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Metapost: Merch ‘n’ tech

Do not think that the clamor for a “MARGO! BOXCAR! SATURN!” t-shirt, using the fab graphic from faithful reader willethompson, has gone unnoticed by yours truly. I have been dithering because I am in something of a fit of minor disillusionment with CafePress. I don’t want to bad-mouth them because they have allowed me to sell merch without having to have any experience or expertise in item-creation, and without needing to keep an inventory. But their user interface is a bit clunky, and the color choices are a bit limited, and I only make $1 or $2 per item sold — I wonder if I couldn’t do better. So I’d like to open up this thread to anyone who has any suggestions on places that would make t-shirts and other related crapola. My goal would be to (a) not have to have a big inventory (since I almost never sell more than 10 or 15 of any particular item) (b) perhaps be a little better quality than CafePress’s digital printing process, with more colors available and better integration between logo colors and shirt colors, and (c) make a bit more per item than $2. This may be a pipe dream, and if so, I’m happy to stick with CafePress, but I did think I’d ask to see if anyone had any better ideas.

Also: I’m about to upgrade WordPress, the software that runs this site. You shouldn’t see any changes; all that should happen behind the scenes. Let me know if you encounter any problems.

Update: OK, that seemed to work — after a harrowing thirty seconds or so where all the blog content went away, that is. Ugh. Let me know if you see any other problems.

55 responses to “Metapost: Merch ‘n’ tech”

  1. willethompson
    March 1st, 2007 at 4:53 pm [Reply]

    Experienced graphics monkey (aka me) is on the case! Just let me get my snake and my explorer…

  2. anne
    March 1st, 2007 at 4:55 pm [Reply]

    I just got my Aldomania mug & Boat Wrestling hoodie in the mail last night, and I was elated. I did want to mention that the writing was a bit small on both; you can barely read the “Mary Worth – August 1? 2006″ part on the mug, or the “ALSO, CHEMISTRY” line on the hoodie. But they’re both great.

    Bummer that you don’t see very much $ from the purchase. I’ll have to click on some ads or something.

  3. Josh
    March 1st, 2007 at 4:58 pm [Reply]

    OK, this is a test to make sure the commenting facility is still working…


  4. Techinin
    March 1st, 2007 at 5:06 pm [Reply]

    Josh, just a tiny personal request, shouldn’t be too much trouble… don’t forget that the new merch site also has to be able to make my green felt Chennux doll. Nothing fancy, of course, but cuddly and big enough to instill fear and envy in others.

  5. Old Fogeyette
    March 1st, 2007 at 5:18 pm [Reply]

    Josh, I’ve never seen any merchandise-place but CafePress, but they seem to be so successful there must be copycats.

    I would definitely buy a soft fuzzy Chennux figure, though I’m not sure how I would explain it to my husband.

  6. JRM
    March 1st, 2007 at 5:19 pm [Reply]

    Josh, have you looked at I don’t know how much you make per item, but they have more t shirt styles available and the user interface is much better.

  7. willethompson
    March 1st, 2007 at 5:34 pm [Reply]

    Man, I’d love to get the Chennux art into something 3-D, but somehow I think a sweatshop in Bangladesh gets involved if you want it for something under $100 – and you’d have to order a couple thousand at least….and then ol’ G. E. Lizardface would get the magmacannon warmed up and I’ve had ENOUGH of that, thenkyewveddymuch!

  8. John
    March 1st, 2007 at 5:36 pm [Reply]

    Try topatoco. As a bonus, you’ll actually be working with a real, live comics artist whose comics are actually funny. Dang funny, in my opinion. … You know, funny on purpose. I think it’s a new thing the kids are trying.

  9. John
    March 1st, 2007 at 5:38 pm [Reply]

    That topatoco was supposed to be a link. Dang you modern html!! Anywho, try Also, to be clear, I have nothing to do with the the site, other than having read his work since the beginning days of “When I Grow Up”

  10. Mac
    March 1st, 2007 at 5:42 pm [Reply]

    I have been told that is much better quality and variety with more pricing options, but I was told that by someone who works for them, so take it for what it is worth.

  11. willethompson
    March 1st, 2007 at 5:43 pm [Reply]

    just looked at and I don’t see where they could do a ‘full’ color image (like the Margo shirt) for less than CafePress.

  12. Sprocket Widget
    March 1st, 2007 at 5:44 pm [Reply]

    I went back and read some of the archived pages, and since you’ve upgraded WordPress your posts are now about 12% more funny, 3% less whimsical, but a whopping 75% more snarky.

    All in all, I’d say it was a good upgrade.

  13. SmartPeopleOnIce
    March 1st, 2007 at 5:56 pm [Reply]

    Josh, ever consider bumperstickers? Many of the on-line sites have no minimum and pretty fast turn-around.

  14. Mr. O'Malley
    March 1st, 2007 at 6:11 pm [Reply]

    Talking about merchandising, I wonder if Michael Patterson’s publisher has received his outline of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf yet.

    Sorry, I forgot, he doesn’t need outlines, he just sends in a unedited first draft and he’s done.

  15. amutepiggy
    March 1st, 2007 at 6:23 pm [Reply]

    hello Josh, long-time lurker. only piping up with something maybe helpful. have you looked at Brunetto T-Shirts? i think the URL is here:

    i don’t know what they have in terms of options, or how they are for pricing, but they are used by many of my favorite web comics: toothpaste for dinner, white ninja, exploding dog.

  16. Kate
    March 1st, 2007 at 6:24 pm [Reply]

    I’m very happy with the quality of their cards — somewhat more with the art than with the photos, which are frequently faded out — and the one t-shirt I made through them came out quite nicely. You can control the lettering sizes on everything.

    Don’t know what kind of kickback you’d get, though.

  17. cinephile
    March 1st, 2007 at 6:25 pm [Reply]

    Ok, I know this is from the earlier comments link, but I haven’t read them until now, and I just have to ask:

    Are we entirely certain Lynn Johnston isn’t in on her own ridiculousness? That this isn’t just deadpan self-parody?:

    “In my mind, I’m living in novel number two. It’s about a cook on a windjammer. He’s 23 and this is his first job. He’s peeling potatoes and he’s a lot like myself. Heading out into unknown territory, hoping he’ll survive.”

    Good lord, that sounds like the new Paul Haggis show! Even for LJ, this is a new low of silliness. However, if that is Mike’s new book, I vote for Poteet’s “Eat My Spray” as its title.

  18. Kat
    March 1st, 2007 at 6:27 pm [Reply]

    Crap. Try this:

    The URL picked up the period I put in there and barfed.

  19. Squid Countess
    March 1st, 2007 at 6:39 pm [Reply]

    Re: 3D CHENNUX – What about an after-market kit? People would buy the plush grey Godzilla linked to earlier. Then they would get the CHENNUX MODIFYING KIT 3000. It contains an angry, bold but stylin’ cape; an attachable/detachable (w/velcro) skrkxxzort (you know what I mean, even if I can’t spell…it); sparklers, which are really magmacannons because they are as big as CHENNUX so shut up; and, perhaps I’m speaking only for myself, here – a syrup bucket. I think I could do that. At least once.

  20. fizzy logic
    March 1st, 2007 at 6:51 pm [Reply]

    #19 – Squid Countess – Excellent idea! An aftermarket Chennux package.

    Where could we find the little people fleeing in terror?

  21. kate
    March 1st, 2007 at 6:53 pm [Reply]

    #20, fizzy logic:

    I gotcher little people fleeing in terror right here:

  22. fizzy logic
    March 1st, 2007 at 7:05 pm [Reply]

    Kate, that is TOO FUNNY!

    Archie McPhee is within walking distance of my house. I should have known they would have little people fleeing in terror. Hell, they should have a Chennux with Magmacannon (non-fuzzy). I even have one of their action figures here in my office (it was a gift). You’re brilliant for thinking of them.

  23. PeteMoss
    March 1st, 2007 at 7:14 pm [Reply]

    12. Sprocket Widget. At the very least, Comment of the Thread As Of This Post, or COTTAOTP!

  24. Foobar
    March 1st, 2007 at 7:16 pm [Reply]

    Screen them yourself. Buy some hip blank shirts, some screenprinting equipment and you’re set. Rad!

  25. Kate
    March 1st, 2007 at 7:17 pm [Reply]

    #22, fizzy logic –

    YOU ARE WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE OF ARCHIE MCPHEE?? Excuse me while I roll around stabbing myself. When I visit my parents in Seattle, I make a pilgrimage there. I come back with sushi wastebaskets. My husband does not understand. I don’t care. I have their Populuxe shower curtain up right now.

    Wow wow wow. Walking distance. WOW.

  26. SmartPeopleOnIce
    March 1st, 2007 at 7:23 pm [Reply]

    #19 (CSquid) And its GOTTA have a pull-string voice thingy!

    Cower, as the mighty CHENNUX commands: Magmacannons to 11!

    Dance, as the mighty CHENNUX bellows: More syrup, mules!

    Ponder, as the mighty CHENNUX eludes cross-examination: Skrkxxzorter? I don’t even know her!

  27. Trotzenbonnie
    March 1st, 2007 at 7:23 pm [Reply]

    #21 – Kate
    Thank you thank you thank you for that link! Now I know where my sister finds all of my birthday presents! I can’t wait to send her the sideshow lobster boy as payback for the sushi air freshener she sent me (don’t even ask why.)

  28. fizzy logic
    March 1st, 2007 at 7:42 pm [Reply]

    #25 – Kate, if you ever need a fix, just let me know – I’ll go and just take pictures for you if you just need a little atmosphere. They converted the liquor store next door into their annex, so now they have two stores right next to each other…I don’t know how recently you’ve visited. Or how recently I’ve been there, either. Maybe the annex isn’t open anymore.

    I guess it’s like anything close, you don’t appreciate it as much as the out-of-town visitors do. At least you have an excuse to visit with your parents in town.

  29. Meth
    March 1st, 2007 at 7:46 pm [Reply]


  30. Poteet
    March 1st, 2007 at 7:47 pm [Reply]

    # 17 — BWAHAHAHAHA! Cinephile, I spit water on my keyboard but it was worth it. The thought had just occurred to me that we might want to start thinking of titles for Michael’s new novel, and yours is outstanding. I’m so honored:-).

  31. PeteMoss
    March 1st, 2007 at 7:49 pm [Reply]

    28. fizzy logic, I was in Seattle at Thanksgiving and, being a tourist, my brother took me there. The annex was open then. I actually bought a couple of neck ties there for a buck each. I saw those little panicky guys, too. I almost bought a big, rubber alligator but was concerned about getting it through security at the airport.

  32. Kate
    March 1st, 2007 at 7:54 pm [Reply]

    Fizzy Logic — oh thank you. Yes, the annex is still open, or at least it was a couple of years ago. I’m glad to know they converted it from a liquor store.

    My sister and I make our biennial pilgrimage and come away laden with glow-in-the-dark centipedes and Ganesh lunchboxes; we just mail ‘em to ourselves so we don’t have to explain the situation to airport security.

  33. PeteMoss
    March 1st, 2007 at 8:00 pm [Reply]

    29. Thanks, Meth, now we’re gonna get about 212 posts in the next three minutes. Back to the trailer in the desert with you!!

  34. fizzy logic
    March 1st, 2007 at 8:05 pm [Reply]

    #33 Kate – Oh, but don’t worry, a new & improved liquor store is now open only blocks away. In case you need to stock up to/from the store.

    I really should stop by McPhee’s this weekend to see what’s going on.

  35. fizzy logic
    March 1st, 2007 at 8:07 pm [Reply]

    #31 – PeteMoss – Big rubber alligators are a security violation? What ever happened to our civil rights?

  36. Squid Countess
    March 1st, 2007 at 8:33 pm [Reply]

    #17 Cinephile/Poteet- Yes! Yes! Yes! “Eat My Spray” is the perfect title for Michael’s new book! I don’t care if he drops the whole seafaring angle.
    I don’t care if the book becomes an epic about a poorly-conceived character in the Napoleanic wars or a thriller about a poorly-conceived character in the Columbian drug trade, “Eat My Spray” has legs, baby.

  37. Pigeonrat
    March 1st, 2007 at 9:10 pm [Reply]

    Josh: If you’re considering selling/sending the stuff yourself, you might want to consider something like Television Without Pity’s “Now or Never” merchandise. They’ll have a t-shirt available for one month only, but they don’t have the shirts made until after the month is over, so they know how many shirts have been sold and they don’t end up with a lot of extras.

  38. cinephile
    March 1st, 2007 at 9:25 pm [Reply]

    Poteet and SquidCountess,
    Thanks! As you are two of the funniest posters (on a page with lots of funny folks), I feel honored by your feeling honored. (:

  39. Gabe
    March 2nd, 2007 at 12:11 am [Reply]

    I will say my Cafepress sweatshirt was a bit cheap and started to fade/get fuzzies pretty quick. If you have the means/time, switch to a better company. Thinkgeek’s merchandise is generally decent.

  40. Gadge Cubic, Mole Preener
    March 2nd, 2007 at 12:14 am [Reply]

    #2 Anne (not that I have any other Annes before you): As the designer of the Boat Wrestling merch, I apologize for the teensiness of the “also chemistry” bit – but I wanted it smallish, so you’d kinda have to squint to read it – and then be puzzled, and realize you’d just come far too close to a total stranger BOAT WRESTLER just to read his t-shirt. Not only am I the designer – I’m also the model.

    Yes, I am fabulous. Worship me, now. (I mean, of course, after all Chennux-related duties have been attended to.)

    Josh: am I misremembering, or does the new doohickey like to underline questionably-spelled words? It really should learn key terms like “Chennux” and “skrxcritort”…

  41. Poteet
    March 2nd, 2007 at 12:20 am [Reply]

    # 36 & # 38 — Golly, cinephile and Squid Countess, you two are just so funny and nice (sniff). I feel honored all over again.

    And just think, Mike’s April letter could bring news about how his young sea chef has found out that the cabin boy is actually a girl in disguise named Sheiloogh, and at night they climb into the huge shipboard apple barrel together and take off their clothes, and…umm, never mind.

  42. Sprocket Widget
    March 2nd, 2007 at 12:41 am [Reply]

    Gabe, #39

    Yes, but are they WARM? You know, the fuzzies. If so, I’ll order a gross of them, I could use some good vibes.

    A gross warm fuzzie… is that when your Plugger Grandma hugs you and your face is buried in her ample and sweaty bosom but you kind of like it, being a repressed 13 year old and all, so you don’t pull away but deeply inhale the smell of talcum power and Jean Nate’ that you find there until the moment becomes uncomfortable in so many ways?

  43. Sprocket Widget
    March 2nd, 2007 at 12:43 am [Reply]

    23 PeteMoss,

    *blushing* Aw, shucks, thanks for the warm fuzzie. The good kind, not the repressed memory kind. You made my day (really!)

  44. Andy3000
    March 2nd, 2007 at 1:29 am [Reply]

    Oh crap, I drunkenly bought Licorice and Margo Warhol shirts last night. Sorry, Josh, if I’d known you were browsing for a better deal, I would have held off and bought drunkenly once it was more in your favor.

    Don’t do anything drastic until I drunkenly buy a Boat Wrestling shirt.

  45. NotThatGuy
    March 2nd, 2007 at 1:39 am [Reply]

    Hmmm, zazzle has a 10% commission on sales (presuming they set the mark-up?) and spreadshirt fixes a base price and allows you to sell merchandise at whatever the market will bear above that (which looked, to my eye, about a couple bucks/item, but probably not more than a couple bucks.) I didn’t look at the terms of sale, if one had a better payment plan than another.

    Basically, what CafePress (and zazzle and spreadshirt) are doing is taking the burden off both production and distribution– you don’t need inventory, or credit cards, or a resale license, you just design and let them handle the rest of it. So basically, you’re comparing what they have to offer with production — someone upthread mentioned color processes, as with the Finger-Quotin’ Margo shirt, types of products, available colors, etc– and balancing that with what their distribution process is– spreadshirt uses Paypal exclusively and make deposits monthly, for example.

    It doesn’t look, from my cursory glances, that Josh is going to make a whole lot more from another site UNLESS they have significantly cooler and more desirable products and at a lower cost to appeal to more buyers. His dollars/item is going to be about the same, so the advantage would be for selling more and/or getting paid in a more timely manner, and/or having a different payment process.

    Josh could also do the prepaid orders, but he’d have to have a way to process the money if he’s not using a prefab shop site. There are ways to do this (I think Quickbooks has a way to set up credit card payments on your own website) but they’d be an investment on several levels. I’m not sure that 15 t-shirts is worth it. OTOH, Josh could have a local shop print items, almost certainly cheaper than CafePress, and offer them until the batch runs out. OTOH, there’s that issue of inventory space AND a resale license and simply having to deal with this.

    Okay, this is a long way round to saying, “I dunno.”

  46. Andy3000
    March 2nd, 2007 at 1:52 am [Reply]

    Josh, you should seek advice from Glark at Television Without Pity. He caters to a niche market as well. For some shirts, he basically takes advance orders, then has the appropriate amount made.

  47. Paperback Rifler
    March 2nd, 2007 at 10:50 am [Reply]

    I’ll add a third vote for a “Television Without Pity”-style paradigm; the TWOP store webmaster is at and, naturally enough, is named Glark. (BTW, the Soviet Russia shirt cracks my [Margo Boxcar Saturn] up. That’s really neither here nor there, though.)

  48. Schlimmerkerl
    March 2nd, 2007 at 10:50 am [Reply]

    Try They did some offset printing for me and were good and not too expensive. They’ll probably send a T-shirt sample if you ask. They sent more print samples than i knew what to do with.

    I had some shirts (and hats) produced locally (Connecticut), and the results were very good because they use actual screen printing (unlike cafepress which uses an inkjet process) which is much brighter and longer-lasting. Look in the trusty yellow pages, interview some producers, look at their samples and away you go.

  49. jason
    March 2nd, 2007 at 11:30 am [Reply]

    for examples from a similar market, webcomics, randy from something positive uses warehouse23 for his merch. jeph from questionable content has his shirts made by a printer & then shipped to him to handle distribution. that’s only an option if you also have a giving & helpful wife :)

    after receiving repeated shoddy merchandise from cafepress, and absolutely no response to any complaints i’ve sent them, i just can’t justify ordering merch from anyone who uses them.

  50. Eyebrows McGee
    March 2nd, 2007 at 11:43 am [Reply]

    I second (third? fourth?) zazzle. The merch is very high-quality and holds up well to repeated careless washings. I don’t know how easy it is to set up a “storefront” in zazzle, but I love the shirts.

  51. monica
    March 2nd, 2007 at 12:55 pm [Reply]

    Kate – I love you! I never knew how badly I needed a Leonardo DaVinci action figure until I followed that McPhee link.

    Also, I third (fourth?) zazzle… I’ve bought tees from them in the past and was hugely impressed at both the quality of the shirts and the ultra-fast speed in which they arrived.

  52. FSogol
    March 2nd, 2007 at 1:19 pm [Reply]

    I second the Topato idea. They do a nice job.

  53. Sprocket Widget
    March 2nd, 2007 at 2:34 pm [Reply]

    Blah blah blah, let’s all answer Josh’s question about where to sell his stuff. All this on-topic discussion is so tedious. 8-)

  54. TheBigSmoke
    March 2nd, 2007 at 4:58 pm [Reply]

    The problem with most of the Topatoco / Brunico / Glark / Thinkgeek suggestions are that these companies are generally fufillment companies. They will sell and ship your product for a fee, but you need to provide them with an inventory.

    Even if Josh is doing pre-orders, the minimum pieces for most quality silk-screen garment printers at anything resembling a profit margin is 36. Plus (as others have pointed out) that means Josh then has to coordinate some kind of on-line payment system, and the shipping.

    I’ve run a couple of series of T-shirts for some of my series, and even at ~100 units, the sheer effort of shipping (and then having to deal with people who ordered the wrong size, or the wrong colour, or change their minds…) was nowhere near worth the return.

    Ditto setting up art to be properly screenprinted is an art unto itself. Limiting colour choices, properly trapping your design, and creating your output films is as much an arcane art as the design itself.

    I don’t say any of this to be a downer. The oldest shirt I ever made is now over three years old, has been through the wash too many times to count, and looks fantastic. Every once in a while I see folks wearing one in photos or real life and it’s a total kick… but the process for making a “quality” shirt is very different (and may not be well suited) to a site where very short memes rule the day. Plus I’ve seen enough sites where the stress of being a “product manufacturer” has seriously degraded the quality of the blog/comic/podcast/whatever.

    Executive summary – the rewards are vast, but do not underestimate the time / planning / $$$ required to go by a non Cafe-press route.

  55. Silk Screen now
    October 21st, 2010 at 5:09 am [Reply]

    Thank you for this site which I just found. It is very useful and informative.

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