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Our goal is to help people display their wit through T-shirts and other self-expression products.

We ourselves offer many unique, witty designs, and for those occasions when nothing you find is quite right, we offer the following information about how to design your own T-shirts, have them printed for you, and offer them for sale on the web.

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How To Design Your Own T-shirts And Put Them On The Web

I have been selling my own T-shirts and other self-expression products over the web without having to maintain any inventory. In this article, I'll tell you how you can do it too. You can create something utterly unique for yourself, create something for your club or organization, and maybe find a self-financing hobby. Maybe you'll get rich selling them over the web. 

First, you will need an account at one of the  companies that will print the T-shirts for you and handle the sales, taxes, shipping, and returns. I use two such companies, CafePress.com and Printfection.com. It is easy to set up an account at either company — just go to the company's main page and follow the links and directions. They have the obvious web addresses: "http://www.cafepress.com/" and "http://www.printfection.com/" .
Once you have the account, you can set up a "shop." To see what the shops look like, look at my shop "www.CafePress.com/wittyexpression". Notice that the shop has sections that can have other sections within them. Generally, all the products with a particular design are placed in a section together. 

CafePress has two kinds of shops. If you open a free shop, you are limited to at most one design on any particular product in that shop.  If you pay them about $60 a year, you can have any number of designs per product. At Printfection, the shop is free and allows you to do what CafePress charges $60 for.

If you are just going to create a T-shirt or other product for yourself, or you are putting up a single design for your organization, you needn't pay anything at either place.

If you have a witty turn of phrase, you could just put the saying on your T-shirt.  How do you develop funny or wise sayings? I sometimes offer classes in the techniques, which doesn't help much unless you're in the Boulder, Colorado area. I'm preparing a book on the topic, and most of what will be in it is contained in my E-zines. You can read past issues of To Wit: An Ezine On How To Be a Wit at my toolsofwit.com site.

But though you could just put text on your T-shirts, good images will make them more attractive. You can do an image search on Google to find images on any subject you are likely to want, but you may need to license and pay for those images.  You can get free images from the federal government. They can't copyright their images. You as a taxpayer already paid for them.  (If you are not a US taxpayer, help yourself anyway.) Just do an advanced image search restricting the domain to ".gov".

Some of my favorite government image sites are listed in the next column. A directory of government image sites is at U.S. Government Photos and Graphics. You can also use click art. I use art from Dover Publications. It comes on CD-ROM with a book of images to look through.

You will need an image manipulation program. I use the GNU Image Manipulation Program, GIMP. It's free and anything but lame. However, I found it incomprehensible until I bought  Akkana Peck's Beginning GIMP: From Novice to Professional, Apress, 2006 ($50). There is a newer version on GIMP since Peck's book came out, but it's pretty close.

You will get templates from your host, CafePress or Printfection. They're just image files of the proper size. You load the proper template into GIMP for the product you are creating. It will form a background layer. You put the layers of your design on top of it. Then you delete the template, and save the design twice. You save it once as an .xcf file (GIMP's format). That lets you reload it and continue editing or tweaking it. You'll  also save it as an image that can be uploaded to your "image basket" on your host. I use .png format, but some others are available.  In the next column are some remarks about designing with GIMP.

When you get the design up on the host, you can create products for yourself and have them printed and sent to you. If you are doing a single design for your group, you can set up a small shop, put that design on many products, and let members order them. Setting that up doesn't cost anything either place. If you want to order many products, and you live in the Denver area, use Printfection.com; they are in northeast Denver, and you can arrange to pick up the order rather than paying to have them send it to you.

Now you are asking, "How do I make money from my designs?" It's not trivial. Basically, you need 

  1. A lot of customers

  2. who want what you're offering 

  3. andwho come to your site

  4. before they purchase at another site.

It is good to have a lot of people who are interested in the topic of your design, but smaller groups with more intense interest will also work.  I target part of my site at Unitarian Universalists, of whom there are less than 200,000. It is not a great market size.

It is better if the customers are in some coherent group who read the same zines or visit the same web sites or are on the same news groups. You can get the news to them that you are offering something they want. I have some designs that only a few scattered individuals might be interested in. I'm betting I won't sell any of them, but the designs were fun to do.

You may get some sales through the "market place" at your host, CafePress or Printfection. People go to the company web site, type in some key words, and look through a few of the pages of designs that come up. Alas, a lot of pages come up. For the keyword "love" at CafePress at 3:50MDT on 1/4/08, I got this message on the first page:  "1 - 30 of 655,000 designs on 19,200,000 products".  At Printfection, I'm told "11060 designs about love" and " Page 1 of 369". The single keyword "love" would not help anyone find your design, especially considering the hits are automatically sorted by most-popular-first, and yours haven't sold any yet.

Clearly, you shouldn't expect traffic to come your way  through the market place unless you can improve the odds by a good choice of key words. When you upload an image, you associate a list of key words with it. CafePress helps you find good keywords by telling you, as you type in keywords, how many times they were searched for yesterday and so far today.  Also, type in combinations of keywords in the host's market place. The more designs that come up, the less likely people are to find you in the noise.

You can also try to get hits through Google. For information on how search engines rank pages, go to Search Engine Watch. It offers useful information free, and more if you pay to become a member.  Webceo.com  offers a valuable collection of tools. You can get a minimal version free, and once you learn it, you'll probably want to upgrade.  There are a number of tools Google itself provides to improve your ranking. You'll need a free Google account to use them.  Many of them are associated with Google Adwords, a system that lets you bid on sponsored links for search phrases. You only pay for click-throughs to your site, and you can limit your maximum per day. 

There you have it, how to put your wit to work in the self-expression product industry. You can put it to work promoting your club or organization. You can try to make a living with it, but I cannot yet personally vouch that that will work. I am looking forward to getting my first check, maybe in March or April of 2008, and it will probably not pay me for the cost of my CafePress shop, let alone the Dover CD-ROMs, and certainly not my time. But my friends in Printfection report sending out $100,000 checks. Not to me thay haven't, but you may do better than I have.


How To Write Your Witty Own T-shirt Slogans

There are easy techniques for being witty. We have listed and described many of them on "How To Create Witty Sayings for T-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, titles, headlines, speeches, comedy, and literary sparkle."

For more information on the book, 
All Income, No Costs:
Sell Your T-shirts On The Web
by Thomas Christopher, PhD
click the image:

Cover image of How-to Tshirts book

Creating T-shirt Designs With GIMP:
Some Examples

For a text-only design, of course, you only need the text tool. There are two text fields here. The copyright notice is in much smaller font. Explore the fonts and see what appeals to you. I'm fond of script and italics that look like script. For italic, I'm fond of Calisto MT Italic and Calisto MT Bold Italic. For rough, hand-writing-like script, I like Rage Italic. For hand-printing-like text, I'm use Comic Sans MS Bold,Comic Sans MS, or Kristen ITC Semi-Expanded.

You'll need to experiment with font size. Seventy-two points is an inch (which doesn't help anyone outside the U.S.). Be careful when typing a new size into the text tool: many times I've accidentally replaced only part of  the size field, leaving a size in the hundreds or thousands. GIMP went catatonic until it finished resizing the text — or would have gotten it resized, if I hadn't pulled up the task manager and blown it away.

For this remark on intelligent design, I used a photo from the USDA (Department of Agriculture) Agriculture Research Service, two large text fields, plus a very small text field on the image for photo credit and copyright. 

You'll need to resize images to fit your design, but be careful. A jpeg image is like a pile of sand. To resize the image is to move pile. Every time you move the pile you lose a little sand and pick up a little dirt. When you are experimenting with different sizes, don't resize and then resize the resized image. Undo the last resizing  before you try the next size. Only resize the original image.

Often you will get an image that has a border you need to remove. Often you can just use the rectangular select tool, invert the selection, and clear. Another technique is to use the contiguous color area select tool, click in the border, and clear; however, be careful of three things: (1) Be sure the selection does not extend into the image itself. It might, if part of the image along the border is close to the same color. (2) There will probably be a ghost border along the edge of the original image that you will have to erase or clear in some other way. (3) There will likely thin halo left around remaining image you may still need to erase.

For most designs, I do two versions, one for light backgrounds and the other for dark. 

Printing on light backgrounds has a problem: As with ink-jet printers, white areas are transparent. The background color is allowed to show through to represent white. Print on green and the image turns green. On dark colors, however, white is printed on the fabric, so don't use white for transparent: use explicitly transparent areas.

The earth at night, I got from a NASA Mercator projection of the night-time earth. I had GIMP wrap it around a sphere (Filters > Map > Map object). The sunrise came from (Filters > Light and Shadow >Lens Flare) — it really looks like it has refractions in a camera lens.

When you are doing elaborate designs, be sure to save often. Perhaps my machine is under-powered, but GIMP occasionally goes catatonic with high CPU and kernel usage. I usually wait a little while and then blow it away.

For the flaming earth chalice, I took a NASA Mercator projection of the earth. I wrapped it around a cylinder (Filters > Map > Map object), flipped it sideways, shaped it into a chalice (Filters > Distorts > Curve bend), and flipped it back upright. The flames I got by a Google image search of .gov sites.

 When you've done a major piece of work, like shaping an earth map into a chalice, save a copy. You can also save a copy in the file you're editing by duplicating the layer it's on and setting the copy invisible. If you mess up later, you can back up.

Where To Get Images

Here are some links to places to get images to work with.

Government Image Sites

Click Art Sources

I get click art and paintings from Dover Publications. They offer books with CD-ROMs containing the art. I have used the following for paintings:

and these for drawings of human figures:

These I'm looking forward to acquiring:

For Unitarian Universalists

If you are a UU and would like to do a personal or congregational T-shirt with a simple chalice logo, you can get a chalice design through the UUA. Go to  http://archive.uua.org/CONG/chalices/