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Cool Merchandise for Your Members and Money for Your Server

by: J. F. Amprimoz ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

Make your members happy and loyal all while advertising and funding your guild by offering them T-shirts, hats, mugs, stickers, coasters, magnets and other sweet schwag.

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    Can I Make Gear for my Guild?

    Your guild has been around for a while. The basics were taken care of from day one: forums, Vent server, and making yourself known to the user community. Over time members have joined and become officers, numbers have grown, and relationships have formed. Maybe some members announce they are going to a gaming convention, and others agree to meet them or even car pool (sigh Gen Con was too far away for me).

    If no one in your guild has thought of it yet, at some point while your members are having a blast together wandering hundreds of thousands of square feet of gaming related artwork and merchandise, someone will say “We should make guild T-shirts!”

    Is that a good idea? How do we do that? Did we just have too much to drink at lunch that day? Yes, you can find out below, and probably.

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    Traditional Schwagg Manufacturing

    Getting T-shirts, or indeed any customized product such as hats, stickers, posters, mugs, etc. used to be pretty involved. One would turn to the industry used by corporations, bands, charities, etc.

    These Promotional Item Customizers do a great job for their traditional clients and their needs. A couple hundred identical T-shirts for most of the money up front and the balance at pickup works fine if you are stocking a gift shop or selling or handing them out at well attended events, but this is not exactly what most guilds are after.

    Minimum orders make getting shirts less than triple digits at a time rather expensive, so unless your guild is huge, that’s not a good route. Even if you get the minimum together, either your members need to pre-order to make up the cash needed, or a generous member could just assume the risk personally and hope to recover their money as the stuff sells; either way there will be a lot of keeping track of Paypal transfers. Then, whoever gets the original order has to ship out the members’ individual orders.

    You can get all that done, but you will still have a limited selection, perhaps only one type of T-shirt. Also, traditional printing means you pay a set up fee plus an extra fee for each colour printed in a run of a product, which can really drive up the price per unit if you’re getting a small run of a few dozen units.

    Obviously, a gaming guild needs something different.

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    Custom Gear Made and Shipped to Your Members With No Overhead

    Luckily, there is a cool website out there called CafePress; it allows you to upload your own graphics and place them on over 100 different products. You can then place said products in a shop where your own members, and the whole world, can go to buy T-shirts, hats, mugs, posters, and so on, with your guild’s name, logo, url, and so on. CafePress sets a base price that they keep for every product, but they look after hosting your shop, manufacturing, billing and shipping. If you want some money for your guild’s real-life coffers you can tack on a mark-up that you get to keep.

    The process is pretty straightforward: make graphics using the software you like according to the sizes explained in the item templates, save it (usually as a .png with a transparent background), upload it, choose the item(s) on which you want it, set a price, and you are on your way to stocking your shop. There are plenty of easy to follow instructions on the site, so you and your guildies shouldn’t have any trouble getting some artwork together. Note however, that you can’t use copyrighted or trademarked material, so avoid the name of the game you play or references to the IP behind it: keep content focused on your own group.

    Once you have some items for your shop, you can slap a banner and logo on there, write up a little “bio,” fill in your address so CafePress knows where to send your checks, and open your shop. Their printing processes are full colour, so you pay the same for one-colour than you do for as many as you want.

    Note that this isn’t that cheap vinyl feeling stuff that cracks and comes off after a few washes. They use something called Direct Printing which seems kind of like some form of inkjet dying more than traditional screen type printing. I can personally vouch for this system producing a nice image that stands up to repeated gentle machine washing. The digital press and sublimation techniques used for magnets and mugs respectively also work wonderfully.

    We haven’t ordered products made by any of the other methods, but our members have reported that the products they received are of good quality. Along with the entirely reasonable prices (e.g.: a cap, cloth, not mesh and foam, is 15 bucks; all-cotton Ts made in the USA 16) you can apply a 10% mark-up while still keeping your members’ kit very affordable.

    CafePress allows you to monetize member goodwill and the Intellectual Property you have developed related to your guild, while increasing online, event and general visibility to prepare and educate the consumer for when your future projects reach them. Far more importantly, it will get you and your gaming buddies some rockin’, customized, schwagg that helps them feel like they are part of the team while they show off their gaming hardcoreness.