Make Nickels & Dimes & Quarters & Dollars Selling Ampersand T-Shirts

Helvetica Shirt
Used Under Creative Commons

You’ve probably seen someone wearing a shirt with a list of names on it, right? Maybe you saw someone in the grocery store wearing a T-shirt that read “Kirk & Spock & Uhura & Bones,” and thought “cool, that person likes Star Trek too!” Well, turns out it’s very easy to make — and sell — these shirts yourself.

A quick history of the ampersand shirt: In 2001, graphic design studio Experimental Jetset designed a plain yellow T-shirt with the words “John & Paul & Ringo & George” printed in black lettering. Since then, the design has become a meme, and many people make and sell their own ampersand T-shirts with various lists of names printed on them.

How about you? If you are looking for a quick and easy way to make and sell a popular T-shirt, an ampersand shirt might be the way to go. You don’t have to have any visual art skills; all you have to do is type a list of names. You don’t even need to invent the names yourself — simply choose a list of characters from pop culture, and you’re ready to make a hit T-shirt.

How to Design an Ampersand Shirt

Creating your design is simple. You need a plain-colored shirt with a list of names. Many ampersand shirts are black with white text, but that is not a strict rule; choose whatever color you want, as long as the text is easily visible.

Which font should you use? Well, these types of shirts are often called “Helvetica list T-shirts” or Helvetica shirts, so why not use Helvetica? If you are using a T-shirt store like Zazzle that does not offer Helvetica, choose a similar sans-serif font such as Futura or Folio. Look for a font that offers as little embellishment as possible; you want the names to speak for themselves.

Which names should you choose? It’s time to do some searching and figure out which popular TV shows, books and games have already been covered, and which might still be available for shirt-making. “Moony & Wormtail & Padfoot & Prongs,” for example, is pretty well saturated — but as of this writing, I still cannot purchase a “Nate & Sophie & Eliot & Hardison & Parker” shirt, and I’m probably not the only person who wants one.

Look for fandoms that are popular enough to have fans, and consider the nostalgia factor. Redbubble already has a Kristy & Claudia & Stacey & Mary Anne shirt for Baby-Sitters Club fans, for example, but what about the Saddle Club’s Carole & Stevie & Lisa?

Don’t forget about the details. The list is left-justified, and there should be no space between the name and the ampersand, as follows:

Jordan Catalano

How to Sell Your T-Shirts

You can choose from a couple of different ways to sell ampersand T-shirts online. You can either get a store like Spreadshirt, Zazzle, Teespring or District Lines to print and ship your T-shirts for you, or you can print and ship your own shirts, then sell them online on a site like Etsy. (Check out The Colorful Geek for a good example of an Etsy ampersand shirt store.)

If you don’t currently have a T-shirt screen printer in your basement, it’s probably best to go the Spreadshirt/Zazzle/Teespring/District Lines route. When I started making and selling T-shirts online four years ago, I tried both Spreadshirt and District Lines and liked District Lines’ quality much better. I’ve also placed bulk shirt orders through District Lines — the bulk shirt order is important if you plan to sell your shirts in person — and their customer service team is excellent.

Make your shirt easily searchable, so that people like me who type “Leverage ampersand shirt” into Google find your store right away. Remember that these shirts are called both “ampersand shirts” and “Helvetica list shirts,” so if you have the opportunity to write product copy or tag your item, include both terms in the description and tags.

In addition to making your shirt search-engine-friendly, don’t forget to publicize it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and any other social media sites you regularly frequent! Every friend who clicks your link and buys your shirt is one more sale.

Whether you use a service like Spreadshirt or make your own, you can also sell your ampersand T-shirts in person. Consider selling these shirts at a dealer’s table at a comic or sci-fi convention; print shirts that are likely to attract buyers, like Steve & Tony & Bruce & Natasha & Clint & Thor, and see how quickly they sell.

A Note On Pricing

As with any item you plan to sell, you need to make sure that you are making a profit on every single sale. When you sell shirts through services like Spreadshirt or District Lines, the company takes a cut of the cost of production and gives you what is left over. This means that if you charge $15 for a shirt, you aren’t going to get the entire $15.

Many shirt stores make it easy for you by telling you how much profit you’ll earn on each shirt. You’ll be able to quickly see that you might make $2.31 on a $15 shirt and $5.31 on an $18 shirt, for example. Then you can choose a price point that makes sense to you.

You are free to charge whatever you want, but make sure you pick a price that people are willing to pay — $18 for a T-shirt feels much more reasonable than $40, for example. Take a look around the site and see what other people are charging for similar shirts, and then price yours competitively.

Ampersand T-shirts are part of contemporary pop culture, so have fun mixing and remixing the original shirt design into something people might want to buy. At the very least, you’ll quickly find out how many Leverage or Saddle Club or My So-Called Life fans are out there!

Your Turn: Which list of names would you want to turn into an ampersand shirt?

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