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T-Shirt shop learnings part 2

Woman standing in front of a river wearing a black round neck T-shirt with a This Mum Loves design

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Why read this? : We share more T-shirt shop learnings as we try new things in this category. Learn from our experience of designs and the importance of simplification in the design process. Read about design short-cuts and options to outsource T-shirt design. And learn our initial experiences with Facebook advertising. Read this for a summary of ideas we’ve gathered from our T-shirt shop learnings. 

So, we switched our focus for the New Year to work on the coaching and consulting part of our business.

But in the background, we’ve continued to work on the T-shirt Print on Demand side of the business too.

It’s not a category we knew very well before we started. But it’s a great place to try out a number of different marketing, creative and e-Commerce skills.

Here’s a few T-shirt shop learnings since we last wrote on the subject.

Woman standing in front of a river wearing a black round neck T-shirt with a This Mum Loves design


We’ve now created 13 unique T-shirt designs. With an additional 4 designs which are updates to their original design, that makes 17 designs in total. Those include designing a Mum T-shirt to use in Australia and a Mom T-shrift for the US for example.

Of those, we’ve tested (Facebook) advertising on 7 of those designs so far. When we wrote about our T-shirt shop learnings after week one, we shared out thinking that our first designs had too much detail.

In particular, the Christmas Introvert and extrovert T-shirts both had some logical thinking behind them, based on insights.

But they were too complicated to work on a T-shirt.

If you count each box as the image and the text and the clock, that’s 3 design elements per box times 16 boxes.

So 48 design elements at least. Plus the lines and the headline, so over 50 elements on the design.

Too many.

Woman wearing a green T-shirt with The Introverts Guide to Christmas Day, with 16 different activities from 6am to 9pm

Simplifying future designs

So we said, we’d focus on simplifying future designs.

It’s often easier to give advice than follow it, however. If we look at the designs we have created since, we have done a better job of using less words and bigger fonts. We’ve considered the colours of the fonts and T-shirts more. It’s important to work out how different colours will work together.

But, from a pure design point of view, there’s still lots of room to improve.

Let’s use our This Mum Loves T-shirt as an example. The core ‘insight’ was around maternal pride and we used a phrase that we hear in parenting groups and forums a lot. “Love you to the moon and back”.

So far, so good. 

But if you look at the design, there are still TEN design elements in that design. TEN. Less than the 50 on the previous design, but still. Remember, we said we’d focus on simplifying the future designs?

Woman wearing a black V neck T-shirt with a simple This mums loves design on it

10 design elements is not simple

Here are the 10 design elements in this design starting top left and working down to the bottom.

  1. The vector graphic cut out of the mum. 
  2. This written vertically – we did at least limit ourselves to two fonts – Phosphate and Rockwell – so we are applying at least some simplification.
  3. Mum – fine, good stand-out as an important word of the message.
  4. Loves Her Kids – the font here is actually ‘cut out’ of the rectangle. So when it is printed the text is transparent, so will look a different colour depending on the colour of the T-shirt. It’s quite a common technique in T-shirt design.
  5. Heart – another vector graphic to symbolise the ‘love’ obviously and to try and get away from all text. However, was it really needed?
  6. To the – needed to complete the sentence on the final word.
  7. Moon (symbol) – another vector graphic to symbolise, well, the moon obviously, because …
  8. Moon (words) – maybe having the word ‘moon’ in big bold letters won’t be clear enough? (we’re kidding).
  9. And back – Finishing off the sentence. It should really stop here, but …
  10. Even when they break stuff – … we wanted to add a little humorous touch but had to squeeze in another 5 words to do so.

Learn from what doesn't work as well as what does

You might wonder why we are sharing the lessons from our T-shirt design experience with you.

Well, we believe there’s as much to learn from what doesn’t work as what does work.

You learn from your marketing mistakes as much as you learn from your marketing successes. 

It’s all about experimenting when you start in a new category. You have to try things out.

This design only took us a couple of hours to create.

Wooden scrabble tiles that spell the words Learn From Failure

But we also got to practice 3 or 4 different graphic design techniques in Photoshop and Illustrator. Next time, we’ll be able to use those tools much more seamlessly. So as well as getting a design to sell, it was also like doing a mini-training session.

We have however, set ourselves a challenge to take 3 of our existing ‘too complicated’ designs and re-do / re-launch them with only 3 design elements.

We’ll let you know if those are more successful.

T-shirt design short-cuts

Learning a new category and new skills takes time. Not everyone has the patience for that. We did look at a few short-cuts, and so there’s some potential T-shirt shop learnings there too. 

T-shirt bundles

There are designers selling bundles of T-shirt designs that you can edit and adapt. For example, we see this offer from pop-up regularly on our Facebook feed for 1,000 designs at US$70.

That’s good value at $0.07 per design. But think about how they make money selling at that price. 

They won’t just be selling those designs to you. Anyone else could also buy those designs. You won’t stand out, and standing out is important in all markets, but especially this one. (see our article on e-Commerce competitive advantage for more on why your brand needs to stand out). 

You also still need to edit these designs to fit your brand identity. From the designs we can see on the page, the design elements look professional.

But you still need to apply some creative thinking to make them uniquely work for you. And you still need graphic design tools – Adobe or Affinity or Gravil for example – to manipulate the files. 

T-shirt freelancers

T-shirt designs also come up regularly on freelance sites. We covered a similar theme in our recent blog on the value of writing, but designer rates for T-shirts seem to be even more cut-throat on pricing.

Look at fiver and what’s on offer in T-shirt design for example. 

You can pick up a single design from between $7 and $35, with rates going up the more revisions you ask for. Even the designers who seem more established on there, only seem to be charging $60 – $80 per design.

Screengrab from Fiverr website showing results from search on "T-shirt design"

Looking at that cost, and lets say a $5 profit per T-Shirt sold on something like Spreadshirt, you’d have to look at the quality of the designer and wonder whether they could design something that would sell the 12 – 16 T-shirts you’d need just to break even. 

T-shirt professional designers

And finally, on design, you could go the more professional designers route. We found this article early on when looking at tips on designing T-shirts.

It’s a decent read. 

But this organisation also provides link if you want to look at hiring high-end designers

The rates for this level of design will be much more expensive than you will find on Fiver. But obviously, the quality of the design will be at that higher level too.

Some of the designs here are from people who’ve clearly been practicing their area for a long time. We think our T-shirt designs have a way to go to get near the quality of the designs here.

But then designing is only part of the T-shirt selling process. We’re working hard to bring it up to the same level of knowledge we have about marketing and e-Commerce. 

Facebook Advertising

Of the 7 Facebook campaigns we’ve tested so far, the Aussie Prime Minister and Aussie Beer t-shirt designs worked best.

They generated the most reach and the most clicks.

Both these ads ran when Redbubble were offering a 20-50% offer on the site, and our click through rate on both ads was double any of the other ads we ran.

We still have some more testing going on with new ads for our gincredible and inventions designs.

We’ll share the results of these in case studies at some point in the future. As we said, it’s still early days and we’ve a a brand that people don’t know, and designs where we’re still working out our overall style and approach. 

But here’s a couple of thoughts we’d share on Facebook advertising so far. 

Instagram post saying No Network cables? Thank Dr John O'Sullivan and the team at CSIRO - with a picture of a woman wearing a T-shirt that shows a WiFi symbol and the words Australian Invention


For a technology company that based its success on access for all and easy functionality – anyone can use Facebook right?

That functionality does not spread though to its Facebook Ads set-up.

While not impossible to use, unless you have kept up with recent changes and updates to the system or been trained, it can take a while to find basic elements to launch and report on campaigns.

The campaigns, ad sets and ads aren’t intuitive. Managing the multiple variables around objectives, audience and measurement takes time as you go back and forward to get it right. 

In 3 of our tests, we realised something wasn’t right in the initial set-up and had to pause and relaunch the campaign. Not because we make lots of mistakes, but because the way it was set-up wasn’t clear.


What we’ve also found is once you start advertising on Facebook, it’s set up to try and constantly squeeze more money from your adverting spend. Repeated notifications of how just spending “$x” could get you x,000 more page views.

Whether you actually have content that you want to push out or not. All the defaults for spend and length of time you want to run a campaign seem set up to make you spend more.

You only want to test for 2 days? But our default is to run for a month. You only want to spend $10? But our default starts at $250. And so on.

Facebook icon pin buttons

Too much choice

There’s so much choice in terms of audience and placements. It takes time to refine and place an actual ad they way you want to set it up.

(it’s not a great example of progressive disclosure or chunking as per our article on design psychology).

So far, our ads have done OK in terms of reach, but not delivered what we’d want when it comes to conversions. That’s means we’ve more work to do to refine the Three-Brains brand for the T-shirt market.

Nobody really knows who we are yet, or what we stand for. Our brand essence isn’t clear. Nor is our purpose or values. We’ll work on that. 

Our ads have been mainly static so far, so we could get them out quickly. But we recognise the need for more creativity and dynamism to stand out on Facebook.

That’s all part of the process of learning to succeed in any business, and so far, it’s not cost us a lot to test all these campaigns out. 

Conclusion - t-shirt shop learnings part two

We also picked up some T-shirt trivia this week from one of the sites which offer practical tips and advice on e-Commerce planning with good advice on dropshipping and print-on-demand.  

If you haven’t already, we recommend you check out wholesaleted on You Tube. Sarah’s videos do stand out for their clarity and practicality when compared to many of the other start-up stalker sites out there. 

The piece of trivia is that the biggest selling T-Shirt colour online is black.

Amazon released this bit of not known information. But we wanted to to do something with that trivia.

Screengrab of Three-brains Shop - headline says "merchandise to raise your game"

So you may have noticed a bit of a recent refresh to our three-brains branding and logo. (It’s right there at the top of the page).

Our Three Brains branding now has a black “T” shirt at the start. That’s in honour of this little bit of T-shirt trivia. Sometimes our three-brains may think about these things a little too much. 

(note : we’ve since updated the logo again, so it no longer has a black T-shirt in it) 

Check out our guide on how to start selling online, if you want to learn more. Or contact us directly, to see how we can help you with your e-Commerce strategy and plan.

We are using the T-shirt shop learnings to build our own strategy, and can help you go through the same process faster and more efficiently.  

Photo credit

Learn from failure : Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Facebook icons : Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

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