Geek-centric t-shirt parody is a big business. There are more sites than I care to list here that sell tees referencing pop culture properties that fall somewhere between fair-use provisions and the not-profitable-enough-to-sue sweet-spot. I, desperately seeking some sense of community on this thing we call the Internet, have spent some time talking with cotton-artists and have even submitted a few designs of my own. Spoiler alert, I’m not quitting my day job. Nevertheless, it has been fun thinking of jokey ideas and omages to the fiction I love and a little passive income never hurts. For anyone else interested in getting into the already overcrowded niche, here’s a few places to sell your wares and buy other people’s ware to, um, wear.
These are websites that feature a shirt or three to feature for a limited amount of time--usually one day. This gives artists more visibility than they would likely get on their own page in exchange for a percentage of the sales. Once the limited time is up, artists are free to continue selling their designs elsewhere in cases in which there isn’t some exclusivity deal or anther unusual contract is made. Teefury and RiptApparel seem to be the biggest draws for this model. Some shirt-a-day sites have their own theme like Teevillain selling mostly bad-guy stuff, ZebraTees which only prints in black and white, and BlueBoxTees that deals in Dr. Who designs (for which there are many.) Others include Qwertee, ShirtPunch, TeeGlobe, and Unamee. It’s worth noting that there are so many good artists submitting stuff these days, there is a decent chance that you won’t find a shirt-a-day home for all your work. Designs are chosen either by curator judgement or public voting. In the case of Woot.com, you can pick your poison.
Indie Artist Print-on-Demand Stores
These stores print shirts in orders as small as one-at-a-time as they are sold. Anyone can set up their own store on their own site using their own printer, but if you want to be part of a network of stores and don’t like overhead, look to RedBubble, Society6 and TeePublic, the last of which especially embraces pop-parodies. Most the designs that were once sold on shirt-a-day sites end up on one of these sites. Also, many shirts that didn’t make the cut on those sites can still be sold here so quality is a mixed bag. Redbubble and Society6 offer your designs for sale on more than just shirts if you so choose. A little more pedestrian, but still popular are other print-on-demand stores like CafePress, Zazzle, and Spreadshirt.
Other stuff that kinda applies.
There seems to be more ways to sell art on demand everyday, so expect this list to be out-of-date tomorrow. A couple stand-out sites that defy the classification above are 6 Dollar Shirts and Cotton Bureau. 6 Dollar Shirts is a site for pretty simple designs with few colors that can be printed on the cheap in order to sell for just $6. The art is voted on and, if selected, the artist wins a $400 prize (plue $100 store credit) instead of a percentage of the sales. Cotton Bureau sets an amount of shirts that need to sell in order for any of them to actually get printed. It’s more like the crowd funding model for shirts that focus on tech and typography.
And, of course, a geeky t-shirt post wouldn’t be complete with a mention of Threadless. Threadless has some pop culture parody stuff, but it also has everything else. The art is selected via voting on contests which are often themed. Sometimes the contests even legitimize our desire to work off existing properties with the blessing of the property itself. There have been Simpsons contests, Captain America contests, The Incredibles contests, as well as contests with artistic themes like minimalism and high contrast. A less known but similarly well-done site is Design By Humans which works much the same way.
I suspect some of these sites will get more popular and others will go out of business--just as some artists will be able to make this a full-time thing and the vast majority of others will find more efficient ways to make money. Personally, I've been featured on a couple shirt-a-day sites and run a Teepublic and Redbubble store which earns me a super-modest (yet welcome) passive income.