eCommerce Print on Demand

How to Start an Online T-Shirt Business in 8 Easy Steps

T-shirts are super popular. You can get in on the action by starting your own online t-shirt business, and you don't need much to get started. Here's our full Guide
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T-shirts are super popular. People love to wear t-shirts, and they are also considered a symbol, especially with younger people and the tech avant-garde. T-shirts are normally offered at a reasonable price and also come in a wide range of options.

If you want to get in on the t-shirt game, it has never been easier. You can leverage online resources to start up your own t-shirt business, even if you have no experience with design or clothing production.

Many people choose a t-shirt as a way to show their personality, hobbies, or lifestyle. The demand for t-shirts has kept increasing, which makes the t-shirt business attractive. Needless to say, selling online is one of the quickest and most simple ways to start a new business.

Trading on the Internet saves a lot of time, money, and effort. If you wanted to, you could start a t-shirt business online in a few days!

Getting into Online T-Shirt Sales

Your products can easily reach potential customers all over the world. There are plenty of online tools that support a new business, and also allow you to reach people all over North America and Western Europe.

Indeed, opening an online t-shirt store sounds like a pretty good idea for an aspiring business person. However, there are challenges to be addressed.

A fierce battle is unavoidable among t-shirt sellers. You must have a clear perspective and outline a good plan to make your business competitive. This article will take you on a step-by-step walk through the process of opening an online t-shirt store and give you some ideas on how to compete in a growing marketplace.

Step 1: Get The Business Running

There is a huge difference between a vague idea of an online business, and making it happen in the real world. Many people don’t realize this until they take the first move. In addition to starting up a few selling accounts, you will need to select the market you are after.

Choose a Niche

Targeting the overall market is too broad for a small business.

Don’t be greedy and try to cover too large of a target market at first. It’s better to choose a particular sector and stick to it. You can target your potential audiences and reach out to them, without wasting time and money on a broad-based promotional strategy.

For example, you have come up with a variety of funny or sarcastic memes and want to print them out on t-shirts. You need to consider who is going to buy your shirts as well.

If you are after younger people, or a specific niche (and you should be), find places to promote your designs. The more specific, the better.

Free T Shirt Mockups
60+ Free T-Shirt Mockups PSD Templates to Download

You need to dig into the market and define exactly who will be attracted by your products, male or female, student or worker, and so on. Once you have a good idea of who will buy your products, you can focus on possible ways to market the goods.

Running a quick analysis of engagements on social networking sites or utilizing a paid advertising campaign to obtain consumer data could be good ideas. Keep in mind that the price of advertising will vary based on who you are targeting, which is good to know before you get started.

Design

Design isn’t just about patterns, images, or colors. It’s also the style, and the message you send to the world through your t-shirts. Be sure to make them attractive and unique, and remember, you will have to use designs that will be attractive to your target market.

It’s critical to create your ideas in the highest quality graphics, with a resolution of at least 300 pi. In addition, you should know what printing technology is used, so that you deliver the best quality to your clients that is possible at a given price point.

Quality is Important

Consumers always care about product quality. The better the quality of shirts and print, the higher chance your business can create a loyal base of clients. People won’t come back if the quality of the t-shirts isn’t good, or the price is too high.

You will need to consider the raw materials, original design, printing type, and cost to the consumer. There will likely be a tradeoff between good quality and high-profit margins.

You’ll have to determine whether to set a higher price for quality t-shirts or use cheaper materials to keep the costs down. A lot of this will be decided by your target market, and the amount of disposable income they are likely to have.

There are other things to consider, like which brands to use, how to source your products, or how to manage the inventory. Don’t feel overwhelmed, as you can find many tools and platforms that provide a lot of support for these areas, many of which are very affordable.

Step 2: Choose a Selling Platform

Global connections have created many ways for online sellers to reach buyers across the planet. In general, people in North America, the UK, and the EU will be easier to sell to and have a wider range of potential Print-on-Demand (POD) suppliers.

A student can post handmade crafts on her Facebook profile, but there are many other ways to market your goods online as well.

Other people may create a page and make use of ad campaigns to expand their potential audience. Individual entrepreneurs can build a retail shop with more advanced functions for ordering/payment and offer a range of great t-shirt designs.

Running a business all by yourself involves plenty of work, at least initially. Establishing a virtual store is fairly simple, but you have to think about the whole process. Deciding on how to create your products, how to receive orders, and having them sent to customers are all important considerations.

It might be difficult to choose which suppliers to use, but there are many good options out there. You will have to decide on a budget to get started, and then see how you can best use your time and money.

eCommerce platforms are a solution for all of these issues, and there are great platforms that offer open space and resources for t-shirt sellers to create and sell their ideas. By utilizing a pre-built environment, store owners can switch their concentration from back-end processes to marketing and design.

Making the Most of Your Options

Today, it’s easy to find an eCommerce platform that provides simple tools to build online stores and support sales. For t-shirt sellers in particular, among many options, one unignorable recommendation is using Printful with a link to Shopify.

The combo of Printful and Shopify is definitely a choice that can solve almost all difficulties of a fresh t-shirt business, and it is almost going to be a turn-key operation.

Why is that good?

Let’s take a brief tour of these two services.

Printful

Firstly, regarding Printful, it’s known as one of the most popular POD companies, and includes order fulfillment and drop shipping at the same time. All you have to do is create designs, and market your t-shirts.

Printful offers a platform that will do product printing and delivery, and all in one place.

Printful Homepage
Printful Homepage

Your job is to focus on design and pricing, and Printful even offers a mockup generator and price calculator for its users. Simply said, there are no worries over warehousing, storage, or upfront costs. Printful does it all for you, and at very good rates.

Printful does just about anything a t-shirt business would need from a production point of view, and Shopify is one of the best eCommerce distribution channels. It is a set of tools that enables you to build a store, customize it, do inventory management, track orders, collect payments, and just about anything else you can think of.

You can read our full review of Printful here or look at other print on demand companies here.

Shopify

A Shopify account can also be integrated with other applications and providers for diversification and expansion. Currently, Shopify consistently ranks among the top eCommerce platforms, with over 800,000 operational stores and 2 million users worldwide.

Shopify
Shopify Homepage

Both Printful and Shopify offer very attractive pricing schemes. There are 3 paid options on Shopify, starting at only $29 USD per month. To welcome new people, the platform offers a 14 days trial without any fees.

Printful is even more accommodating, as all new accounts are completely free. The service charge is included in prices customers pay for their products. Sellers that want to pick up some additional advanced features need to pay, but overall, it is basically free to use.

Shopfy Free TrialVisit Shopify

Step 3: Source the Merch!

As mentioned above, it’s pretty important to find t-shirt suppliers that deliver a known quality of clothing at a reliable price. Be sure to check out fabric compositions and how the t-shirts will be printed, and also make sure the platform will be able to handle a large volume of orders.

The brand name of the t-shirt manufacturer is also a critical aspect if you are aiming at a specific group with clear preferences. Ordering a couple of samples is a good idea, as you will have the goods you are selling in your own hands.

You can browse through the different print providers
You can browse through the different print providers on Printify

After staking out a list of target suppliers that fit your goals, the next step is to make contact and try to get yourself a great deal. Most platforms will have set pricing, so it is really more a matter of choosing a platform that does POD at the price level you want.

Finding high-quality printers is quite easy, and there are also options for a budding company that has a budget in mind.

You can rely on Printful to take care of the whole procedure, and also offer you a large number of garments to choose from. Printful has an impressive t-shirt catalog with a wide range of stock garments available, including most renowned brands, like Bella + Canvas, Gildan, and Augusta.

The platform even goes further by sorting the list by popularity or price levels. Thanks to that, it’s easier to notice best-seller brands and current market winners. Once you have made up your mind on a product, all it asks is a mouse click, then Printful will hand over the amount you order to corresponding suppliers.

Raw products will be transferred to Printful’s fulfillment factory to get printed, and the process is entirely automated.

In terms of printing, you will have to become familiar with the different technologies if you are choosing a printing company by yourself. It is a good idea to learn the differences between screen printing and heat transfer, so you can offer a product that is in-line with your vision.

Printful users can choose from two main printing methods, which are Direct-to-Garment (DTG) and embroidery.

Choose a product to get started designing on Printful

While DTG works similarly to an ink-jet printer that is capable of producing colorful image print with high cleanness and precision, embroidery is more suitable for imprinting slogans, logos, labels, etc. Depending on your designs, you can easily make a choice for print techniques.

With Printful, print quality is always top-notch.

The company has invested a large amount of money in printing machinery that delivers great value. Based on customer reviews, Printful gets lots of love for its POD services. eCommerce store owners can trust Printful to handle t-shirt printing, and a lot more.

Step 4: Create the Designs

It is necessary to working continuously on crafting fresh designs. People get bored easily and need to have hot images that aren’t played out. You can come up with new ideas, otherwise, there are a lot of sources that can be used to grab some ideas to use as a base.

One way is to visit the biggest t-shirt marketplaces and look for trends.

Here are some online portals for t-shirt buyers:

  • Teeview
  • Snorg Bestsellers
  • Redbubble Popular
  • Kickstarters T-shirt Campaigns

It might be possible to use Google Trends or Google Hot Searches to look for things that are popular and base some t-shirts on the current media fad. While you can ape ideas from other people and the media, you do have to have original designs.

Your store will be banned if you actually steal designs from someone else, or use an image that someone else owns.

The product designer is super easy to use.

There are people who love to design their own, original designs with digital imaging tools, and this is a great way to ensure that all the images you use are new and free from copyright infringement. You also have the option to outsource the work to a professional designer, which saves time but costs more.

Recruiting a private designer to work on your ideas isn’t a bad idea if you have more money to invest in your new t-shirt business. Just make sure you understand the laws that pertain to buying design work, and that you actually own the designs that are being created (you will need a contract).

If you decide to go this route, you can upload the details for the job description and requirements to a freelance platform like Upwork or Freelancer, or approach to popular design communities such as Dribbble and Behance to find capable part-time designers.

Step 5: Mockup the T-Shirt Designs

Now it’s time to actually see how your designs look on a t-shirt!

This step is necessary for sellers to have a final look for necessary modifications, and it also is a big part of how future customers will preview products before choosing to buy them.

In the past, a common choice was to get a print sample on a t-shirt, then having a model wearing it in order to take photos. Now, this approach takes a lot of time and is an unnecessary step. Modern technology has introduced speedy solutions that make this part of the process simple.

A simple mockup can be done at home with the help of digital tools, such as Adobe Photoshop. The software allows users to access its library of most popular t-shirt templates, which can be adjusted by adding layers to make up different illustrations.

There are also tons of online design sources that can alternates Photoshop, like Creative Market, Flaticon, Shutterstock, or Vexels. Similar to Photoshop, you can browse to its templates, create customization, and save completed work on your private device.

If you decide to use a POD platform, this step is done for you with a dedicated toolset on the platform.

For example, the Printful Mockup Generator will take care of this for you, and ensure that your sales process is smooth. As you generate your sales page, mockups will also be accomplished via your browser. By providing a simplified and user-friendly interface, the Printful mockup tool cuts a lot of work out of the process.

You can preview a mockup of your design
You can preview a mockup of your design

After uploading the original design file, there are a variety of options you can choose to apply on a t-shirt and view it from different angles. Once you are satisfied, you can save the mockup to your Printful account to display before customers or connect with your eCommerce networks.

Before actually placing print orders to Printful, you’d better check how other people respond to your mockup t-shirts. It’s important to be sure that your designs will draw interest and turn into real demand, so you are able to best use your time.

You can share the mockups on social media, or anywhere else you think that people would offer helpful opinions. Polls are a good way to get fast data, without having to sift through loads of individual comments.

It’s also worth digging around forums with a large number of users, such as Reddit.

You can access unlimited subreddits to look for reviews from your target market or even try to convert them into new customers. Bolder entrepreneurs may try crowdfunding to make a campaign that attracts up both customers and funding.

There are countless fundraising sites that support donations for small projects and personal needs, like fundrazr.com, kiva.org, fundly.com, or gogetfunding.com. While this isn’t going to be as easy, you will have people that have already paid for your new designs if you are successful.

Step 6: Set Up the Online Store

That’s all for initial planning.

Now it’s time to create an eCommerce portal to display your t-shirts!

It would probably be a good idea to open an account on both Printful and Shopify simultaneously and link them together, as the two platforms are built to work together.

On Printful, registration is totally free. Your main job is uploading graphic images, finalizing mockup products, and building the pricing structure.

It mainly depends on store owners to set up their own profit margin, on the other hand, Printful does provide a calculator that suggests ratios to apply to your products. Of course, the prices you set are 100% up to you.

Printful recommends keeping a minimum profit rate at 30%.

There’s not much work to get your Printful store up and running (other than all the design work and pricing). Products are automatically populated to your public page and synched with integrated platforms (like Shopify).

You can adjust the default settings to select anything you like, such as choosing delivery suppliers or links to external marketplaces. Printful has partnered up with giant international carriers like FedEx, and DHL as well as most of popular eCommerce platforms, such as Shopify, Weebly, and Amazon.

Signing up for a Shopify account is also very easy. You can start off with the free 90-day trial, but unless you plan of creating your own eCommerce portal, Shopify is probably going to be the cheapest way to bootstrap a t-shirt business.

Shopfy Free TrialVisit Shopify

Shopify offers a huge library of themes and templates that can be customized to suit your needs. You don’t need to know much about the technical side of website design, as the Shopify platform does most of the heavy lifting for you.

After creating an attractive web store, you will proceed to update its content, including adding products and editing basic settings.

You can sort or categorize your t-shirts in different groups so that customers will have an easy time navigating on your store, and can find the things they want quickly. Remember to keep the homepage tidy up and neatly organized to make a good first impression.

You will have to create store settings, including the order checkout process, adding payment gateways or shipping methods. Besides Printful, Shopify works with drop shipping services, such as Oberlo or Ordoro, which can be a decent choice if you don’t want to do your own designs.

Regarding payment, while Shopify accepts common methods like Visa, Mastercard, or PayPal, depending on your plan, some of them may incur extra fees upon each transaction. You need to know all the payment details before you start, so you understand your profit margins.

Next, choose a domain name and put your shop on the internet. You can connect your store with social accounts, for example, Facebook or Instagram to get increased exposure.

Visit Shopify

Step 7: Time for Marketing

Unless you are going to do some marketing, it is highly unlikely that you store will make any money. Thankfully, both Shopify and Printful thoroughly understand the need for effective marketing. Both platforms offer various tools to support and enhance marketing campaigns.

Shopify provides simple SEO features via customizing product names, descriptions, and linking.

Furthermore, when creating a site domain, owners can select to “Redirect all traffic to this domain”, which enables the mechanism that navigates all traffic from sub-domains to your main page.

Multiple platform integration is also good for brand awareness.

Printful is equipped with practical solutions for branding strategies. In particular, sellers can choose custom services for printing white-label t-shirts, which allows you to print your logo on inside/outside labels, long/short sleeves, or have an embroidered logo.

Additionally, Printful provides a free service that will print your store’s logo and a message on the shipping notes that are sent to your clients. Some other options are via printing business cards, postcards, or leaflets that are included with your shipments.

The Printful dashboard is very well designed
The Printful dashboard is very well designed

It is a good idea to consider these options, as adding some extra branded items to a shipment may help to raise awareness about your brand.

Aside from utilizing built-in features of Shopify and Printful, there are other routes to approach potential buyers, which may cost more, but are likely to have a bigger impact.

Marketing isn’t going to be cheap, but there is a reason why big companies spend so much on putting their images and brands in front of the public.

Here are some of the ways you can promote your new t-shirt business online, and hopefully draw the attention of potential customers.

Facebook Ads

Facebook has become an extremely powerful website with billions of users, so it’s undoubtedly a straight shot to a massive potential market.

Of course, you can promote your t-shirts on your profile or in some public groups, but it’s obviously much more efficient if you can afford to run paid advertisement campaigns. It helps to accurately target a group with the correct demographics.

Once you have made up your mind to spend the money, you’d better run some tests to identify who will be potential customers, based on their background such as age, gender, location, hobby, interest, and occupation.

You can do all this research on your own, or you can enlist the help of an online marketing agency. It might be a good idea to pay a consultant for some advice on how to best spend your Facebook ad money, as the system is complex and can be expensive.

Instagram

Instagram has emerged as a popular way to share images and videos, which is perfect for your needs as a t-shirt seller. You can also tie in other lifestyle ideas with the ‘gram, as people love to follow interesting accounts on the platform.

You can either build a private Instagram account or work with some KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) to reach higher engagement rates. Also, don’t forget to use relevant hashtags when spreading your posts.

One of the best parts of this platform is the fact that it allows you to build up a list of followers, who will likely respond well to new designs, or promotions. Overall, this is a great marketing tool that won’t cost a fortune to use.

If you want your brand featured on the Google search page, this is the way to do it. There are some options that allow you to include photos with Google ads, but this isn’t going to be a cheap way to promote your new company.

In addition, Google ads can become very expensive depending on the keywords you choose. Be sure to understand how this system works before you start pumping money into a Google Ads campaign, especially given your other options.

Step 8: Keep on Top of Your Game

To remain competitive, you will have to keep the designs fresh and make sure that you don’t view marketing as a one-time event. Once you get your margins and product mix down it is easy to keep doing the same thing, and making sure that people get the products they pay for.

It’s fantastic that Printful stores can have the platform to take care of all order processing and fulfillment. After deciding on a design and brand, sellers can entrust Printful have everything printed and then shipped to buyers.

Printful makes things super easy, but store owners will have to pay attention to a few things. Once in a while, your shop will need reviews to update product categories or adjust prices so as to ensure everything is going in the right direction.

If you are expanding your business to more eCommerce portals, for example, via Shopify, it’s even more important to keep your eye on the day-to-day operations. On Shopify, inventory is auto synced with different devices, but you will need to make sure that clients are happy, and you are making the margins you need to survive.

Starting an Online T-Shirt Business Has Never Been Easier

If you want to start a small online t-shirt shop, using Printful and Shopify are smart and inexpensive options that will allow you to hit the market in less than a week. No matter what platform you choose, keep in mind that t-shirts have a huge client base, but there is also a lot of competition in the market.

A good thing to remember is that the online t-shirt business, like any business, will take time to build. There are amazing platforms that will help you get going in a short time, but building your brand will take effort and money.

Nicholas is an experienced technology Journalist who has written for a number of prominent online publications. He was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He has traveled extensively, lived in Uruguay for many years, and currently resides in the Far East. His writing can be found all over the web, with special emphasis placed on realistic development, and the next generation of human technology. Contact Nick@circlo.io

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