Have you been thinking about starting an online custom T-shirt business and aren’t sure where to begin? Maybe you are in the printing business and you want to diversify your product offering, or perhaps you are an entrepreneur looking for a lucrative new online business opportunity.

An online custom T-shirt printing business requires minimal investment and is relatively easy to start up and run. The trick is to make an effort during the planning stage and acquire the best software to support your business plan. If you make good decisions in the early stages, you will reap the benefits down the line.

In this article, we’ve outlined the ten most important considerations for starting an online T-shirt business using WooCommerce.

#1 Make good decisions early

As mentioned you need to make good decisions from the beginning. Abraham Lincoln once said; “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

It will prove worthwhile to spend some time planning your online custom T-shirt business. It’s always a good idea to draw up a business plan, define your goals and objectives and attach timeframes to them. This will help you to stay focused and pursue those initiatives which can lead you to success.

Some useful business plan templates can be found on Score, while business plans specific to online businesses are available on bplans.com.  

#2 Choose a Niche

Competition in the online custom T-shirt business can be stiff. Choosing a custom T-shirt niche helps you to narrow your target market to a very specific group of clients to whom your products will be particularly appealing.

For example, let’s say you decided to target college students who wear T-shirts. That would be a rather broad category. It would be more effective to narrow your niche to college students who appreciate ironic T-shirt designs.

It would be even better to subdivide your niche into market segments based on a major i.e. Psychology, Economics or Computer Science, then offer fantastic custom T-shirt graphics containing some kind of ironic subject-specific message.

Here are a few examples of successful custom T-shirt niches:

#3 Design – Getting great graphics and slogans

Design is an integral part of setting up a successful online custom T-shirt store. T-shirts, on their own, are a generic item. T-shirts are an essential part of almost everyone’s wardrobe but what makes one T-shirt different from the next is the printed slogan and/or graphic it contains. This takes a T-shirt from a simple apparel to a form of self-expression apparel. If you are able to develop a unique and customizable T-shirt printing concept, this may prove to be the most valuable aspect of your T-shirt business.  

You can hire a graphic designer to create your unique concept for your online custom T-shirt store, you can also purchase graphic packs, vectors and more…

  • T-shirt Factory for t-shirt designs, vector packs, custom art, banner ads, branding and corporate identity.
  • Mintees is an online T-shirt and apparel design community.
  • T-shirt Artworks for original T-shirt artwork from artists around the world.

#4 Develop a Brand

Having chosen a niche and taken care of your concept you need to put some thought into your brand. Everything from your store’s name to the domain you choose, to your color scheme and font choice all affect your brand. Your brand is the thing that sets you apart from your competitors in the online custom T-shirt market. Having a strong and consistent brand ensures that your product will be recognized and preferred.

#5 Source for quality T-shirts

It’s going to be tempting to use the cheapest T-shirt you can get your hands on to maximise your per-unit profit but this may not be the best option especially if you want your brand to be associated with a quality product.

Providing your customers with a soft and long-lasting T-shirt will ensure repeat purchases and referrals.

#6 Choose a print method and printing partner

The following T-shirt printing methods are relatively easy to learn and master, however, if you’re not already in the printing business, and not interested in going into the printing business, it will be better to outsource the T-shirt printing operation to a partner, while you focus on your brand, concept and target market.

 Nevertheless, you will need to know a few basics about T-shirt printing as it pertains to design complexity, use of colour, printing costs and volume discounts to effectively develop your market offering.

Screen printing is a simple and versatile method which works best for bulk orders in one or two colours. It involves applying colour through a screen and has been widely used as a T-shirt printing method for many years. Unfortunately, color and print resolutions are limited with screen printing making it more suitable for simple designs.

custom t-shirts online

Simple design, limited colour

Transfer printing is one of the best techniques for colour printing and involves transferring a print from a screen using heat. This method is a bit slower than some of the other methods but if done properly it can produce quality prints of rich designs. As long as the fabric being used can withstand high temperatures, this could be an effective T-shirt printing method.

custom t-shirts online

Introducing more colours but keeping the design simple

Digital Printing involves printing in colour directly onto a T-shirt. The ink is immediately absorbed into the fabric and cannot be felt on the shirt. While digital printing allows for customization and greater detail in design, unfortunately, it is not always the most cost-effective method for large batches. It does, however, work very well for custom T-shirts with complex graphic intense designs.

custom t-shirts online

Complex design with lots of detail

Some large and established printing companies specialize in online custom T-shirt printing and order fulfilment, many of whom cater to huge markets and can fulfil orders globally. When you make a sale, an order is automatically sent to your print partner with the customer information.

The printer produces the items required and ships the order to the customer on your behalf. We’ve provided a list of companies that specialize in online custom T-shirt printing and order fulfillment. It will be worthwhile to search for printers who specialize in order fulfillment for your target market.

PrintAura integrates with your WooCommerce site to take care of the T-shirt printing and drop shipment aspects of the business.

Similarly, Printful integrates with your WooCommerce site to handle the actual T-shirt printing and order fulfilment.  

Tshirtgang provides T-shirt printing and customer fulfillment (drop shipment) for its members.

For a company that understands the importance of branding, Printed Mint specializes in one-off printing and branded drop shipment solutions. They offer a variety of print methods including; dye sublimation, latex print technology, direct-to-garment, and decal transfer, to name a few, and place great emphasis on quality.

Jakprints offers clients the ability to safely and cost-effectively ship their orders anywhere in the Continental US in 1-5 business days. They also do international deliveries using USPS.

Gooten works with several international print vendors who are thoroughly vetted for quality, responsiveness and reliable delivery.

Companies offering similar services in the UK and other markets include Inkthreadable, & QikInk.

#7 Hiring a designer vs buying designs

Even if you have the best online custom T-shirt slogans and images it wouldn’t be as aesthetically pleasing to have a graphic designer produce a professional print layout for your custom T-shirt concept. It would be well worth your time and effort to either buy unique graphics online or employ a designer to produce a range of customizable graphics for your T-shirt line. If you design your T-shirt graphics and they prove to be a success in the market you may want to consider copywriting your work. Also, be careful not to use material that is licensed to someone else.

To find a great designer to partner with, freelance sites such as Behance or Dribble could be useful. You can also have your artwork custom-designed using DesignCrowd, where you launch a T-shirt design competition on their platform, set a budget and describe what you would like the T-shirt to look like. The designers at DesignCrowd will submit designs for your feedback and you can choose the design that best suits your needs.

#8 Producing samples

Before launching your product on the market, you will want to ensure that your online custom T-shirt platform works the way it should and that your final T-shirt product stands up to the quality you envisioned. It will be a good idea to print a few samples. Doing so can avoid embarrassing order failures and resolve any issues during testing. These custom T-shirt samples can also be used to demonstrate your product offers in any marketing efforts.

#9 Testing designs – market research

Before you finalise your concept and graphic line-up you may want to test a few designs by posting your concept on social media and other platforms to see which ones generate the most interest.

#10 Setting up your online custom T-shirt store

The platform you choose to run your business on will be a major contributing factor in determining your online T-shirt business’ success. Setting up an online T-shirt store is fairly straightforward and there are some fantastic off-the-shelf e-commerce templates with custom T-Shirt plugins available.

Once you’ve developed and tested your concept, given some thought to your brand, and have some graphics available you can start setting up your actual store. For more information on how to set up a custom T-shirt store using WooCommerce click here.