How to start an online T-shirt business, step-by-step

1. Choose a niche for your t-shirt online business

A niche will help your online shirt selling business stand out and better attract the right target audience without blowing your budget.

You hear the term “niche” tossed around a lot, but it’s important to choose one when trying to understand how to make an online t-shirt business. One of the most important parts of a successful online t-shirt business model is the ability to stand out, and one of the best ways to do that is by catering to a specific target audience or interest group.

Generally, categories like “t-shirts for people who like funny slogans” are going to be too broad to get noticed in a very developed market. 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 to doctors and nurses, or to dog owners, as pictured below.

There are many ways to find and evaluate a niche when you want to know how to start a t-shirt business online. Here are a few:

  • Visit your prospective niche’s subreddits and evaluate the subscriber count and level of engagement.
  • Use Facebook’s Audience Insights tool to gauge the size of your niche on the platform.
  • Scan this list of popular hobbies on Wikipedia for inspiration.
  • Consider your own interests and the communities you belong to—sometimes it’s OK to trust your gut.

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2. Source quality material and t-shirt printing options

The next step of how to start an online t-shirt business is to find suppliers. Not all t-shirts are the same and not all print jobs are the same. As we mentioned above, quality is paramount to your brand and its success, so it’s important to educate yourself and choose your blank shirts wisely.

It might be tempting to sacrifice quality for higher profit margins when you start a shirt business online. But you need to consider how the quality will affect a customer’s decision to share your brand and purchase from you again.

Choosing a quality t-shirt encompasses 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’s review of some of the most popular blank t-shirts for printing.

Once you narrow down your choices, it’s strongly recommended to order samples so you can make an informed final decision.

3. Create your own t-shirt designs

Next up in how to start your own online t-shirt business is to come up with the designs. Here are a few ways you can get a head start on your t-shirt business designs.

Find the best selling designs and niches

If you’re stuck for t-shirt niche ideas and designs, a great start is looking at what else is popular and currently selling well.

Below is a list of pages for some of the top graphic t-shirt marketplaces. You can use them to search the “best sellers” and “most popular” sections to help you get a better idea of your next niche or t-shirt design. 

You may also want to consider checking out Google Trends to get a sense of the topics people are currently interested in for inspiration for your t-shirt online business..

Hire a designer

Once you have an idea for some t-shirt designs, you’re going to have to actually design them. If you have Adobe Photoshop or a similar program, you likely can produce some great designs by yourself. However, if you’re like most people, you’ll need to enlist some help.

There are a wide variety of tools and marketplaces you can use to find a suitable graphic designer to help you.

Design communities

DribbbleDribbble is a designer community with lots of unique talent. Search for the style you’re looking for and message the designers you like to see if they’re available for freelance projects.

Dribbble screenshot of t-shirt search query

BehanceBehance is a cool platform to check out. You can see portfolios from different creators around the world who specialize in illustrations, niches, and styles, and more. If you end up like a designer, you can reach out to them and get a quote on your custom t-shirt designs.

T-shirt search query in Behance

Freelance networks 

Some other options you may want to try are the popular freelance networks like Freelancer and Upwork. You can find qualified t-shirt designers, fast, and check out their past job successes and portfolio. If you like someone, you can reach out in right in the platform and hire them on the spot. 

T-shirt designers for hire on Upwork

Buy t-shirt designs

If you’re stuck finding a designer for how to start a t-shirt business online, you can always purchase pre-made designs. Keep in mind that if you choose to go this route, there’s a high likelihood that other people are already selling whatever design you pick, making it harder for you and your online shirt selling business to stand out.

Check out the following t-shirt graphic marketplaces:

  • Designious: which sells vector packs and PNG t-shirt designs, also clip art to create your own products. 
  • Tshirt Factory: which offers a variety of vector images — from old school to punk rave and urban styles — for t-shirt printing businesses. 
  • Creative Market: which doesn’t focus exclusively on t-shirts, but you can find over 3 million unique fonts, graphics, themes, photos, and templates designed by independent creators from around the world.
  • Graphic River: where you can buy and sell royalty-free, Photoshop files, vectors, and icon packs for your t-shirt designs. 

Keep in mind, if you want to know how to make an online t-shirt business, you may need to purchase a commercial license. 

4. Mock up your t-shirts

Once you have some final designs, your next step for how to start a t-shirt business online will be to get some mockup images. Mockups are helpful so your customers can see what the final design will look like printed on a shirt.

There are a few ways you can get images of your final designs on t-shirts, including ordering samples and taking product photography yourself or, with the abundance of t-shirt mockups and templates online, opting to create a 100% digital mockup, like the one below.

T-shirt mock up

Adobe Photoshop t-shirt templates are the most common type of mockup files. They allow you to quickly preview how your designs will look printed on a t-shirt. Most Photoshop templates come with multiple layers that let you change the color of the shirt and apply your own design that will blend with the shirt’s creases, folds, and contours.

Here are several resources to help you find the best mockup file for your shirt selling a business:

If Adobe Photoshop isn’t right for you, you can also use web-based mockup software that will let you do the same thing without having to download and figure out Photoshop.

Another great option for tasks like this is to enlist help from someone on Fiverr. Just search for t-shirt mockups.

5. Validate the designs for your t-shirt online business

Before you invest a lot of money in your new business idea, you should verify that there is a market for and interest in your designs. There are many ways you can go about validating the market and selling t-shirts online.

Some of the most popular and more common methods for validating your design ideas include: to start a shirt business online

Personal social networks. Post some of your designs to your Facebook profile, niche Facebook groups, Twitter, and other social networks your friends and potential customers frequent. Be careful when asking friends and family, however—their opinions are prone to kindness.

Reddit. 

Despite the community’s general aversion to marketing, Reddit is still one of the best places to get honest feedback on your designs (which can even translate into sales after you launch). With countless subreddits, it’s easy to find a highly targeted niche of potential customers and ask them directly for their thoughts on your designs before launching.

Crowdfunding. 

Crowdfunding sites have 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, including fully funding your project before you launch it. If you have a particularly novel t-shirt business idea (say, matching t-shirts for dogs and dog owners), crowdfunding might be for you.

Print on demand. Finally, with eCommerce platforms like Shopify, it’s never been easier to set up a fully functional online store (domain name included) in a matter of hours to validate your business idea. Start a 14-day free trial and integrate a print-on-demand service to validate your t-shirts by trying to sell them online.

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6. Set up your online store

Now that you have your t-shirt designs in hand, have made your mockups, and validated your idea, it’s time to build your store.This is especially important if you want to know how to start a t-shirt business online. 

There are a handful of t-shirt print-on-demand services that directly integrate with your Shopify store, allowing you to start taking orders in no time. These services will print and ship your t-shirts to your customers on your behalf every time you receive an order. 

There’s no need to purchase or hold any inventory upfront, making it a great way to get started. Best of all, if you want to use your design on other printable products, such as mugs and tote bags, you have that option as well.

There are a variety of t-shirts available through the following print-on-demand companies:

Once your store is set up, you’ll be ready to start selling t-shirts online. 

Wrapping up

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