How to Start a Tshirt Business: From Designing to Selling

how to start a tshirt businessThe world of online fashion is fast paced, competitive and if you’re smart, very lucrative. If you’re looking to start a new business on the side, or just want to express yourself creatively while making some quick cash, designing and selling T-shirts on the is the perfect place to start. Anyone can learn how to start a t-shirt business right from their living room and this guide will show you how to get started.

In this short guide, we’ll cover everything you need to start designing, printing and selling your t-shirts online. From the tools you’ll need to design your products, to finding the highest quality and lowest priced printing services available, you’ll find it all right here on Udemy; and with great courses like How to Start a T Shirt Printing Business From Home by Martin Butler, you’ll be making money from your artistic creations in no time flat.

As with any other discipline, designing t-shirts will require knowledge with a specific set of tools. You might already be familiar with some of the programs you’ll see on this list, in which case you’re ahead of the curve, but there is still more to learn. Each of these tools has an important application in the design process and that just can’t be overlooked, so without further ado let’s take a look at the tools you’ll need to start your own t-shirt business online.

Photoshop

No matter if you’re brand new to design or veteran graphic artist, you’ve probably at least heard of Photoshop before. Photoshop is the premier raster editing program from Adobe, and a good portion of the functions required to design a t-shirt.

If you’ve already used Photoshop to edit pictures, graphics, or create photo composites, then you have a head start. But using Adobe Photoshop to design a graphic for your t-shirts is a little different than using it for regular print or web applications. Due to the nature of the printing process (which we will cover later), there are a few key things to remember when configuring Photoshop for creating graphic tees.

  • Project Dimensions

Unlike images that stay on the web in their digital format, the graphics you will be creating using Photoshop will be printed on to an actual shirt. Each shirt has its individual dimensions which you can usually find on the website of whoever sells the blank tees. Make sure to set your dimensions to be measured in inches or centimeters instead of pixels, so you can better gauge the size of your design while you’re creating it, and to make sure that it doesn’t come out too small when it’s done.

  • Resolution

The next key point might just be the most important. Designs that are screen-printed on to t-shirts will look blurry or deformed if the resolution of the design is too small. Neglecting to check the resolution of a design can result in ruined shirts with blurry or pixelated looking designs. The proper resolution for creating designs to be printed on t-shirts is around 300 PPI (pixels per inch).

  • Color Modes

Another important but easy to overlook step in creating a design for a t-shirt or sweater is setting the color mode to CMYK. CMYK is an acronym for the four different colors of ink typically used in printing, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. It’s a subtractive color model, which means that there is a wider range of colors easily available than with additive color models like RGB. Printing designs made in RGB color on t-shirts does work, but is liable to look faded or distorted on shirts of a darker color. Working in CMYK color doesn’t change much, but it might take a little getting used to, especially when picking your color Pallets.  This class on Color Basics for Print Designers by Joseph Caserto will take you more in depth on how color modes work, and why they are an important factor in printing your designs.

Using Illustrator

Affectionately termed “Photoshop’s younger brother,” Adobe Illustrator offers a more in depth design suite that uses vector graphics instead of raster.  If you don’t already know the difference between raster graphics and vectors this class by Apple designer and Adobe Guru Robert Farrell will take you through the entire process of learning Adobe Illustrator for both print and web.

Where Photoshop offers intuitive manipulation of pixel based graphics, sometimes it just won’t cut it.  Illustrator is perfect for designers who want to get more in depth with the art displayed on their graphic tees, and comes with tons of great tools for creating graphics specifically for print.

The Design Process

So you’ve got all the tools and you’re finally ready to set to work on creating your first t-shirt design. But where do you start?

The process of designing a graphic tee is a little involved, but we’ve taken out all the guesswork and broken it down into easy steps that even the newest designers will understand.

  • Step 1: Find Your Measurements

Pick out the shirt on which you’d like to end up printing your design and find its dimensions. For the first few designs, use the dimensions of the largest size available, because it’s always easier to shrink your design than make it bigger.

  • Step 2: Create a New Project in Photoshop or Illustrator

Depending on the style of your design, pick either Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop and create a new project. Remember that the dimensions of the shirt you picked will be measured in either inches or centimeters, not pixels. Don’t forget to make sure your resolution is 300 PPI or greater, or else you might end up with a bunch of useless designs. After you’ve created the project it’s all a matter of letting your creativity run free and creating a few cool designs to print on your tees.

  • Step 3: Create a Mockup

Your design might be complete, but it’s not ready to print just yet. Creating a mockup will help you visualize what the final product will look like before it’s printed. If you’re unsure what a mockup looks like, just head to any online t-shirt retailer and check their inventory, chances are they are using a digital mockup to represent the shirt in their store instead of an actual picture.

You can find blank mockup templates for sale on just about any graphics depository there is. Some, like the high resolution photo-mockups are expensive, but you can find mockups of regular white t-shirts, ringers and sweat ware for free in just a couple of minutes on Google. Don’t sweat it if the mock up you find is not an exact match to the shirt you will end up printing on, just make sure the proportions are similar.

After you’ve found or purchased a suitable mockup, save a blank copy and open it up in Photoshop, then import your graphic from Illustrator, or use the “Open As Smart Object” option in Photoshop to transfer it over from another .psd file. You can then overlay your graphic right on to the mockup to see if it will fit as well as you expected. If not, play with the dimensions or go back and edit the graphic by double clicking its layer in the Photoshop interface. Once you’re satisfied with the result, save the mockup as well as a copy of the final graphic.

  • Step 4: Printing

Choosing a printing service for your t-shirt business is about finding a balance between quality and price. You don’t want to pay too much per shirt or you won’t make a profit but if you pick a shoddy printing service you might end up with a bunch of shirts that won’t sell due to defects or other flaws. Do a little research about t-shirt printers in your area and see if there are any well respected names that give you deals for purchasing in bulk. Often times, going to the printer’s actual location and discussing the job with them can get you an excellent deal on bulk printing jobs.

Before you give the all clear to your printer and go forward with printing your products, it’s important to note that there is more than one type of printing process you can go with and not all of them are created equal. We’ve compiled a list of a couple of the most popular printing processes for t-shirts, but be sure to ask your printer if they are capable of printing in the style you want.

1. Flex Print

Flex print is probably the most common of the printing methods typically used on t-shirts and clothes. You’ve probably seen, or even own a graphic tee that was printed using the Flex Print process. Graphics that are printed using Flex Print are typically matte featuring 1 to 3 different colors.  While there is no actual hard limit to the amount of colors used in a Flex Print graphic, but printers usually charge extra for more than 3.

2. Digital Print

Digital Print is typically used for color photos and printing on dark shirts. Black or Navy t-shirts are a lot harder to print on than brighter color shirts, but thankfully Digital Print makes it possible to cheaply and easily print complex designs or full color photographs on any color t-shirt.

3. Thermal Sublimation

Dye sublimation is a relatively new form of printing that has opened new doors for clothing designers in recent years. Although it is expensive, costing upwards of $35 per print, thermal dye sublimation allows designs to be printed directly in to the fabric of the shirt on all sides and is particularly useful in creating high-quality “all over” tees.

  • Step 5: Listing and Selling your Products

You’ve created your design, perfected it, printed it, and now you’re ready to sell, but how? There are dozens of online marketplaces that allow designers like you to list and sell their t-shirts but the 3 largest markets for tees are EBay, Amazon, and Etsy.

Deciding which marketplace to use is largely a matter of how involved you want to be with your brand. Etsy is a great digital storefront to develop a brand, but on the other hand products listed on Amazon typically sell a lot quicker. If you think EBay is more your speed, have a look at this class by Robert Torte to learn the easiest way to start selling your products on EBay.

You’re now that much closer to starting your own t-shirt business right on the web. So what are you waiting for? Check out the Udemy courses in the links above and let your t-shirts reimburse you.