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Designing t-shirts is fun, but what makes a design go viral? What draws in the audience and helps you stay relevant in our fast-paced world where trends come and go?
To answer these questions, we asked 4 print-on-demand experts to share their tips on creating designs that stand out and bring you sales. Let’s make some noise for these print-on-demand gurus and see what ecommerce smarts they can share with us.
First up—meet Ryan! He’s a multi-million dollar Amazon merchant, and 6-figure print-on-demand seller, and with the help of Printful, Ryan plans to up his sales game even more.
When we asked Ryan what makes a t-shirt design go viral, he said “it’s crucial to acknowledge you’re never the only option the customer has.”
It’s a constant fight for attention between you and your competitors, that’s why creating designs that stand out from the crowd is a must-have for success.
It’s not only the design that matters—you also need to pay attention to the elements it’s made of. Here’s what Ryan suggests you keep in mind when creating your soon-to-be viral t-shirt designs.
To give you an example, this t-shirt combines all of these elements: big, easy-to-read letters, as well as great color contrast.
Have you ever ordered one thing online but received another? This guy for sure has.
It’s important that your product photos are as close as possible to what the product looks like in real life, otherwise you risk disappointing the customer. Or contributing to a new BoredPanda article, like the guy in the picture.
Deliver the expected product quality, and you’re one step closer to building strong customer relationships and boosting customer loyalty.
This sense of reliability is actually the gateway to your designs going viral. If your customers have had a good experience with your brand, they’re more likely to share your products on social media and take part in any viral trend.
Learn more: 7 T-Shirt Design Trends for 2023
Let’s pass the mic to Michael Essek—a t-shirt designer and illustrator from the UK who’s been selling his art with print-on-demand since 2013. Michael’s secret superpower is helping artists, designers, and brands turn their ideas into sustainable businesses.
When asked what’s the formula for a viral t-shirt design, Michael literally gave us a formula.
Viral T-Shirt Design = Viral Subject Matter + Proven T-Shirt Concept (well-executed) + Good Timing
He explains that “the first part of any viral hit is the subject matter: a viral joke, meme, or story that’s on the cusp of blowing up. There’s no point in creating a design for a viral trend that died out months ago.”
The Doge meme was born in 2013 and recently saw its revival thanks to Elon Musk’s endorsement, but you can’t rely on every viral trend to be picked up by media-famous billionaires.
You want to keep an eye on upcoming trends in order to stay relevant, and that’s why Michael emphasizes the necessity for checking the organic searches around the trend you’d like to cover.
“If a search term around your trend is spiking on Google Trends, but there’s not a lot of competition in the usual t-shirt marketplaces, that could be a sign your timing is good, and you can get in before the market becomes saturated,” Michael explains.
Learn more: 50 T-Shirt Design Ideas for Every Occasion
“You need a proven t-shirt concept,” says Michael, by which he means “a design idea that really works as a t-shirt.” You don’t want to simply whack some basic text and clipart on a shirt in hopes customers will love it. Explore different approaches to creating viral t-shirt designs—like using large, bold, easy-to-read texts, or relatable memes—they’ll significantly improve your chances of going viral.
You must be strategic not only with your designs but with marketing, too. A good marketing plan is what will get your design out in the wild, and according to Michael, “the gold standard would be getting a share from a relevant and popular social media account, but if your work is truly original and timely, you’ll find success by posting on Reddit or similar sites.”
Richard Lazazzera is an entrepreneur, advisor, and investor in the ecommerce space. He’s also the founder of the online ecommerce incubator A Better Lemonade Stand and the Bootstrapping Ecommerce blog.
“You don’t have to be great at everything,” says Richard.
“Part of being an entrepreneur is knowing when to outsource the tasks you aren’t great at and finding someone who is.”
There are tons of great designers out there, so hire one of them to make your design ideas come to life.
If you can’t afford a designer, you can work with customizable templates or create your own. Here’s a list of resources to check out:
And if you’d like to work on your design skills, you can find tutorials for basically every tool out there on YouTube or Skillshare. As Richard points out, learning to design “could be one of the most valuable skills you will learn for your business.”
Print-on-demand business model offers various perks, like the opportunity to start your business with essentially nothing: no money, inventory, or design skills.
According to Richard, “one of the greatest things about launching your print-on-demand business with Printful is that expanding your product line is so easy. You can start out by just selling one product if you want to keep things simple, but when you get more customers and they want your designs on more products, you can deliver that in minutes. You don’t have to find a new supplier or purchase more inventory—Printful already has that part covered.”
And if you’re wondering how to expand your product collection, take a look at this guide on choosing print-on-demand products for your store.
Deby, a UK-based entrepreneur, has been teaching people how to make their creative dreams come true for the last 14 years. In her course, Learn with Deby, she breaks down the print-on-demand selling aspects into bite-sized chunks to make it easier for you to digest. From setting up an Etsy store to product personalization, she’s got your back!
Deby says text-based designs on t-shirts are never going away—one-liners and slogans can be great sellers.
Take this shirt from Shop Fat Mermaids as an example.
The text on the shirt is large and easy to read, and the design is not only a reference to a relevant meme but also a positive message on body positivity.
Creativity mixed with boldness pays off, especially when you’re trying to make a t-shirt design go viral.
Yes, t-shirts are a must-have for your store, however, a diverse product catalog will take your store to the next level. As Deby explains, “t-shirts are only the beginning. Printful’s growing range of casual sportswear such as hoodies, sweatpants, jackets, and swimwear gives plenty of reasons to expand your product catalog.”
While regular t-shirts have limited print space, all-over print products have more room for creativity since you can literally print all over them. They’re the ultimate sandbox for designers!
It doesn’t stop with t-shirts—you can also experiment with different all-over print items like bomber jackets, leggings, or even pillows. They’ll all make a fun addition to your store. “If your customers love your designs on t-shirts, they’ll go nuts for the all-over prints,” adds Deby.
The bottom line is—if you’re looking to go viral, t-shirts are a smart choice as they will never go out of fashion. But if you’re looking to diversify your options and please different audiences, extending your product offering is the way to go.
Taking a look at all these expert tips, there are certain truths that you need to keep in mind. From making your designs more relatable to paying close attention to even the most boring of details, these learnings will help your t-shirt design ideas go viral. And when you’ve mastered t-shirts, the growth opportunities with all-over print await.
However you decide to go about creating viral designs, remember to keep them bold, yet easy to understand. But most importantly—find what works best for your brand and remember to have fun! If you’re truly passionate about your work, your customers will feel it, too.
Now, get out there and start creating your next viral t-shirt design!
Vinsenta is a Marketing Project Manager at Printful. She has a degree in Translation & Interpreting, as well as an MBA. Her passions include storytelling, business administration, and self-development.
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