How to Start a T-Shirt Business Online: Guide for 2021
Think about how many t-shirts you have in your closet right now. Some of them fit just right, while others have an image or message that really shows off your personality. But you’re still looking for that perfect tee.
So why don’t you make it yourself? If there’s a shirt that you really want, there’s a good chance others will too.
Why start a t-shirt business?
Selling t-shirts online is a fun way to make custom t-shirts and earn some money on the side.
T-shirt businesses made over $206 billion in 2018 and the shirt industry is projected to grow by 2027. Everyone buys t-shirts and the possibilities to make money are seemingly endless.
So where to begin? The quickest way to ramp up business and get your tees out there is with print on demand.
What is print on demand?
Print on demand is a form of dropshipping that allows you to make and sell custom t-shirts online without the hassle of managing inventory, fulfillment or shipping.
With print on demand services like Printful or Printify, you choose a t-shirt, customize it with your own design and add it to your store. Many of these services even have mockup generators that let you virtually place your design on tees and see how it’ll look on models. You can then use these product images on your website to show your customers exactly what they’re buying.
By syncing your site with a print on demand platform, you can sell your graphic tees from your online store. The service will then print the product and ship it directly to your customers. This method makes it easier to start your business and cuts down on your initial investments.
Is an online t-shirt business profitable?
The short answer: It definitely can be. There are hundreds of businesses making money selling t-shirts—some even earning millions.
By using beautiful designs and powerful messaging, you can create a business that stands out and attracts loyal customers.
Before you start, take three factors into account:
There’s a lot of competition.
Because products are cheap, your profit margins will be slimmer.
It takes time to grow your business.
You need to be strategic in order to start making a significant profit. To avoid common obstacles, you’ll need to be creative, mindful with expenses, and market your tees well.
So how do you create a t-shirt company that stands out from the competition and actually makes money?
How to start your successful t-shirt business in 13 easy steps:
Build Your Online Store
Integrate with a Print on Demand Service
Define Your Audience
Create Stunning Designs
Select Quality Products
Choose a Printing Technique
Manage Your Inventory
Use a Mockup Generator
Get Feedback on Your Designs
Calculate Your Costs
Set Your Price
Build Your Brand
Scale Your Business
01. Build Your Online Store
A professional eCommerce platform gives your customers the trust they need to complete their purchase. Start off your online t-shirt business journey by creating your eCommerce website.
Choose a platform that allows you to easily integrate your store with print on demand services. Here are some other factors to consider.
Budget expenses carefully. Find a platform that doesn’t charge too much in order to start your business with a small investment. Some platforms even let you start for free. Pro tip: Choose a platform that can support your business—at any scale. Review if the platforms offer advanced marketing and customer management tools to help your business grow.
You’ll want a platform that offers plenty of design flexibility and customization. This’ll allow you to create a site that matches your brand. Pro tip: Look for a platform that offers beautiful, ready-to-go store templates that can easily be adjusted to fit your unique brand.
More than half of all purchases are made on mobile. Make sure your store is mobile-friendly so your customers can complete their purchases on the go. Pro tip: Pick a website builder that’ll optimize your site for mobile.
Once you’ve chosen your platform, start building your online store:
Name your business. Start by coming up with a word bank of concepts that relate to your business idea. If you need help, you can use a business name generator.
Choose your domain. Match your domain name to your store’s name. This will help your customers find you online.
Design your store. Choose an online store template or design your site from scratch.
Add payment options. Make it easy for customers to pay you. Provide multiple options to make sure you don’t lose out on any potential buyers.
Want more guidance? Use this checklist so you don’t miss any essential steps when building your store.
02. Integrate with a Print on Demand Service
Once you build your online store, integrate it with a print on demand service.
If you sell on Wix, you can add Printful or Printify from the Wix App Market. Both of these companies let you upload designs and create beautiful t-shirts. Once you start getting sales, they'll ship and fulfill your orders—worldwide.
Watch this video to learn how to add Printful to your Wix Store:
If you built your website with other platforms, follow their instructions to integrate your store with print on demand services.
03. Define Your Audience
With billions of tees out there, why should shoppers buy yours? The answer: Because you made your product specifically for them.
To get started, define your buyer personas and try to determine what they want.
Find a niche audience to target by using your own personal interests and passions. Is there a specific group you identify with? Are you a diehard fan of a sports team, a TV show, an indie movie, a specific celebrity? Do you hold a specific political position or are you a member of a particular movement?
Once you define your target audience, get to know them better:
On Reddit, users create posts that are voted on by the community. The site is broken down into sections called subreddits and there’s one for seemingly everything. Users subscribe to specific subreddits that interest them in order to see those posts. Discover what your target audience is posting. Explore feeds to see which content receives the most engagement. Use this information as a springboard for creating designs and messaging for your t-shirts.
Search Facebook Groups.
Find niche communities that share your interests. Engage with these users and see what receives feedback. Ask them for ideas and test out your designs.
Check out your competition.
Try and determine what’s working for other businesses and what isn’t. Jot ideas down on how you can attract your niche audience and create a better product.
Narrow down your niche audience to a small group that’s not yet being reached. Then design tees that will resonate with them.
04. Create Stunning Designs
Make your t-shirts stand out from the pack with original designs.
Use your t-shirt to express a message, tell a story or display an aspect of your personality. A simple, trendy design will attract customers.
You don’t have to be an artist to make a cool design. But if you are, this is your moment.
Come up with a creative message or concept and sketch it out. Then use a design program to create your image. You can also turn your hand-drawn images or lettering into vectors and modify them on your computer. If you don’t have access to design software, try Canva or design a logo using a logo maker.
Create an image that has a transparent background (PNG file) unless you want the backdrop as part of your design. Note that each print on demand service has different image requirements. Read through them carefully to ensure your design prints correctly and at the highest quality.
For example, Printful has the following requirements:
Images should be at least 150 DPI (dots per inch). Some specific t-shirt brands may require a larger DPI, so double check before uploading your design.
Your design can be uploaded in JPG and PNG formats.
If you don’t want to create a design yourself, get a professional graphic designer to do it for you:
Fiverr: Connect with a freelancer to create a single design. You can search by the type of designer and filter by how much you are willing to spend.
Upwork: Use this platform to find long-term freelancers to help with numerous or ongoing projects.
Behance: Explore this designer-focused social media platform. Graphic artists use Behance to show off their work, gain inspiration and find jobs. You can also use this platform to get design ideas.
Dribbble: This is another platform where designers hang out. You can scroll through showcased art or filter by style to find designs you like. Then reach out to the artist, or use their designs as inspiration.
05. Select Quality Products
Nobody likes an ill-fitted, low-quality graphic tee.
If you’re using print on demand services, buy the products you want to sell and test them out. Try out a bunch of t-shirt options. Is it comfortable to wear? Are the colors vibrant? How does it look after a wash? Does it shrink?
Choose cotton t-shirts that fit comfortably. Most stores will offer tees made out of cotton and ringspun cotton. Here’s what to consider when choosing between these two options:
Print looks great
100% Ringspun Cotton
Less likely to shrink
Treat your customers like you’d want to be treated. Make sure your product is made well so your customers keep coming back and become ambassadors for your brand.
06. Choose a Printing Technique
When it comes to inking your tees, learn about the different printing options available.
This is a good option if you’re printing images yourself.
The most popular type of heat transfer is called Plastisol Transfers. For this method, print your design with a professional printer on high-quality release paper. Then, use a heat press to “print” the image on your t-shirt.
You can print them yourself
You need an expensive heat press
You need your own inventory of t-shirts
Designs don’t last as long on the tees
This method is ideal for printing large quantities of t-shirts with the same design.
Using stencil-like mesh screens, designs are painted onto t-shirts layer by layer. Each layer is limited to a single color. While you can add multiple layers and colors, doing so will drive up your cost.
Because of the labor-intensive setup, this method is best suited for large batches of tees with the same design.
More cost-effective for large quantities
Limited in colors and design
Not worth it for individual prints
This is currently the most popular method of printing designs onto t-shirts.
Using an inkjet printer, your design is applied to garments. This is ideal for complex, detailed designs. DTG uses the same process for small or large quantities of prints.
Cheap setup costs
Allows for detailed, colorful designs
Less cost-effective than screen printing for large batches
All-Over Print (Sublimated)
If you want to create a truly unique t-shirt, you may want to print outside the seams. All-over print allows you to do exactly that.
Create a design that will be printed all over your tee. Unfortunately, not all print on demand companies will allow you to do this.
Print all over the t-shirt
Cheap setup costs
Allows for detailed, colorful designs
Limited to certain products
Less cost-effective for creating large batches of t-shirts
Stitch a unique embroidered design on your tees for a more delicate look. While you’ll be limited on colors and sizes, well-designed embroidery can be all your shirt needs to make a statement.
Limited to smaller, less detailed designs
Fewer embroidery colors
07. Manage Your Inventory
If you're not using a print on demand service, you’ll need to manage your own inventory.
Start off with a small amount of t-shirts in a variety of sizes. Stick to one or two t-shirt colors to limit your risk and overhead costs. To keep initial investments low, consider buying small batches of t-shirts as the orders come in. Then find a local printer that can ink your tees with a technique that works best for your needs.
Once you’re ready to buy a larger stock, source your t-shirts from reliable suppliers to ensure product quality. Find a wholesaler who can offer you an affordable rate so you can give your customers the best product possible at a good price.
Then choose a print company that will provide the quality and fulfillment services you need. You may want to consider investing in printing equipment yourself to have more control of this process.
If you’re using a print-on-demand service, inventory, shipping and fulfillment are handled for you. Nonetheless, it’s still a good idea to keep a small amount of stock on hand to sell in a pop-up shop or to local businesses. It can also be helpful for promotional offers, or to show potential customers and investors your product.
08. Use a Mockup Generator
Once you have your design and picked your tee, you’ll want to make sure that it looks good when it all comes together.
Print on demand services offer mockup generators that show how your design will look on products before it’s printed. Just upload your image to see shirt mockups and how your design will look on items and real models.
Depending on the eCommerce platform you're using, product images may automatically sync to your online store. Alternatively, you can also download the images to use on your site and in your marketing.
Once you’re done, write engaging product descriptions that tell your shoppers everything they need to know about your product. Tell a story about your tee, include product specs and a sizing chart. Some print on demand services will provide product descriptions that you can edit and make your own.
09. Get Feedback on Your Designs
You love your tee, but will potential shoppers?
Post your mockup on your own social media pages and see what your friends think. Publish them in Facebook Groups to see how your community responds.
Remember those subreddits you found? Revisit them and request feedback from your fellow redditors. Word your post in a way so that it doesn’t come across as a marketing ploy. Directly ask people what they think about your tee.
This is also a great way to attract attention to your product while learning more about your target audience.
You can even share your design on designer blogs or sites like Behance and Dribbble. If your idea is particularly innovative, consider uploading your project to a crowdfunding site and get people to invest in your t-shirt business.
If you’re using print on demand services, your investments will be pretty low. You’ll have less of a need to test out your designs before selling them online.
10. Calculate Your Costs
Before you price your products, you’ll need to determine your costs. Go through this list and estimate what you’re paying for each service. This will give you a better sense of how much you’ll need to charge per tee to make a profit.
Business email account
Extra charges for specialty print-on-demand services
Cost of t-shirts
Offset the costs of free shipping
Branding and Marketing:
Social media marketing
11. Set Your Price
Here’s a rough pricing estimate for graphic tees.
$5 - $15
Unless you are selling huge amounts of t-shirts, you may find it difficult to make money selling tees at this price range.
Creating and printing large amounts of the same design as one batch
Printing t-shirts yourself
$16 - $29
This is roughly the average price range for graphic t-shirts. If you want to make a decent profit on each tee without scaring customers away, set your price within this range.
Scaling your business from the start
Earning up to 50% profit on each tee
Selling with a print on demand service
$30 - $40
T-shirts in this price range are usually specialty items or particularly unique.
Tees that incorporate various printing techniques
Detailed or specialty designs, limited release tees
When you add print on demand products to your store, you’ll need to set your own prices. You can choose to use a set dollar markup or a percentage markup.
Most businesses aim to make about 50% profit on each item. So follow this simple formula to determine your retail price:
(Cost of product) x 2 = Retail price of your graphic tee
Simply put, charge your customers double the amount you invest in each tee.
12. Build Your Brand
Time to start selling your t-shirts and get your brand out there. Here’s a list of tips to branding your t-shirt business:
Use advanced SEO tools to help customers find your site on Google. Include keywords relevant to your brand and products throughout your site pages.
Create a unified brand—from your products and packaging to your online store and ads. Think about what appeals to your audience. Build buyer confidence with a familiar look across all your sales channels that stands apart from your competition.
13. Scale Your Business
Scaling your business requires regular check-ins with your spending. When reviewing your finances, pay close attention to the following:
Your net profit: How many t-shirts are you selling per month? What are your total costs? How much money do you have left at the end of the month after expenses?
Overhead costs: What investments are not paying off? Can you minimize your production costs?
Consider the costs of expanding your business. Will you need to hire a designer? Will you need to buy more inventory? Will you need more storage space or equipment?
Ready to expand? Here's how you can take your t-shirt business up a notch:
Create more designs. Stay focused on your niche audience. Determine which t-shirts sold best and create more designs that are similar.
Expand your marketing strategies. Use email marketing to retarget previous customers. Use Facebook and Instagram Ads to target new customers on social media. Narrow down your audience by choosing specific demographics, like gender, age, location and interests.
Create a pop-up shop. Partner with local businesses, markets or fairs and sell your products in person.
Consider hiring a Wix Partner. Consult and hire a digital agency to help you reach more shoppers, market your products effectively and grow your business.
Ready to get started on your t-shirt business? Create your online store now.
Mendy is the manager of Wix's eCommerce Blog. A journalism survivor, he's transitioned into the rich world of eCommerce, content marketing and SEO. His parents are thrilled.