We’ve created a post called How to Start a Screen Printing Business. There is a lot of good information in the post and it is definitely worth the read for those that are interested in the art of screen printing. This post is different in that it focuses solely on starting a t-shirt business. Designing and selling t-shirts rather than random screen printed items.
This article is comprehensive. You will find a lot of resources in this article. This will include all of the software, equipment, supplies, suppliers, and design resources that you need to begin a t-shirt printing business.
There are a lot of decisions to make when starting a t-shirt business. Each decision that is made leads to another decision that is just as important. We've broken it down into 8 steps, but it could clearly be broken into a decision tree with every branch of the tree quite detailed.
Step 1: Create the Vision For Your T-Shirt Business
The first thing to consider when running a t-shirt business is location. Where do you want to create the shirts, and where do you want to sell the shirts? Let’s start with the first question.
Where do you want to create the shirts?
Print T-Shirts At Home
If you are looking to start a home-based business then you may want to consider this option. You’ll need space to do this. There needs to be space for the equipment. There needs to be space for storing raw materials. There also needs to be space for the finished products. The question you must ask yourself is whether or not you have the space.
Part of the deciding factor is the size and amount of equipment you need to print shirts. As you move throughout this process you will need to determine whether you have the room for the equipment. The equipment can take up an entire room or be as simple as a printer. Determine how much room you will allocate to the business. Let it help guide you in your decisions on what equipment you need.
It is entirely possible to sell t-shirts without a single piece of equipment. You can have somebody else print the shirts for you. There are two options for this. Find a local printer who can print the shirts for you at a wholesale price or use a print on demand service. Either method will eat into your overall profits because they have the equipment, storage, and labor to create the shirts. All of those things cost money and you will have to give up some of your money to these companies to achieve your goals. Just remember that if you don’t have the space or the labor or the equipment, then this may be the best way to go.
Where do you want to sell the shirts?
To make money you will have to sell your shirts. There are many places to sell shirts, but it really comes down to three options. You can sell shirts online, remotely, or both online and remotely. If you are going to sell online then it requires you to sell the shirts in some form of an ecommerce vehicle.
To sell online you need an ecommerce vehicle. That could be your own online store or another online store such as Amazon or Etsy. It is also possible to sell items through social media outlets as well. A print on demand service will print and sell your designs for you while you just take home the profit. There are a lot of different avenues for selling online. If this is your preferred method to sell shirts then you need to investigate each of the outlets to determine their viability with your business. Do the stores have plenty of customers? Is there a lot of competition? Have other people been successful in this venture using their platform? Do your research before signing up and jumping in.
With remote sales we are referring to anything that is not in your own home or online. This can include selling in your own physical store, at a fair, or a pop-up shop. Which means that somebody will be selling the shirts in-person. Rent will most likely be paid to secure a location for this venture. Plus, if you have employees then you will have to pay them as well. There are set-up and tear down expenses along with additional equipment needs. It can be difficult and expensive to open a physical store, but it can be lucrative. Setting up pop-up shops can be easier and less expensive but they may not be great for sales.
It is possible to sell shirts both remotely and online as well. This way you have the most possible opportunities to sell your shirts. Some people do not buy anything online. Some people buy exclusively online. There are people who do well with selling at fairs. Some people dream of having their own store. What we are saying is that there are ways to reach a much broader audience and sell more shirts.
In determining where you want to create and sell the shirts, you are creating the vision for what your t-shirt business will look like. At all times remember that you can start small and expand your business as you go. You do not need to have a massive business to start. If all you have is a table, a computer, and an internet connection you can start from there. It is possible. Determine the scale and scope of your business. Create the vision.
Step 2: Consider Equipment Needs For A T-Shirt Business
It does not matter which way you choose to run your business you'll need equipment. It may be as simple as a phone, but you will need equipment. Let’s look at the items that you may need.
Office Supplies: Pens, Paper, Post-Its, etc.
Storage Supplies: Bins for t-shirts, shelves
Communication/productivity devices: Computer, Cell Phone, Camera, Printer
Printing Machines: Screen Printer, Heat Press, DTG Printer
Sales Items: Bags, Tags, Signage, point of sale software
Design Software: Photoshop, Illustrator, CorelDraw
There are a lot of items on this list. We are going to cover some of these items (we’re not going to cover post-it notes).
Computer - This is a necessity. It is definitely needed to run a t-shirt business. It is needed to design and sell shirts, accounting, inventory, and marketing purposes. A computer is vital to running any business.
Cell Phone - Simply for communication purposes. It can also be used for taking pictures of shirts.
Camera - Used for taking pictures of shirts.
Screen Printing Machine: Used for printing shirts with water based and plastisol inks onto garments. (We've developed a Screen Printer Buying Guide to help.)
Heat Press: Used for sublimation printing of garments. (We've developed a Heat Press Buying Guide to help.)
DTG Printer: Direct to Garment Printer used for printing onto garments
The cell phone and the computer are practically required to live in society these days. The camera needs to be included if you don’t have a camera on your phone or computer.
The screen printer, heat press, or DTG printer are only needed if you are going to print the shirts yourself. If you are going to go with an on-demand solution you won’t need any of these. The on-demand company will print the shirts for you. Otherwise you want to consider each of these options carefully to determine the best path forward. We’ve included the buying guides so that you can make an informed decision.
You will want to consider the size of the machine. Consider the quality of design. Consider ongoing costs. What is the learning curve? What are the prices? Are there warranties? Are there leasing options?
Once you have reviewed the buying guides you will have a better understanding of each method of printing and what is involved. Considering Step 1 determine which of these options will work best for your situation. The vision for your t-shirt business will become clearer.
Step 3 Purchase the Equipment to Run Your T-Shirt Business
Shop around. Get the best deal. However, the best deal isn’t everything. When making a significant purchase a relationship is made with the seller. If you want to ask questions then you need a reliable source of information. That is where a reliable salesman comes in handy. Good salespeople will support you in the hopes of additional sales down the road.
When you are considering your purchase take into consideration the supplies that are needed to continue running the business. Check the prices of inks and emulsions. All of these will need to be purchased as well when starting the business.
We’ve created downloadable equipment lists for each of the types of printing.
For an on-demand printing business you will not need printing equipment. In this situation you will need to set everything up with a local screen printer or one of the on-demand companies to do the printing for you. If you are going with a local printer then you want to negotiate the best deal possible. Scope out a few screen printers in your area and see if this is possible. This should include price breaks for larger quantities of orders.
On-demand printers just require your designs. You can sell your prints with one of them or find a few of them to do this. Sign up for an account. Upload your designs and sell. They will take a considerable cut, but they can print your shirts over and over.
We’ve created a list of the top on-demand printers for you.
Step 4 - Choose Your Business Model
In the United States there are four business models that the IRS recognizes. They are sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability corporation, corporation. Each of these models has advantages and disadvantages. We’ll review the basic concepts here.
Sole proprietorship: A business run by one individual. For legal purposes there is no difference between the business and the person. Which means that if a sole proprietorship gets sued the person who owns the business can also get sued.
Partnership: A business run by two or more parties that cooperate to run the business.
Limited Liability Company: A private company that protects the individual owner of the company from liability but still requires the individual to pay the business taxes.
Corporation: A business that is run by a group of people. It is a single entity under the law.
This site does not provide legal advice. You will need to set up each of these which may require the services of a lawyer. They will guide you through all of the details. Another option is to use a service like Legal Zoom to set up the documents.
You will need a business license in each of the states that you intend to operate. You may also need a resellers license as well. Check with your lawyer or the Department of Labor for your state to determine exactly what you need. You may also want to check with the city as well.
These are typically the most unfun tasks that you will undertake in running your t-shirt business, but you must take them on if you want to start your business on the right footing.
Step 5 Set Up The Business
There are optimum ways to run each of these businesses. Your job is to find the optimum solution for your business. What works for you. If you are screen printing then creating the proper workshop flow is mandatory. You want to make sure that your supplies are near your materials and that one station moves seamlessly into the next station. We’ve created a post that discusses the proper printing setup for you.
If you are creating a store whether it be online or physical this is the time to do it. If you are running a physical store then you need to determine where the printing is going to take place, storage locations, and where to take the money.
If you are creating an online store then the shop will have to be built, photographs taken, and descriptions written. The payments and shipping will have to be set up as well. The top ecommerce platforms are:
Set up your payment processors. If you do not set this up then you can only receive cash payments. Not everybody wants to pay with cash.
Step 6 Create the T-Shirt Designs
Finally, we get to the fun part. Designing shirts. You can be a general t-shirt printer and allow your customers to bring their designs or you can create your own designs yourself. To do this you will need to choose a niche. A group of people that you are going to specifically target such as chihuahua lovers or muscle car enthusiasts. We've created a list of niche ideas at the bottom of this post to get you started. These are people that you want to sell your designs to. That way you will know exactly what to design. For this you need to know how to use graphic design software. There are three major programs for graphic designs, but they aren’t your only options. We detail the three options here for you.
Photoshop is the top image editing software. It is useful for editing raster images (photos) and creating digital art.
Illustrator is one of the most popular programs used for creating and editing vector images. It is used in creating logos, digital art, symbols, and patterns.
Corel Draw is a vector graphics editor used to create images and special effects.
All of these options cost money and can be a significant outlay. There are free options such as GIMP, but they are not as robust as the previous three options. However, if you are just getting started and money is tight then this is a good option. Here is a list of Free Alternates to Photoshop.
It should be noted that these programs take time to learn. They are very powerful and they have a lot of features. With that being said they do have a steep learning curve. We’ve created introductory guides to some of these programs.
There are numerous video tutorials on this website and our YouTube Channel that discuss special topics that need to be understood to create prints.
Step 7 Market Your Business
Business is not like Field of Dreams. Just because you build it does not mean that anybody will come. If you want your shirts to sell then you gotta tell people. Create a marketing plan that gets your designs in front of people’s eyes. This marketing plan should include free things such as word of mouth and SEO, as well as paid options such as pay per click ads and banner advertising. You want a healthy mix of ideas to promote your shirts.
We have created guides for marketing your goods online.
Step 8 Sell Your T-Shirts
I know that I said that the design part is the most fun part. It’s not. The most fun part is when customers pay you for your designs. There is nothing more gratifying than knowing that people are into what you are creating. And they are giving you money for it. Can anything be better?
This is the point that you will start making big decisions. How can you sell more shirts? Are your prices right? Are your designs good? Start evaluating everything that you are doing in your business and don’t stop.
If your designs aren’t selling, try them in a different venue. If you’ve tried them in multiple venues and they aren’t working, scrap them. Do you have the right sizes? What can you do to make more money?
You are now in business and your only job is to create great designs and sell more shirts.
The Final Word on How To Start A T-Shirt Business
Starting a business is never easy. We’ve broken it down to eight steps, but actually there are a million small details to think of when you are starting a business. There are a lot of resources in this article to help you get started. There are more resources on our resources page.
You are about to start a fun and exciting business. It all starts with the small details. Once you get those right then you will have the business that you have been longing for.
Wholesale T-Shirt Providers
Popular T-Shirt Niches
- Baby Showers
- Bridal Showers
- Church Functions
- Class Trips
- Craft Fairs
- Ethnic Festivals
- Flea Markets
- Open House
- Political Campaigns
- Radio & TV Promotions
- Running Marathons
- Black History Month (February)
- Cinco de Mayo
- Company Anniversaries
- Earth Day
- Father's Day
- Flag Day
- Fourth of July
- Ides of March (March 15th)
- Juneteenth (June 19th)
- Landmark Birthdays
- LGBTQ Pride Month (June)
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- May 4 (May the Fourth Be With You)
- Memorial Day
- Mother's Day
- Pi Day (March 14th)
- Saint Patrick's Day
- Talk Like A Pirate Day (September 19th)
- Valentines Day
- Veterans Day
- Wedding Anniversaries
List every sporting season that will need uniforms and team support items like t-shirt, caps and pennants. Sports teams always wait until the last minute and have trouble organizing sizes, printed images and how team members will pay. You organize it ahead of time, deliver on time and you will get the order now and in years to come.
- Double Dutch
- Intramural Teams
- Little League
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- Food Trucks
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- Interior Designers
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- Musical Groups
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- Theatre Companies