Starting Your Own Small Business T-Shirt Printing

4 min read ·


Looking in your own closet or drawers, you might tell yourself not to get any more T-shirts. Yet, you still do. It’s a trend globally. That’s why small business T-shirt printing can be a great option for aspiring entrepreneurs.

“The global custom t-shirt printing market size was valued at USD 3.64 billion in 2020. It is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.7% from 2021 to 2028,” according to Grandview Research. They attribute the growth to:

  • A fashion industry shift toward more customized clothing
  • Increasing disposable income
  • People wanting to express their personalities with T-shirts

It’s also a business with a low startup cost. This article covers the steps to take for setting up your own online T-shirt business.

  • Decide on a target market
  • Form a legal business
  • Source materials and a printer
  • Design shirts
  • Create your online store
  • Market your business


Decide on a Target Market

Maybe you prefer a vintage-looking T-shirt with the name of a metal band from the 1980s on it. Right next door, your neighbor might want bright, colorful shirts with funny quotes. Starting a small business with T-shirts aiming to appeal to everyone will make things more challenging.

When embarking on any new business venture, start by thinking about your niche audience. Going too broad will make it more difficult for your T-shirts to stand out.

To find out more about how to appeal to a particular market (e.g., cat lovers, video gamers, football fans), you could:

  • Consider your particular passions—it can help to start out with what you know and love
  • Do a Google Trends search to see what interests people right now (you can even break it down by region)
  • View Facebook’s Audience Insights tool to gauge the size of your niche on the platform
  • Search for online blogs and other virtual communities tied to your idea that you could market to


Form a Legal Business

Form a Legal Business

Starting in small business T-shirt printing is a simpler route to follow to becoming your own boss. Still, you’ll want to start out with the right foundation by establishing a legal company. This could involve:

  • Selecting an appropriate business structure
  • Choosing a registered agent for your business
  • Obtaining federal and state tax ID numbers
  • Creating an ownership agreement
  • Applying for relevant licenses and permits
  • Finding business insurance

Maybe you’ll want to listen to these “Best Small Business Podcasts for 2021” to learn more.


Source Materials and a Printer

Sourcing your T-shirts is obviously a critical step. You’ll want to check out samples from many suppliers to find the right balance of quality and cost. When it comes to T-shirts themselves, you’re going to want to consider:

  • Sizing
  • Material
  • Softness
  • Weight
  • Color options
  • Washability

T-Shirt Magazine (yes, there is such a thing) helps you out with this article on “Picking the Perfect T-shirt Blank.”

Then, you’ll also want to find a printer that you can rely on for quality printing. No one wants a blurry design on their T-shirt (unless it’s making a joke about beer goggling or aging eyes). There are many different ways to print designs, so get to know the differences before making your choice. This Heat Press Fun comparison can help.


Design Shirts

You might have the creative chops to design your own T-shirts. Great. Otherwise, you’ll want to hire a designer to create looks that will attract customers to your online T-shirt business. 

Knowing your audience and what kind of brand image you want to convey will help you find the right fit with a designer. You can find graphic designers on sites such as Upwork, DesignCrowd, or Fiverr. 

To contract with a designer, you’ll want to:

  • View their portfolio
  • Describe your design idea or theme
  • Explain your target audience
  • Discuss how you’ll pay (Upfront? Commission?)

This “Quick Start Guide To Hiring Freelancers for Your Small Business” tells you more.


Create Your Online Store

Now that the T-shirts are in the works, you’ll need an online store. You’ll want to find an e-commerce platform that helps you provide a smooth shopping experience to customers.

Look for an e-commerce provider that offers:

  • Shop templates
  • Shopping cart and order management tools
  • SSL certificate
  • Tech support
  • Customer payment options
  • Seo tools
  • Analytics

You’ll also need a domain address, and a business email address can add credibility too.


Market Your Business

Market Your Business

Ok, now you have the shirts and an online store. Next, you need customers. That’s going to take networking and marketing. You need to build up some buzz! Use social media to define your brand and gain an audience.

In an interview with Nerd Wallet, T-shirt business owner Steve Clark recommends making daily calls to potential clients. “You need to have the perseverance,” he says.

Our “Branding and Marketing Guide for Your Small Business” could help too. It offers a five-step guide to building a brand online and discusses how to get the word out. This includes:

  • Networking
  • Advertising
  • Using social media
  • Writing and distributing a press release

Marketing your small business T-shirt printing doesn’t have to break the bank either. Avoid overextending yourself with these “10 Unique & Affordable Marketing Channels for Your Small Business.”