How I Design Band Merch That People Actually Want to Buy

May 4, 2015

Everyone loves seeing their favorite band live—feeling the music pound through giant speakers, singing beloved lyrics with hundreds of strangers, and picking out the perfect band t-shirt to commemorate the show.

Music has the power to unite us.

When it comes to designing merchandise for bands, it’s my job to help bridge the gap between the music and the audience. With five years in the design industry under my belt, I’ve learned to strike a delicate balance between the needs of the band and their fan base’s desires.

I work with bands to find the best creative direction for their merchandise. To make this happen, I’ve developed a streamlined process that allows me to work effectively, which in turn will get your band merch to fly off the table at your next show.

So you want your fans to have awesome t-shirts to wear? But where do you start? Finding the right designer for your band merch can be a headache. Every designer is different, which makes the design process like a box of chocolates. So even if you do find a designer whose work you love, you never know what to expect.

Below I will show you the 4-step design process I use to create band merch from scratch. This process will leave a positive, lasting impression on your fans and transform your band merch into something they want to get their hands on.

Step 1: Questionnaire

I start every project with a questionnaire – whether it’s for a custom logo or t-shirt design. This questionnaire allows me to gain an understanding of the project and begins the process of establishing goals.

While having complete creative freedom might sound ideal for a designer, I find it helpful to have some sort of direction from clients. In most projects, I inquire what direction the client would like to take stylistically with the merchandise, and if there are any new ideas that they’d like to explore. I then identify what’s important, and the ideas that should be reflected in the new band merchandise.

Sometimes you don’t always know what you want, so it’s my job to create visuals to accompany your music, and to create it with the same passion you have for your work.

Ultimately, the purpose of the questionnaire is to get to know you and your band, see how passionate you are about the project and my work specifically, and to get us on the same page and set up for success.

Step 2: Research

Once you and I have an understanding for what’s needed, I determine the best approach for the project. I familiarize myself with your goals and take a deeper look into your target audience as well as any similar bands.

One thing I love about designing for the music industry is the similarities between the music and the art side of what I do. Some songs give a specific vibe, which can influence color, texture, and overall feel of the design.

In most cases, I’m not the first designer creating for the band, so typically there’s already an established brand. It’s my job to progress from that and improve upon it.

I’ll research what’s already been done. Take notes on what you’re drawn to, and keep in mind what your fans like. Then I decide how I can translate your needs into visual graphics.

Step 3: Sketching

After researching and noting all the important details, I’ll jump into my sketchbook to flesh out ideas quickly. The time it takes to move a pencil on paper is much quicker than manipulating points with the Pen Tool in Illustrator.

Sketching Band Merch

I’ll take this time to get all possible ideas in my head, and put them onto paper. The first thing that pops into my mind, I’ll draw it. The first thing you mention that sparked a thought, I’ll draw it.

I try to exhaust every possibility at this point.

Narrowing down concepts

After I’ve got all of my ideas onto paper, it’s time to narrow down the best options. The benefit of laying these ideas out is that I can clearly see which stand out.

Depending on how many designs I have to submit, I’ll pick the ones that I’m most excited about—the ones that achieve your goals.

Step 4: Design

With the chosen ideas, I immediately hop into Illustrator. If there are any pre-established assets, like logos, photos, etc. I’ll dump them in to use at my disposal.

The design process can go in many directions depending on the goals. I may start with some basic shapes, then manipulate those with text, or I’ll sketch out a design in detail, hand letter the design, scan, and manipulate that within Illustrator.

Designing Band Merch in Illustrator

Once I’ve played around with fonts, custom type, illustrations, and other elements within the design, I then establish a color relationship. This is where I find the right balance between objects that work best together.

Finalizing in Photoshop

Texturing Band Merch in Photoshop
T-Shirt Texture

With the vector design from Illustrator, I’ll most often finalize it within Photoshop, giving it textures and separating colors using the Magic Wand Tool. Most printers can separate the colors themselves, but I like to save them time and deliver a clean file.

Mocking Concepts

Band Merch Design Mockup

With the artwork finalized, I’ll then place it on a photo realistic t-shirt mockup so both you and I can really envision the design for its intended purpose.

If you're a graphic designer looking for photorealistic t-shirt mockups, check out my tri-blend t-shirt mockup tool!

How does all of this make your fans want to buy your band merch?

When it comes to your merch – especially t-shirts – you don’t want to skimp on quality.

Your merch represents your music directly and publicly. Because of this, you should want to be known for quality – both in your music and merch.

There are four types of fans with a reason to buy your merch:

  • Supporters – friends and family that want to see you succeed
  • Local Fans – people that want a souvenir to remember you by
  • General Public – people that share true interest in your music
  • True Fans – people willing to buy almost anything you put out

So how can you target each of these fan groups and sell more merch?

Focus on the quality and design of your products. If you want to sell more merch, you have to give fans something worth owning.

That’s where I come in.

Working with me

Are you interested in working with a passionate, experienced professional? One who’s dedicated to meeting your goals and designing band merch that your fans actually want to buy? If that's something you’re willing to invest in, then we’ll work wonderfully together.

To work with me on your new merch designs, simply take the first step and fill out my questionnaire. Then I’ll be in touch to further discuss your goals.

Start Your T-Shirt Project →

See my latest work and more on Instagram @BrentGalloway