Small Business Ideas: How to Start an Online T-Shirt Business

Small Business Ideas: How to Start an Online T-Shirt Business

October 29, 2019 100 By Peter Engel


Not only are they a classic piece of casual
wear, but t-shirts are a blank canvas for artists and entrepreneurs alike. Because of
this, selling t-shirts online has become a very popular business choice. The good news
is that online t-shirt stores are relatively inexpensive and quick and easy to set up.
The bad news is competition will be stiff and the margins can be small so in order to
be successful with your new t-shirt brand, you have to make the right decisions from
the get go. In this video, we’ll go through the entire
process of starting an online t-shirt business. We’ll go over strategy, t-shirt and print
quality, as well as creating and mocking up your designs. And then we’re going to show
you step by step the easiest – most cost effective way to get your online t-shirt store up and
running – without having to deal with any upfront inventory costs, minimum orders, or
even shipping and fulfillment. Now, I’ll be starting a store from scratch
so I can show you just how easy it is to get up and running – here’s a quick peek at
what the final product will look like. So follow along and by the end of this video,
you too will have created a beautiful online t-shirt store – even if you have no design
or coding experience. Okay, There’s a lot to cover in this video,
so if you’ve already thought about your strategy, tshirt quality and design – you
may want to skip ahead to one of the following sections: And for those of you just starting out, let’s
get started with some strategy and the key areas you’ll want to focus on to ensure
you build a solid brand that stands out from the competition. Great, let’s get started. Niche – You hear the term get tossed around
a lot, but nowhere is it more important to choose a niche than in the graphic t-shirt
industry. In general, broad categories like t-shirts with funny slogans are going to be
challenging to gain traction for right away because there’s so much competition online.
You’re going to want to tighten it up a little more. An example of a more specific
niche would be t-shirts with funny slogans that relate specifically to fitness. Design – The majority of people that are purchasing
graphic tees are looking for designs, graphics and slogans that connect with them and reflect
their opinions and personality. Your designs don’t necessarily need to be complex, in
fact many of the best selling graphic tees are very simple, however, they do need to
connect with your audience and stand out. Quality – Another extremely important factor
in the success and sustainability of an online t-shirt business is quality. You can fool
someone once, but you can’t fool them twice. The quality of the shirts you use and the
prints needs to be good quality. A pattern that fades and cracks or a t-shirt that shrinks
and rips won’t create raving fans that come back and repurchase. Let’s dig a little
deeper into t-shirt and print quality. So, T-Shirt Quality. Not all t-shirts are
the same and not all print jobs are the same, so it’s important to educate yourself and
choose your blank shirts wisely. It will always be tempting to sacrifice on
quality for higher profit margins but you need to consider how the quality will affect
customer’s decisions to share your brand and repurchase in the long run.
Now, quality t-shirts encompass several factors, including fit, sizing, material, softness,
and weight. A great starting point for determining which blank t-shirt to use is to check out
T-Shirt Magazine Online’s review of some of the most popular blank t-shirts for printing.
We’ve linked to this in the description of this video.
Once you narrow down your choices, we suggest you order each of the t-shirts yourself to
make an informed final decision. T-Shirt Printing Quality – In this day in
age, there are three popular methods for printing designs onto t-shirts. Each method has its
pros and cons, and will partially depend on how much time you want to invest into the
product creation, as well as the printing partner you choose.
One of your options is screen printing, which is an old technique that has stood the test
of time. As one of the most popular methods for printing onto t-shirts, screen printing
can produce durable and long lasting results. However, a labor intensive initial setup means
screen printing is most cost effective when printing in bulk.
Screen printing also poses issues when it comes to complex designs or designs with more
than four to five colors as each color increases costs and production time. Another printing method is Heat transfers
and heat transfers have also been around for a long time and exist in several forms. You
may have even seen basic heat transfer paper at your local office supply store. Although
these make it easy to print your designs from your home computer and transfer them with
an iron, these won’t cut it when it comes to running a business.
The more advanced form of heat transfers are called plastisol transfers and are printed
by professional printers on special, high quality heat transfer paper. The advantage
of this is being able to order a stack of prints from your local printer and transfer
them to your t-shirts as you receive orders with a commercial heat press machine.
Heat transfers can produce full-colour images onto t-shirts relatively easily and quickly.
The final technique for printing is the direct-to-garment printing process, which operates much like
a ink-jet printer you would have at home. The printer prints ink directly onto the t-shirt
and can produce full color images with accuracy. Direct-to-garment printing produces quality
printing on par with screen printing and better than heat transfers. Because it operates just
like an ink-jet printer, there are no setup costs. This means that it’s easy and cost
effective to print small orders. The major disadvantage however is the lack
of volume discount for large orders, as it takes the same amount of time to print each
shirt. So which option is best for your business?
Well, like we said, it all depends on your unique situation. However, for a lot of new
online t-shirt businesses, it will be tough to sell a large volume of shirts immediately,
which makes screen printing too pricey and although heat transfers allow you to print
on demand – it is time consuming and generally of lower quality. So Direct to Garment may
be your best bet. Alright, let’s talk about T-shirt design.
Now, if you already have a design, feel free to skip ahead. Creating your designs – Once you have some
ideas for t-shirts you’ll have to actually design them. Now, if you have Photoshop or
similar programs you can try producing some simple designs yourself – however if you’re
like most people, you will likely need to enlist some help. A great place where you
can find a design community with loads of unique talent is on dribble. Search for the style you’re looking for
and message the designers you like to see if they’re available for freelance projects.
Additionally, if you can’t find a designer, there are also options to purchase pre-made
designs. We suggest taking a look at the t-shirt marketplaces Designious and T-Shirt Factory,
which we’ve linked to below this video. Although you’ll want to keep in mind that
if you choose to go this route, there’s a high likelihood that other people are already
selling the design, making it harder for you and your brand to stand out.
You may also want to check out general graphic design marketplaces like Creative Market and
Graphic River but keep in mind if you plan to sell your t-shirts, you’ll need to purchase
a commercial license. Mocking up your designs – Once you have some
final designs, your next step will be to get some mockup images of them on actual t-shirts.
Your customers are going to want to actually see what the final design will look like printed
on a shirt. The easiest way to do this is to use a free
web-based T-shirt mockup tool. These tools allow you to quickly preview how your designs
will look printed on a t-shirt. Head over to “ShirtMockUp.com” or “Theprintful.com/generator”
to give it a try. And for those of you who are comfortable using
Adobe Photoshop, you can also make use of the abundance of photoshop-t-shirt templates
you can find online. Most Photoshop templates come with multiple
layers that allow you to change the colour of the shirt and apply your own design that
will blend with the creases and folds of the shirt. I’ve linked to a few of these in
the description of this video. Validating your designs – Before you spend
a lot of money on your new business idea, you should first verify that there is a market
for your designs. There are a number of ways you can do this.
The first thing you can do is post some of your designs to facebook twitter, and other
social networks your friends and potential customers are a part of to see if there might
be some interest. Be careful asking friends however, their opinions will usually be biased
because they want to support you.. Now, a great place to go to get some unbiased
feedback for your designs is reddit. The unique thing about reddit is that there
are thousands of category specific subreddits, so it’s easy to find a highly targeted niche
of potential customers. To find relevant subreddits, simply use reddit’s
search feature and type in your keywords of choice. From there you can ask them first
hand their thoughts on your designs before launching. Kickstarter and other crowd-funding websites
have also made it much easier to test, validate, and collect money upfront for your new business
idea. Launching a crowdfunding campaign can be time consuming and requires a good deal
of preparation, however, the benefits can be huge, which include fully funding your
project before you have spent a dime. Those are just a few methods you can try to
validate your t-shirt ideas, however with ecommerce platforms like Shopify, it’s never
been easier to set up a fully functional online store in a matter of minutes to validate your
business idea. Additionally, we think the easiest and most
practical way to get your online t-shirt business started is by integrating your store with
an online, on-demand, printing and fulfillment service.
These services are incredibly convenient and allow you to set up your online t-shirt store
without any risk. They offer a wide variety of t-shirts you can print on, there are no
set up costs, no minimum orders, and you don’t need to hold inventory.
You simply upload your T-shirt artwork, and the type of shirt you want them to print on
and when you receive an order, they print your shirt, and send it directly to your customer.
The great thing is, the customer has no idea you’ve used this type of service, because
you’re able to customize the return address and include your branding in the packaging.
Also, if you’re using Shopify – there are several of these services in our app store,
that connect directly to your ecommerce store. This means that once a shirt is ordered from
your online store – it will be automatically created, and shipped to your customer. I’ve
linked to a few of these providers in the description of this video but for now let’s
head over to Shopify.com and sign up for a free trial so we can show you just how easy
it is to get your t-shirt business up and running with one of these services.
So, for those of you who don’t know, Shopify is a fully hosted, turnkey, ecommerce solution
that allows you to easily setup and run your own beautiful store on your own domain.
I’m going to quickly start a new store from scratch, so I can walk you through the set
up process. The first thing I will cover is how to sync your store with an on demand printing
and fulfillment service, and then I’m going to show you how to add products, and customize
the look and feel of your store. To start, we’ll type our email into the
box there and hit get started. Then we’ll create our password and the name
of our store. If you’re following along and haven’t decided on a name for your store
yet, don’t worry you can easily change your store name later.
Okay, so it just takes a few moments to create your store.
Great, so Shopify wants to know where we would like to sell, let’s focus on an online store
for now. Let’s quickly add our address to set up
our shop’s currency. Okay, so Shopify wants to know a little bit
more about our plans. “Are you already selling?”. And we haven’t started selling products
yet so I’ll tick that off. and how much revenue does your business currently
make in a year. We’re starting from scratch so I click $0. Okay so now that we’ve created our online
store, we’ll find ourselves within the shopify admin dashboard and it’s best to think of
the dashboard as the control center for all the operations we’ll perform on our shopify
store. Now, I want to get right into showing you
how to integrate with a on-demand, printing and fulfillment service so let’s jump right
into it – but if you’re looking to go into more detail with starting your shopify store,
we have another great tutorial video that shows you how to get up and running in more
detail. I’ve linked that video in the description of this video.
Okay, let’s get started. So the first thing we’re going to do is head to the shopify
app store. To do this, we’ll click on the “apps” tab on the left panel and then
we’ll select “visit the app store”. So the Shopify App store has 100s of apps
that can extend the functionality of your shopify store
in categories ranging from marketing, shipping, sales and customer service.
Now, we’re looking for a pretty specific type of app, so let’s narrow our results
by searching for the word “t-shirt”. As you can see there are currently 6 available
apps that appear in the search results for “T-shirt”, you can take a look at each
of them and read what they have to offer as well as look at customer reviews.
For this tutorial, we’re going to take a look at printful.
Okay so like we said – No upfront costs, they offer personal branding – so it looks like
you sent it and no manual orders – everything is automatically sent to printful.
If we scroll down we can see, they offer a variety of t-shirts, American Apparel, Gildan
and Anvil. They also offer Sweatshirts, posters, mugs and a whole bunch of other products if
you’d like to branch out. They also offer 20% off and free shipping
if you’d like to order samples of your t-shirts and the conveniently provide you with mock
up images that you can use in your shopify store. They even have some pre-written product
descriptions you can use – although we suggest creating your own.
Alright, let’s go ahead and add the app and it will bring us to the signup page, where
we’ll want to create an account. I’ve already created an account so I’ll
be brought directly to my Shopify page where, I’ll want to install printful. Once you’ve
created account as well, you will be redirected here.
Okay so our store is now synced with printful, and we haven’t added any products to our
store so we won’t see anything here quite yet.
In the blue box, we can see that printful wants to make sure we follow their print guidelines.
Let’s click on that link. Here we can see more information on the t-shirts
and pricing they offer. If we scroll down we can see the variety of
shirts and sweaters they offer and if we click on the image, we can see all the colours that
are offered, as well as a description and sizing information.
If we click on the retail prices tab we can see how much each shirt will cost. And these
prices are what you pay for the shirt and the print. The American Apparel 2001 T-shirt
costs you $16 and if you sell your t-shirt at $26 you will profit $10.
Of course, you decide how you want to price your t-shirt so you determine your own profit
margins. If we click on the shipping tab we can see
the rates for the USA, Canada and the rest of the world. Just like pricing, it’s up
to you to you to decide if you want to offer free shipping on your products or if you want
to adjust your shipping rates according to the printful rates. We’ll dig into this
in more detail shortly. If we click on the mockups tab, we can download
some apparel mock ups and they also point you in the direction of some other mock up
tools that we mentioned earlier like shirtmockup.com. And if we click on the guidelines tab – we
can get some instruction on the details of the print file we need to include.
We can very easily download these files and work along with them, but if we want to get
started quickly, we can click on the mockup generator from the top menu.
So this feature allows you to generate a t-shirt mockup and print file very easily. The first
thing we can do is pick our t-shirt brand. We’re going to print on American Apparel
Tees, so I’ll select that. The next thing we’ll do is pick our t-shirt
colour. And then we can upload our artwork. Once it’s uploaded we can adjust, where
we want it to appear on our T-shirt. center the file by clicking the center button,
or adjust the size of our graphic by using the slider bar.
When we’re ready we can click to proceed to the file generator and click to generate
the mockup and printfile. And it will just take a few moments. And We can now download
these files. Great, now let’s quickly set up our billing
information so we can get all synced up with Shopfiy. There are few options and we’re
going to go with the default payment method. Now, if your printful account is connected
with your Shopify store, all you have to do is add a credit card and any new shopify orders
will automatically be added to printful and your credit card will be automatically charged
for them. No manual order submission required. Okay, let’s head over to our Shopify store
– and we’re going to add our first t-shirt to our store.
To do this we’ll click the products tab and select add product.
Let’s name our Shirt Just below that we can add our product description.
You’ll want to take some time to craft a proper product description but we can always
change this later. Type: T-Shirt
Vendor: Shopify And let’s make sure we add this to the frontpage
collection, which means the product will be featured on our home page.
And Images. This where we can upload our T-shirt mock ups, or if we have any shots of our products
on models or anything like that. For now, let’s just add the mockup file that printful
created for us. Okay price. I’ll just go with $30 for now.
Since we plan to print on demand, we don’t need to track inventory. And this product
has multiple options. So we’ll need to add the weight of our product
for when we set up our shipping rates. We’ll get into this in more detail but for now,
I’m going to say that our t-shirt weighs 0.5 kilograms.
Variants, this is where we can add or different shirt sizes. And we’ll just type in the
sizes we offer and separate them with a comma. Okay, let’s hit save product. And our product
has been successfully created. So now, we’ll want to sync our t-shirt with printful. Let’s
hit this handy button on our top bar and select “edit on printful”.
And as we can see our Shirt has been synced and it is showing the sizes we added. What
we can do now is add our printfile, and let printful know what type of shirt and size
we would like them to print on. Product Type, T-Shirt.
Brand: We’re going to go with American Apparel and the model, we’ll go with the very popular
2001, fine jersey sleeve men’s t-shirt. The size for this one will be small, and the
colour black. We can now add our printfile by selecting
“front print” and clicking upload file –
and then we’ll locate the printfile we generated and downloaded
and click the image to confirm.
We also have the option to add a back print or outside label at an additional cost. We
can also add the mockup we created. Let’s go ahead and do that.
It will just take a few seconds to upload – and again we’ll click the image to confirm.
Then we will hit done – and repeat the process for the additional sizes.
As you can see all the info is conveniently filled out and we simply have to change the
size of the shirt. I’ll just adjust our large shirt as well.
Great, so our t-shirt is all synced up with printful and ready to go. Now let’s take
a look at adding our branding to the packages printful ships out to our customers.
So, printful is completely white label, which means you will not see their name or branding
anywhere and they make it very easy to add our branding to their packages.
To do this we’ll head to “settings” from the top tab, select stores from the left
tab and then click edit. So here we have the option to add our branding
sticker. Follow printful’s size and quality guidelines, and at no extra cost you can easily
add your logo to all your packages. Additionally you can add some custom text
to your packing slips by filling out the custom packing slip message right here and you also
have the option to change your return address, although printful recommends that you keep
their address as the return address. Okay great, so now that we’re all synced
up with printful, let’s head back to our shopify admin dashboard and quickly set up
our payments and shipping rates. To set up payments, we’ll head to settings
and then select payments. Okay, so for our users in the UK, US and Canada,
our Shopify stores have automatically been set up with Shopify payments, which allows
us to start accepting payments from all major credit cards instantly.
All we have to do is click to “complete shopify payments account setup and fill out
the relevant information. And for our users outside of the UK, US, and
Canada, don’t worry – Shopify has integrated with over 70 different payment partners so
there are plenty of hassle free options available. Additionally, as soon as we open our Shopify
store, we will be set up with a Paypal Express Checkout account with the email we used to
sign up for our Shopify Store. As soon as we receive our first order through
PayPal Express Checkout, Paypal will send us an email that contains the link and instructions
to complete our Paypal account set-up and claim our funds. Alright, let’s setup our shipping rates
and to do this we’ll select the shipping tab on our left panel. Okay, so like we said before it’s entirely
up to you how you want to set up your shipping rates. You may decide you want to offer free
shipping to your customers, or even build the shipping prices into the cost of your
shirt. We have some great resources that can help you get a shipping strategy in place
that I will link to in the description of this video. But for now, we’ll show you
an easy, and safe way to set up your shipping rates, so that they match the rates that printful
will charge you. Let’s pull up Printful’s shipping rates
for reference. So you can see they have different rates for
the USA, Canada and Worldwide shipping. We’ll set up our Canadian rates first, because that
is where we are located. So our first t-shirt will cost $8.00 and each
additional shirt will cost $1.00. So we’ve already been set up with some standard
shipping rates – but these won’t do us much good since we want to match printful’s rates.
So let’s get rid of the heavy goods shipping. And let’s open up the standard shipping
and customize it. Let’s set up a shipping rate for if our
customer orders 1 t-shirt. So, the first thing we’ll want to do is change our criteria
to “based on weight”. Now, if you remember we put the weight of
our t-shirt at 0.5kg. so we’ll put our range 0.0kg – 0.5 kg. And we’ll set the shipping price to $8.00
as per Printful’s rates. Now we can hit save and our shipping rates
for orders of a single t-shirt have been set. So next we’ll want to set up a rate for
customer’s who order 2 t-shirts. We’ll click “add shipping rate” – I’ll add
the same title “Standard Shipping”. Okay so we know we’ve weighted 1 t-shirt
at 0.5kg, so 2 t-shirts will weigh 1kg. Therefore we’ll want to change the weight range of
this rate to 0.6kg, so that it weighs more than 1 shirt – to 1 kg. And we know printful charges 1 extra dollar
for each additional t-shirt to Canada so we’ll change our rate to $9 instead of 8. We can keep filling these rates out in a similar
fashion – you may also decide to give your customers who are ordering a bunch of shirts
a deal on shipping. You can achieve this by changing the weight
range for example to 1.1-20kg with a shipping rate of $10. Meaning if they order, 3 shirts
or more they are offered the same rate of $10. To set up rates for the USA we can click “add
country”, and select the united states. We’ll then follow the same method we used
to set up our Canadian rates. To set up international rates – click add
country, select “rest of the world” and again follow the same process to set up your
rates. Okay, so we’ve taken care of the logistics.
Our store is integrated with printful – our products are synced and we’ve provided print
files. We’ve set up our billing information on
printful and set up our shopify store to accept payments. Our shipping rates are set – but
you’re probably wondering – what does my store actually look like? Well, that’s really
up to you. Let’s head back to our admin and click on
themes tab to get started customizing the look and feel of our store. So, the theme of a Shopfiy store controls
all aspects of the store’s appearance and layout. Now, Shopify actually automatically
sets us up with an introductory theme called launchpad, which is a great starter theme
– but let’s quickly head over to theme store and explore some options. So there are lots of themes to choose from
and we encourage you take some time looking through them and seeing which one would work
well with your t-shirt business. For now, let’s narrow our results a little
bit by selecting a free theme, that is in clothing and fashion. So our results have narrowed significantly, and I’m personally drawn to the “new standard”
theme so I’ll click on it. Here we can learn more about the theme, view
a demo, see what styles it comes in and read some reviews. If we’re satisfied with what we see we can
click “Get Theme” and publish it as our stores theme. And it will take a few moments to publish
it. Now, we can view what our store is looking
like by clicking this view on your website button or at any time by using the handy icon
in the bottom left corner. So our website is pretty blank – we’ve only
added one product. But we can easily customize our theme and start filling it out by adding
our logo to the top – adding a nice slider image and filling out our About us section. First things first, I’m going to quickly
go back to our products page and add 3 more t-shirts just so we can better visualize our
store. I’d encourage everyone to do the same. If you’re following along, make sure
to add your new products to the “front page” collection so they will appear on your home
page. I’d also like to mention that if you’re
adding shirts that you plan to sell, remember to sync them with printful, by using the same
process we used with our first t-shirt. Okay great, so we now have 4 products to fill
out our store and help visualize it. Let’s head back to our themes and click customize
theme. And there are our 4 products displayed on our front page. Let’s start by adding our logo – to do this
we’ll click the “header tab”. If we read the description it let’s us know that
our logo dimensions can be a maximum of 844 pixels wide and 200 pixels high. I’ve already got a logo prepared so I’ll
click choose file – locate my image, and click open. Great, let’s save those changes. Next up, let’s add a slider image, by clicking
the back arrow and going down to the homepage tab. We can see that our image should be 844 pixels
by 490 pixels. Let’s click the replace button under “slide 1” and select our banner
image. Cool – so that’s added. I also have another
one I will add so it can scroll through two different photos. Same idea, I’ll click
replace under Slide 2 and locate my photo. Awesome, you can also very easily add captions
– or you may even decide you want to turn off the slider.
Take some to explore the storefront editor, it’s extremely intuitive so you can easily
customize the look of your store. If we look at the footer section, for example
we can easily link our social icons, which are located at the bottom of our page to our
appropriate channels, simply by changing the URL. If we don’t use a particular social channel,
we can easily remove the icon by deleting the URL entirely. And as you can see our Google + icon is no
longer there And if we’re interested we can add our contact
information into the boxes below. Okay let’s save changes. Alright, so our
T-shirt store is starting to fill out nicely and another thing we may want to edit is our
“about us” section and our blog. To start, we’ll head back to our admin dashboard and
click pages. From within the pages we can very easily customize
our about us page and we can change the text on our frontpage by selecting the “frontpage”
section. And just like everything else, adding blog
posts is extremely easy. Click on the blog posts tab from the panel and there is one
set up for you that is ready to edit. And to add additional blog posts, simply hit
the “add a blog post” button from the right hand corner. Okay and the last thing we recommend you do
is register a custom web address by clicking settings and then domains. All new stores
start with a with a (dot)myshopify(dot)com address as a way to log in and store our content
safely, however it will look much more professional if you get your own custom .com address for
example. You can do this very easily by selecting the
“buy a domain” button and the domains will even be offered to you at a discounted
price – or – if you already have domain, you can easily add it to your store by selecting
to add an existing domain. And there you go, just like that you’re
all set up with your custom branded, online t-shirt store. And if you’ve followed along,
your t-shirts are all synced up with printful – so when someone purchases a t-shirt – an
order is automatically sent to printful, printed on your t-shirt of choice and sent directly
to your customer. And since you don’t have to worry about
upfront inventory costs, or printing and shipping you’ll have plenty of time to focus on other
aspects of growing and running your online t-shirt business. I’d also like to mention that your store
is currently private, and password protected – but when you’re ready to launch you can
easily remove your password by heading to settings, then scrolling down to the “storefront
password” section to remove your password and make your store live to the public. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate
to leave a comment below – and if you found this video helpful, please let us know by
clicking the like button. Thanks for watching. Ready to put what you learned into action?
Head over to shopify to start your free trial.