Stop Having An Opinion On Shirt Designs – What You May Dislike Sells!

This is a unique issue that I keep seeing in the Merch community so I decided that I should probably address it. New designers or people jumping into the program are often found saying that they simply design what their hobbies are and what they like and never really look anywhere else for design ideas. Half the time, the complaint is that they made a bunch of shirts that they LOVED but are stuck frustrated that out of 100 designs, they are barely making 5 sales a month.

On almost the flip side, you have all these design services popping up (which we are reviewing slowly, I promise!). People buy designs from these services sight unseen half the time, and then when they get the design, they absolutely hate it. They do not like the subject matter, they think the design is ugly, they think the design is too simple. Every excuse for not liking something, I have probably seen it when it comes to design and what is “good” and what is “bad”.

Both of these crowds have the same issue though. They fall in love with a specific type of design or style, and they stick with it. Why? This is NOT a hobby, this is a business. If you want to make money you need to treat it like one.

Smart Merchers follow where the money is being spent!

Find out where people are spending money, and get designs created, or create those designs yourself. Give people what they want, not what YOU want. You literally do not matter in this equation. You have to remove yourself from the equation if you want to make something of Merch. We have always been taught that the customer is always right (and that certainly is not always true), but when it comes to Merch by Amazon, I think the saying fits perfectly.

Ugly Design Clears 5k Royalties

To illustrate this point, I thought I would tell a personal story about one of the designs that my designer got back to me.

This happened about 8 or so months ago, but I was doing my research and I came across a niche that did not really make any sense to me. The niche was women and chickens. Specifically the term “super sexy chicken lady”. Now, while this may be strange, and I did not really understand why people would go into this niche, I knew one thing. There was money there. I hopped into it before 100’s of designs in this niche became the norm. Today this niche is absolutely swamped but back then it was easier to stand out.

In fact, at the time, I had the best design on Amazon for that specific term, and I started to see organic sales start to flow in. 1-5 a day was a pretty great thing to see as I did my research properly, and started to dominate the niche.

Then something funny happened. This Ugly shirt that only cost me $4 and that all my friends who saw it laughed and made fun of it, started selling 20 units a day. Then it went up to 30 units a day. Then it spiked to 50, then up to 70 units a day! I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Why was this niche so popular all of a sudden? I had not done anything to spike the ranking but was certainly not complaining.

Took me a few weeks to find out but eventually I saw that someone had stolen my exact design and put it up on Teespring for $27. They must have been running a massive ad spend, because all of that traffic was coming to Amazon to find the shirt (which was priced much lower than $20). This is honestly the best scenario of someone copying you, I could not believe it!

The moral of the story though, is that even with the organic sales of 1-5 per day, this design costs me close to nothing, and was super ugly. It was a “bad” design by all means of the word and I would never in my wildest dreams wear it.

I did not care about any of that though. I was chasing the customers and I knew exactly where they were spending money.


You may have noticed this design if you use the Merch Hunter (which you should be using!). Notice the eraser marks at the bottom of the image? Is this a perfect design? No, far from it!

But guess what?

This design (at the time of writing this), is ranked #4 in clothing right now. I have no doubt they probably sold 1,000 of these TODAY alone!

Here is another one. I personally think this design is not very good at all, but simple sells!

Priced at $19.99, they are getting a nice $7 royalty and guess what? This great piece of art is ranked at 5k BSR. 20-40 sales a day EASY and this probably took someone 3 minutes to create.

3 Minutes of time for an extra $200 a day? I am pretty sure you would all take that!

Finally we have this masterpiece. I am pretty sure most of you would agree that this design is not very good. In fact, I would almost call this bad.

But who cares! This beauty has a BSR of 10k and certainly outselling most of your designs because they decided to jump on a trend and go for it!

Wrapping It Up

Just because you like something in particular, does not mean that everyone else does on Amazon. You are not designing for yourself. You should NOT be getting attached to the designs you make or purchase. Stop having an opinion on if the shirt is good or bad and just post it already! Some of the things that end up selling will blow you away when you take a step back and simply create designs on niches where people are spending money.

After all, this is a business and you need to run it like one. Do your research, create and upload. Your opinion on designs is not going to pay the bills!

  • How do you go about researching a niche design concept like “super sexy chicken lady”? Was it a pre-existing phrase that you came across which was gaining attention? Where did you come across it and how did you determine it would be popular?

    • If you watch the MI videos there is a section on how he found a mushroom niche and I’m pretty sure that is how he did this research also.

  • You’re absolutely right. As a long time pro designer, having too much opinion on my designs is one of my biggest pitfalls. There is a time and place for sweating your design quality on Merch, just not all the time.

  • Neil, as per usual, grounded, clear and usable content. Thank you (particularly for the last sentence as someone who frets over whether i “like” a design).

  • So, should I do design for specific niches and them use a unique brand name for each niche? I am a newbie. Thank you for the great content.

    • It really is up to you. I would just try and get a keyword into your brand name because that seems to help you rank higher organically.

  • The first thing I learned when I started out selling on P.O.D sites was ‘Never Fall In Love With Your Design’
    Thank you for the article Neil!

  • Great article , Neil. I am glad I found this opportunity and a newbie here. Can I ask how do you find where the customers are spending their money? Thanks in advance.

  • I’m at the Tier 500 range. I think anyone under this tier should definitely follow this advice. I am nowhere near a big baller but I have very limited PS skills. Awhile back I picked a decent font..toyed around with it and added a commercially free graphic and it sold like crazy. Way more than any design I have made. This designs had no shadowing, masking, clipping, overlaying nothing. By all accounts design wise crap…yet some found it and liked it. If you are at tier 500 and more you don’t;t have to worry about designs that haven’t sold or been selling because you have a lot of space to fill and well buying shirts is an impulse buy..not a need. I have shirts that haven’t sold and have been taken down twice. If I have the slots I put it back up and re keyword it. Someone out there will want it probably. Heck I’ve seen one-word designs sell. A lot of this is research, paired with good luck and right place right time. So if you have space keep loading em up and be pickier when ya limited on space.

  • Hi Neil! First of all thank you very much for sharing your experiences. I would appreciate if you could answer me if you think that Merch by Amazon could cheat (hide sales) and pay less royalties than the ones due.
    My doubts come given that since 2 months I have had a considerable drop in sales, at half in each month. And I observe that in many hours (always the same hours of the day) I do not have sales and this before did not happen. I also notice that some of my shirts that were sold the most (and are not temporary) are no longer sold. Note: I am above 1000 shirts and now I have less profits than when I had 500. Note2: I am not a US citizen. Note3: I am enrolled in Merch Informer. Thanks in advance for your response!

    • I am sure they COULD but I am positive they are not. I think the issue is the time of the year (slow for retail) and also that print capacity is going to the viral shirts such as the eclipse tees. As we enter Q4, it will all start to pick up steam.

  • Hey Neil, thanks for putting together such great content!
    Just one question though – how do you make sure your designer doesn’t claim royalties for T’s he/she designs for you? Do you have a clause in the contract that the T’s design becomes your property after being submitted?

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