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have found a lot has to do with simply getting hits to your site/store and I understand that it takes work to get the SEO right. But my question is these sites make it sound easy, but is it really possible to make a decent amount of $ this way? (assuming, of course, that someone has a good number of designs to display and sell)
I'll answer this part since I'm probably biased about the other question :)

There are 2 things that will make a t-shirt successful:

Quality Design

So if you have the quality design taken care of, then you'll need to promote it. It's easy to setup a store somewhere like cafepress, zazzle, printmojo, spreadshirt, etc.

The part that will be a challenge is to create quality designs and then get a good volume of targeted people to see your designs.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is just one part of the marketing puzzle.

You'll probably also need to advertise (online and/or offline), get word of mouth buzz about your store, submit to relevant directories, etc, etc.

I have no idea what "a decent amount of $" is for you. But I can tell you that there are lots of people who make good money using CafePress, Zazzle, PrintMojo, Spreadshirt. It's not the particular service that makes them money (no fulfillment service is a magic button to sales), but it's what the individual t-shirt merchant (that's you) puts into marketing the designs they put up.

Many people make the mistake of putting up a store somewhere, either on their own or through one of the many fulfillment services, and then they just expect sales to come out of nowhere (or they expect the fulfillment company to drive sales for them).

Your job as a merchant is to create designs AND to drive sales (via search engines, advertising, link exchanges, sponsorships, etc). The fulfillment company is just there to do the "grunt" work :) ie: Print the shirts via your desired method, setup your online store, handle your ecommerce, process your orders, ship your products to your customers, handle customer service, send you payments.
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