Welcome to my article series about my experiences in the licensing market and my process. I will publish new articles on 1-2 weekly basis.
Shirt Pages out there
People often ask me what I do, at which point I take a deep breath in order to explain it – because this whole “shirt business” is a wee bit complicated. First of all, not many people are aware of the scale of the T-Shirt market on the internet. Secondly, most people in my home country Austria have never even really heard of “illustration”.
This is how I try to explain: People love shirts with images on them that they can identify with and that make them laugh; There are a huge number of websites out there that cater to these people. These sites focus on selling mainly online, and all of them sell the designs in a different way. Some of them work with exclusivity of time (“This shirt is only available for 24 hours”), others work by including the community in the voting process, and some called “on demand pages” give the artist full control over the time-frame and the pricing. In the following paragraphs, I want to try to give you a small overview.
For a very good overview, I recommend the blog “Compete-Tee-tion”.
Submission process: The artist creates an account and submits a design via their submission page and the community gets the chance to vote for it for a week. High scores don’t guarantee a print.
Things that work well: Hard to tell – Threadless seems to welcome many different categories of design including artsy, pop-culture, and abstract artwork - it all seems to be welcome. This is one of the great things about the site, it’s a playground where anything seems to be possible. My bond with Threadless has been that they have always welcomed my very busy cartoon designs. If you want to see which of my designs have been accepted check out my account there.
Special: Threadless features special theme competitions with and without partners (companies, movies, publishers, fastivals) every week.
Payment structure: Always changing. For the special challenges up to 2K or more can be won. Store credit between 250 – 500 USD is included if the artist is chosen for print. Artists chosen outside of themed competitions get about 20% of the net profits. For details, check their info about payment. They just made a huge, positive change in payment structure.
Rights: Artist retains full copyright.
Teefury (“daily T-shirt page”)
Submission process: The artist creates an account and submits a design via their submission page. The art directors of Teefury will get back to you via e-mail within the next 1-3 weeks with a “yes” or a “no thank you”.
Things that work well: Pop-culture related parodies/mash-ups and text-based designs are definitely chosen over “artsy” designs. It’s not easy to get chosen for Teefury – a few years back I decided to explore new design territory (designs with text) to get a better chance to be chosen by Teefury while sticking to my cartoon roots, and I have to say I have learned so much by doing so.
It is essential to stay up to date with pop culture to keep up with Teefury (and I have no problem with that! It means I get to watch more TV-shows, movies and play more games). You can check out their gallery tosee what’s currently working well.
Payment structure: 1 USD/sold unit within the 24 hours the shirt is sold on the main page. If your design is chosen for the permanent gallery, you get 2 USD / unit. Teefury has a huge following on Facebook and on social media, so the sale numbers can get pretty good. I will not give away detailed numbers, but my best selling design on Teefury made me rent worth a couple of months.
Rights: Artist retains full copyright.
There are many other “daily” T-shirt pages out there. Most of them have a similar submission process as Teefury and pay the same amount of money to the artist. With almost all of them, the artist retains full rights, which is a big plus for any artist; He or she will be able to sell and use this design through other channels before and after the big sale.
Other daily shirt pages are: RIPT apparel, The Yetee (pays the artist 1,50 USD/unit sold), qwertee, Captain KYSO and Shirtpunch. For a more complete list check out Compe-tee-tion.
Submission progress: The artist creates an account and submits a design via their submission page. The artist can submit for a “daily” shirt – in that case, the art directors of Woot will get back to you via e-mail within the next 1-3 weeks with a “yes” or a “no thank you”. The artist can also submit for the “derby”, a themed competition that gives the community the option to vote for their favorites. The top 3 will be printed.
What works well: Many different designs are welcome at woot, but what seems to work especially well is cute, cartoony, smart ideas – pop-culture references are not a must, but it helps. To get a feeling what works well at the moment, check their top 20 designs.
Payment structure: The artist can decide between an “A” or “B” contract. Contract “A” is exclusive – the artist sells full rights to woot, gets paid 1000 USD on the first day of sales and 2 USD/shirt sold after that first day of sales. With the non exclusive “B” contract, the artist gets paid half the money, but retains all rights one year after the last item was sold.
Woot also has a special place in my heart because a lot of my silly, cartoony designs get a home there. Stuff that wouldn’t work quite as well at Teefury and Threadless.
This category includes pages like Red Bubble, Spreadshirt, Cafepress, Teepublic, Society 6 and many others. On these sites the artist can upload his/her designs to their own, private shop; designs are usually approved right away, and unless the design goes against the terms of agreement, it is always approved. Unlike pages like Woot and Teefury which print their tees in bulk, these pages print on demand, meaning if an order goes in, they print it for that single order (which also makes the base price for the product higher).
The print for shirts is usually digital (pages like Woot and Teefury use screen print), so they might look a bit less exciting.
It takes a while to make sales at these print on demand sites; For me, it took years to really start appreciating those pages. Now, after about 2-3 years of having opened shops at print-on-demand-pages, the combined amount of all of them is pretty good considered that it’s money I don’t have to work for anymore (otherwise known as “passive income”). The cool thing is that most of these pages don’t just specialize on shirts anymore, but also sell mugs, bags, prints, postcards, even shower curtains as well as many other products.
- Don’t just specialize/rely on one shirt page – try to submit your stuff to all the pages that are out there.
- However, don’t submit the same design to various daily shirt pages AT THE SAME TIME. It is considered bad etiquette. Submit, wait for a reply, if it is rejected, submit to the next one.
- Don’t take design rejection personally. Try to learn from it. Ask other designers for their advice/opinion. Try to get better. Design many designs ☺
- Don’t rely on shirt pages for your income. Always try to work other jobs on the side if it looks like shirt sales aren’t enough. After all, selling shirts is a chaotic business that creates very different income every month.