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Start Your Business Business Ideas

How to Start a T-Shirt Business

How to Start a T-Shirt Business
Credit: LOFTFLOW/Shutterstock

Thanks to online marketplaces and the many shoppers looking to buy products over the web, selling online is easier than ever. One of the possible avenues for entrepreneurs, especially those looking for a design-oriented or artistic business, is the T-shirt market.

If you're an entrepreneur looking to start an online T-shirt business, you could purchase an expensive T-shirt printer or screen printing equipment. But you don't have to; you can get your business off the ground with minimal startup capital — as low as $50, according to some experts. Compared to other types of startups, an online T-shirt company is low-priced and simple to launch, and you don't even have to manage order fulfillment.

Your t-shirts can contain simple words, fully printed designs or a combination of both. Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop can be great tools to help you create your designs. Adobe offers low-priced monthly subscriptions; Adobe single apps are available for $19.99 per month. Adobe and online education companies such as Lynda.com offer a wide variety of Adobe classes to help you develop your design skills.

If you have ideas but don't have the skills to produce your designs, you may find affordable graphic-design freelancers through sites such as Guru, Fiverr and Upwork. Rates are often affordable and negotiable. If you want to start designing without Photoshop, T-Shirt Magazine contributor Ana Gonzalez recommended Placeit, which offers clothing mock-ups for as little as $29 per month for nine images.

Whatever your idea is, do your best to make sure you are not infringing on another designer's ideas. You can do this by conducting an online search of trademark databases like U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and/or hiring a patent lawyer to help you determine whether your design is similar to one that has been copyrighted or trademarked. [See Related Story: How to Start a Clothing Line]

Printing equipment can be expensive and requires you to purchase inventory. You may ultimately want to do your own printing, but when you are first starting out, you can use an on-demand T-shirt printing company, such as Printful, Print Aura, Scalable Press, Teespring and Amplifier — all you need to do is submit your designs and they'll take care of the rest. Many printers, including these five, offer order fulfillment services, so you never have to worry about inventory and shipping.

Most of these types of services offer features specifically for small businesses, including no minimum purchases, no inventory requirements, no monthly fees, volume discounts and mock-up generators. Based on our research, other factors to consider when choosing a printer include t-shirt selection (colors, sizes, styles), print quality, turnaround time, cost, integrations with e-commerce platforms and return policies.

You can easily create an e-commerce website using a service such as Shopify, WooCommerce, Etsy, Square Space, Big Cartel or Amazon. Many of these services will allow you to use your own domain for an additional cost, and many will work with the print company of your choice. You'll want to verify how well the printer works with your website or shopping site technology before you purchase.

Besides the basic business website standards like your company logo, product listings and contact information, you'll also want to include specifics such as sizing charges and fit information. Your customers will want to see detailed color variations as well. When you are first starting out, you'll likely just start with T-shirt mock-ups and then evolve to real-life images using models as you grow.

Lindsay Craig, a social growth expert at Spaces, a website builder offered by Shopify, said most of the initial planning and creation process of starting a T-shirt business is free. The first expense you may incur is buying your custom domain. Google charges $12 per year for a domain, Square Space is $20 and Shopify starts at $13 per year. Using Shopify's Spaces, you can build an online shop for free and then upgrade it starting for $4 per month.

Craig suggested you start with three to five T-shirt designs. If you are not a designer, you can use royalty-free fonts from 1001 Fonts and low-priced artwork from The Noun Project to get started. T-shirt templates are available so you can create realistic images of your designs rather easily. If you do not have access to Adobe Creative Suite, you can start using free applications such as GIMP to create your designs.

Once you have some designs created, you'll want to order some sample product so you can see the quality of the shirt and printing. Craig noted that is one of the larger expenses and will cost you around $20. All of those expenses add up to less than $50. However, keep in mind that you'll need to purchase a business license, and prices for those vary greatly depending on your area.

When you are first starting out, you won't need much. Minimal sales are simple to track using a free spreadsheet such as Google Sheets. But as your business grows, you may want to consider a few additional solutions. Here are a few good ones to try:

  • Accounting software: QuickBooks Online, FreshBooks and Xero are low-priced online services that provide invoicing and standard accounting features.
  • Tax services: Some business owners prefer to do their own taxes with a product such as TurboTax, but you may want to consider hiring an accountant.
  • Payment processing: Many services, such as Shopify and Square, will handle credit card processing for you. Other services allow you to connect your own payment processor. Generally, these to cost you roughly 2.75 percent per transaction.

Don't become discouraged if your business doesn't take off right away. Because of its minimal time commitment (once your designs are completed), an online T-shirt company makes a great side business, so you can keep your full-time job while you wait for your business to become successful. Just start with your idea, and see where it takes you.

 
Pamela S. Stevens

Pamela has one personal business motto: "If I ever lose money, I quit." And that has not happened yet through the past 20 years and five small businesses. Pamela is a California transplant who now resides in Ogden, Utah, where Business News Daily's parent company, Purch, is headquartered. She started with Purch in 2005 as one of the first writers for Top Ten Reviews (TTR), where she reviewed all types of products including business, security and financial software and services. Now she writes and develops content for all Purch B2B properties, covering a broad range of small business and IT topics. Her formal education includes a degree in Creative Writing and Geography, with a special interest in smart planning and urban development.