Tutorial: How to Design Merch for Your YouTube Channel [GUEST POST]

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So you want to start selling merchandise? It may seem simple on the surface but there are quite a few points to think about before you see everyone at VidCon walking around with your T-shirts on. I’ve designed merchandise for John and Hank Green, VidCon, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Elmify, Squaresville, and of course, for myself. So let’s go through a couple considerations to keep in mind as you begin making your beautiful new merchandise.

Design Something You Would Buy

All too often, I see YouTubers putting up mediocre products, relying on their rabid fanbase to buy anything they stick their name on. That may work for some people, but I believe the most moral thing to do is to only release products that you would want to buy yourself. Think to yourself: What role will this item play in people’s lives? What are the reasons why someone would spend their money to own this product?

Think about your target audience and what kind of stores they already shop at. Are they teenage hipsters who frequent Urban Outfitters? Video game-obsessed middle schoolers who love ThinkGeek? Fashionable young women who envy everything from ModCloth? Pull images of products from those stores that you can use as inspiration for the style you design your own merchandise in.

When it comes to the designs on your merchandise, don’t just stick your name on a shirt with no thought to the design. Do you have a slogan or logo that you could pull from instead? People probably wouldn’t buy a shirt that just says “Hank Green” in white text on a black background, but they definitely buy well-designed shirts that say “Don’t Forget to be Awesome.” Use your existing branding elements to create a visual link between your channel and your merchandise, and your fans will be more likely to want to buy your products (if you need an intro to branding on YouTube, check out this panel from last year’s VidCon.).

Designs by Jonny Eveson for The Good Stuff. Images used with permission.

Designs by Jonny Eveson for The Good Stuff. Images used with permission.

Hire a Designer if You Aren’t One

If you have no design skills, have no idea whatCMYK means or know what a vector file is, you might want to work with a designer to create images for your merch. I made a video called “How to Hire a Freelance Designer” which covers all of the information you’ll need before contacting a designer to work on a project with you. Some merch companies, such as DistrictLines, can offer design services, but there may be times when you want to work with an independent designer who can give you more personalized attention. If you don’t know any designers, look for other YouTubers’ merchandise that you like the style of and just ask them who designed it. If somebody has done design work for one YouTuber, they’d probably be open to doing more or at least could refer you to another artist they know.

Before you do this though, be sure you have the means to pay the designer a fair wage; respect their price quotes and don’t try to haggle them down. Some designers may be open to splitting the revenue from the merchandise product if they think it will sell well, but as far as I know, DFTBA is the only company that offers automatic revenue splits in their payments, and you don’t want to be stuck calculating it manually every month.

If you don’t have the income to hire a designer, you could also consider a skill trade. Can you code websites? Write music? Build furniture? Some designers may be open to trading skills; for example, when I was in college I once designed a shirt for Jason Munday in exchange for him writing an intro song for my YouTube channel. However, this would probably work best with students and less experienced designers; if you suggest it and they decline, don’t push the matter.

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Think Outside the Box

One of my favorite pieces of YouTube merchandise is Jenna Marbles’s stuffed animals of her dogs. They’re super cute and tie directly back into her channel. I have no idea what kind of profit she’s making on them, but they’re cool objects that people might want to own even if her name wasn’t attached to them.

There’s nothing wrong with putting out yet another T-shirt, but consider brainstorming more interesting ideas too. For example, when I started getting a lot of comments about my ampersand necklaces, I began making them in large quantities to sell. If you have a music channel, put your name on guitar picks. If you get drunk in your kitchen, put your logo on wine glasses.

Again, think about the audience that will be buying your merch. If your audience is mostly female, offer women’s cut T-shirts, even if they cost a bit more to produce. Consider tote bags or mugs or posters, each of which play a different role in people’s lives, so think about what would make the most sense for your designs.

However, be realistic about what your audience can spend. Creating premium products like hoodies and water bottles and stuffed animals is fun, but you don’t want to be paying off the production costs from leftover merch when your audience can’t afford to buy them. If you have a younger audience, consider offering some lower-cost items such as stickers or rubber bracelets in case they can’t afford to buy a hoodie from every YouTuber they watch.

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