How to design merchandise for your business

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

We chatted with Tristan LeBreton, Creative Director at 99designs by Vista, for tips on creating merchandise for your small business. Read on for his merchandise design tips, as well as some of our advice on how to make your own merch. 

Branded merch isn’t just for bands on tour. Small businesses can also take advantage of this idea by creating unique merchandise for their customers. Not only does it give people a chance to support you in a different way, it also benefits your business by creating additional revenue and spreading brand awareness. It also allows you to build up a cohesive look and feel across your products.

Read on for more design tips, ideas on how to make your own merch and the benefits that good merchandise can bring to your business.

What is merchandise?

Merchandise – or merch, for short – is a selection of products a brand can sell that supports the business without necessarily having to be that business’ main product offering. For example, a restaurant that also sells T-shirts – think Hard Rock café shirts.

Originally associated with marketing to a particular fan base, merch is most often thought of in relation to bands, events and film franchises. Often, bands going on tour will sell related merch like T-shirts, posters and accessories with designs that appeal to the audience.

However, merch is for more than just music and film fans. People like to show off their loyalty or preference for certain brands, and this is no different for small businesses. If people love shopping with you, they’ll likely purchase merchandise to show off their support, especially if that product is something they can wear or use, like a shirt or a bag.

What should you consider when designing your own merchandise?

Tristan explains; “branded merch is about more than just creating an additional revenue stream for your business. It’s an opportunity to nurture important emotional connections with customers and create a community around your brand.

“Therefore it’s important to nail down who you are as a brand, who your customers are and what you want to communicate to them. This will help you create a merch design that is authentic to your brand and that will resonate with your customers. It will also help you narrow in on the type of merch to choose so you create something that not only looks good, but that your target audience finds valuable.”

For example, a café catering to students could offer a travel mug as a practical piece of merch. The customer can use it again and again, all while showing off the business that created it. The café could even offer a discount on their drinks if they bring in the reusable mug to get filled.

Another example could be a shop that specialises in eco-friendly products offering a custom tote bag that’s made of natural materials, which would show off their brand as well as their – and their customer’s – values.

“Time and context are also important factors to consider,” says Tristan. “A piece of merch you create for a one-off event serves a different purpose to one you intend to make a part of your permanent offering. But even so, merch is much more permanent than a social post or video. The message that you put on a T-shirt needs to be true to your brand as it could hang around for a long time. So be really comfortable with what you’re putting on people!”

What can you do with merch?

Creating merch is about building up your fanbase. It works for bands on tour, and it can work for your business, too. People want to support the people, causes and brands they love, and merchandise is a great way to show this off.

You can sell your branded merchandise in your shop or online for those that love what you do. But there are also other opportunities for using your merch. One idea is to create branded giveaways for loyal customers and followers. These can be smaller items like pens or keyrings that can be ordered in bulk and handed out at events as promotional items. It makes you memorable and gives people a reminder of your business.

Merch can also be a great thank you gift for both employees and customers. You could include some merchandise for a loyal customer, or just to show some appreciation to your hard-working team.

What kind of designs work best for T-shirts? What about tote bags and smaller items?

“There are no hard and fast rules about what designs work best on different types of merch, however, you want to consider how the design you choose may look at different scales,” explains Tristan. “For example, detailed designs may look great on larger surface areas like T-shirts and totes where you can truly appreciate their intricacies, but they may not translate well onto smaller items like caps or mugs.

An option to consider is a more responsive design that can ‘shape-shift’ in size, complexity or even colour to adapt to wherever it’s placed, while remaining in keeping with the original design.”

To create a design that’s able to work across different products, working with a professional designer is a great option. They’ll ensure the design will work where you need it to, so you can concentrate on your business.

VistaPrint Tip

Ready to create some merch? Work with a professional designer to help you get your look just right. Check out 99designs by Vista

“When working with your designer, it’s recommended to have an idea of where you want to use your design. This will both help their creative process and enable them to design something that’s suitable for the size, material and colour you intend to print it on. For example, T-shirt designs are often printed in colour layers. The more complex the colours the pricier it will be too, so aim for simplicity and quality.”

Should people just add their logo to merch? What else can they do?

“Great merch is about so much more than adding your logo to a T-shirt or a tote bag. It’s an opportunity to get creative and play around with other elements that showcase your brand personality. Whether that’s an illustration of a brand mascot that is well-loved by customers, or incorporating a catchphrase that is synonymous with your brand using creative typography.”

Being creative with your merch designs also allows you to build up your brand design eco-system for your business. After all, a good brand is more than just a logo, it’s the colours, style, tone of voice and shopping journey that all work together to create an experience that your customers fall in love with. And merchandise that aligns to those brand values and design is all part of the package.

“At the end of the day, you’re creating a physical piece of your brand for customers or your team to take home with them, so it should be something they will feel proud to represent.”