Cartoon art printed on T-Shirts looks fantastic. T-Shirts are the perfect vehicle for a well executed cartoon, both a walking billboard and personal endorsement from the wearer. Screen printing inks are bright and dynamic, with great color saturation, perfect for cartoon and comic art.
Visualizing the Cartoon T-Shirt Project
For cartoonists, it's worth considering the intent of your T-Shirt project. Is your T-Shirt idea connected to a particular character, book or ongoing series? Do you plan to create a T-Shirt to sell to fans of your work, or do you envision an entire line of T-Shirts directed at a particular market? Or is your T-Shirt project part of your marketing and branding? A T-Shirt created for a specific event can sell very well, but risk may be involved. In some cases, you might create a cartoon or a design for a client who wants to print it on T-Shirts.Visualize the color of shirt your design will print on, and what style of shirt. There are literally dozens to choose from, including kids, adults, longsleeves, hoodies and womens fitted styles. The basic cotton T-Shirt comes in dozens of colors. Do you see a full front design, or a smaller iconic design centered on the front of the shirt? Consider printing on both sides, sleeves, or over the left chest.
How many ink colors will you use? A dramatic ink color on a dark shirt can impressive, but so can full color printing. With multi-color shirts, consider whether to design using spot colors, or CMYK four color process. As a rule of thumb, I recommend spot color for screen printing projects. You get a more dynamic shirt with a lot of punch.
It is possible, of course, to do successful CMYK shirts. It's best with bold images with a strong composition and contrasts. The key is to work with a printer who knows how to generate a high quality set of color separations for T-Shirt process printing. Process printing can be done on any color shirt, but looks best on white shirts.
Marketing & Profitability
How do you plan to market, distribute and sell you shirt? Cartoonists typically sell at comics shows, openings and events, to friends and fans, via Diamond Comics (and other distributors), retail stores and on the web. Remember that stores and distributors will want to buy the shirt at a discount of 50% or more off the retail price. Web selling can be greatly enhanced if you mail a newsletter to a regular list of subscribers. Spreading the word with press releases, blog and social network posts can help get the word out too.
If you are financing a run of T-Shirts yourself, it's probably best to start small with two to four dozen shirts. If you have an aggressive marketing plan and a proven character or design, you can order larger quantities with confidence. It depends on your intent with the T-Shirt. If you want to make a profit with an unknown design, a short run is better. If you see the shirt as a marketing/branding project for a new character or book, and want to at least break even, you may be comfortable ordering a larger quantity.
The holiday season is great for cartoon T-Shirt projects, as there are many opportunities to sell and market shirts. People are looking for affordable gifts. Retailers need eye catching items, and there are ample gift and craft show opportunities at the holidays, and you can always promote a studio sale.
In the case of doing a design for a client, they will pay for the T-Shirt project. The cartoonist must consider how much to charge for the design, and whether they want to handle the printing and take a mark up on the shirts, or simply let the client deal with the printer. Typical T-Shirt clients might include bands, restaurants, schools, events, and retailers.
Pricing your Shirt
Check prices of screen printed T-Shirts at comic shops, online and at general retail stores. Forget about Target and Walmart, you can't compete price wise with offshore labor! A cool cartoon T-Shirt can retail for $15-20 dollars. That can go up or down, depending on the situation. I print for some tourist retailers in the Newport Rhode Island area who sell basic printed Ts for $20 - 25, basically getting what the traffic will bear.
A wholesale order of cartoon T-Shirts can run from about five bucks a shirt (for white shirts) and up, depending on the quantity, shirt color and number of ink colors. Certainly, you can do an order of dark color shirts with one or two ink colors of ink for a very reasonable price. Of course, as the quantity goes up, the unit price goes down. On the other hand, it is often best to just start with a couple dozen shirts if you are on a budget and are not sure of your market.