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[Infographic + Guide] 5 Steps to a T-Shirt Business

While competition in the apparel industry is strong because of its low barrier to entry, opportunities remain for the aspiring t-shirt entrepreneur. In fact, over the past few years more than 20 people have become millionaires just by selling their own t-shirts on the website

Success won’t come easy, but the process of making and selling a T-shirt is straightforward, and we are going to show you how to do it below!

This post is divided into two parts: The infographic that you see below and a longer text section. If you’d prefer to read the text version first, simply click here.

Otherwise, start with the infographic and then dive into text for more detail.

how to start a t-shirt business

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Step #1: Find Your Niche (Product & Market Research)

Market research is absolutely crucial and makes the difference between picking a winner or a complete loser. Nobody ever knows if a product will sell for sure, but minimize the risk of a flop by doing your research.

Decide on who you want to sell to:

Men, Women, Teenagers..?

Decide on what you want to sell them:

Graphic or text shirts, both?

Plain white or color shirts?

Research up and coming trends using Google Trends. What do you expect to be hot in the upcoming season? The more questions you answer yourself, the better.

Once you’ve figured that out, narrow down your target niche. The more specifically you define your target customer, the less competition and the more of an edge you will have.

For example, men aged 18-45 is not a specific enough market, male tennis players is. Women with children is not specific enough, women with toddlers.

Dig deep to strike a rich vein!

Step #2: Find Your Design

You have a plethora of options for getting your unique shirt designs done if you don’t/can’t do it yourself, here are some:

Fiverr: The cheapest and quickest option you’ve got, but you get what you pay for. Contractors on Fiverr are often ambitious workers from India, Pakistan or the Philippines who do their best but sometimes misunderstand instructions and create very generic, template-like designs.

Fiverr is hit and miss, but usually miss. Only use Fiverr if you’re on an extremely tight budget!

Upwork: The level of people here ranges from beginners to experts with years and years of experience, and you will pay accordingly. The quality of work on Upwork is usually pretty high, and you can monitor a contractor’s progress through milestones.

On Upwork, hiring people on a per project (rather than per hour) basis is a good idea. This is a great platform for long-term working relationships and usually good value for money.

99Designs: You get to choose from 30-90 different designs from good to top level designers for $299-$1299, depending on your budget.

Expect awesome designs at great cost!

If you have a good amount of starting capital and you really want to get the best designs possible, go for it. Otherwise, Upwork is going to be the better option for you.

A friend or acquaintance: If you already know someone who is or who can introduce you to a good designer, this might be your best option. Invite them to dinner, look at their portfolio, and see if you can work a deal out.

Just be sure to separate business from personal by working off a contract (yes even if it’s your best friend!).

DIY: Depending on your niche, you may not need a complicated design. If you have a basic understanding of Photoshop, you can go to shelf design directories like and buy a logo or use their icons to design one cheaply for yourself.

Step #3: Find Your Sales Platform

There is a multitude of platforms that qualify as a T-shirt marketplace. Undoubtedly the biggest one and the go-to choice is Teespring. Let’s do a breakdown of a few different options as well as every option’s pros and cons.

Option #1: Teespring


-Biggest outreach chanels, popularity and customer base for custom T-Shirts
-Production, fulfillment and delivery is being taken care of
-Very easy to create designs (design your own or use library)


-No opportunity for diversification, only T-Shirts and Hoodies
-Print on demand usually means lower quality and no quality control

Option #2: Cafepress


-Established, huge outreach
-Opportunity to diversify by applying designs on mugs, accessories and much more
-Production, fulfillment and delivery is being taken care of


-Diversification means less focus on just T-shirts
-Print on demand usually means lower quality and no quality control

Option #3: Merch By Amazon


-Biggest eCommerce platform of all with a huge clothing section
-Fulfillment and Delivery is being taken care of, Prime Express Shipping
-No upfront cost, low risk -> Great for trying out a market/design
-Shirts are online within hours after uploading a design


-Print on demand usually means lower quality and no quality control
-Rather high fees

Option #4: Shopify


-Established platform
-Opportunity for your own quality control
-Customizing your own shop with a custom theme, entirely geared towards your target audience
-Extremely easy to integrate Printful and other apps
-Very affordable


-Not for free
-Transaction fees

Step #4: Find Your Printer

Option 1: DIY Print

If you are actually willing to learn and do the production process yourself, you obviously need to have the hardware to pull it off.

By printing your own shirts you will save money, but ask yourself this:

“Is it worth my time?”

While the initial setup for screen printing is inexpensive, it makes a colorful mess of your home, and using more than 2 colors is very time-consuming. Additionally, this method is very expensive if you are producing only a small run of shirts.

Adding your design to shirts via heat press transfers entails a pretty costly upfront investment in a heat press machine, and every transfer takes 3 minutes on average to make. Taking care of fulfillment and shipping is a whole ‘nother thing to worry about. As soon as your business is doing well and you are selling not 5, but 500 shirts a week, doing everything yourself will cost you tons of time and you probably won’t be able to consistently deliver the same quality that companies like Printful offer.

If you happen to already have access to the necessary hardware, definitely give it a try doing it on your own. If not, you are going to be better off outsourcing it to professionals so you can focus on working on your business, not in your business.

Option 2: Outsource it

There are several companies you can use to have your shirts manufactured. If you choose Merch by Amazon, Teespring or Cafepress, your production and fulfillment is already taken care of. Most people who sell using Shopify will use Printful to fulfill orders. These vendors allow you to deliver high quality products and they’ll take care of fulfillment and shipping for you, meaning you can focus on finding new niches, improving your design, running marketing campaigns and staying ahead of competition.

Screen Printing

This is the industry standard and provides the best quality at a reasonable price as long as a decent amount (10 at the very least) of a particular design is being produced.


-Highest quality print available (bright colors, great detail)
-Texts/graphics last twice as long as a design transferred via heat
-From 10 shirts and up, it is more cost-effective than a heat transfer
-Printing on dark and colored shirts


-Not cost-effective for a very small quantity of shirts
-Can get messy due to inks and washing
-Only one color at a time and simple designs

Heat Transfer

This is the most common alternative to screen printing and allows for very easy printing without all the mess.


-Printing multiple colors at a time


-Lower quality, colors fade away after 25 washings, duller colors, less professional look
-Bigger startup cost
-Only allows for printing on white or lightly colored shirts
-Ink may bleed while washing
-Print is stiff and impervious to air; less comfortable to wear, might make you sweat

Step #5: Sell Your Shirts! (Marketing)

Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram…)

The more you spread awareness of your shirt, the better. Obviously 🙂

Since you are probably going to be selling your shirts online, at least in the beginning, there is a high likelihood that your potential customers are already there and using social media.

Instagram is a great platform for any product business, and posting high quality images of your product is a great way to build a following. Whatever platforms you choose, be sure to post regularly and take advantage of the most-used hash tags in your niche.

Facebook Ads

A very powerful tool to drive traffic to your shirts is advertising on Facebook. The more you know about your target audience, the better you can target potential customers on Facebook to increase conversion rates.

Blogger Outreach

Contact bloggers in your niche and offer a custom-made t-shirt for their readers.

Word of Mouth

You don’t have to be the next Johnny Cupcakes to use word of mouth to your advantage.

Wear your shirts yourself, give copies to friends and relatives, and if your designs are edgy or niche-specific enough they will stand out.


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2 Responses to [Infographic + Guide] 5 Steps to a T-Shirt Business

  1. Pingback: Owning Your Own T-shirt Business | A Complete Guide

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