Marketing Your T-shirt Designs.
Now that you have your ideas and designs ready for print, it is time for marketing your T-shirt designs. This is the most time consuming step of all. It will never end.
You can choose to set up a Print On Demand shop using one or many of the available online services such as Redbubble, TeePublic, NeatoShop (The Best) and so on and retain the rights to your artwork. These Companies are mentioned because their quality is good and they have affiliate programs* which means people could choose to push your designs and these companies pay them a commission for each sale (TeeFetch uses these). Thus, you have a better chance for sales.
You could also submit the T-shirt designs to limited edition Shirt-A-Day sites that pay around $1 per for every tee sold in a 24-96 hour window. The most popular and reliable ones also pay $50 upfront for use of your designs whether they sell or not. But this is a daunting task. The competition is fierce and the design quality really must be topnotch. Do not send the same design to all companies at the same time, none of them want to sell the exact same tee as the competition is at that exact moment or soon after. Many of the companies only want artists with a huge fan base to help push the sales. With a minimum of 10,000 fans. Which is completely idiotic from a designer's perspective.
Because if you have your own optimized Print On Demand shop and have 10,000 fans, you'd make more pushing products through the shop at $4-5 commission instead of $1, and permanently linked for reoccurring sales. Even if the Shirt-A-Day site in question does get more traffic which they would need to have in order for their business model to work successfully. They should not rely on you and your following to make the sales. This is more to get their site noticed than it is to help the designer obviously. The sites that do this (not all) do not have their own traffic (yet). Worse yet, you will never know if this is what they are doing or not because they do not ask nor tell you this information. Those sites come and go, destined for failure.
How Do You Market T-Shirt Designs Socially?
So now you are probably wondering "Then how in the Hell do I get a fan following?" Damn good question. You must sell your soul. Not to Satan or anything but to your art. You got to devote the time promoting your art and shop yourself. Using all the Social Media Programs out there. Contact the experts in the blogosphere, show them your art, send them a sample of the products and make friends. Tweet and Pin and to a lesser extent these days... post your lower resolution copies of the designs with a watermark featuring your shops URL. Relevancy is key. Do not send a dog design to a cat lovers site or group, keep it canine related. Join artists and design groups and communities but remember they that are competition and are after the same thing. Avoid sites like TshirtForum, TshirtCountdown. People on those sites rig the rankings by artificially voting for their own stuff and tend to only promote their own stuff, trying to get help or a link back to your stuff is not worth the costs or reciprocal links.
Should You Sponsor a Giveaway to Promote Your Tees?
A lot of people do giveaways and contests but this can get expensive and there are some legal issues that must be researched before doing this. For starters, a sweepstakes must be a "no purchase necessary to enter" type of deal, so you cannot exclude people that did not buy a tee from you. Also, the contest would need to be unbiased and monitored for fairness. Many people use Rafflecopter.com but people often don't enter their real contact info making it POINTLESS. Find an established site related to your design niche, make sure they did not buy their Facebook likes or fans, then offer to give away a prize to their readers. This will usually cost you a fee as well. But this is one of the most effective methods.
Should You Enter Design Contests to Get Your Tee Designs Out There?
You can submit artwork that you are fine with losing the rights to your artwork (depending on the contract chosen and its specific terms) to various T-shirt Design Contest sites such as Threadless or Shirt.Woot (Both have affiliate programs implemented as well)- You will get a decent amount of cash if your design is chosen. That will definitely get you noticed and build up your fanbase pretty quick. But the competition is brutal and you will be competing against professionals that have more than a few wins under their belts. The competition probably has the fanbase to vote for their designs as well, giving them the edge.
Persistence is the thing when it comes to successfully marketing your T-shirt designs. Keep trying. Just because you do not win or get chosen or make many sales does not mean you have been defeated.
Believe it or not, a lot of people will have the same design concept as you, more than likely before you actually do. Some may execute the idea better. Regardless, do not give up. Eventually, if your art and concepts are good you will get printed.