Have you read the stories of T-shirt millionaires spreading around the web?
For example, TJ Mapes and two of his friends made millions after starting RIPT Apparel in 2009. Now, thousands of people are earning a good income selling cool T-shirt designs using print on demand.
It’s a great way to build your portfolio as a designer, because you don’t need to worry about upfront costs, and you can quickly get feedback on your designs based on demand. Learn all about print on demand T-shirts in this tutorial.
What Is Print On Demand and Why Does It Matter?
Print on Demand (POD) is a process where a designer teams up with a supplier to print their designs on white-label products like T-shirts, mugs, or blankets, whenever someone buys them online.
Print on demand T-shirts are a growing market. A 2017 report from consulting firm Credence Research shows that the custom T-shirt printing market is expected to cross $10 billion by 2025.
The only con is that you've got no control over packaging, and the printing customization is limited to the methods used by said party. Shopify's post on POD has more information about the pros and cons of POD.
Print on Demand, Not as Easy as It Sounds
It’s impossible to tell which design will click. A design might look artistic to you, but your customers might disagree. And just when you think you’ve found a promising design, it might be too late because many designers have seen it and are already copying the trend.
That’s exactly what happened when POD designers started applying the concept of this now-viral Hogwarts-themed shirt to every niche imaginable.
Without knowledge of your target market and proper research, you could waste a lot of time and money designing POD merchandise that doesn’t sell. To avoid that, this tutorial will cover some different ways to research profitable designs for different POD niches and show you where to find images and fonts to use to create those designs.
7 Best-Selling T-Shirt Niches and Print on Demand Product Ideas
Print on demand has several niches. Each niche has its own set of slang, reasons for buying, and popular T-shirt design ideas, so knowing your niche makes it easier for you to create items they’ll want to buy.
Below are some of the most popular T-shirt ideas, plus some print on demand products where you can use them.
People love their pets, which is why the pet industry is worth $95 billion a year, based on data from the American Pet Products Association.
For cool shirt designs, you can go for the common sub-niches like dogs, cats, or birds, but there’s also a market for uncommon pets or large animals, such as horses, lizards, wolves, and hedgehogs.
Check out this T-shirt graphic design idea. Statement shirts and T-shirt quotes are great conversation-starters. Humor-related POD merchandise could have funny images, punchy one-liners, nerdy jokes, or even memes.
You might hate your job right now, but there are millions of people who wake up every morning proud of what they do.
Jobs can make cool shirt designs. Not all jobs are popular, though—some have more passionate employees than others. For instance, lawyers or accountants don’t get as much love compared to nurses or firefighters.
4. Sports, Lifestyle, and Hobbies
Another reason people buy custom-printed merchandise is to show off their hobbies, sports, or lifestyle.
Here are some best-selling T-shirt niches to consider for your T-shirt business:
1. Sports Niche Ideas
2. Hobby Niches
3. Lifestyle Niches
- Digital nomads
- Work-at-home moms (WAHM)
5. Family and Relationships
Have you ever seen T-shirt quotes saying “World's #1 Mom” and thought, “Who would actually wear this?” T-shirt graphic designs like this are popular, especially on Mother’s Day. You can also find custom-printed items for single dads, newly-engaged women (“bride-to-be”), sibling love, newlyweds, and grandparents. There’s even a T-shirt niche list that includes friends and co-workers.
6. Location and Travel
Almost any tourist destination will offer cool hoodie designs, cool shirt designs, and collectibles designed based on their local attractions.
Travel T-shirt quotes, architecture, local delicacies, and maps are also used in travel-related print on demand merchandise.
7. Seasonal Designs
Christmas sweaters aren’t the only POD item you can sell on holidays. Seasonal designs for cool shirt ideas also include Thanksgiving, graduation, Valentine's, Halloween, and other holidays. Religious holidays like Hanukkah or lesser-known holidays like National Pasta Day also have their place in the market, but only if you time your promotions well.
How to Choose Best-Selling T-Shirt Niches
POD shirts, jewelry, shoes, and other custom-printed merchandise are what people call “impulse buys,” so the best way to sell them is to tap into people’s emotions.
People purchase these items because they want to show off their individuality, whether it’s their job, pet, hobby, sport, or a country they just visited—the design shows something about them. Keep this in mind when you're looking for T-shirt niche ideas.
Another factor to consider when choosing a niche is the market size. You could have a niche you're extremely passionate about, but if there aren't enough people there, you’ll quickly run out of customers. One way to check a niche’s audience size is to use Facebook’s Audience Insight tool or check the keyword search volume for your audience on Google.
Selecting a huge niche also gives you room to branch out into sub-niches. If you want to sell job-related shirts, you can break it down into different categories such as nurses, firefighters, and teachers. From there, you can even break it down further into smaller niches such as pre-school teachers or ER nurses.
How to Conduct T-Shirt Market Research for Your Chosen Niche
Now that you’ve chosen a niche, it’s time to research what to put on your designs. You can use your preferred method for collecting information, be it bookmarks, Pinterest pins, or an Excel file. The important thing is that you find a way to save and organize the information you collect during this research.
Below are different ways to research T-shirt graphic designs to put on a shirt and other print on demand products, like cool hoodie designs.
1. Finding Cool T-Shirt Design Inspiration Through Amazon Merch
If you're looking for cool shirt ideas, Merch by Amazon is Amazon’s very own platform for POD T-shirts.
A free tool from Merch Titans allows you to search the cool T-shirt designs uploaded to Merch by Amazon based on keywords, the marketplace it was uploaded to (i.e. Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), and the type of merchandise (i.e. shirts or hoodies).
The search results will show:
- Design Image
- Items sold
The results aren’t 100% accurate as they’re based on the tags and descriptions store owners use on listings. If a design is listed with multiple or related keywords, they can show up in your results.
2. Searching With Pinterest and Facebook
Facebook is a social platform, but it’s a good way to find print on demand T-shirts because this is where competitors are promoting their designs using Facebook ads.
Just type your niche’s keyword and the word “T-shirt” or whatever print on demand merchandise you’re selling into the search bar. You can also use promotional words like “on sale” or “limited time offer.” Some people search based on POD platforms, so they use search words like “Teespring” or “Redbubble” so they see all posts with that platform’s URL or name.
You can also filter the search results based on the date of the post, so you only see the latest designs promoted on Facebook.
The same method can be used to find cool hoodie designs and T-shirt design ideas on Pinterest, except in this case you’ll use the number of “pins” to gauge a design’s popularity. Pinterest will also help you narrow down your search by displaying popular keywords associated with your initial search.
Cool shirt design found on Pinterest has over 1,000 pins, a good sign that cat lovers would purchase a shirt with a similar design.
3. Search Unique Mug and Shirt Design Ideas via Etsy
Etsy is a marketplace for hand-crafted products, but you’ll also find print on demand products there. To find creative T-shirt design ideas, just type your niche’s keyword in the search bar. You can also try different keyword combinations like “niche + joke” or “niche + another niche” to get unique shirt design ideas.
4. Search for Cool T-Shirt Designs via POD Platforms
You don’t need to create a website to sell your POD designs because there are dozens of marketplaces that'll allow you to upload your designs on their site, so you can earn when someone purchases your item from them.
Not only can these sites help you sell your cool shirt designs, they can also help in your POD and T-shirt market research. Just type the keywords for your chosen niche, and then filter the search results based on hot T-shirt designs or the newest listings added.
Below are other POD marketplaces where you can find design inspiration:
You can also search for T-shirt ideas on Teeview, a website that consolidates designs from Teespring, Sunfrog, and Teezily.
5. Searching for Unique Shirt Designs via Google Images
Finally, there's the tried and tested method of searching for T-shirt design inspiration using Google Images. Go to
https://images.google.com, and then type the niche you’re trying to research.
Try a combination of different keywords, such as:
- Niche + funny
- Niche + joke
- Niche + quotes
- Niche + slang
Google Autosuggest will also show you other phrases to use in your research.
The search results may not be limited to shirts, but some of these quotes are short and snappy enough that you can easily fit them into a mug or hoodie.
Caution: Many of the images you'll find on Google images are copyrighted. Be careful not to use an artist’s images or copyrighted items to avoid a lawsuit. Use the results of this search for inspiration only.
Combine some of the quotes here with a professionally designed running T-shirt templatedesign on Placeit, and you’ll have some wall decal or T-shirt ideas ready for a promo test.
6. Searching T-Shirt Design Ideas via Reddit and Other Social Platforms
Your niche doesn’t have to be news or politics for this tip to be useful for you. Whatever is trending in your niche, there’s a good chance that you’ll find a clever quip about it in one of these platforms.
Platforms where you can search trending, viral, or meme items:
- 9Gag. A website and social site where you can publish and curates jokes and memes for a variety of niches.
- 4Chan. It’s similar to Pinterest in a sense that it’s a bulletin board for images, but the difference is you don’t need an account and you’ll see lots of comments on some images, which might be helpful in your research
- Reddit. The site is divided into different communities, and some communities will have sub-groups (a.k.a. “subreddit”) to further organize the conversations. The best posts get the most replies and votes (a.k.a. “upvotes”) from community members.
Not everything you find in these websites is applicable to POD, as the majority of the information you’ll find here isn't commercialized. These are just people talking about all sorts of things, so you’ll need some creativity to imagine how the information can be translated to a hoodie or POD blanket design.
The relationship category on 9Gag is full of jokes and complaints about relationships. But there are posts like the one below where the image’s concept or a text version of it might work well on an apparel design. It’s also a good sign that the post has over 2,600 points and 100 comments.
Caution: Be careful not to use an artist’s images or copyrighted items to avoid a lawsuit.
You can find many unique quotes on subreddit threads, and almost none of these quotes are trademarked because these are from ordinary Reddit users being their sarcastic or funny selves. Unfortunately, digging into Reddit to find puns and jokes is a chore because there are so many active conversations to track.
Simplify your research easier by searching for “pun trains,” the term used when users play off on each other’s puns. Another way is to look up Reddits dedicated to jokes. You can also find a detailed tutorial of using Reddit to search T-shirt designs on MerchPursuits.
7. Combining Niches to Create Cool T-Shirt Designs
Combining niches allows you to hone in on a more specific target customer, while giving your designs a unique and authentic feel.
One typical example of this is the “Niche + Born in (month)” combo, where you combine a positive trait or niche with a target buyer’s birth month. Designs like this make the buyer feel special, because they think they’ll be one of the few with an item like it.
Here’s a combined niche idea: Mermaids + birth month via Etsy. Use a different image or icon, combine it with a unique typeface, and you’ll get a unique design ready to sell.
You can also combine relationship and job niches, like this design for a “Mom who raised a firefighter” shirt from Etsy.
A Word on Avoiding Copyright Issues and Using Mashups or Parody
Some designers and POD entrepreneurs use mashups and parody to avoid copyright problems. Since ideas are too vague to copyright, a different execution of one idea from a popular franchise or trademarked character, as happens in parodies and mashups, presents a gray area for designers.
For instance, the idea for a hilarious dad can’t be copyrighted, but the plot and character details that make up the character’s personality can be protected by copyright. That’s why Peter Griffin of Family Guy can’t be considered a copyright infringement of Homer Simpson. Whatever similarities they have, they also have differences in storylines and character traits, which makes both of them independent, and they could separately be copyrighted.
That’s why ‘fair use’ is a typical defense against copyright claims.
Unfortunately, "only a legal court can decide whether a design falls under fair use and because lawsuits involving copyright claims are usually complex and involve heavy fine plus settlement, they are tried at the Federal level", according to Atty. VikasBajaj.
Of course, you want to avoid getting into court in the first place. Teespy has a few pointers that can help you avoid that in this post.
Where to Find Images, Fonts, and Mockups for Your Chosen Designs
Former graphic designer and current Bootcamp Media CEO Jimi Shabir, says, “It’s always better to create unique images, especially if you’re creating something to be sold. But sometimes, using stock photos is a necessary shortcut to multiply your design output.”
Shabir has a point. If you spend days perfecting one design, you’ll find it hard to test new designs fast, and your designs may already be a saturated trend by the time they hit the market. Using stock images creatively will help you design more items faster.
Vladimir Gendelman, founder and CEO of Company Folders, Inc., also works with customers who use stock images on the items they want to print for their business. Because of this, he always advises clients to get their stock image from a reputable provider.
He adds, “Most stock image services label their images so you know which ones you can and cannot use commercially, or if additional protection or ‘rights’ should be purchased. Using a service will not only protect you from breaking the law, but you’ll also get high-quality images that will print nicely on your products.”
Placeit is a good source for design templates, mockups, and other design elements you may need.
Explore More Apparel and T-Shirt Design Ideas
Now you're an expert on T-shirt graphic design and how to choose the best-selling T-shirt niches. If you need even more inspiration for your next project, why don't you check out these cool resources: we've got cool hoodie designs, articles on making T-shirt quotes, really cool shirt ideas, and tutorials on how to use our online mockup tool, Placeit.
Why Wait? Get Started Now
Remember what famous writer Austin Kleon wrote, “Steal like an Artist.” Don’t copy other people’s designs; use them as inspiration to create something better or unique. I hope you've gotten plenty of inspiration from this tutorial.
In the case of designers, this means trying a different font, angle, icon, color, or image. With proper research, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to come up with a unique and profitable design.