselves in their apparel.

hoaka swimwear apparel-min
The owner’s family members promoting Hoaka’s latest apparel on Instagram.

Apart from family members, they also used influencer marketing. If you can afford that, you should definitely give it a try! Hoaka contacted YouTuber Erika Costell to help promote their brand. Just one post by Erika attracted approximately 332,000 visitors to Hoaka’s website, resulting in massive sales.

influencer marketing
Erika Costell promoted Hoaka with the caption “Hoaka Swimwear makes me happy.”

Another trick that works well is running an Instagram giveaway because people love free stuff. If done well, it can increase shares, likes, and followers. To find out more, have a look at our blog post on how to run Instagram giveaways. This strategy is a great way to encourage people to try your products and tag you in their feedback.

If you already have a fanbase, you don’t really have to go beyond word-of-mouth marketing, giveaways, or big announcements. However, if you’ve just started your entrepreneurship venture, you should give paid advertising a try to bring in sales (granted that it falls within your budget).

The good thing about paid ads is that 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 as easy to achieve with just organic traffic.

social networks

For instance, you can boost a post on your Facebook Page for more visibility. Plenty of businesses do that and get many interested customers (if you’re a Sellfy seller, don’t forget to use our Facebook integration to make everything smoother).

Aside from Facebook, you can try Instagram advertising. Instagram allows you to define your ad budget and schedule, as well as your ad format. To understand how to use it, 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).

Then there are Sellfy’s email marketing templates. You can run campaigns and notify your customers about:

  • New product launches 
  • Special merch offers or deals
  • Brand updates
  • Merch giveaways
  • Surveys or quizzes about your merch

You can also use our tool to target specific audiences and promote your products. Plus, Sellfy makes sure that your email list complies with GDPR.

Pro tip: Use powerful email subject lines for better click and open rates (like the ones on the image below)!

email subject lines

Post-launch stage: growing your business

Once you’ve figured out where and how you want to promote your merch, you can start building anticipation.

Begin by sending out a newsletter to your email subscribers along with product teasers. Announce and stress the launch date on all social media channels. Promote several weeks ahead of the actual date.

new yorker product teaser
Marketing example: German retailer New Yorker’s product teaser asked their IG audience, “What [product] will you choose?”
Pro tip: Do a surprise Facebook or Instagram Live countdown on the day of the launch. Your followers will receive notifications that you’ve started a live video and join in on the launch hype.

The best part about launching your own merch with Sellfy? You’ll never have to worry about the shipping or inventory—we’ll handle everything for you. All you have to do is focus on growing your brand after the launch.

Here are a couple of best practices for staying in the merch business post-launch:

  • Optimize your sales with occasional holiday discounts and flash deals to drive urgency. Remind your customers that a special offer will expire in x amount of time. Use Sellfy’s discount feature to set the start and end date for every sale campaign in your store.
  • Create a branded hashtag for your merchandise. Use that hashtag in your own captions and encourage your followers to do the same when showcasing your products. This will spread the word and attract buyer interest.
  • Keep track of your business performance with Google Analytics, Instagram, or Facebook Insights and Sellfy Analytics. For example, Instagram will reveal your top posts and videos, so you’ll know what content is the most popular. Sellfy Analytics will reveal store visits, top products, traffic sources, etc.—use that information to your advantage.
  • Add your store link to your Instagram bio and other social media profiles, so that people don’t have to search for your site on their own. You can also link to your products in your Stories or use Instagram Shopping.
  • Launch new products, make product upgrades, or create a limited edition merch every once in a while so your customers will keep coming back for more.
  • Keep using Sellfy’s built-in marketing tools and other features: cross-selling and upselling, the shopping cart, discount codes, tracking pixels, “buy now” buttons, product cards, YouTube end screens, etc.

And, most importantly, be as active as possible with emails, newsletters, and social media. Instagram and Facebook algorithms take your activity into account, so it’s necessary to stay as consistent as possible. Not only does it matter because of the algorithms, but being active will also ensure that your fans stay loyal to your brand.

Time to get creative!

Are you ready to get creative and start selling? We hope that our five-step guide has given you the motivation to make your own merchandise. Keep checking back for more inspirational articles on our blog. We wish you the best of luck and do share your success stories in the comments below!

Susanna is Sellfy’s Content Guru and Editor in Chief with a genuine passion for copywriting, storytelling, and eCommerce. With years of content marketing experience behind her, she helps to create the best possible landing pages, blog posts, emails, and other types of copy. She also keeps close tabs on social media trends and enjoys digging deep into marketing psychology.
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