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Sponsored / Illustration

Thinking of printing illustrated merchandise? Here’s some helpful advice

It is no news that most creatives today are familiar with working only on screen. While the benefits of creating work digitally are endless, there is a certain satisfaction to holding a piece of your own work in your hands, even more so if you see someone walking down the street proudly displaying it in the form of some merchandise.

But, printing your own merchandise can be quite the daunting experience. What would you print and how many? What works best on a vinyl sticker or pin badge? And most importantly, would anyone buy it? Awesome Merchandise, a Leeds-based printers with over 500 merchandisable products to choose from, thoughtfully answer all of these questions and more, making the whole process a lot easier — we know this, we use them too.

There are many positives to creating some merchandise of your creative work. The first obvious benefit as Louise Fletcher from Awesome Merchandise points out is how “selling merch is gaining a source of income from your work,” she says. “Whether you’re just starting out and want to trial your merch with a run of ten notebooks, or you’re investing in a 100 custom t-shirts, you’ll soon see your profits pile up.”

Plus, once one item is seen by another, who knows how far it could go. “Your design could be seen by thousands of people in a t-shirt or tote’s lifetime,” says Louise. “They’re a walking canvas and an awesome advert for yourself.” This also creates a sense of community, which can broaden even more if you choose to sell items at print fairs, which is not only an opportunity to sell work, but also to meet customers and creatives from further afield.

One group of creatives who regularly utilise their digital work by printing it on merchandise is illustrators, who make up a large part of Awesome Merchandise’s customer base among the creatives they work with on a day-to-day basis. To illustrators of any drawing style Awesome Merchandise advise taking the time to really “think about your audience,” before jumping in. “Who are you selling to? You may think a neon green beanie is the next big thing, but will your fans agree?” To avoid making any mistakes, a trend the printers have noticed is the usefulness of social media in making a product choice. “Utilise your social media as a tool for research,” suggests Louise. “We often see our makers putting their potential designs and merch ideas to a poll on Instagram stories, or out to a Twitter poll. It’s an awesome way to gauge interest in your product before committing to an order.”

The printers also offer a helping hand to first-timers or more experienced creatives looking to try something new, they’re the professionals after all. “We don’t expect you to be an expert in creating merch, so don’t worry if you find the process confusing. We’re geeks about merchandise and are happy to chat with you about anything from artwork queries, to questions about our office dog, Dolly.” Awesome Merchandise also have your back on promoting your product, using their own social channels to share not just the finished product but the story of the product’s creation with its growing following. On top of this, the printers have additionally launched The Travelling Canvas, a collaborative project creating a tote each month with a different creative. The Travelling Canvas takes its product form in a tote, sent to thousands of its customers globally. The limited edition totes offer a fantastic opportunity to get your work through the letterboxes of new fans, and also “highlight the value of creating something worth holding on to in a world of disposable commodities.”

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Louise Lockhart, a Yorkshire-based illustrator also known under her moniker The Printed Peanut, is a regular user of Awesome Merchandise’s creative opportunities and a collaborator of its Travelling Canvas series. Now an established illustrator and Glasgow School of Art graduate with clients such as Heal’s, Boden and Liberty as well as working on her fourth children’s book, Louise explains that looking back on her first working days after graduating was “a bit daunting to start drawing on a blank piece of paper every day. It was a bit of eureka moment when I first twigged that I could apply my illustrations to merchandise to sell, which gave my designs a real focus and a purpose.”

Now, Louise’s online shop is jam-packed with goodies, and she enjoys “making everything, as long as I have variety, I’m happy”. Often working with paper cut-outs, pencil drawings and scanned textures, the illustrator describes her work as playful and tries to apply this approach to her merchandise too. “For example with the Awesome Merch Travelling Canvas I thought it would be fun for the print on the outside of the bag to be an insight into what may be inside of the bag,” she explains. An experienced printer, Louise also usually sticks to bold motifs as “on tote bags and t-shirts I like to be able to read the graphic from some distance”.

The illustrator uses Awesome Merchandise for a number of reasons. Firstly it’s local to where she works in Yorkshire (though it doesn’t matter if you’re not up North – they ship to all corners of the globe) and she holds the quality and ease of ordering the products in high regard: “When I do talks at art schools I always tell students to use them because it’s such a good way of having small runs of your designs made when you’re starting out.” The merchandise Louise chooses covers a large group, from children’s products “they are good little gifts under a fiver,” to vinyl stickers of her drawings which she sells the most. Similarly vinyl stickers are what we order from Awesome Merchandise for the illustrated stickers that come with each issue of Printed Pages, and are one of the most popular orders from illustrators too along with business cards and badges.

All three of these popular products also have “relatively low production costs involved,” explains Louise from Awesome Merch, who is seeing interest in the soft and hard enamel pins the printers launched last year. There is also a collectable element to badges and pins, making “them an attractive piece of merch, allowing both newbies and established players in the merch selling game to turn their designs into wearable, sellable art.” Other popular choices of merchandise for illustrators include notebooks, calendars, art prints, t-shirts and tote bags, which relays back to the joy of printing merchandise in the first place: "There’s that added bonus of seeing people walking down the street wearing something you’ve made”.

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