Aspiring designers are often confident about embarking upon any business related to the clothing industry. So if they are introduced to the industry of printing t-shirts, they think they will be able to handle everything smoothly.
But when they actually start working on the new venture, they face hurdles and get stuck.
Although such obstacles are small, they can pop up anytime during the entire process right from designing to printing. And when you are unaware about the full particulars related to t-shirt printing business, this is sure to happen.
We are quite aware of the fact that every designer has their own way of working and every print shop works on its own rules.
But if your short term goal or dream is to have an t-shirt printing company of your own, we have come up with a step-by-step guide which might help you to establish your business and run it successfully.
Here are steps to start a T-shirt printing business:
Step 1: Create a T-Shirt Business Plan
To become successful with any business, it is important to have a robust business plan. Now when it comes to t-shirt printing industry, you must remember that it has a wide range of audience based on their choice of quality, design and style.
Once a company knows what it will sell, it needs to decide whether it will have its own web store for selling printed t-shirts or it will have a business assisted by a large online company like amazon where entrepreneurs can have your own section or store.
Thereafter, you need to follow these steps:
A. Identify the market niche
There are two major ways to segment the market
- Based on the needs of the customers
- Based on the age of the customers
In order to identify the market niche, make sure you ask yourself the following questions:
- Will you sell printed t-shirts to infants and toddlers or youth, teen and adults?
- Will your customers have the liberty to design their own t-shirts or you will have a fixed range of designs to choose from?
- Will you be targeting a niche within different age groups? For eg, Printed rock band t-shirts for teens or printed sport t-shirts for adults.
- Will the fashion and quality of the printed t-shirts meet the current market trends?
Some extra tips to identify niche:
One of the basic steps is to start keyword research. You can use Google keyword planner for that.
- Plug-in some keywords related to your niche, add targeted country, and see which words and phrases get suggested. Further, narrow down the suggestions by monthly search volume, competition level, and suggested bid.
- For search volume, go for 1K-10K per month. Any less than this probably means there's not much room for it.
- With competition you get ideas about your competitors, and with suggested big you can get the idea of a high level of commercial intent.
- The mission of your company – which can involve offering high quality printed t-shirts at cost-effective prices
- Will you create the basic templates and design or purchase pre-made designs?
- Things to expect from yourself, management team and other staff members
- Know where you will obtain your raw materials from. Will you have a fixed vendor or you will be buying plain t-shirts from a particular brand?
- Create marketing ideas based on marketing analysis by making use of events, social media, fairs, conventions etc
- Analyze the competition and know how will you make your brand stand out from other t-shirt companies
- Gather supporting documents like design samples, vendor agreements and statistical analysis of t-shirt printing business
- Obtain a license applicable to your location and type of business.
B. Consider the financial aspects
Before establishing a business like this, it is very important to have an idea as to what everything will cost you.
If you are an entrepreneur who thinks in the long run, your financial strategy should include the following:
- Projected expenses and assumptions of fixed and varying costs
- Costs of investment
- Revenues goals and revenue resources
- Break-even analysis
- Business ratios including inventory turnover, accounts payable and debt ratio
- Monthly profit or loss figures
- Annual gross margin
The main expenses that you would want to add would be:
You can get printing quotes from different t-shirt printing firms so that you can compare prices and give the best deal, without compromising on the quality. Once you work out on the above aspects, it will help you to decide about the prices you should quote for your t-shirts. You also need to know how long you can endure with your t-shirt printing business in case it doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to.
C. Don't make these mistakes
If you have a robust business plan, you will undergo each step of the planning process. There are times when startups or entrepreneurs handling one-man business think that there is no need to have a business plan.
However, this is not a right approach. Make sure you do not make the following mistakes.
- Not indulging in market research or having a profit and loss projection
- Not branding your business enough (Will elaborate this more later in the post)
- Commencing business before knowing how to accept and fill shipping orders
- Opening an online store without integrating a web-to-print software
- Not having enough t-shirt design templates, colour options and cliparts
- Lack of knowledge about the working of web to print software and its maintenance
- Not checking the quality of final output (printed t-shirts)
- Not taking into account the challenges that any business must know how to cope with
Step 2: Decide on the ecommerce solution for your web store
The second most important thing to do is to know about the ecommerce platforms you will be using for your online t-shirt printing store. Here, you have two options:
A. Choosing a hosted platform
Shopify and Bigcommerce are the biggest examples of hosted platforms. The biggest benefit of using these platforms is that they have a very low startup cost.
You can purchase a store, upload the logo of your brand, pick the theme you like and start selling printed t-shirts on the platform. Hosted platforms are ideal for start ups and will get you up and running.
The only drawback with these platforms is that you can't have an individual design of your choice and cannot add other customized elements to your store.
However, you can choose out of different plans and have a great looking store.
B. Having a self-hosted platform
You can also have a custom developed Ecommerce solution for your business. Needless to say, it will let you have your own design, provide with the liberty of making custom edits, give limitless options pertaining to Search Engine Optimization and will enable you to add products and set prices at your convenience.
Expensive start up cost is a drawback here. So if you have enough funds and are confident about your business's bright future, you can consider having a self-hosted platform.
Step 3: Purchase an online product designer tool
There is nothing better than investing into an advanced product designer tool when you are into the business of selling customized t-shirts.
You can make your online store stand out from others and add a dash of personal touch by allowing your customers to design their own t-shirt.
Initially, you can purchase an online t-shirt design software that fulfills the basic requirements of your customers. Thereafter, if your business is doing well, you can enhance your web-to-print software and add new features to it.
As your loyal customer base would be established by then, adding new features will help you to boost your revenues.
There are several companies from which you can buy a web-to-print tool and integrate with your ecommerce store. If you have issues with configuration, the professionals also help setting up the entire store for you.
Step 4: Make your design tool feature-rich
While designing t-shirts, people love to experiment with colours, designs and templates. So make sure you add ample amount of features to your tool and make it user-friendly.
It will help you to win in online t-shirt business. You can provide with ready-made quotes, clipart, texts and fonts of different styles, graphics etc.
Features like masking effects, shadows and overlapping can also be added to make their designs look interesting. One major thing you should not miss out is the graphics part. Because this product is all about offering visually appealing products that your customers can easily create. Hence, whatever the budget is, make sure that your tool has the graphics your customers would love. You can also decide whether your customers can design both the front and back of the t-shirt or not.
Provide with the facility to save designs so your customers can come back and continue working on the same t-shirt design again.
Step 5: Select the t-shirt printing method you will use
After you are sorted with designs, it's time to print! There are three commonly followed ways of printing t-shirts. All the 3 methods have their benefits and pitfalls.
So the success of production depends on the amount of time you are willing to spend on the production and the printing method you use.
Let us study the 4 popular printing methods in detail along with their drawbacks.
A. Screen Printing
When it comes to printing t-shirts, screen printing is one of the most popularly used methods. It also provides consistent printing and long lasting imprints.
Screen Printing is the most effective printing technique when it comes to bulk production.
When there are more than four or five colours involved, it gets a little complicated for screen printing machines. So in such a scenario, it might take more time to print.
- Can prove to be expensive for printing multiple colours
- Takes more time with complicated designs
B. Heat transfer printing
This type of printing has been around for several years. Photocopy machines and laser printers work really well on the heat transfer phenomenon.
It involves printing designs from your PC and transferring them with iron.
Heat transfer might prove to be a traditional method for handing a t-shirt printing business. This is because you have to print fast and in larger quantities.
Here's a little brief about laser printers:
Laser printers are quite popular for providing prints that are quite long lasting and don't get affected by wash. Also, the fabric retains its natural feel after it is printed.
It doesn't look like a design has been unnaturally embossed or printed on t-shirts. If you want to have t-shirts that look professional and attractive, investing into a Laser printer would be a good thing to do.
Plastisol transfer is the latest form of heat transfer. This kind of printing is implemented on high quality heat transfer paper. You can order stack or prints from a printer and apply them on the t-shirts as and when you receive orders for t-shirt printing.
Through heat transfer, you will be able to print images quite quickly.
- Asks for a lot of time and undivided attention from the printer
- Less durable as compared to screen printing
- Needs a lot of investment
C. Direct-to-garment printing
This printer works like an ink jet printer and that is why there are no additional costs involved. It can print multiple coloured images directly on the t-shirts with perfection.
The results obtained from direct-to-garment printing are as good as the ones obtained from screen printing.
Needless to say, it is way better than the quality produced by heat transfers.
Here's a little brief about Inkjet Printers
Inkjet printers are quite cost-effective as compared to laser printers. Also, they give a bright and vibrant output. If you can accept a little less professional edge for low costs and brighter colour, Inkjet printer might be your way to go.
The only drawback of this kind of printers is that their ink is a little expensive.
- Not advisable for bulk production
- Not possible to give volume discounts
D. Embroidered printing
It is an ancient printing technique whose origins go back to 5th century BC. Embroidered printing is one of the most unconventional ways of printing.
This is because unlike other printing methods, it uses a sewing machine that sews the design in the t-shirt.
Lots of polo t-shirts are printed using this method. Embroidery printing is also used to create corporate t-shirts.
This kind of printing is still preferred by many as the design looks quite original, professional and elegant when printed on the t-shirt. It also lasts quite long and doesn't come off easily.
- Printing these kinds of t-shirts asks for a special skill and might takes years to learn. You also might have to spend a lot on labour for doing it on a bigger scale.
- It is difficult to implement the embroidery of intricate and minute designs.
Step 6: Select the right t-shirt supplier
Once you have decided to venture into T-shirt printing business, you need to buy blank T-shirts for printing. Do a little bit of research and find out about a manufacturer who can provide you with good quality blank t-shirts for printing.
Garment distributors also help the new business owners to go through different T-shirt options to find the t-shirts within their price range. After a couple of orders and production, you will be able to decide on the price points and other factors for your t-shirts.
Here are a couple of things you should remember:
- The quality of the product. If a pattern fades or cracks, or a t-shirt shrinks, or rips, fans won’t come back for repurchase.
- Focus on the material of the blanket-shirt, printing technique, and prepare your design file.
Make sure you maintain a good relationship with your supplier as you lose time and money from your production schedule with every imperfect shirt. Think about the physical characteristics of the material you will use to print.
T-shirt designs have to be printed on one of the three sizes. (Small, medium and large) The design should be such that it fits to the centre of the t-shirts and should not cross to the collar, sleeves or hem.
So if the design is created at different places on the tshirt, it should remain abstract and not get affected by these variables.
There is a huge variety of ink available in the market. These include high density ink (meant for textured and dimensional look), gel ink (which is thick and rubbery) and foil ink (meant for shiny embossing).
You can choose the one which is most compatible with your fabric and goes with your customer requirements.
Step 7. Set up the printing infrastructure
Once you are done deciding the type of printing method and t-shirt printing material, you need to set up a printing infrastructure or a facility wherein printing can take place without any glitches.
It is advisable to have a printing studio which is equipped with well-maintained printers along with a coating and a finishing unit.
Also, the printer should be able to print n number of design on different quality of fabrics. This is because, the customers who demand for printed t-shirts also might demand for customized caps, bags, jerseys etc.
Here's how you should go about the printing process:
- Decide on the colour schemes: If you decide on your color palette first, you can take care of the details which are overlooked by the time it is too late. When working on an apparel order from the scratch, it doesn't matter whether you pick the garment first or the ink. But there definitely is a link between the two which will be visible in the final print. So you can simulate different inks and check garment color combination by making mock-ups designs.
- Save a copy for yourself and another for print: Once you have received the final design from your customers, you need to save an editable file for yourself, so that changes can be made later if the need be. If there are issues in your printer due to the size or resolution of the file, you might have to go back and make changes or ask your customer to do the same. In a worst case scenario, they might have to start from the scratch.
- Print the t-shirt: Last but not the least, you can print the t-shirt using whichever method you are comfortable with using the printer of your choice. It is better to hire professionals to do the job if you are not comfortable with the printing process. After printing the t-shirt you have to cure the garment and set the ink in the tshirts to ensure maximum washability.
Step 8: Set up logistics infrastructure
Once the t-shirt order is placed by your customers, it has to be delivered to them on time. You can ensure a smooth delivery process in 3 ways:
- You can take care of your orders independently with the help of your team and labour force.
- Sell your product through the drop-shipper who can take care of your orders.
- Liaise with a logistics company that can take care of your warehousing and fulfillment.
There are several advantages of packing and shipping your own t-shirt orders as it is cost-effective and flexible. So the companies that have just started with their business often choose to take care of their own logistics.
However, if your business flourishes and you have money to outsource, you can opt for third-party warehousing. You will be able to find several companies who will take care of storage, packing and shipping of your orders.
Step 9: Launch Your Store
Last but not the least, you can finally start selling some t-shirts! Invite your customers to unleash their creativity and encourage them to draw the designs at the best of their abilities.
Ensure that the designer tool is user friendly and the checkout process is simple.
This will lessen the number of cart abandonments. Print the right designs on the right t-shirts and bring a satisfactory smile on the face of your customers.
If you are serious about setting up an online t-shirt printing store, you don't have to have the knowledge of programming or coding.
All you need as an artistic streak and a good sense of fashion. Also, with a business like this, you can start with limited supplies, funding and equipment.
There are several companies out there that can provide you with a ready made set up for your online t-shirt printing business. Are you ready to print?
Step 10: Marketing your store
Start marketing about your upcoming businesses through flyers, pamphlets and business cards. Hand them out to nearest organizations, businesses and schools.
Word of mouth promotion is also very important if you want the message about your printing business to spread amongst the locals. Wear your merchandise and step out.
Click pictures, talk to people and put them on instagram. It makes a lot of difference. You can also give away printed t-shirts bearing the logo of your company.
Don't be hesitant to sponsor events, give online ads and use other paid marketing tactics.
Conduct online polls and surveys on these channels and post consistently to get people to follow you.
Even though following the above steps will ensure you are doing everything right with your t-shirt business. But they do not guarantee success.
You have to take all your business constraints into consideration, get the right vendors for web-to-print software, printing machines and t-shirts.
You will also have to figure out the most cost effective way to get the t-shirts printed and delivered to your customers. And once all those are in place you have to figure out a winning marketing strategy get the all important customers.
But if you do all these right, then there's no stopping you from achieving success.