Jul 14, 2008

My Experience with Online Design Contests

For 2008, I made it a goal of mine to become a professional contest winner. So far I have won 8 contests, and although it is not as many as I had hoped for the first half of the year, it has been quite fruitful in garnering a small fan base and in providing freelance work when I desire to take them. As a freelancer, I feel that it is in your best interest to keep busy with work when there is no freelance work coming in. There is a feast or famine phenomenon that comes with any business, but if you can take advantage of the free time in between the busy time, it should help to keep you afloat financially. Entering contests not only help to provide a modest income, it will help to increase your notoriety to potential clients, as well as building a fan base which you can count on to help you to win more and more contests.

I have participated in the following contest sites:


I hope to divulge information that may help designers who might consider entering their work in online contests. I will only be writing about the places I have won. *** Several people have asked about my experiences with Threadless. Unfortunately, I have not won anything over there. I could write about Threadless, but it would mostly be speculative.

Most have a specific genre of work that seems to win more than others. It would be in your best interest to study the sites, and see where your work fits best. Although you could cater your work to win, if you are an artist, you know how frustrating and boring it can be if essentially you sell out and create work that is not your preferred content just to win.


Designbyhumans.com has been the site where I have been the most successful. I have four designs available for purchase, and currently I have three submissions that have a decent amount of votes. At least one has a moderately good chance of being printed.

Designbyhumans.com is interesting as the designs that win run the gamut, but most are very artful and unique. The only type of t-shirt design that do not seem to go over well, besides ones lacking in art skills, are the clever, cute designs. Those are better suited for Threadless.

The money is decent. For a regular win, the designer will get $500 cash paid through paypal, and $250 in store credit.

You can also win an additional $1000 for shirt of the week, and $1500 cash and $250 store credit for shirt of the month.

Obviously shirt of the week, and shirt of the month are difficult to attain. Out of the 4 designs that have won, only one reached week, and month.

So, disappointingly, the likelihood of receiving more than $500 is slim. That is the only drawback I see with DBH. Beyond that, they are one of the major hitters online in the t-shirt design contest arena. They are highly trafficked, and growing. I would surmise that they are the third most trafficked t-shirt design contest site on the internet.

The first and second being Threadless and Shirt.woot.com.

I would recommend any artist to submit to DBH. It seems to have the broadest scope of winners. Any style and genre can win provided it’s artful.


Shirt.woot.com is a monster. I’m not an internet traffic expert, but shirt.woot.com must be the most trafficked t-shirt website. It’s traffic comes mainly from the highly successful woot.com.

They hold weekly contests in which winners win $1000 plus $2 per shirt sold after the first day. There are 3 winners every week.

The possibility is quite tempting, but the community and market is unbelievable. It has a Walmart sensibility. It does not necessarily favor artistic ability. Clever, funny, generic, and cute are definitely quite successful there. Art is rarely received well, unless it is by some of their most popular derby winners who have built a very strong fan base. They have great success there.

To see the previous winners, check this link. http://shirt.woot.com/Forums/

You will be amazed how an insanely simple design with sparse artistic application sells much more than something artsy and skillful. This is what I mean by Walmart mentality. Walmart is not a producer of high caliber art, on the contrary, they produce generic products that sell cheap to the widest spectrum of customers.

If you are an artist, unless you are willing to cater your art to this market, you will be highly frustrated.

I attempted it myself for a couple of months. I have only won one derby, but am confident that if I stuck around and continued submitting, I would have been able to build a strong enough following to ensure at least one, if not two, derby wins a month. At a $1000 a pop, this could have greatly increased my income.

I decided that it was not the direction I wanted to go. The main reason for not participating was my desire to create art, and not designs that were clever or humorous. Besides, you spend your life drawing, and you see your design that you labored 5-8 hours on, get less votes because someone made a funny, yet artistically mediocre design that probably would have taken you 15-30 minutes, you get discouraged.

I would recommend participating f you are a patient artist who doesn’t mind selling out and can take the onslaught of snarky comments by some of the ornery community members or the lack of interest whatsoever. It would take an investment of several months to build a fan base, but you could greatly supplement your income with the contest winnings.

If you are an amateur artist, you have the greatest chance of winning there if you can come up with a great idea. I would also encourage your participation.

Shirt.woot.com is a good place. Even if you decide not to participate in the derbies, you can land some dailies. They commission artists to do designs the 4 days they are not printing the derby winners.

For 2008, shirt.woot.com has supplemented my income by approximately $3000. More importantly, having done dailies, they have increased my blog readership by direct traffic by approximately 30-50 new readers each time I have been showcased.


Uneetee chooses 4 designs a month, at $1500 a design. You receive $750 up front through paypal, and receive the rest, which is guaranteed, as the design sells.

Uneetee is great in my opinion. I have been lucky there. I have won two out of two. At $1500 each, that’s $3000 for 2008. Although I have yet to receive all the funds because they are in the process of being sold, you can’t beat $1500.

The competition is not as stiff as DBH or Threadless, but they are garnering more talented designers. The market or winning designs seem to be a mix of TL and DBH, illustrative with a mix of the occasional clever or funny.

There are only a few drawbacks with Uneetee.

Unless you are skilled, the four color restriction might give some designers difficulty.

Being that they only choose 4 designs to be printed, the chances may not be as great as the other sites where they print everyday.

Also, they do not specify how long the design is held from being submitted elsewhere. They chose to print one of my designs after a decent time had passed. I am uncertain, but I feel that my inquiries are what pushed them to decide to take it to print. I was attempting to retrieve my design to submit elsewhere, and two weeks later they told me of the upcoming debut.

BangBang T-shirts

BangBang T-shirts is a fairly small site. I have won one contest there. The prize varies from contest to contest, but my share was $250. They pay with paypal, and have deadlines so unlike many contest sites, have a specific time in which you will know if you won.

The competition is fairly weak. So if you are a moderate to advance artist, the likelihood that you will win is pretty decent.

I presume that the lack of competition is due to the smaller winnings and lack of traffic compared to the bigger sites.

They specialize in pop culture designs, so when my US Presidents design for Threadless was rejected due to their stricter policies regarding famous or notable figures, BangBang T-shirts was a great place to recycle the design.

I would recommend participation if you enjoy creating pop culture designs. The money isn’t great, but I would assume an artist could finish a design in a day, and for $250 a day… Not too shabby.


There are plenty of contest sites out there. It only takes participation and some skill to win. Go for it.

To find out more about the available contest sites, visit my friends’ blogs. They both an exhaustive list of contest sites.



Godzhesas said...

Wow, thanks for a great article about your exoerience. Have you eveer considered openning your own t-shirt store? it's pretty easy with the tool like http://www.developflash.com offering online design components

Zenne said...

I like the T&C of BangBang.

artulo said...

great writeup, it's nice to hear about all your experiences since there are a lot of people (including myself) that look up to you as an example. Can you expound more about Threadless? Or are you not happy with them at the moment because your latest designs there were definitely robbed of decent scores.

Jason Meek said...

I've never really considered doing something like this, but after your great write up and encouraging words I might just give it a shot. Thanks for passing on the knowledge.

AttilaTheMom said...

can I be your first official stalker fan girl? ;)

jimiyo said...

sweet. thanks for all the feedback everyone!

godzhesas: thought about it, and ive printed my own shirts. the thing is, easy to recommend, but the whole organization thing is something im horrible at. i have at least 100 shirts i printed a couple years ago still in the basement. i dont promoted enough to substantiate a big financial endeavor. although, i might sometime in the near future. start out small again.

zenne: aye. the owner is nice too.

artulo: thanks bro! ill write up about TL sometime when i have more information. im not bitter of the scoring... mainly because im ignorant of how the voting scale works, besides. they print whatever they want. the voting thing is only part of the equation in print choices.

jason: sweet dood. you can win. you might have to illustrate keeping in mind that the final design is to be printed on a tshirt, but thats nothing a excellent illustrator like you cant do! let me know if you need specific technical information. not sure if you are ps or illustrator handy.

attilathemom: :) sure Andrea!

Snarkygal said...

Very interesting reading. I sure miss your art over at Woot. Not all of us have that Walmart sensibility LOL ;-)

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