Make Your Own Shirts
In previous articles we've discussed a variety of ways to use your cartoons to make money, with the long-term goal of being able to support yourself full-time with your animation.
One of the first money-making ideas that many animators and cartoonists approach is making and selling customized T-shirts.
This article discusses the many customized T-shirt companies available to animators and cartoonists.
What Makes a Good T-Shirt Company?
To get a better idea of what to look for in good T-shirt company I spoke to Colin at T Round Up. They have a great collection of T-shirts and regularly showcase some of the best designs available.
Avoid iron on transfers like the plague.
Colin primarily looks at the printing techniques and T-shirt brand used when deciding on the overall quality of a particular company: "Personally, when looking at a company, I want one that will let me print on American Apparel shirts, as I find them to be the best out there."
"As for the printing techniques, avoid iron on transfers like the plague. Look for a company that offers plastisol ink (this is what Threadless.com uses), or something similar. Basically, you want a technique that will be both long lasting and soft. Don't try to cut costs by using cheap shirts or techniques. Find a quality site and stick with it, you will be better off in the long run."
With Colin's recommendations as guidance let's take a look at some companies that will let you customize your own t-shirts.
Before You Get Started
Understand that most t-shirt companies will require a vector version of your art before they can apply it to a shirt. This usually means that you need to use a program like Illustrator to create your design. The benefit of this extra step is that the final product will have clean lines and the design can be resized without any loss of quality.
Spreadshirt was the first t-shirt company that I tried when Calico Monkey started in 2005. It's an easy process to setup a new customized t-shirt, and they let you set your own prices. Theoretically you could list your shirts for $20,000 if you wanted to (that way you only have to sell one - ha!).
Spreadshirt wins extra points for hosting your customizeable store. You can add a header and footer to their theme and make it look like another page of your site, without the hassle of setting up your own eCommerce store.
Unfortunately there is currently no way to change the t-shirt manufacturer. This means that if you prefer a particular company, like Colin prefers American Apparel, you have no way to change that.
Additionally, having seen the final product in person I found their method of applying your design to the customized t-shirt is lacking in quality. It feels like a slight step above iron on transfers, and would degrade after only several washings.
Their user interface can seem a bit daunting to newcomers, but if you stick with it you'll pick it up in no time.
UberPrints does let you change the t-shirt manufacturer, allowing you to choose from American Apparel, Gildan, Hanes, Hyp and Anvil. Their user interface is fairly intuitive, but could use a facelift as it looks a bit dated.
They do not give you the option to create your own t-shirt store however. UberPrints will only ship to you directly, at which point you must deal with your customers yourself. There are inherent issues with such a system. You can make a good deal of money this way, but in order for that to happen you have to be shipping practically all the time. That's far too time consuming, and that's why big sites such as PVP and Penny Arcade started farming out this process.
Design A ShirtVisit DesignAShirt.com
Another site that does not allow you to create your own dynamic store, DesignAShirt is easy enough to use and includes several brands to choose from: American Apparel, Hanes and Alternate Apparel. The user interface could be easier to understand, especially for newcomers.
Also confusing is the lack of a "Sign Up Now" link, they have you start designing your own shirts before you complete your account information -- a bit backwards.
These t-shirt companies should get you well on your way and help you make your own shirts. Have you used a t-shirt company that's not listed here? Let me know in the comments below and I'll be sure to add it.
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Calico Monkey discusses animation programs, cartoon software and the art of making your own cartoons. Occasionally I release a new cartoon that has inadvertently made somebody chuckle. Such an outburst is purely accidental, I assure you.
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