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Custom Printed T-Shirts Business Plan with custom tshirt startup

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Executive Summary

Your T-Shirt! is an exciting new business that allows people to custom design a shirt (specifically the design on the front or back) any way that they would like. By intelligently leveraging cutting edge technology, Your T-Shirt! will harness the power of computer sublimation to allow custom shirt printing in production runs as small as one unit. The company was founded by David Inkler. The company is set up as a Washington L.L.C. Your T-Shirt! will have a storefront in Seattle as well as a comprehensive website that allows ordering to occur anywhere.

Imagine the ability to create a totally custom shirt. You choose the material and style of the shirt, and then the image or graphic you want on the front and/or back. This is the ultimate form of expression. There are no limits to what you can communicate. Some people might show their fanaticism for a particular sports team, others a musician. Or you might have a social message or cause on your shirt. Whatever you may decide, you can print any image on your shirt.


Your T-Shirt! will offer customers a variety of options for creating their own custom shirts. The majority of orders will be for t-shirts, however other style shirts will be available. Your T-Shirt! has developed a strategic relationship with Hewlett-Packard (HP) printer division. We will use their printer sublimation technology that allows a computer image to be applied to a shirt in a high quality, high resolution, economically feasible manner. This technology creates an image durable enough to withstand thousands of washings. Its photo-like quality, due to significantly higher printer resolution than anything on the market, will show off any image. The technology is cost effective enough to offer customers the ability to order just one unit. Most other competitors’ costs prohibit printing custom shirts in one-off production runs. Finally, the customer may choose from an extensive library of existing images, supply their own image, or have an artist create an image for them.

Competitive Edge

Your T-Shirt! has two sustainable competitive edges to assist them in market penetration. The first edge is a enormous catalog of graphic images. By establishing strategic partnerships with companies that have existing graphic image libraries, Your T-Shirt! is able to offer an unprecedented number of options. Their second edge is the high quality of sublimation offered. From previous work experience, David has established close business and personal ties with HP’s printer division and will exclusively be using prototype technology that offers an unprecedented high resolution sublimation process for shirts.


Your T-Shirt! will be led by David Inkler and is not his first t-shirt venture. While in college David produced and sold tie-dye shirts. This early business experience gave David valuable insight into the market, the products, and the customer’s needs and desires. Since leaving college David worked in Hewlett-Packard’s printer division, and it was this experience that provided useful business and professional contacts within the shirt sublimation technology industry that he is currently leveraging. After three years in marketing at HP, David went back to school to earn his MBA. David will use his educational skills, his technological business contacts, and his previous shirt industry experience to make Your T-Shirt! profitable. Sales forecasts indicate that Your T-Shirt! will achieve sterling sales for years two and three respectively. Net profit will correspondingly be untarnished.

1.1 Objectives

  • To become known as the premier custom shirt sublimation service.
  • Achieve profitability within 12 months.
  • Design and implement strict financial controls to help ensure success.

1.2 Mission

Your T-Shirt!’s mission is to offer the finest in custom shirt sublimation production. Your T-Shirt! will offer customers the best product at the best price. Customer’s expectations will always be exceeded.

1.3 Keys to Success

  • Leverage cutting edge technology as a competitive advantage.
  • Exceed customer expectations by offering high quality products at reasonable prices with quick turnaround times.
  • Employ careful financial and accounting analysis to ensure efficiency and proper controls.

How to create t-shirts for your startup Related to custom tshirt startup

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My goal has been for ConvertKit to be more than just software. Instead of just being the best tool to use to grow your audience, ConvertKit is also a movement of bloggers building a full-time income from their audience.

You can’t have a movement without t-shirts (everyone knows that).

So it was time to make some shirts for ConvertKit!

Actually, the biggest reason to make shirts was that I wanted a small way to say thank you to a handful of our best customers for al of their support. The process wasn’t as straightforward as I thought, so this is my guide for anyone else planning the same thing.


Originally I planned to do a simple startup tshirt with just the ConvertKit logo on the front. Keep it simple like dozens of other startup shirts:

Simple and easy. I could get these printed right away and have them ready for an upcoming conference that at least 15 of our customers would be attending.

We can do better

I was all set to send these to the printer when I started to get frustrated with the cost (more on that later). That’s when my mastermind group ( Caleb, Barron, and Barrett) said, ‘If you’re going to spend that money you should make something people will actually want to wear.’

Ouch. Even though I didn’t like to be told that what I was working on kinda sucked, they were right. I could make something better.

A slogan

I started to plan out slogans that best represented ConvertKit. I settled on a theme of ‘The secret to growing your audience’ and came up with three ideas:

  • Work in Public
  • Teach everything you know
  • Write everyday

Since I didn’t have the time or budget to do all three I settled on ‘Teach everything you know.’ It’s really the best marketing advice of all time and the theme of my blog and audience growth.

But I couldn’t just layout the words in Photoshop and run with that-it needed real design.

Hand lettering

I like the Heart & Hustle shirt from Fizzle. The hand lettering looks fantastic and it’s a shirt I wear all the time:

Repping @Fizzle with our new Heart & Hustle shirts!

– Dana Shultz (@minimalistbaker) July 18, 2014

So after drooling over hand lettering by a few friends I started to sketch out a few concepts:

The design for the word ‘everything’ was most inspired by Sean McCabe. I saw a one of his hand lettered blog posts and loved the style.

Luckily for me, Sean is a good friend so I just asked him for permission to use it. He was generous enough not only to give me permission, but also to digitize it for me!

It probably hurts Sean’s design sensibilities since half of the design is hand lettered and half is digital type-oh well. We had a deadline and I think only a select few would notice or care.

The final design

Here’s a mockup of the final design before we went off to the printer. ‘Teach everything you know’ on the front with a small ConvertKit logo and ‘Grow your audience’ on the back.

The shirt

Before choosing a shirt I went through my collection of startup t-shirts and tried a bunch on to test fit and softness. I knew that the American Apparel 50/50 shirt was my favorite, but since it was so expensive I wanted to see if a less expensive shirt like the NextLevel 3600 was comparable for a better price.

Quite simply, the cheaper shirts are just not up to par. If you’re going to give out shirts you want them to be high quality. Something that people will actually wear. It’s not worth saving a couple bucks if you have to sacrifice quality.

Printing companies

I researched a ton of printing companies before starting this. Since I was doing volume orders (and giving plenty of shirts away) sites like TeeSpring didn’t really make sense.

Startup Threads

At first I loved the idea of and went a ways through the process with them. They have a very cool service where they will stock the shirts for you and ship them out on demand (even with just an API call if you want). That sounded great, but after more research it was just too expensive for what I was doing.

For printing 75 shirts (front and back) it was going to come to $15.56 per shirt. These are top quality shirts, but that was just too much to spend.


After reading a recommendation from Buffer I tried out Jakprints. Their website was really confusing, so I just called them. They have amazing phone support! They answered right away, pointed me to the correct products on their site, and I started the order.

I ended up ordering 144 shirts since the price was cheaper and that dropped me down to a lower price. The total came to $1,290.72. Just $8.96 per shirt!

Since I was getting so many shirts I decided to go with three colors in order to mix it up a bit. We went with heather black, blue, and green.

Mistakes were made (but not by me)

The test of every company is how they handle things when it goes wrong (spoiler, they did great!).

I needed the shirts ready for The World Domination Summit in Portland. They assured me that was possible and that they’d be ready with plenty of time. Though they suggested I ship the shirts I needed for the conference directly to Portland to save time and hassle.

They didn’t do a great job communicating when the order status, so with about a week left I called to see where they were at-turns out they hadn’t started printing shirts yet!

But they rushed the order, got it sent out the next day and paid for expedited shipping so that it got there in time. And because of the mistake they even waived the normal shipping charges!

They were great to work with in every way. I especially love their great phone support (which makes up for their mediocre website and ordering process).

Though since I knew I’d be writing this post, I asked for them to take a few quick ‘making of’ photos of the shirts. Just quick shots of the shirts on the press, or other behind-the-scenes photos.

The sales rep at Jakprints thought that was a great idea and promised some good photos.

I got a good laugh when I saw the photos. They were so far off from what I was thinking it was actually really funny:

Thanks for trying Jakprints!


I gave away about 70 shirts at the conference, but I wanted to send them to a handful of people as well. That meant figuring out how to best ship them. After a little research I found simple polybags sent the cheapest mail with the postal service is the best way to go.

Shipping around the US cost about $3 per package and packages to Europe were about $15 each.

Since I was just sending 8 I hand wrote each address and took them to the post office myself. Which turned out to be a huge waste of time (especially filling out international customs forms). In the future I’ll use one of the services where I can print labels and postage at home.


I wanted to personalize each note that I sent out with a shirt. I thought about printing custom branded thank you cards (and we may still do that), but I wanted the ability to quickly brand anything to ConvertKit.

Rubber stamps are perfect for that. I designed a quick stamp in Photoshop and sent it off to to be created.

I got two versions of the same stamp design (the inverse of each other) as well as black and blue ink for just $43.80. Not bad!

Here they are in action. Note, I tested this on a heavy linen cardstock, which is why the stamps didn’t come out great. I’ll be playing with it more on different paper to get better results.

The shirts in the wild

It was a ton of fun to see ConvertKit shirts all around the conference and then see them pop up in photos around the web. Here are a few of my favorites:

Get yours

We still have plenty of shirts left. If you’d like one you can order it on Gumroad. We’ll be coming out with more shirts and posters soon to complete the ‘grow your audience’ theme.

I hope this article helps you produce your own startup shirts.

Oh, and if you run a blog, don’t forget to check out ConvertKit for your email marketing. All the cool kids are using it.

How To Start An Online T-Shirt Business: The Ultimate Guide – Shopify in custom tshirt startup

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The t-shirt is a staple in casual wear and has been universally accepted by both men and women the last few decades. Not only are they a classic piece of casual wear, but t-shirts are a blank canvas for artists and entrepreneurs alike. Because of this, selling t-shirts online has become a popular business choice. For many entrepreneurs, starting an online t-shirt brand is a great and inexpensive way to start an online business, whether it’s your first, second, or tenth business.

With the growth in popularity of t-shirts businesses, there’s no doubt you’ll be facing some stiff competition. To break through, you’ll need to have designs people love, a brand people cherish and quality people trust. In this guide we will go through the creation process for starting your own t-shirt line and online store. We will look at each of the steps involved and the keys to success to help you get started as a t-shirt entrepreneur.

Let’s dive in.

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Setting Up An Online T-Shirt Store Is Easy…

Here’s the good news. Building and launching a new t-shirt brand is relatively inexpensive and quick. If you already have ideas for the types of designs you want to sell, you can be up and running in as little as a few hours. With the abundance of apps and integrations in the Shopify App store, you can also connect your store to a t-shirt printer/dropshipper in minutes and have a fully functioning store, ready to print and ship to your customers.

But It’s Also Really Hard Work

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

To be successful with your new t-shirt brand, you have to make the right decisions from the get-go.

The Keys To Success

In the online t-shirt industry, there are several critical elements to being successful as a t-shirt entrepreneur. Each of these elements need to be considered closely before moving forward:


You hear this term get tossed around a lot, but nowhere is it more important to choose a niche than in the graphic t-shirt industry. One of the most important factors in building a successful t-shirt business is the ability to stand out from the many competitors and one of the best ways to do that is by choosing and catering to a specific niche.

In general, categories like t-shirts with funny slogans are going to be too broad to attack in a very developed market. You’re going to want to tighten it up a little more. An example of a more specific niche would be t-shirts with funny slogans that relate to doctors and nurses.

Being more specific will help you stand out as well as better attract and market to the right audience without blowing your budget.


The majority of people that are purchasing graphic tees are looking for design, graphics and slogans that connect with them and reflect their opinions and personality.

The last thing a visitor would want is to see in your catalogue is a copy of t-shirt design found elsewhere. Your designs don’t necessarily need to be complex, in fact many of the best selling graphic tees and very simple, however, they do need to connect with your audience and stand out.

Recommended Course on T-Shirt Design: Hey, Cool Shirt: Designing Effective T-shirt Graphics by Chris Delorenzo, Lead Designer for Johnny Cupcakes.


The next most important factor in the success and sustainability of an online t-shirt business is quality. You can fool someone once, but you can’t fool them twice. The quality of the shirts you use and the prints needs to be top notch. A pattern that fades and cracks or a t-shirt that shrinks and rips won’t create raving fans that come back and repurchase.


A strong, interesting brand is vital in the t-shirt industry. Your brand is a promise that will tie together all your choices including your niche, designs and quality. Building a unique and likeable brand is important for businesses 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 customers’ attention.

Recommended Course on Clothing and Apparel Branding: A Staple of Branding: How to Start Your Fashion Company by Jeff Staple, Founder, Staple Design.

T-Shirt Quality

Not all t-shirts are the same and not all print jobs are the same. As we mentioned above, quality is paramount to your brand and its success, so it’s important to educate yourself and choose your blank shirts wisely.

It will always be tempting to sacrifice on quality for higher profit margins but you need to consider how the quality will affect customer’s decisions to share your brand and repurchase in the long run.

Quality t-shirts encompass several factors, including fit, sizing, material, softness, and weight. A great start point for determining which blank t-shirt to use is to check out T-Shirt Magazine Online’s review of some of the most popular blank t-shirts for printing.

Once you narrow down your choices, it’s strongly encouraged to order each of the t-shirts yourself to make an informed final decision.

Drop everything, and start your t-shirt business
with a 14-day trial

T-Shirt Printing Quality

In this day in age, there are three popular methods for printing onto t-shirts. Each method has its pros and cons, and will partially depend on how much time you want to invest into the product creation, as well as the printing partner you choose.

Below, we have outlined all three print methods to give you a better understanding of each process.

Screen Printing

Screen printing is an old technique that has stood the test of time. As one of the most popular methods for printing onto t-shirts, screen printing can produce durable and long lasting result. However, a labor intensive initial setup means screen printing is most cost effective when printing in bulk. Screen printing also poses issues when it comes to complex designs or designs with more than four to five colors as each color increases costs and production time.

Pros Cons

  • Not cost effective for multiple colors.
  • Can only print simple images and designs.

Heat Transfer

Heat transfers have also been around for a long time and exist in several form. You may have seen basic heat transfer paper at your local office supply store. Although these make it easy to print your designs from your home computer and transfer them with an iron, these won’t cut it when it comes to running a 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 this is being able to order a stack of prints from your local printer and transfer them to your t-shirts as you receive orders with a commercial heat press machine.

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


    You can ‘print’ each shirt on demand.


  • Lower quality and less durable than direct-to-garment and screen printing.
  • Large upfront investment into a heat press machine (Few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars).
  • Do-it-yourself approach means additional time input from yourself.

Direct-To-Garment (DTG)

The direct-to-garment printing process operates much like a ink-jet printer you would have at home. DTG prints ink directly onto the t-shirt and can produce full color images with accuracy.

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

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


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


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

Creating Your Designs

Find The Best Selling Designs And Niches

If you’re stuck for t-shirt niche ideas and designs, a great start is to look at what else is popular and currently selling well.

Below is a list of several popular and bestseller pages for some of the top graphic t-shirt marketplaces that just might help you get a better idea of your next niche or t-shirt design.

You may also want to consider checking out Google Trends and Google Hot Searches to get a sense of the topics people are currently interested in.

Hire A Designer

Once you have an idea for some t-shirt designs. You’re going to have to get your ideas actually designed. If you have Adobe Photoshop or similar programs you can likely produce some simple designs by yourself. However, if you’re like most people, you will likely need to enlist some help.

There are a wide variety of tools and market places you can use to find a suitable graphic designer to help you with your designs.

Design Communities

Dribbble – Dribbble is a great designer community with lots of unique talent. Search for the style you’re looking for and message the designers you like to see if they’re available for freelance projects.

Behance – Behance is another great designer community to check out for your next t-shirt designer.

Freelance Networks

Some other great options you may also want to try are the more popular freelance networks like Freelancer and Upwork.

Buy Designs

If you’re stuck for a designer, there are also options to purchase pre-made designs. You’ll want to keep in mind that if you choose to go this route, there’s high likelihood that other people are already selling the design, making it harder for you and your brand to stand out.

Check out t-shirt graphic marketplaces like:

You may also want to check out general graphic design marketplaces but keep in mind if you plan to sell your t-shirts, you’ll need to purchase a commercial license.

Mocking Up Your Designs

Once you have some final designs, your next step will be to get some mockup images of them on actual t-shirts. Your customers are going to want to actually see what the final design will look like printed on a shirt.

There are a few ways you can get images of your final designs on t-shirts including ordering samples and taking product photography yourself, or with the abundance of t-shirt templates online, you can opt to create a 100% digital mockup like the one below.

Adobe Photoshop ( Free Trial) t-shirt templates are the most common types of mockup files. They allow you to quickly preview how your designs will look printed on a t-shirt. Most Photoshop templates comes with multiple layers that allow you to change the colour of the shirt and apply your own design that will blend with the creases, folds and contours of the shirt.

Below, we have compiled several resources to help you find the best possible mockup file for your next project:

If Adobe Photoshop isn’t right for you, you can also use web-based mockup software that will allow you to do the same thing without having to download and figure out Photoshop.

Another great options for tasks like this is to enlist help from someone on Fiverr for $5. Just search for t-shirt mockups.

Validating Your Designs

Before you spend a lot of money on your new business idea, you should first verify that there is a market and interest for your designs. There are many ways you can go about validating the market for your design ideas.

Some of the popular and more common methods for validating your ideas include:

Personal Social Networks – Post some of your designs to Facebook, Twitter and other social networks your friends and potential customers are a part of. Be careful asking friends however, their opinions will usually be tainted with an over-positive tint.

RedditReddit is huge and we have discussed it thoroughly in past posts. With the massive number of subreddits it’s possible to easily find a highly targeted niche of potential customers and ask them first hand their thoughts on your designs before launching.

Example: Bitcoin T-Shirt Validation

KickstarterKickstarter and other crowd-funding websites have made it much easier to test, validate, and collect money upfront for your new business idea. Launching a crowdfunding campaign can be time consuming and requires a good deal of preparation, however, the benefits can be huge, which include fully funding your project before you have spent a dime.

Example: Dev Tee’s and Starstuff Clothing

Open Test Store – Finally, with ecommerce platforms like Shopify, it’s never been easier to set up a fully functional online store in the matter of few hours to validate your business idea. Sign up for a free 14-day trial and check out some of the free themes to get started.

Setting Up Shop

Now that you have your t-shirt designs, made your mockups and validated your idea, it’s time to build your store. As mentioned in the validation section, getting set up on Shopify is quick and easy.

There are a handful of t-shirt print-on-demand dropshippers that directly integrate with your Shopify store, allowing you to get up and running in no time. These printer/dropshippers will print and ship your t-shirts to your customers on your behalf every time you receive an order, automatically.

Check out the following Shopify printer/dropshipper apps:

Why Wait?

It’s never been easier to express your creativity and start your own online t-shirt business. Follow along with the video below and you can have your online t-shirt business up and running with an on-demand printing and fulfillment service in just 20 minutes. No design or coding experience required.

Bonus: For marketing tactics to market your new t-shirt business, check out the ‘ How to Sell Online ‘ section of the Shopify blog.

About The Author

Richard Lazazzera is an ecommerce entrepreneur and Content Strategist at Shopify. Get more from Richard on Twitter.

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