How to design eye-catching merchandise for your next event

8 minutes
Written by: Kevin Penney
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Whether you’re hosting a corporate conference, school fundraiser, political march, or any other type of event, the merchandise you create plays a vital role in its success. These items commemorate the event for attendees, reminding them about the great time they had thanks to your organization. For your team, it’s a fantastic way to get your brand in front of new audiences. Not to mention, eye-catching merch can quickly multiply your event’s profits.

To achieve any of these objectives, your team needs to take the time to carefully design merchandise that stands out to your audience.

An uninspired or generally poor design can work against your event’s goals. Attendees and their networks will forever associate your event (and therefore your cause) with your lackluster design rather than your valuable mission.

Like many strategies, creating excellent merchandise is easier said than done. There’s no magic formula for designing the perfect merchandise. However, there are some basic steps you can follow to help boost sales. To create merchandise that is visually attractive and appeals to your audience, follow these tips:

  1. Decide What Event Merchandise You Want To Offer
  2. Make Sure the Design Reflects the Event and Organization
  3. Incorporate Typography Into Your Design
  4. Use a Platform That Simplifies the Design Process.

When you put plenty of thought into your design, there are several ways you can successfully incorporate it into your events. You can either sell your merch, hand it out in swag bags, or use it as prizes in social media competitions. No matter how merchandise plays into your strategy, it’ll only benefit your event when your team takes the time to create a standout design. 

While it may take a bit of time and elbow grease, creating thoughtfully designed merchandise will be a significant revenue generator for your team and create a memorable attendee experience.

Decide What Event Merchandise You Want To Offer

First thing’s first, you need to determine what type of merchandise you want to create before brainstorming your design and including it in event promotion. Apparel like t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats often perform the best for events, but there are endless possibilities. For example, you can customize items like coffee mugs, calendars, and tote bags.

Think about it: how often do you see people out in public wearing apparel from events? Maybe someone ran in a 10K and wants to show off their athleticism by sporting a t-shirt. Or perhaps they went to a music festival and grabbed a cool hoodie.

To figure out what will perform well at your specific event — whether it’s apparel or some other type of merchandise — consider your audience. Knowing what your attendees will buy allows you to offer products that cater to their unique interests. Here are a couple of ways you can determine what you should create for your event:

  • Consider what products sold well at previous events. Maybe they preferred t-shirts with hand-drawn designs and funky typography or coffee mugs with a simple logo. Take a look at past sales, or even look at photos from previous events to see what people bought.
  • Just ask. Poll your audience to see what type of merchandise they’d be interested in buying. This helps you know what your audience wants rather than what you think they want. Later on, you can use this same strategy to share mockup designs and allow them to vote for their favorites.

Whether you analyze past sales or directly ask supporters what they want, you must know your audience. After all, you’re designing for their preferences, not yours. 

Once you know what type of merch you want to create, the real fun begins, and your team can jump into creating your design.

Make Sure the Design Reflects the Event and Organization

To get the most out of your merch, your design should reflect both your organization and the event itself. This is to remind wearers not only of your cause, but the time they spent with your organization. Here are some ideas to incorporate branded elements for both your organization and event:

  • Your Organization. Most of the value of creating these products is growing brand awareness, so it should be clear that your team made it. Adhering to your organization’s branding guidelines will create a sense of familiarity with attendees, helping them to connect the t-shirt to your cause. Be sure to use your logo, brand colors, designated fonts, and other symbols that represent your mission.
  • Your Event. This event branding guide explains that your event should have a brand of its own. The aspects that make up your event brand’s DNA (and should be included in your design) might include your event name, an engaging theme, typography, color palette, slogan, and so on. Another consideration is the event’s location and time of year. If you’re going with t-shirts, choose a sleeve length that’s appropriate for the climate, and consider using a seasonal color scheme.

Some of these elements will naturally overlap, while you may need to get creative with others. For instance, you might incorporate your organization’s logo but redesign it to reflect a specific aspect of your event. Modifications of existing brand elements are a great way to incorporate aspects of both.

By doing so, your design will serve as a powerful reminder of how much your guests enjoyed the event and can work as a promotional strategy whenever they wear or use your products around town. In other words, the value of your merch will far outlast the event.

Visual Identity

Your visual identity or how to make your audience fall in love without realizing it.

Incorporate Typography Into Your Design

When used effectively, typography can make for a bold design that sticks with people. If your team is considering making text a central part of your design, try creating an event-specific phrase that represents your organization’s story and mission within the context of your event. 

The phrase you feature in your design should be short and memorable. While important, picking what you’ll say is only part of adding text; the other part is making sure it’s presented well in the design. Here are a few ways you can make your thoughtful phrase stand out:

Be Careful With Using Multiple Fonts

They say less is more, and that holds true for fonts. Try to limit yourself to three fonts. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t mix fonts or sizes at all. In fact, you’ll create a dynamic design by using different sizes, bolding words, changing up the casing, and pairing fonts that complement one another. 

As a rule of thumb, pair Serif fonts (which have decorative flourishes at the ends of letter strokes) with Sans Serif fonts (which don’t). This strategy will help make sure you don’t select fonts that are too similar.

Consider Color Contrast

When choosing colors for your ink and fabric, be conscious of how they’ll look together. Pick a color that won’t clash or blend in with the background. With the right design platform, finding a combination that works won’t be a problem, because you’ll have plenty of options. 

Popular color combinations to consider for your merchandise design include:

  • Red and white, which make for a bold design that pops
  • Blue and gray, which have a cooler tone and come across as calming
  • Green ink on a gray background, which adds a splash of color to a neutral background
  • Dark blue and light blue, which can make the lighter color look striking
  • Blue and yellow, which combines a cool tone with a warmer one

No matter what combination you go with, be sure there’s high contrast between the background and foreground. If you introduce other graphics into the mix, you might expand to more colors.

Above All, Make Sure It’s Legible

Put thought into your font selection, size, and choice of colors. It can be tempting to get creative with fancy designs, but remember, a big part of a typographic design is that anyone who looks at it is able to read it. 

Go with easily readable fonts and sizes to make sure it’s fully legible. Again, sufficient color contrast is crucial for readability. The last thing you want is to spend time creating a catchy phrase that a poor design renders unreadable.

Use a Platform That Simplifies the Design Process

The design platform you choose can make all the difference in your event’s merchandise. First and foremost, make sure your platform offers quality fabric and products. Your merchandise will be closely associated with your event and cause, so poor or cheap products will negatively affect your organization. Then, people may complain that their hoodies started unraveling after washing them once or that their t-shirts are too itchy to wear.

A great example of these benefits in action is Bonfire’s apparel fundraising platform. Choosing easy-to-use tools will make a big difference in the amount of time you spend designing the products, enabling you to reinvest your focus into promoting your event and selling the products.

  • Intuitive design tools. Your platform might offer dozens of free graphics, fonts, and colors to use or templates to kickstart your design. You should also have the option to upload your own artwork. However you go about it, your platform should let you see how your design will look before it’s printed.
  • No inventory costs. Especially if this is your first time offering event merch, it can be difficult to predict how many products you’ll sell and which styles will be most popular. Your platform shouldn’t require any upfront or inventory costs, so there’s no risk of losing money.
  • Low payment processing fees. The higher the overhead costs, the more it’ll eat into your profits. That means less money for your cause. Look for a platform with low payment processing fees. Some even offer discounts for verified 501(c)(3) nonprofits.
  • A professional design team. If your event team isn’t confident in designing the merch themselves, your provider may even have an experienced design team that’s ready to help. They can help create an eye-catching design that fully captures the spirit of your event and cause.

Depending on how you want to offer your merch, you may also want to consider your provider’s options. If you want to make them available for sale at your event, make sure you can easily order in bulk in advance. If you opt to collect orders using order forms during your event to place afterward, your supplier should make it easy for you to order the correct number and types of products. Then, they should ship the items directly to buyers. They may even offer unique ways to sell your products, like through online crowdfunding-style campaigns.

Whichever direction you choose, your design platform should make it easy for you to design and sell high-quality products.

When you’ve taken the time to create eye-catching designs, all that’s left to do is set prices and start promoting your merch via marketing channels like social media, email, and your event microsite.

Between deciding which products to sell and creating the design itself, there are several steps to take when designing merchandise that will drive sales at your next event. After all, well-designed event apparel is the perfect way to strengthen your brand identity, engage attendees, and ultimately take your event to the next level.

Kevin Penney
Kevin Penney
Kevin Penney has been working in digital media for over ten years. He’s the CMO and co-founder of Bonfire, an online platform that’s reinventing the way people create, sell and purchase custom apparel. He enjoys strategizing, working closely with his team, and hockey, exactly in that order.
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