5 considerations for starting a t-shirt business

Although the tools and technology available for designing, printing, and shipping custom t-shirts makes starting up relatively simple, the difficult part is building a brand to stand out from the competition. Combine competition with slim profit margins and building an online t-shirt company becomes a little harder than it might first appear.

If you want to design and sell t-shirts online, you have to make the right decisions from the get-go.

There are several critical elements involved in starting a successful online shirt selling business. Each of these elements needs to be considered closely before moving forward:

  1. T-shirt printing techniques. There are many different ways to print designs on a t-shirt. Choosing the right one can help you save money and make smarter business decisions. 
  2. Design. The majority of people purchasing graphic tees are looking for designs, graphics, and slogans that connect with them and reflect their opinions and personality.
  3. Quality. The quality of the shirts you use and of the print job need to be top notch to build a sustainable business.
  4. Brand, A strong, interesting brand is vital in the t-shirt industry.
  5. Inventory, Will you manage your own inventory to take advantage of volume discounts or use a print-on-demand service to save time and effort.

Let's take a deeper look at each one.

1. T-shirt printing techniques

There are three popular methods for printing when it comes to how to make an online t-shirt business. Each method has its pros and cons and deciding which one to use will partially depend on how much time you want to invest in the product creation and which printing partner you choose.

Below, we have outlined all three t-shirt printing options, to give you a better understanding of each process. Whether you invest in your own printer or use a local supplier, it’s worth knowing how each printing technique works.

Heat transfer

Heat transfers have also been around for a long time and exist in several forms. You may have seen basic heat-transfer paper at your local office supply store.

Although this method makes it easy to print designs from your home computer and transfer them with an iron, it won’t cut it when it comes to running a small 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 heat transfers is the ability to order a stack of prints from your local printer and transfer them to your t-shirts with a commercial heat press machine as you receive orders.

Heat transfers can produce full-colour images onto t-shirts relatively easily and quickly.


  • You can “print” each shirt on demand
  • More affordable for small batches
  • No limit in number of colours you can use in a print


  • Lower quality and less durable than direct-to-garment and screen printing
  • Large upfront investment in a heat press machine (from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand)
  • The do-it-yourself approach means additional time input for you

Direct-to-film (DTF)

The direct-to-garment printing process operates much like an ink-jet printer you might have at home. It’s a common type of t-shirt printing business equipment because it prints ink directly onto substrate film. This image is then heat pressed direct to the garment.  This technique can produce full-colour images with accuracy.

Direct-to-film printing produces quality printing on par with screen printing and better than heat transfers. Because it operates like an ink-jet printer, there are no setup costs, unlike screen printing. This means it’s easy and cost effective to print small orders.

The major disadvantage of direct-to-film printing online t-shirt business model is the lack of volume discount for large orders, as it takes the same amount of time to print each shirt.


  • Unlimited colour options
  • High detail accuracy in printed design
  • Great for small orders or one-offs
  • No set-up costs


  • Not as cost effective for large production runs
  • Generally no volume discounts

2. Design

The last thing a visitor would want is to see in your catalog is a copy of a t-shirt design found elsewhere. 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.

To ensure quality prints for your shirt selling business, your design files should generally be at least 300 pixels per inch (dpi or ppi), have a transparent background, and be large enough to cover the actual print area of the t-shirt. Just note that your exact specifications will vary depending on the printer and printing technique used (more on that later).

3. Quality

The next most important factor in how to start an online t-shirt business set up for long-term success is quality. You can disappoint someone once, but they won't let you disappoint them twice. A pattern that fades and cracks or a t-shirt that shrinks and rips won’t create raving fans that come back and repurchase.

Higher quality t-shirts might cost more to produce but can also command higher prices. The final quality of your t-shirt will depend on the material of the blank t-shirt, printing technique used, and correct preparation of your design file.

4. Brand

A strong, interesting brand is vital when you start a shirt business online. Your brand is a promise that will tie together all your choices, including your niche, designs, and quality. From your t-shirt business name to the logo you use, building a unique and likable brand is important in a high-competition industry.

When customers have more choices, it becomes extremely important for an ecommerce business to have a distinctive presence to capture their attention.

If you’ve chosen a niche for your t-shirt online business that embodies a certain lifestyle, you can incorporate it into your marketing and website to speak to these customers.

5. Inventory

When learning how to start a t-shirt business online, most people either opt to buy and hold inventory, taking advantage of bulk pricing and local printers, or use our to take inventory management and shipping off your plate. You can also opt for a mix of both.

By holding your own inventory for your online shirt selling business, you can more easily sell in-person and potentially improve your profit margins, whereas with our brand on demand service, you take on a lot less risk, reduce the need for space and massively reduce your hands on time. Weigh the pros and cons before you start. If you’re unsure, brand on demand is always one of the best low investment start up ideas. Drop us an email for more details.

Start your t-shirt business today

It's never been easier to express your creativity and sell t-shirts online. Whatever niche you choose to serve or however ambitious you decide to be with your quality and designs, a t-shirt store makes for a great first online business for new entrepreneurs.

Here’s the good news: Building and launching a new t-shirt brand with us at Rebel Printerz is relatively inexpensive and quick. If you already have designs you want to sell, you can be up and running in as little as a few hours.

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