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How to Start an Online T-Shirt Business

T-shirt businesses are popular because it is the only piece of casual wear that is worn by both men and women and its demand is consistent all year round. Also, it offers a blank canvas for artists who want to express themselves making it a viable business for just about any type of niche. With the help of the Internet, it is now easy to start an online t-shirt business. It is just a matter of knowing how.

Today, I’ll show you the four steps on how to create an online t-shirt business. Let’s dive in and discover how easy it is to create one.

The 4-Step Process of Creating Your Online T-Shirt Business

The Internet is your friend when it comes to having your own online business. In the old days, you will need more than minor online promotion to get your goods in front of the eyes of your buyers. But today, you can have your designs shown with a simple submit button.

However, creating an online t-shirt business is not as simple as willing it and it will happen. There is still some hard work involved. I broke down the four major processes into the following steps.

STEP 1: Choosing a Niche – This step will help you define your target market

STEP 2: Designing – This will tackle how you can get your design on paper and in your computer for easy mock-up creation and printing.

STEP 3: Choosing a Printing Process – This will tackle the different printing processes available to you as well as their pros and cons for your business.

STEP 4: Creating an Online Presence and Sell – This will teach you the channels that you should create for better brand exposure.

As you can see, these steps doesn’t involve anything complex. Let’s dive in to find out.

STEP 1: Choosing a Niche

The first step in planning any type of business is to choose your niche. If you have been studying business planning, you’ll know that the word ‘niche’ has been used quite a lot in the marketing realm and the same is true for the t-shirt industry.

A niche pertains to the portion of the market that you would like to target.

With a niche, you’ll be able to customize your approach to your market so that it speaks to them. Aside from marketing, your products should also be customized to fit your market’s specific needs.

For example, there is an online sub-niche for anime lovers. These people simply love watching cartoons that are called anime and they have online communities and groups that discuss that.

You can create a tshirt business in this niche. You just need to know what anime lovers like.

For example, there is a Sailormoon-printed T-shirt.

It speaks to anime and Sailormoon fans alike.

Then, there are also some t-shirts that have anime characters in them.

Another niche that have flourishing t-shirt businesses is Harry Potter fans.

T-shirts that represent the four houses (Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin) are coming out to meet their fans’ needs.

Aside from this, there are also shirts that contains messages only understood by fans.

Again, it is an entirely different community with a different culture.

As you can see, t-shirts should be created with the market in mind. It should not be printed randomly. It must take the interest of the target market into consideration even before the design and printing process.

This is the reason why you should take the time to get to know your target market. This will allow you to know what matters to them and what doesn’t.

To choose your niche, simply think about how you like to design your t-shirts. From here, think about the market that will like those t-shirts.

And if you are already part of a community, you can go out of your way and interview them for certain designs that will pique their interests. This will give you tons of design ideas before you proceed with the next step.

STEP 2: Designing

Once you have chosen your niche, it is time to proceed with the design process. Why design? Well, you don’t want people to just see you as a copycat brand, right? Think about it. Would you like them to flip through your catalogue only to find a design that they have already seen elsewhere? That’s just bad for business.

More than creating designs that appeals to your niche, you also want t-shirt designs that are unique to you. It doesn’t even need to be complex. In fact, some of best selling shirts online are often quite simple.

So how do you design your shirts? That’s simple.

First, you need some inspiration. With this, I love visiting the Bestseller section of famous t-shirt marketplaces. Some of the websites I love are Zazzle Popular section, Teeview, Redbubble Popular section, Snorg Bestsellers and Skreened Trending Shirts section. These websites often give me some ideas on how shirts are designed these days. I take a look at where the design is placed. Is it in the right chest area or in the middle? Is the design big or small? What are the best selling colors? I take note of all of these before I proceed with the designing process.

Then, I try to draw it. If you are not going to do the design, you can tell your designer what you want before they proceed with the designing.

After the sketching, it is time to put it in the computer. You can do this in two ways.

First, you can create the design in Adobe Illustrator and follow it up with a mockup through Adobe Photoshop. It will be better if you have a drawing tablet so that you can draw your designs straight to your computer. The cheapest route is to do this yourself but this will need some skill on your part.

If you don’t have the skill to do this, you will need to hire a designer to do this for you. They may charge you a particular amount and you will need to add this to your costs.

The best place to find designers are designer communities like Behance and Dribbble. These places have t-shirt designers waiting to be hired. Behance is one of the most common places for t-shirt designs while Dribble is a designer community that has really unique talent. Finding a designer is as easy as viewing their portfolio and contacting them. The people in these communities are often designer freelancers that are willing to take on jobs as they arise.

If you’re feeling lazy, you can also buy designs instead. Some of the best places to buy t-shirt designs are Designious and T-shirt Factory. However, you must take note that these places tend to sell the design over and over again. This means that there is a risk that the design is already sold in another website.

If you want to be ensure that your design is unique, you can just buy some premade designs from graphic marketplaces instead. Instead of t-shirt mockups, these places will give you premade graphics instead.

STEP 3: Choosing a Printing Process

 Graphics are nothing but files in your computer unless it is printed. This is the reason why t-shirt businesses are so popular nowadays. It allows people to express themselves through what they are wearing.

With this, it is important to choose a printing process for your business. There are three ways to design a shirt. It is done through screen printing, heat transfer and direct-to-garment printing.

Screen Printing

Before the big bulky printers were made, there is already screen printing. This is the reason why t-shirt designing is quite an old art and it all begins with this process.

Screen printing may be old but it continues to be popular because of its lasting design and durable materials. Also, it doesn’t cost much to set up. As long as you have a screen, then you can already start printing your designs on shirts. Once the orders pick up, you will need a machine that can do the screen printing for you. This will cut your production time allowing you to comply with all of your incoming orders.

The downside of screen printing is that it can be quite complicated to do if your design has five colors or more. It is great for simple designs but complex designs can take too much time and will not be as cost effective. With this, it may be good to only stick with screen printing only if you have simple designs that have 3 colors or less.

Heat Transfer

Wouldn’t it be great if you can just print your design on paper and watch it magically transfer into a shirt? Well, your prayer is answered. Heat transfer does just that. In fact, it is the go-to printing process for many of the most complicated designs that we see on t-shirts tody.

Here’s how it works. First, you need to buy a transfer paper. You can buy these from your office supply store. Then, you just need a printer to print your designs on the transfer paper. Transferring is easy. Just put the design on top of the garment and then iron it. The design will transfer unto the garment.

Now, if you will be doing some massive printing, you will need a better choice than manually ironing each design. With this, there are is a commercial heat press machine. With it, you can just print all your designs in bulk and then transfer them into the shirts using a heat press.

The downside of this option is that the design is usually not as long-lasting. If you see shirts with chipped designs, these are often because it is done through heat transfer. Also, the heat press machine cost is not a joke. You will need to spend a huge amount before you can get your business running.


Direct-to-Garment also known as DTG makes use of a machine that prints on shirts instead of paper. Instead of the printing process of heat transfer that requires a transfer paper before printing, this cuts the process in half by just printing the design directly on the garment.

But even if it removes a step from the process, it can still be quite time consuming. This is because it takes the same amount of time to print designs on one garment. This is not a good choice if you are planning to print hundreds of shirts for it will take some time for the machine to fulfill something that large.

But this doesn’t take away the fact that this is by far the best way to print a design on a t-shirt. It is able to print designs in many colors and the design doesn’t fade away as much as heat transfer. The only downside is the lack of volume control but that can be managed if you tell your customers to give you some lead time in your printing.

STEP 4: Creating an Online Presence and Sell

Now you are finally ready for business. With this, you need a channel. There are two types of channels that you can use for your business: a social media page or a website.

Social Media Page

Having a social media page is easy and free. You just need to create a page for your brand and you are ready to go. Also, promotion on social media is quite cheap so it is easy to get the word out with just a few paid ads.


Having a website, on the other hand, will make your brand look more legit. It will give customers a place to view all of your products and give them the option to add your products to their cart. Then, you can also have all of your policies in one convenient page.

More than creating an online presence, you should also focus on having your own brand. While creating a t-shirt business is relatively easy, it is also prone to a lot of competition. With this, it is important to stand out from the crowd by having a brand. This should be your unique selling proposition so that your market will buy from you instead of your competition.

So that’s how you create an online t-shirt business. It’s really easy, right? Now it’s your turn.
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5 Response to "How to Start an Online T-Shirt Business"

  1. Comment From Christopher Stigall

    Great post, with great advice! I especially liked the parts about knowing and understanding the wants and needs of your niche customers. That’s critical for any type of product a person is marketing. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Comment From Joe Tanner

    I always thought selling shirts was the easiest thing. There is always more to it than you think, however this is a great step by step guide.

  3. Comment From Gilroy Jonesy

    Social media is key for any ecommerce site. I love how you can target such a very specific demographic in Facebook. The data they have on everyone is unbelievable.

  4. Comment From Judith @

    You have mentioned the most important things to do when starting to establish t-shirt business, but you should also consider to contact or to partner with any of the reliable couriers near your place for shipping of the items.

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