You spend weeks working on amazing custom merch for your band, but it’s only when they arrive from the printers that you notice that your design has colours that you did not see on-screen, text that’s too small for anyone standing more than a few steps away to read, and did you somehow accidentally copy your favourite band's logo?
It’s inevitable that you'll make mistakes during the design process, particularly if you don't have much experience in design. You may be well aware that you need to make your products trendy and rad AF to stand out and bring the cash in, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start once you dive into the world of merchandise.
Getting expert help is of utmost importance if you're not clued up on merch, but if you reckon you’ve got what it takes to get some designs and merch going, we’ve put together a few pointers to help you get the ball rolling.
It’s totally fine to make something you know your fans would love to wear, but you have to dig it too - otherwise, what’s the point? Grab a cup of coffee, jump on Instagram and Behance (don't sleep on Behance for design-related work. Such a rad site, we highly recommend it), see what else is being done out there that gravitates towards your concept and get those creative juices flowing. Save a few of your favourite examples and throw them on a mood board, so that you can pinpoint the direction you'd like to move in. Having some sort of visual reference helps a ton, instead of having everything floating around in your head.
Research, research, research.
Think about your fan base: who are they and what kind of merch do they like? You know they already love your band, and everyone in the scene loves a good piece of merch. Combine those two elements in one amazing piece, and it should be flying like hotcakes.
Look around on social channels and profiles that engage with your content. Once shows are up and running again, be aware of what people are wearing. We tend to overthink these kinds of situations – yet, sometimes the answers is right in front of us.
It's always worth investing in a professional designer to help your concepts come to life.
You may have a 2010 version of Illustrator installed on your PC, and you’re super tempted to do a deep dive on YouTube to cut the costs of a graphic designer. There's a good reason that most professional bands approach professional graphic designers to design their concepts. Would you have someone with little to no experience on stage with you at your biggest show to date? Or have an inexperienced guitarist in on your expensive studio time when recording your new release? Probably not. You should look at your designs in the same light. If you have little to no experience in this field, get a proper graphic designer to bring your vision to life and it’ll pay for itself tenfold when you end up with shirts that your fans actually want to be seen in.
We'll never discourage anyone from trying out something for themselves at first. Give it a whack and maybe you just have what it takes. Show your designs to your bandmates and friends. You can even upload it on to your social media and ask for honest and constructive criticism. If it does not work out, there's nothing wrong with reaching out to a pro.
Choose your pantones carefully.
Take some time and think about what will visually stand out in public. Bright and bold colours work for a reason. You also have to create pieces that your fans are actually going to wear, so bear that in mind and tie this in with your overall concept. If multicoloured designs are your band's image, by all means, go for it. If your design is a simple text design, then you're going to have to focus more on which colour garments you'll be printing on. Grey on a black garment may not be the best option, but backed with a cool graphic, it might just be the exact vibe you're going for. There's no right or wrong with this, just bear in mind that light colours on dark garments stand out nicely.
It is also important to remember that the more colours your designs consists of, the more expensive it will be to screen print, as your printer will have to build more custom stencils for your prints. If you're doing multicoloured designs of 9+ colours, you'll have to go the digital route with your prints.
Generally, a large front print is best for getting your message across. If you’re lucky enough to have a short and distinctive band name, run it proudly across the chest. You can also add more design elements to other areas of the shirt, like sleeve prints, inside neck prints or back prints. Once again, bear in mind that the more print positions are added to your piece (and colour count per printing), the more your printing costs will bump up per print.
Quality over quantity.
The better quality your products are, the more wear they’re going to get. And the more wear they get, the more your name is getting out there. Don’t make cheap designs on cheap garments, with cheap prints that will fall apart after its second or third wash. You’re going to lose all the precious exposure that comes with extended wear, plus your fans will most likely never trust your merch again.
There's nothing worse than putting in so much time and effort into your concepts, just so that your tees end up at the bottom of a stack of shirts in a wardrobe. Rather go with a smaller run of tees that you know are of outstanding quality, and send out your pieces with pride to your fans.