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The Ultimate Guide to Merch by Amazon – How to Earn Money Selling T-Shirts

merch by amazon tshirt design

As of this writing, I’ve made $50,000 from Amazon Merch. 

While it took a bit of work upfront to get to this point, I’ve uploaded nearly zero new designs in about 1.5 years. So most of this has been completely passive income.

In my opinion, Merch is currently one of the easiest ways to start making extra money online right now.

What other business can you setup right now that allows you to leverage the millions of daily eyeballs that Amazon.com provides? What other business lets you ship hundreds or thousands of product without ever touching it and not having to deal with customer support afterwards?

The opportunity here is massive. If you’re interested in learning more, read on.

This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to get setup, how to find design ideas, how to make designs (even if you have no design skills), and how to optimize your earnings.

So let’s dive into it and get you set up with your very own t-shirt business.

What is Merch by Amazon?

Merch by Amazon is Amazon’s print-on-demand (POD) service that lets you upload designs onto various products and list these products directly on Amazon to sell. Right now the products include t-shirts, baseball shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, tank tops, and Popsockets.

It started out with just t-shirts, so Amazon is continually adding new products to their roster over time, which means even if you’re just getting in you’re still early to the game.

The amazing thing is Amazon handles all of the printing, inventory, shipping, returns, and customer support on your behalf. There is zero upfront cost to you – you get paid to simply upload designs that sell. Every time a product you’ve created sells, you earn a royalty. It’s a win-win for both parties.

Print-on-demand t-shirt services aren’t exactly new. Sites like TeePublic and RedBubble have been in the game for a while, but they don’t provide nearly the same organic traffic that Amazon does. From my experience and others I talk to, sales numbers are far higher across the board on Amazon than other sites.

According to SimilarWeb traffic stats, TeePublic and RedBubble received a combined total of about 27 million page views in the last 6 months. Amazon received 2.4 billion page views in the same period – nearly 90x the traffic.

Of course, not everyone who visits Amazon intends to buy shirts, but the point still goes to show the massive competitive advantage you have by listing your shirt on Amazon.

How to Sign Up for Merch by Amazon

Sign up for a free account by going to the Merch by Amazon website. You’ll have to request an invitation, as there’s a waiting list, so the sooner you sign up the better.

You’ll then provide some information about yourself and what you intend to use Merch for. Amazon gives preference to designers with a portfolio and/or a built-in audience already, so if you have those make sure you list them.

However, don’t be dissuaded if you have neither. You’ll eventually be accepted, it just might take a while longer. Typically it takes anywhere from a couple days to a couple months.

While you wait for the account approval, though, you can still put in a lot of work to research and create designs so you’ll be ready to go when accepted. You can also upload designs onto other POD sites like Redbubble and TeePublic to start testing the waters and earning some additional income from tshirts.

When you get approved for Merch with a new account, your design uploads will be capped at 10. You can either create 10 unique shirts, put one design on 10 different products, or any other combination.

To tier up, you generally need to sell at least the same number of shirts as your upload limit. This can take a while, especially since Merch is somewhat of a numbers game. With fewer designs, you’ll simply make fewer sales at the start.

So for the purposes of tiering up faster, you’ll want to create 10 unique t-shirts to start as t-shirts sell the best out of all the products.

You don’t have to just sit and wait for your 10 shirts to sell, either. One trick to tiering up quickly is by purchasing your own shirts, or having friends/family purchase shirts.

Some other strategies you can try are pricing as low as you can to start, replacing shirts after 2-3 weeks of no sales, and running AMS ads on listings.

Once you’ve reached the higher tiers, you can start uploading the same design on multiple products to fill all your slots.

The other Merch tiers look like this:

Tier 1: 10 designs

Tier 2: 25 designs

Tier 3: 100 designs

Tier 4: 500 designs

Tier 5: 1000 designs

Tier 6: 2000 designs

Tier 7: 4000 designs

Tier 8: 8000+ designs

Right now, Merch is offered on the Amazon US, UK, and Germany stores. The bulk of your sales will come from the US, though, so you should focus on that to start.

How Much Money Can You Make From Merch by Amazon?

Like anything in life, how much you get out of it depends on how much effort you put into it.

If you want to treat Merch like a business and dedicate serious time to it – researching, creating, uploading, optimizing, advertising – you can potentially make 6 figures a year from it. I know a handful of folks who are solidly making those numbers and relying on Merch as their full-time income.

You can also treat Merch as a hobby or side hustle to bring in a few hundred bucks every month. There’s no “right” way to do it and ultimately how much you make depends on you.

For me, Merch was always a way to generate some additional side income. I took it seriously in 2017, which also happened to be the year I earned the most.

At the peak, I was able to earn $5,500 in one month off Merch.

Since 2017, I have taken my foot off the gas and largely left the account alone. It still generates roughly $500 a month in income for me, though, completely passively. The hours I put in back then are still generating dividends for me years later – that’s what makes any online business so great.

How to Find T-Shirt Ideas

One way to go about Merch is to create stuff that you would want to wear. Scratch your own itch, if you will. With millions of people out there, there’ll probably be others who share the same interests as you.

The other way is to do your research and figure out the kinds of things people are already paying for.

To go about this, you first have to understand the concept of BSR or Best Sellers Rank on Amazon. Every product on Amazon has one of these listed in their product descriptions:

The lower the BSR, the more that product sells. As a rough estimate, a BSR of 100,000 in clothing means that shirt sells 1-2 a day. There are tools like MerchInformer to help you do BSR research so you know what niches and opportunities to go after.

You can target low BSRs under 100,000, but just know that the lower it is the more competition you’ll have.

Conduct Keyword Research With Merch Informer

In the early days of Merch, to conduct BSR research you had to manually find t-shirts and jot down their BSRs in a spreadsheet. It was a cumbersome and time extensive process.

Merch Informer was created to solve that problem. It’s currently one of the most popular and useful tools for Amazon Merch.

The tool lets you research trending shirts, filter by various keywords, save and organize shirts you like, and get ahead of the competition. It does this by pulling info directly from Amazon’s API to allow you to conduct comprehensive research.

Whether you’re designing shirts yourself or having a freelancer do it for you, this is a great way to find inspiration and create shirts in popular niches.

Merch Informer starts at just $10/month and comes with a free trial so you can test it out.

Scour Reddit for Shirt Ideas

Another trick I like to use is to go on reddit.com/r/random. This brings you to a random subreddit, and there are thousands of different subreddits with their own community.

You can find a lot of cool niches you’d never have known about this way. Browse the subreddit for a bit and see if you can drum up design ideas. Is there some inside joke among the community? Are there popular phrases?

All of these could be put on a shirt. Best of all, after you’ve designed something for the community, you can go back to the sub and gently advertise your shirt.

What Kinds of Shirts Should You Design?

Shirts generally fall into two categories: evergreen and trends.

Evergreen

Evergreen shirts are ones that will stand the test of time. They’re relevant today and still will be years from now. Because they’re not tied to any seasonal trends or one-time events, these shirts will sell throughout the year.

I focus most of my effort on evergreen shirts, as I generally have a set it and forget it strategy.

Trends

Trend shirts are those created to capitalize on a one time event or seasonal trend. There are always new trends sprouting up, which means there will always be demand for shirts for those.

In 2016, the big event of the year was the US Presidential Election. Supporters of Trump, Clinton, and Sanders were buying their shirts left and right on Amazon to wear to protests and rallies.

In 2017, the big event of the year was the total solar eclipse. People who got on that trend early and made shirts capitalizing on it were able to make absolute bank. This top selling eclipse shirt was generating 6-figures in sales a month at one point!

Another huge trend that caught fire was dabbing. It became all the rage among kids and teens – perhaps it still is, I’m not sure. But you could make a shirt with any person, animal, or thing dabbing and it would sell.

Another type of trend you can make shirts for revolves around annual holidays. Think Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, Halloween, St. Patrick’s, etc. These are seasonal in nature so will only sell in the months leading up to the holiday, but you can still make a good deal of money by capitalizing on them.

The point is, if you can spot these big events or trends early on and make shirts around them, you can generate huge sales.

How to Stay Compliant and Prevent Your Merch Account From Getting Banned

Amazon has an entire list of content policy rules you need to follow in order to stay compliant. It’s important you actually read and understand this before creating and uploading designs.

If you rack up too many violations, your account can and will get banned. How many violations is too many? There is no set indicator, but all of the following are taken into account:

  • How old your account is
  • How many designs you have uploaded
  • How many violations you’ve accrued, and in what time period
  • How blatant the violations are
  • How likely Amazon thinks you are to continue violating the rules

One of the most common mistakes people make when starting out is infringing on copyright or trademarks. You can’t just create a Spiderman or Game of Thrones t-shirt and expect to make a bunch of sales. Nor can you even reference those words in your descriptions.

All your shirts go through a manual approval process, at least until you’ve reached the higher tiers. Even if you fly under the radar and get a shirt like this approved, it won’t be long till someone finds out and removes your listing and/or bans your account.

Before submitting any listing, check Trademarkia to ensure you’re not infringing upon any copyrights. Sometimes you’ll notice a phrase is trademarked under a certain category, like below:

The phrase “LGBT Pride” is a registered trademark just for the wine category, but you’ll see there’s no trademark for any other category including shirts. So you’re fine to use this term on your design or description.

However, we see from the image below that “LGBT” is trademarked for “Clothing, footwear, headgear.” But since its status is abandoned and marked dead, you’re still free to use it. If it were active, though, you would be violating its copyright.

How to Make Designs – DIY or Pay Someone Else

There are two ways you can create designs: do it yourself or pay someone else to do it.

Creating Designs Yourself 

To create them yourself, you can use any design software such as Adobe Photoshop or GIMP (free). You’ll want to make the dimensions 4500×5400 so images look sharp when printed.

The simplest designs to create are just plain text:

Text-based shirts sell well, but the downside is because they’re so easy to make, anyone can copy your idea and flood the market with similar designs.

Amazon doesn’t police designs to prevent this from happening, and unless you’ve trademarked a slogan you can’t do much about it. One way you can combat this is to create competing designs against yourself and flood the market with similar shirts.

The majority of my active and best selling designs were actually self created. This is because I knew exactly what idea I had in mind, or I was able to predict a trend early enough to ride it.

Some of my earliest designs were in the K-Pop niche at a time when there were barely any on Amazon. That niche is now much more saturated, but there are always new developments even within K-Pop to create shirts for.

Finding Freelancers to Make Designs

Can you still participate in Amazon Merch if you’re not a designer and don’t have any design skills to speak of?

Yes, by hiring freelance designers to design shirts for you. But you’ll still need to have a good eye for design and what makes something visually appealing. You’ll also need to have good research skills or be able to predict what sells well.

Where do you find freelancers? The two go-to sites are Upwork and Fiverr. I’ve successfully used Upwork for all my freelance designs. I pay my designer $5 per design and usually send him batches of 5-10 at a time. He returns in a couple days with the completed designs.

The process is pretty simple. I first do research on Merch Informer to find designs that are selling well – anywhere under 300,000 BSR – and save them to my Favorites. I then export these designs and send them to my freelancer.

Using them as inspiration, he applies his creativity to come up with his own designs that fit the style or niche appropriately.

The hard part is finding a designer at a low enough cost that produces good work and doesn’t just rip off designs. You’re likely going to need to try out several people before finding one that suits you.

And not every design sells, of course, so you might incur a loss as you figure things out. If I had to estimate it, I’d probably peg my freelancer’s conversion rate at 15%.

But once a shirt does sell, it stays in Amazon’s system forever, meaning it’ll continue to generate you income. The shirts that don’t sell can simply be reuploaded or repriced.

Here’s a template you can use for your job postings: [tk]

Hi, I’m looking for Merch by Amazon t-shirt designers for a long-term contract and lots of work. We will run a test job of a few designs first and if they are good we can continue the contract. I will send you an idea of what I want and you should use your creativity to improve the design (DO NOT COPY OR INFRINGE ON COPYRIGHT/TRADEMARKS).

Please attach samples of t-shirts you have designed and how much you charge per design. I am willing to pay for hundreds or thousands of designs so please adjust accordingly for bulk.”

Other Design Services

Another way to pay for designs is to subscribe to a design-as-a-service company, such as Design Pickle. With Design Pickle, you pay them starting at $399/month for unlimited designs.

You can also subscribe to vector sites such as Vexels to get vectors, graphics, and artwork for your shirts. Vexels also produces designs that are made just for Merch, so you can actually use them directly on your products.

Uploading and Optimizing Your Designs to Sell 

Once you’ve created or paid for some designs, you’ll want to upload them onto products.

When you start out, you’ll have to upload them onto products individually. Once you scale up you’ll be given access to another Create link where you can upload multiple products simultaneously.

When it comes to colors, generally dark shirts like Black, Navy, Heather Blue, Heather Grey, and Slate sell the best. So you’ll want to make sure your text is white or stands out on these darker colors.

On the product description page, you’ll want to fill out the following info:

Title
The title is extremely important for Amazon keyword ranking. You want to use as much space as you can to best describe your shirt.

For example, “Trump T-Shirt” is a bad title. It’s far too generic and you want to hit more keywords to hit those long-tail search terms. A better title would be “Trump 2020 Presidential Election T-Shirt – Republican Gift.” Now your shirt is ranking for all those terms as well.

Bullet points
Some people leave their bullet points blank. This is a mistake. You might as well use all the space you have to best sell the customer and improve your chances of ranking for certain keywords.

Some people just type all their keywords in, like “trump, trump 2020, us president, republican, conservative, trump gift” etc… This is called “keyword stuffing” and is becoming more frowned upon by Amazon, so don’t do this.

Description
From my experience, the description is the most optional field. I usually just copy paste the bullet points here, but feel free to add more content if you feel it’s necessary.

Again, make sure you run any words or phrases you think might be copyrighted into Trademarkia. After that, confirm everything looks good and submit it! Your shirt will enter a manual approval process and be live within 24 hours.

What Kinds of Designs Sell Well On Merch?

If you’re a professional designer or artist or consider yourself creatively savvy in any way, you’ll want to go into Merch with no expectations. Just because you’re an artist does not entitle you to make lots of money on Amazon.

I have friends who work as designers in their day jobs yet fail to earn any substantial Merch income, while there are plenty of people out there with zero design skills to speak of making a full-time income.

While you can certainly make money off designs that you love yourself, if your goal is to make the most money through Merch you’ll want to design shirts that consumers want. Most people make buying decisions in a split of a second, especially for something visual like graphic t-shirts, so always keep that in mind.

On Amazon, at least in the US, shirts that sell well typically fall into a few categories:

  • Shirts with funny, witty text
  • Shirts that provide shock value
  • Shirts that tie someone’s affiliation to something (for example, that they are LGBQT supporters )
  • Shirts people can wear for notable events like the US election

Keep in mind that best-seller shirts in the US may be a total flop in the UK and Germany Amazon stores. The cultures as a whole are simply very different.

From my experience, people in Europe prefer to buy shirts that are much more subdued where designs aren’t in your face or as “loud.”

Frequently Asked Questions and Helpful Tips About Amazon Merch

Is it too late to get started on Merch?

No, it’s not too late to get started with Merch.

I won’t deny that the earlier you got into Merch the easier it would’ve been. People in 2015 and 2016 certainly got a headstart and were able to enter various niches with little competition.

However, the pie is big enough for everyone. There are always new opportunities and trends – you’ll just have to do the work to find and capitalize on them.

Plus, Amazon continues to roll out new product lines and expand into new countries. Don’t let your fears of being too late prevent you from getting started.

How should you price shirts?

When it comes to pricing, there’s no right answer (as long as you’re not making negative royalties). It depends on the niche, what competitors are charging, and how good and unique your design is. Simple text-based shirts, for example, can be priced lower than creative graphic design tees.

It’s important to note that price isn’t the biggest factor for a shirt’s success. If someone really likes your design, they won’t be put off by a $1-2 difference.

Outside of Amazon, t-shirts can even sell for $35-50, so don’t be afraid of pricing high. Customers can perceive higher prices as a product being more premium quality, even if we know the shirts are all the same.

Personally, I’ve found that my sweet spot is $16.99, but others have found success pricing higher, sometimes even going up to $22.99 a shirt. Ultimately you can always edit prices to optimize them, so don’t worry too much about it.

How do you stay motivated?

Merch isn’t a get rich quick scheme. You can’t expect to make any substantial income with just a few shirts – part of it is definitely a numbers game.

So create a routine for yourself. Get into the habit of designing and uploading consistently. Even if you just upload five new designs a day, that’s 150 new designs in one month.

Think of each of your designs as a tiny asset that produces some income for you. The more assets you send out into the wild, the more income will come back to you over time.

What are the best sales months? 

T-shirt sales follow the typical retail sales pattern. This means the bulk of your sales will come in Q4 of the year – October, November, and December. You’ll want to try and maximize your income potential by filling your slots before this time of year.

A customer left a negative review on my shirt, what do I do?

Sometimes you get left a poor review for something out of your control. Maybe the printing was poor or there’s a tear in the shirt, and an angry customer leaves a 1 star review on your product.

There’s not much you can do outside of removing the listing and reuploading it. But then you’d lose any BSR attached to that shirt.

My suggestion is to leave it alone. Some of my shirts have 1 and 2 star reviews yet still make consistent sales. They’re by no means the end of the world.

How do you get your shirt ranked higher on Amazon? 

It’s no surprise that shirts that show up on the first page of a search term sell better. How do you get your shirt there in the first place, though?

There’s no set formula to follow, but it’s a combination of how well your shirt sells, the reviews it’s received, and the title/bullet point keywords.

Sometimes if your shirt sells really well, Amazon’s algorithm will even reward you with an “Amazon Choice” badge that provides a ton of credibility. I’ve received a couple of these and saw huge increases of sales for a while.

Should you do Merch full-time?

There are certainly people out there who are working on Merch full-time and making lots of money doing so. If you do go down this route, I’d certainly advise you not to quit your job until you’re already making a solid income.

If you do pursue this full-time, I’d also advise you to explore other avenues to diversify your income outside of relying on Merch 100%.

Try creating a brand and driving your own traffic. Explore the idea of creating your own merchandise for higher margins. Get into other ventures outside of Merch.

Should I advertise my shirt through AMS or Facebook ads? 

I’ve had little success with Facebook ads for shirts, but AMS (Amazon’s advertising service) has worked well. It involves a lot of trial and error, so you’ll have to test it out on a lot of different shirts with different CPCs to determine a winning formula.

The Best Merch Tools to Help You Make More Money

Here is a list of things I’ve found most helpful in my Merch journey:

A big ‘ol cup of coffee

Merch Informer for niche and keyword research

Vexels for vectors and graphics

Free fonts:

1001fonts

urbanfonts

Merch browser extensions:

PrettyMerch

Merch Analyze

Merch Research

Merch Tools

Communities:
Reddit’s Merch subreddit 

MerchLife group on Facebook

Conclusion

Amazon Merch is one of the easiest ways to setup your own t-shirt business and start earning income online right now. Whether you want to make a couple hundred bucks a month for beer money or use Merch to launch your own business, this guide should help get you started and navigate your way through.

Good luck, and if you don’t have an account yet be sure to apply today!

If you have any questions or comments leave them below and I’ll be happy to answer them.

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