The t-shirt business is probably one of the easiest yet confusing markets to get into specially if you have no idea where to start.
T-shirts are the #1 item for promotional giveaways, parties, events, or anything really! Who doesn’t love a t-shirt? But, how exactly do you get started and is it expensive? Let’s dive in as I show you the easiest and least expensive method for you to start your new business venture.
T-Shirt Printing Methods
So, what do you need to get started? Well, that partly depends on which method you want to go about it. There are three ways to print shirts screen printing, iron-on transfer and heat pressing vinyl.
Screen printing is a printing technique where a mesh is used to transfer ink onto a substrate, except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil. Sounds complicated right? That’s because out of the three methods, it is and we won’t be going that route. We want the easiest way in since we’re just starting out. Which brings us to the next method, iron-on transfers.
Iron-on transfers are images that can be imprinted on fabric. That’s it. And as you guessed it, the steps are as easy as it sounds. You print you design onto an iron-on transfer sheet and iron it on to a shirt or any fabric really, which makes the possibilities endless! The third method is vinyl heat pressing.
Vinyl heat pressing is the method of using a heat transfer vinyl, or HTV for short, which is a specialty vinyl polymer, that can be used on certain fabrics and materials to create designs and promotional products. Since this can be pressed on more than just fabric, this opens your product doors even further.
For this business venture we will be focusing on the latter two methods.
Iron-On Transfer Prints
Iron-on transfers are the easiest of the three methods and probably the fastest to setup. You will need four things: a color printer, iron-on transfer sheets, an iron or a heat press and a t-shirt. That’s it!
- Designs – You will need a design to turn into a t-shirt. In some cases, your client will provide the image such as for a business or event. But, what if they don’t have one or you want to produce your own designs to promote and sell?
If you’re an artist and are familiar with a photo editing program like Photoshop then you’re already well aware of this aspect and should probably skip ahead to step 2.
If you’re not experienced creating designs you have 2 options.
First, learn to design your own artwork to print or second, outsource it. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials that show you exactly how to get an art idea from your mind to paper then onto Photoshop or your photo editing program of choice.
Now, if you’re like me who doesn’t have the best artistic talent to create original artwork then you’ll be outsourcing. When it comes to outsourcing you have two options as well. First, find free to use clip art that’s already made via Google Image search. Second, use a service like Fiverr where a designer will make the custom original artwork for you at a relatively low price.
Personally, I recommend Fiverr as a freelance designer will create your original artwork to your liking plus any revisions you may have and you will avoid any possible copyright problems that sometimes arise from taking clip art images from Google. Plus now you have this design to use anytime as you wish!
If you sign up using our Fiverr link you will get 20% off your first order!
- Equipment – Now that you have your design you will need equipment to start producing your t-shirts.
So, what do you need exactly? In short, a quality color printer and iron-on transfer paper and a heat source such as an iron or heat press.
If you want to do some colorful designs then an inkjet printer is the preferred option as they print full color images at a better resolution and quality. A laser printer will do okay just make sure your transfer paper is compatible to your printer.
If you bought a printer recently, odds are it’s capable of handling this type of job. If it’s an older printer or you do not have one then consider investing in one. You will need one to print these media projects as well as your invoices, packing slips e.t.c.
There are 3 printers I recommend depending on your budget:
– HP OfficeJet 5255 Wireless All-in-One Printer – $139.89
– HP Envy Photo 7155 All in One Photo Printer – $89.89
– HP ENVY 5055 Wireless All-in-One Photo Printer – $59.99
The reason I recommend these is simple. These HP printers all print great quality color photo images to do the job but also offer the Instant Ink service which is the best color ink refill deal ever!
For a low monthly fee, $2.99-$19.99 depending on how much you print, HP will send you free ink refills when your ink is low. I’m sure you guys know how expensive ink can be so this is a steal.
Now onto the iron-on printable transfer paper!
I have narrowed down a list of iron-on printable transfer paper options and sorted it by the cheapest price per sheet.
A4 Temporary Tattoo adhesive film – 100 Sheets @ $117.66 ($1.18/ea.)
DIY A4 Temporary Tattoo Transfer – 10 Sheets @ $22.99 ($2.30/ea.)
RoryTory Temporary Tattoo Paper – 4 Sheets @ $12.00 ($3.00/ea.)
Epoch Temporary Tattoo Paper – 5 Sheets @ $18.99 ($3.80/ea.)
Silhouette Temporary Tattoo Paper – 4 Sheets @ $15.99 ($4.00/ea.)
SANGI Temporary Tattoo Paper – 4 Sheets @ $15.99 ($4.00/ea.)
- Printing – The next step is simply to print.
Arrange your graphic in your photo editor and print it onto your iron-on printable transfer paper. Make sure you follow the instructions for your specific brand of paper. With some you can print normally, with others you may have to mirror the image.
To get the most value for your print paper make sure to duplicate the image so it prints several times throughout the sheet if it is a re-occurring print or print multiple images at once on the sheet if they fit. Most t-shirt prints will use up most of the paper but if you’re printing sleeve logos or smaller pocket logos/images then this is ideal to duplicate.
If you have multiple smaller designs instead you can add them all together and print them in one sheet, assuming they fit the sizing. You paid good money for the paper, make sure you use it all!
When you print make sure you print in Good/Best color quality.
- Iron-On – The next step is to iron-on the printed design onto your t-shirt!
The best deal I found online for t-shirts is at Amazon, Gildan Men’s 10-Pack Heavy Cotton Adult T-Shirt (G5000), depending on the size each shirt is under $3! Otherwise you can pick up any blank shirt from Wal-Mart to give it a test run for about $5.
If you have an iron and want to use that just skip these recommendations below. These are for people interested in investing into a heat press which can be used for all kinds of vinyls.
I personally use the Cricut Easy Press 2 9″x9″ which I got for a great deal but now having done this for a while as a business I would definitely have liked to have started off with an actual heat press machine like the Super Deal Pro as I would be using it for multiple other uses and is actually cheaper than the press I have at full price. That one isn’t as portable as the Cricut Easy Press though so if you lack work space then Cricut’s Easy Press is still your best bet.
– Cricut Easy Press Mini – $49.00
– Cricut Easy Press 2 6″ X 7″ – $89.00
– Cricut Easy Press 2 9″ X 9″ – $148.98
– Cricut Easy Press 2 12″ X 10″ – $199.00
– Super Deal PRO 12″ X 10″ Heat Press – $131.89
Make sure to follow your iron-on printable transfer paper instructions for proper method of placing onto your t-shirt.
Keep in mind, most of these transfer papers will leave a “discoloration” around your design. This is because the adhesive is transferred onto the shirt thus adding a layer of colorless glue. You must cut around your design as close to the printed border lines as possible! That’s why this type of method of printing works best with square or round prints that are easy to cut.
In general, you want to lay the t-shirt on a flat sturdy surface (ironing table is perfect) and give it a quick iron to make sure the shirt is flat and as wrinkle-free as possible. While the shirt is hot from the quick ironing, fold it in half longways and run your finger down the fold line to get a quick center guideline imprint on the shirt. Helps with centering your design!
Next lightly fold in half your design and place it centered on the t-shirt (yay fold lines!). Make sure your design starts at least 4 inches down from the neck trim for best fit.
If you have a Teflon sheet, place it over the design sheet. A parchment paper will do great as well. This is to protect your iron or heat press from any ink or transfer adhesive sticking to it when heated.
If using an iron, your iron should be about 300 degrees which is roughly at or just slightly below the cotton setting. No water or steam in your iron, it has to be dry.
Begin ironing evenly throughout the design, again, your specific brand of iron-on transfer paper will have specific instructions as to how long to iron for. Times vary from 45 seconds to 3 mins depending on size and brand. And voila!
- Sell – You are pretty much done, now, get started selling!
Where can you sell these? That is the big question. And there are a couple of places to start.
If you’re a door to door type of person, you can include these as an additional promotional item in your branding package to reach out to businesses, local sports teams, local events. Post your services in local marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp & LetGo.
If you have your own website, you can sell your own designs or customization option services. If you don’t, or actually, even if you do I recommend choosing a marketplace to list your products and services to expand your reach. List your designs on both eBay and Etsy. One thing I’ll say about Etsy is that it has easy access to the marketplace customers. You’ll get faster sales and exposure via Etsy than eBay. In addition, sign up with Etsy using our link and get 40 free listings on us!
Start Up Investments
Your start up investment largely depends on if you have a printer or what type of printer you want to purchase. Since most people don’t just have iron-on transfer paper laying around I will make the investment cost list including a start-up purchase of iron-on transfer paper for 10 Sheets @ $22.99
- You own a printer, investment cost: $22.99
- With HP Envy 5055 printer, investment cost: $82.98
- With HP Envy 7155 printer, investment cost: $112.88
- HP OfficeJet 5255 printer, investment cost: $162.88
As you can see the start-up costs are relatively low for starting a business in this niche. With a low investment cost of $22.99 if you already have a printer and $162.88 if you opt-in to the 3rd tier printer.
Keep in mind these prices will vary as I did not include taxes or the optional enrollment in the HP Instant Ink program. Which I only recommend enrolling to once you have an idea of how much you’re printing. Most people would be okay with the $2.99/month service to start.
Honorable mentions on a couple must haves:
- 12 Inch Triangular Architectural Scale Ruler – $12.99
Aids with cutting strait edges manually with a hand blade.
- Letion Paper Trimmer $10.99
Aids with cutting strait edges manually with a paper cutter.
- Eygoo HT Vinyl White $16.95
Heat Transfer Vinyl Roll 12″ X 13′
- Waloden HT Vinyl Black $11.99
Heat Transfer Vinyl Roll 12″ X 8.2′