The Submission Approval Process

Hey guys! As promised, here's a blog about the submission approval process.

How the initial process works.

In our magic behind the scenes tools, I have the ability to view submissions before they go up on the site. When you submit a design, it goes into a queue that looks like this.

On an average day here will be 200-250 designs submitted. Mondays there are obviously a lot more waiting in the queue, since I take the weekends off like a sane person.

Every morning, I'll take an hour or two and review all of the submissions that were submitted the day before. Submissions that don't follow the basic rules (no template, off-topic for Loves) or we just can't print (impossible-to-make belt print, giant wiener, something copyrighted) get declined. I have different buttons I can press for different decline reasons that will create an email for me. This email gets sent out instantly when I click "decline".

I also have the option of creating a customized decline response, which I will do sometimes if something small or specific needs to be changed. For instance, sometimes I will encourage people to expand their design outside of a box on the tee, or change/remove a feature from a copyrighted character to make it more acceptable to put up.

When a design is accepted, it goes into a 'trickle queue'. Submissions will be put up on a timer throughout the day, one every few minutes.

So it's just you?

Yup, right now it's just me! People are usually super busy around here, so very early on it just became one part of my job. I've been going through the submissions for over 3 years! I also sort through the street team photos. Between the two, I have seen some of the craziest and most hilarious stuff on the internet. I have also seen some of the most incredibly inspiring work.

I have to stress that choosing which submissions go up for voting is not based on taste. There are a lot of things to consider when deciding what goes up, including the number of designs already up on the site, how experienced the designer is, how many times the designer has changed the design or tweaked it in critiques, past correspondence I've had with the designer regarding their design, etc. I also have to consider if it would make a great Threadless tee, or if it would be better suited for another site/market.

I also consider how many designs are only just OK, but deserve to go up on the site anyway. We want our new artists to have the chance to learn, and we don't want to discourage them the first moment they try. We have all seen plenty of artists improve greatly over time, and if they never had a chance and gave up right off the bat we wouldn't have seen some of our most popular tees get printed.

That being said, I would estimate that about half of the designs we get are declined for various reasons. On a really good day, 2/3 will go up for voting.

We have tried going through submissions in groups before. Usually this just causes arguments and takes about 3 times as long to do. Most importantly, it doesn't greatly affect the number or quality of the designs that go up on the site.

If you take a look on the site right now, you'll find that the majority of the designs currently up are actually pretty good, if not great. The designs that weren't favored by voters have been dropped by the low score rule, and usually the artists of these designs have gotten enough feedback to try again with a new and improved design.

And then?

I'm also the person that handles all of the emails from designers, so I am held accountable for the decisions on a one-on-one basis. I will often times explain the reasons for being declined in more depth through email, and many times I suggest that they submit to the critiques or blogs if they want real feedback. The artists that really want to improve will try again, and the ones that don't feel like it's worth it to try again… won't!

Are you listening?

Absolutely! I spend a good chunk of my day on the blogs keeping track of your feedback and opinions. We have a lot of things in the works that we think will greatly improve the critiquing and voting processes, as well as providing more tools for new artists to grow and improve. You'll be hearing more about that in the near future. Trust me when I say we are working super hard to make the site more enjoyable, useful and enlightening for artists!

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at and I'll do my best to answer!

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jeffreyg profile pic Alumni

ah this is awesome. thanks, rachel! :]

band-it profile pic Alumni

the insight is blinding


Woo! Rachel!

ArTrOcItY profile pic Alumni

That's awesome! Thank you Rachel! As much as it seems like a really fun job, you must be dreaming designs after going through 200 designs and more a day, I hope you're not having nightmares!;)

spacesick 2

thanks rache! (that's what I call you since we're so tight)

jess4002 profile pic Alumni

you rock, rachel!

ellygeh profile pic Alumni

Oh wow that's awesome! I've always wondered how this process went!

Thanks for sharing Rachel! Now I've got more respect for the Threadless Staff! Keep up the good work!


Awww, well bless your little heart. :)


Thanks for doing this, really glad you guys are putting the effort into taking part in the blogs and its awesome your trying to be more transparent about the submission process and on the whole it seems fair but...

I really want to know what the justification for the loose the text button was, the other ones were legitimate reasons why a tee should be designed but loose the text seems way, way too asethetic.

jmeaspls profile pic Alumni

Lonkiponk on Jan 31 '11 at 1:18pm I love reading these behind the scenes/how things work blogs. Thank you Rachel.


Rachel Ray Gun
Rachel Ray Gun profile pic Alumni

Stubby, a lot of the times a designer will just slap a prepackaged font onto a tee that just doesn't need text. It's pretty much a specific critique instead of the 'needs work' response. Also, a lot of the time, we aren't licensed to use the font they've chosen. The response is pretty much 'lose the text it's not necessary or if you'd like, draw the text yourself!"

boostr29 profile pic Alumni

Wow thanks for the gives us a better understanding of what u guys do behind the scenes.


Wow... this is so awesome to hear!

ir0cko profile pic Alumni

keep up the good work!

HorsefaceDee profile pic Alumni

fantastic blog! thank you

andyg profile pic Alumni



Cool blog, thanks!


thanks for saving us all from the giant wieners

gumbolimbo profile pic Alumni

I'm curious about the really off the scale weird ones that get declined!

celandinestern profile pic Alumni

I love this blog, and the whole transparency and involvement trend you guys are really working on lately :)

also I want your job :) bet you see some totally insane stuff. I mean, some of the stuff that goes up for voting is pretty insane, so I can imagine what craziness you get to see.


yea post some funny declines!!!!


goooo ray gun! pew pew pew!

evan3 profile pic Alumni

do you ever tab designs you think should be printed before it is even up for scoring and see how accurate you are?

reags profile pic Alumni

You're the best R!

Naolito profile pic Alumni

FRICKINAWESOME on Jan 31 '11 at 1:15pm Man, this transparency Threadless thang is getting more and more interesting....thanks for doing this Rach!


Rachel Ray Gun on Jan 31 '11 at 2:05pm Stubby, a lot of the times a designer will just slap a prepackaged font onto a tee that just doesn't need text. It's pretty much a specific critique instead of the 'needs work' response. Also, a lot of the time, we aren't licensed to use the font they've chosen. The response is pretty much 'lose the text it's not necessary or if you'd like, draw the text yourself!"

I dont know, it still doesnt sit right with me,dont get me wrong I'm perfectly fine with threadless rejecting on the grounds that the typography is copyrighted but isnt the whole point of crowd sourcing about letting the crowd decide what they actually want?

Loose the text feels way more like a hang over from early (05/06) threadless where people would shout out on the blogs loose the text (it used to be a catchphrase), its been 5/6 years and tastes may have changed but we dont know because your rejecting them based on the fact that you feel the submission doesnt need them.

My argument would be that if prints with text in that you define as not needed arent being printed people will probably catch on that its a waste of time them including it.

That aside, thank you for the transparency its a small step toward reinvigorating the community because you guys are actually making us feel like were a part of the process again.


Definitely Dick Firestorm.

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