Threadless Review: Has the T-Shirt Design Competition Lost Its Novelty?

By Feliks Dudek

Threadless is one of the oldest names in the on-demand t-shirt printing space and is also one of the earliest success stories in online crowdsourcing history.

The company started off as a T-shirt design competition where designers would submit their designs and millions of subscribers would vote and comment on their favorite ones. The winning designs would be printed for sale every month, and later, every week.

The Original Threadless Platform

Threadless in 2010, where design competitions were the heart of the company

Initially, the winning designers would receive a cash prize (and lots of exposure) but have to surrender the copyright to their designs. Today, the featured designers get to keep the copyright and also earn a royalty for every shirt made and sold with their design.

While the t-shirt design competition is still running and receives hundreds of submissions every week, the company has since morphed into a more standard print-on-demand marketplace.

Now anyone can open their own storefront on the Threadless platform and sell products with their designs for a profit.

How Threadless Works Step-by-Step

Threadless is a print-on-demand marketplace which means that the website also hosts your storefront in addition to printing your designs, shipping your products, and handling customer service.

1. Open an Artist Shop

The Artist Shop is basically your storefront on Threadless. Head over to the website and signup for an account using your name, email, and password.

Threadless Artist Shops

The account is completely free. Threadless offers a generous amount of storefront customization such as adding a logo, background, colors, brand, etc.

Threadless Shop Settings

Threadless lets you add Google Analytics and Facebook tracking to your shop

2. Create Your Products

You can start creating your products in your account’s Dashboard, but first, you will need to upload your design(s).

The site accepts both JPG and PNG formats.

Threadless Shirt Editor

Once you’ve uploaded your file, choose the products you want to place your designs on. Threadless offer a range of categories which include apparel, accessories, home décor, and more.

3. Start Selling

Once you are happy with your merchandise, start promoting your Artist Shop on social media, blog, or using any other marketing methods that you can think of. Threadless lets you keep any money that you earn on top of the base price, which is your profit.

Why Signup for Threadless?

This is the part of the review where we take apart the POD service to its bare bones to figure out whether it is worth joining. These checklist items ultimately determine whether a print on demand service is good, mediocre, or just plain terrible.

1. Pricing

One potential frustration of using a print on demand service is trying to figure out your profit beforehand so that you can set your prices accordingly. Thankfully, Threadless is very transparent in this regard. Your profit is any money you make above the base price of the product – simple as that. The shipping and other logistical costs are already factored into the base price so if the base price of a t-shirt is $15 and you sell it for $30; your profit is $15. You can check out the full Threadless price list here.

2. Production Quality

Threadless has built part of its reputation on its high-quality materials, printing, and production. The company uses Screen Printing on most products but it has been experimenting with Direct to Garment Printing (DGT) recently. Almost half of the new t-shirt designs are now printed using DGT technology.

The company also outsources its printing, largely in the USA and Europe (depending on the customer’s location) and sources its materials internationally. On the whole, Threadless seems very particular about the third-party companies it works with and ensures that the manufacturing partners comply with the ILO standards.

3. Diversity of Products

Threadless offers hundreds of products to choose from including some specialty options such as skateboards. For the most part, the company focuses on apparel including hoodies, t-shirts, baby clothes, leggings, and even shoes. Non-apparel options include home goods (like art prints, shower curtains, throw pillows, and duvet covers) and accessories (such as phone cases, beach towels, bags, and mugs.) Threadless has a middling product range but to the company’s defense, it does cover most of the popular products that sell well on the internet.

4. Shipping

Threadless ships to most countries in the world which gives you access to an international market. Your customers can find out whether the item ships to their country in the first checkout step to avoid any potential misunderstanding or loss of reputation on your part. Orders within the US are processed within 2-5 business days while international orders can take up to 3 weeks. Domestic shipping options for US orders include Postal, 2-day shipping, Ground shipping, and Next day shipping. International shipping options include Express, Standard Plus, and Standard.

5. The Design Challenge

Threadless Design Challenge

We touched on this a little in the introduction but the Design Challenge is definitely worth checking out if you are a seasoned designer. The process is pretty simple. You submit a design and the Threadless community of over 3 million users will vote on the best designs. Depending on the particular design challenge, the winners have a shot at winning handsome cash prizes.

Furthermore, an in-house team chooses the winning designs based on the votes and then features them on the Threadless store. The designers get to keep the copyright of the design as well as earn a cut of the profit when their designs are sold.

A great advantage of going this route (provided that they pick your design) is that the company promotes and markets its winning designs so that you essentially get free marketing at a level that you might not be able to achieve on your own. You can check out more information about the Threadless Design Challenges here.

Are There Any Downsides to Joining Threadless?

Threadless may be an industry veteran but that doesn’t mean that it is perfect.

First, diehard Threadless customers report a noticeable decline in print quality over the years. The print quality isn’t terrible by industry standards, but it used to be much better. The newer printed designs don’t hold up as well to multiple washes compared to when the company first launched. This decline, unfortunately, is to be expected since the company has massively scaled up its production and doesn’t do its printing in-house which makes quality control rather difficult.

Threadless Product Edtor

Unfortunately, the Threadless Product Editor is clunky and outdated

Still on quality, there have also been multiple complaints about a foul odor on the t-shirts, particularly with the direct-to-garment prints. The odor fades after the first or second wash but it can be off-putting.

Customer service is also hit-or-miss at Threadless since it takes the customer support team 3-6 business days to respond to queries. This can cause problems with your customers and you don’t really have any control over this aspect of the business.

Finally, purists might argue that Threadless has ‘sold out’ by appealing to a broader market. Part of the appeal of the company was that its unique designs were only accessible to a relatively small community of designers and fans. Mass-produced designs and integrating the Artist Shop, while opening up more avenues for profit, also means that the Threadless community is not as intimate as it once was.

Is Threadless Legit?

Threadless is 100% legit and is one of the most recognizable names in the t-shirt printing industry. The brand might have lost some of its appeal after transitioning to a print-on-demand marketplace but the company still has a very loyal international following.

The brand has won multiple international awards over the years including being featured on the 2008 cover of Inc., earning the title of “The Most Innovative Small Company in America.”

Are There Any Good Alternatives to Threadless?

Threadless is unique in the POD space, particularly for its cult-like following and design challenges, but there are some legit competitors out there that are worth looking into. Teespring is one such alternative that has a much wider audience than Threadless, giving you access to a larger potential market. Teespring also has a wider product range, faster customer service, and more production facilities thus cutting down on production time.

If you already have your own online store like Etsy or Shopify, you may want to check out my Gooten review. This is a fulfillment-only POD service which means that you retain full control over the storefront while letting the POD service handle the backend including production, shipping, and customer service.

Verdict: Can You Make Money with Threadless?

While Threadless won’t make you an overnight millionaire, certain kinds of people tend to do very well here. If you have unique designs and a niche, you have a mind for marketing, and you don’t mind putting in the work that goes into building an online business from scratch, then Threadless is the way to go.

This isn’t a stand-alone business and it helps if you already have an existing store and are looking to expand your business with minimal upfront investment. The best part about Threadless is that it is free to join and use so there is really no downside to trying it out! It is a legit company that has been around for at least two decades and has a large and loyal international following.

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