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Blog / Beginner's handbook / How to Start a T-Shirt Business in 8 Steps (2024)

Beginner's handbook

How to Start a T-Shirt Business in 8 Steps (2024)

How to Start a T-Shirt Business in 8 Steps (2024)
Zoe Amora Iranzo-Lauriņa

By Zoe Amora Iranzo-Lauriņa

16 min read

T-shirts have come a long way from humble undergarments to fashionable everyday wear. Many people want custom t-shirts with printed logos, slogans, and quotes to express themselves. We’re confident you have plenty of creative t-shirt design ideas to share with the world. So, how do you start selling t-shirts online?

Learn how to start a t-shirt business in this detailed step-by-step guide. We’ve included tips for making t-shirts that sell, the dos and don’ts of t-shirt design, the best printing methods, effective marketing techniques, and so much more.

Whether you wish to sell a few t-shirts on the side or dream of running a lucrative t-shirt line, you’ve come to the right place. Roll up your sleeves, grab your notes, and get ready to dot down your business plan!

How to start a t-shirt business in 8 steps

In today’s highly competitive ecommerce scene, running a successful t-shirt business takes careful planning and strategic marketing. Follow these steps to ensure you stand out from the competition and build a loyal customer base.

1. Define your audience

The first step to starting your own t-shirt business is defining your target market. Think of who will want to wear your t-shirts. You can create the avatar of your ideal customer by asking questions like:

What are their interests and occupations? How much do they spend on attire? You can even imagine their favorite TV shows and music artists. The more detailed, the better.

Due to the saturation of the custom t-shirt market, narrowing your niche is key to reaching your target audience. For example, t-shirts for parents may be too broad of a niche, but go for dad jokes as Classic Dad did, and you’ll have a faithful following.

a group of t-shirts with textSource: Classic Dad

Classic Dad’s designs are inspired by the owner’s childhood memories and his personal fatherhood experience. That’s exactly what a niche-oriented design should be—not for everyone, but just right for the person with a particular interest or experience. In this case, for the “grillin’, chillin’, and refillin’” type of dad.

Need help finding your niche audience? Use free tools like Google Trends to research what keywords are trending. Or explore marketplaces like Etsy and Amazon and platforms like Instagram and Pinterest to find what people like.

To get your creative juices flowing, check out our article on how to find a niche for your online store with over 100 niche ideas.

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2. Pick a reliable printing partner

The next step in starting a t-shirt business is finding a way to get your designs on custom t-shirts. For this, you need a reliable printing partner. One option is to partner with a print-on-demand service provider like Printful.

Print-on-demand (POD) is an order fulfillment method where your products are made when an order is placed. This business model automates the printing process and provides product blanks for creating customized items. You just have to come up with print designs.

POD is similar to standard dropshipping but with the added benefit of being able to customize hundreds of trending products.

Since you only pay for items as orders come in, there are no overhead costs associated with this business model. This gives you a significant advantage over those starting a printing business from scratch.

a man sitting in a chair with a laptopSource: Printful

But going this route also means entrusting your printing partner with crucial processes like production quality, shipping, and inventory management. To ensure everything runs smoothly, here are several criteria to consider when choosing a print-on-demand service partner.

Fulfillment and pricing

Whether you sell t-shirts online or in a brick-and-mortar store, location is a significant factor that impacts your sales. Ideally, you want your print-on-demand provider’s facility to be as close to your customers as possible. This ensures quick and cost-efficient shipping of your products.

Printful has several locations in major hubs worldwide, including the US, Canada, Europe, and the UK. Creating a product and fulfilling an order takes 2–5 business days. Shipping time depends on product availability and delivery destination, but it usually ranges 2–5 business days.

Printful offers reasonably priced t-shirts. The cost depends on the fabric type, design, and print placement. An advantage of selling t-shirts with custom designs is that people are willing to pay more for them.

Printful is also transparent about shipping costs. Below, you’ll find a list of fees for shipping t-shirts worldwide. But for the most up-to-date costs, see shipping information.

a screenshot of a white table with black textSource: Printful

Shipping fees can be included in your final price calculation or charged separately to your customers.

Product quality

Quality is what makes or breaks any ecommerce business’s success. Ensuring your t-shirts are high-quality will encourage repeat purchases. Plus, customers will leave 5-star reviews to boost your reputation.

Exceptional quality is one of Printful’s main values. We achieve this using high-quality equipment and regular maintenance to check print resolution, color accuracy, and contrast. The print quality can vary for different fabrics depending on the printer settings, printer driver, and printing method used. So know that prints will look different on a 100% cotton shirt or a polyester one, for example.

Choosing a printing partner with high-quality standards will also help avoid negative customer reviews.

We use cutting-edge printers that save on ink and water, leading to the best results while also following sustainable practices. 

Read more about Printful’s quality standards.

Customer service

Good customer service is crucial in running a company smoothly, especially in a print-on-demand online business. That’s why it's paramount to know whether your printing partner responds quickly and is willing to help solve any questions.

Printful provides a dedicated customer service team available 24/7 that you can contact whenever you need assistance.

Reliability

In today’s competitive ecommerce world, customers expect fast and reliable delivery. While most providers have estimated shipping times, delays can happen. That’s why it’s important to choose a proactive provider who communicates about delays. You can follow fulfillment times and updates for our products.

At Printful, we display estimated shipping times for each product and address issues quickly. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the print provider’s return policy before signing a contract.

Reputation

Last, but not least, go for a print provider with an outstanding reputation. Customer reviews are an excellent way to evaluate a company’s services. Make sure you choose a print provider known for its high-quality prints, superb customer service, and flawless order fulfillment.

a screenshot of a screen shot of a boy sitting on a benchSource: Printful

See what other customers say about Printful. After deciding on your print provider, it’s time to choose the best t-shirts for your prints.

3. Choose high-quality t-shirts

Not all t-shirts are created equally. There are differences in fabric type, weight, feel, and more. Which t-shirt is best for your prints? It depends on the designs you wish to create and what your target audience likes.

When selecting a high-quality t-shirt, consider durability, appearance, and texture.

Here’s a short overview of t-shirt fabrics and their properties:

  • Fabric blends combine different types of fibers to compensate for weaker traits. For example, cotton is prone to wrinkles and shrinkage. Polyester lacks breathability but is wrinkle-resistant. Poly-cotton is a common blend that combines synthetic fibers’ durability with natural fibers’ comfort and breathability.

  • Regular cotton is made by spinning raw cotton into the yarn. This cotton type is the industry standard and the least expensive option. Its more rigid surface is perfect for vintage-style prints and campaigns.

  • Ring-spun cotton is softer and more durable than regular cotton. It’s made by binding and aligning cotton fibers around a spindle. Though a bit more expensive, the higher quality is worth the investment. It’s also about the same weight as regular cotton, so you’re getting more softness with the same insulation.

  • Combed ring-spun cotton is further combed after spinning to remove impurities and short fibers, resulting in a silky, soft feel. Due to its low impurity level and smooth printing surface, it’s the ideal choice for high-quality and luxurious t-shirts. One thing to consider is that this process results in more fabric waste, but the fabric’s higher durability compensates for it.

Find out more about t-shirt fabrics in our article on how to choose the best t-shirt materials for your prints

a group of t-shirts on swingersSource: Printful

Also, check out our article on best quality t-shirts for printing. Learn which customization methods—direct-to-garment (DTG), all-over print (sublimation), or embroidery—work best on each fabric type.

4. Create unique designs

Now comes the artistic part of running a t-shirt business—creating designs! It’s time to let your imagination run wild and explore ideas your niche audience would love.

To create your t-shirts, research the latest trends and find cool design ideas online. Pay attention to what catches your eye and try to balance a design that excites you and a popular trend.

a screenshot of a websiteSource: Etsy

Whether you want to make a bold statement or take a more lighthearted approach, there are many t-shirt design ideas. Check out our article with 56 next-level t-shirt design ideas to get you started.

5. Order samples and validate your designs

Before listing your t-shirt designs online, make sure you’re satisfied with the result. Order product samples to validate the look, feel, and quality of your designs and chosen t-shirt. There’s nothing more embarrassing than finding out from a customer that your design flopped.

a red shirt with white text on itSource: Bored Panda

Ensure your design placement works well on different body shapes, t-shirt colors, and fabric types. Generally, t-shirt designs can go on the front, back, or sleeve of the garment. Logos work best with left chest placement, on the outside label or inside label, or with sleeve placement.

Check out our step-by-step t-shirt design and logo placement guide to ensure a flawless result.

6. Set up an online store

Now that you’re satisfied with your custom shirts, it’s time to open an online storefront. There are several ways you can set up an ecommerce store. You could use an all-in-one ecommerce platform like Shopify or BigCommerce. Or, you can go for an ecommerce website builder like Wix or Squarespace.

Alternatively, you can connect your t-shirt store directly to marketplaces like Etsy or Amazon. Check out the full list of Printful’s integrations. Not sure which ecommerce platform suits you best? Take the 1-minute quiz at the bottom of the page to find out.

a woman sitting on the floor with her legs crossedSource: Printful

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7. Set prices

To have a thriving t-shirt business, set prices with enough room for profit. But be reasonable—nobody will buy your t-shirts if their prices are too high. Check competitors’ pricing for reference.

The first step to successful product pricing is assessing your costs. Here are several costs that may apply to your business:

  • Design creation costs

  • Production costs

  • Shipping costs

  • Taxes

  • Platform fees per order

  • Platform’s subscription cost

Of course, don’t forget about other costs of running a successful online business like internet fees, marketing campaigns, ads spent, etc. Check Printful’s pricing guide and learn how to set a good profit margin for your online t-shirt business.

You can also use Printful’s profit calculator to check your profit margin.

a screenshot of a clothing storeSource: Printful

To determine your retail price, add up all product costs and your desired profit margin. Don’t be afraid to assess prices occasionally and adjust them according to buying trends and factors like inflation. 

8. Market your t-shirt business

Now it’s finally time to start selling t-shirts. To reach your audience and drive sales, you need a solid marketing strategy. You can utilize many forms of marketing—social media marketing, paid ads, email marketing, content optimization (known as SEO), and much more. Check out our article on how to market a product to get started.   

If you don’t have a large budget to start with—leverage the power of creating engaging, high-quality content on social media. You can also partner with micro-influencers and like-minded communities to showcase your product in exchange for free merch. Check out this article about marketing your online store on a $50 budget for more ideas.

a diagram of social media marketingSource: LinkedIn

Bonus tip: Learn from other t-shirt brands and stay up-to-date with your target audience’s interests. Also, keep up with fashion industry trends and update your online store often with new designs.

Read these 6 t-shirt business success stories to get inspired. To find out what’s in style, check out our t-shirt design trends.

4 things to note before you start a t-shirt business

Starting a t-shirt business online is a lucrative endeavor, but it requires thorough preparation to succeed. Besides following the steps above, there are several things to consider before you start selling t-shirts online.

1. T-shirt printing methods

Choosing the right printing method for your t-shirt business is an important decision. When choosing a printing method, consider fabric compatibility, order volume, and business goals. Also, consider the upfront investments and long-term costs.

For example, a print-on-demand partner will ship orders straight to your end customer under your label—they take care of inventory, fulfillment, shipping, and more. This means you can focus entirely on creating designs and growing your business. Buying your own printing machines, supplies, and product blanks, plus printing t-shirts at home would incur a large initial investment and capital risk.

Let’s take a look at the most popular t-shirt printing methods, their differences, and the pros and cons of each.

DTG printing (direct-to-garment printing)

a grey t-shirt on a printerSource: Printful

  • Uses water-based inks sprayed directly onto the fabric.

  • Ideal for smaller businesses with custom or low-volume orders.

  • Suitable for 100% cotton and cotton blends.

  • Pros: No setup preparation, allows one-offs, high-quality and precise prints.

  • Cons: Expensive machines and prints require pre-treatment and post-treatment, not cost-effective for large orders.

DTF printing (direct-to-film printing)

dtf printingSource: Printful

  • Requires a film to transfer the design to the t-shirt.

  • Versatile, works on fabrics like cotton, polyester, fleece, and more.

  • Pros: High-quality results for detailed prints, more versatile.

  • Cons: More steps, slower process, higher cost for machines and materials.

Screen printing (or silkscreen printing)

screen printingSource: Printful

  • Involves a stencil, mesh screen, and squeegee to transfer the design.

  • Best for natural fabrics like cotton, silk, and wool.

  • Pros: High-quality and durable prints, cost-effective for larger orders.

  • Cons: Not ideal for small businesses, a limited number of colors, not eco-friendly.

Sublimation printing (all-over prints)

sublimation printingSource: Printful

  • Uses heat transfer paper and ink to penetrate synthetic fabrics like polyester.

  • Pros: More colorful designs, resistant prints, smooth texture, covers entire fabric.

  • Cons: More steps, slower process, not cost-effective for bulk orders.

Some t-shirt printing methods work better on cotton, while others on synthetic materials. The right printing technique for your t-shirts will depend on your preferences and customer expectations. To find out more, see the best methods for printing t-shirts.

2. Choosing t-shirt fabrics

When choosing the right fabric for your t-shirt designs, consider factors like fabric weight, customer preferences, and printing methods. Let’s look at the most common t-shirt materials, which printing methods they work with, and their specific qualities.

Cotton fabric t-shirts

a woman standing outside with her hands in her pocketsSource: Printful

Cotton is a breathable, moisture-absorbing, incredibly comfortable, hypoallergenic, and highly printable fabric. However, it’s not ideal for winter since it doesn’t offer much insulation. It also wrinkles easily and is prone to wear and tear. Cotton is sensitive to color fading, but proper care can extend its lifespan. Cotton clothing can shrink when washed, so following care instructions is crucial.

One huge advantage is cotton’s versatility in terms of printing options. Cotton t-shirts work well with DTG printing, DTF printing, and embroidery designs.

Not all cotton is created equal. There are multiple types, including 100% cotton, ring-spun cotton, combed ring-spun cotton, and organic cotton.

Polyester fabric t-shirts

model wearing a polyester t-shirtSource: Printful

Polyester is durable, wrinkle-resistant, quick-drying, and moisture-wicking. It’s best suitable for sublimation printing. But it’s less breathable than natural fibers, may cause skin irritation, and has limited customization options. It’s non-biodegradable, but you can reduce the environmental impact by choosing t-shirts made with recycled polyester.

Fabric blends

a man wearing a red shirtSource: Printful

Fabric blends offer versatility and customization options by balancing the characteristics of different fibers. When choosing fabric blends, consider the needs of your target audience and the intended use of t-shirts.

Blending synthetic and natural fibers improves texture and durability and creates a canvas for unique prints. Popular fabric blends include tri-blend (polyester-cotton-rayon) and polyester-spandex blends.

Why are fabric weight and yarn count important?

Fabric weight affects the drape, fit, and travel-friendliness of a t-shirt. Heavier fabrics are suitable for layering and cooler weather, while lighter fabrics are softer and more comfortable for everyday wear. Yarn count defines thread fineness and influences fabric weight, print texture, and customer preferences.

Understanding fabric weight and yarn count is essential for custom printing techniques and customer education. By considering fabric weight and yarn count, customers can choose t-shirts that align with their preferences and intended use. Find out more about fabric weight and choosing the right t-shirt material for your prints.

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When starting a clothing line, you may wonder which fabric colors people prefer. Selecting the perfect t-shirt shade can be challenging, as everyone wants something that looks good, is suitable for the occasion, and is practical.

a stack of folded clothesSource: Printful

To help you offer the best colors to your customers, we analyzed our popular Bella + Canvas 3001 t-shirt collection. We examined the colors our sellers have been selling the most, considering a wide range of individuals and preferences. Find out more in our most popular t-shirt colors guide.

You’ll find out what classic colors never go out of style, as well as what colors are trending this year. By being aware of the top choices, you can advise your customers and help them make informed decisions.

One major advantage of opting for a print-on-demand provider is that you can display and sell t-shirts in as many colors as you like without any upfront costs. Generate t-shirt mockups via our Product Templates and offer multiple t-shirt colors to see your audience’s preference.

4. T-shirt designs that sell

There’s nothing more disappointing than trying to sell t-shirts online and making no sales . . . Fortunately, there are several dos and don’ts to ensure you design t-shirts that sell.

a pink shirt and jeans and shoesSource: Etsy

At Printful, our team conducted thorough research to determine which t-shirt designs are the most popular in the industry. We analyzed 2,774 unique designs to identify those that generate sales and those that don’t. 

Check out our article about best-selling t-shirt designs to find out what to design and what to not.

Stitch your own success!

Launching a successful t-shirt business requires focusing on quality, uniqueness, and effective business practices. Choosing a reliable printing partner and high-quality fabrics is key. Create designs that resonate with your audience and establish an online store with competitive prices. Remember to leverage social media and strategic campaigns for marketing.

Before opening your t-shirt company, learn about t-shirt printing methods, fabric selection, popular colors, and design trends. Our comprehensive blogs cover all these aspects to help you avoid pitfalls and make informed decisions.

The world is hungry for fresh, innovative designs, and by following these steps, you’re well on your way to carving a niche in the dynamic and ever-growing t-shirt industry. Embrace the challenges, stay creative, and watch your business flourish. Here’s to stitching success!

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By Zoe Amora Iranzo-Lauriņa on Mar 7, 2024

Zoe Amora Iranzo-Lauriņa

Guest author

Zoe is a creative writer, multilingual translator, and certified yoga instructor with a passion for learning, traveling, and global cuisine. When she's not typing away at her PC, you can find her teaching yoga in the park, reading on the couch with her cat, or plunging in the Mediterranean.

Zoe is a creative writer, multilingual translator, and certified yoga instructor with a passion for learning, traveling, and global cuisine. When she's not typing away at her PC, you can find her teaching yoga in the park, reading on the couch with her cat, or plunging in the Mediterranean.