How to start a T-shirt Business
April 23, 2006 12:28 AM   Subscribe

My wife is looking to start her own T-Shirt design and printing business online. What kind of software, printer and paper will be required ? Are there any online resources for starting a T-shirt printing business ?
posted by labnol to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm going to point you to a few resources, because as it stands now your question is a little unclear.

Does your wife want to print the t-shirts at home in a serious fashion? If so, you are looking at spending somewhere in the neighborhood of ~$10,000 on a digital printer that can handle garments.

If she wants to make designs, but have the designs printed professionally, she could go to a local print shop or order online.

If she wants to make designs and have the printing, shipping, ordering, and virtually all other details of the web store handled for her with the costs all included in the price (she takes a cut), there are options like CafePress.

If you can tell us which of the three you're interested in, or if you're trying to decide between some of the options, you can probably get much better help answering your question.
posted by onalark at 12:40 AM on April 23, 2006

Yes, let me try to explain the things more clearly:

1. She wants to create the design herself on the computer

2. Then print the design on the T-Shirt

Now the real question is what all options are available to print the designs on T-shirt

Thank you onalark for the details.
posted by labnol at 4:30 AM on April 23, 2006

I think her best option will be to have her design the shirt and then have the shirts printed professionally.

CafePress is fair to middling with t-shirt quality. And, unless you are able/willing to spend the money onalark quotes for a garment printer, I know very few people who would pay for a shirt made from an inkjet iron-on transfer. That's really your main option when printing from home normally.

The only other fully-at-home option I can think of would be screenprinting yourself, which may be rather daunting if the shirt design is at all complex and/or you expect a large run.
posted by stefnet at 6:15 AM on April 23, 2006

It depends on what your wife wants to do. Silk-screening gives very nice quality at a cost of labor and space. While the bulk to the time is a distinctly anaog process, you can (and will get good results from) use computer artwork for the process. I've done this kind of work on a small scale and got quite good results for a jerry-rigged set up. If you have a garage, say goodbye to it, because she'll need all the space.

I've also used iron-on transfers for 1-offs. The quality is decent enough, but it's impractical for any kind of scale and doesn't age well.
posted by plinth at 6:31 AM on April 23, 2006

I worked as a screen printer at a textile plant for a while before going to graduate school. Some important questions are, how much capital does your wife want to invest? $1,000? $5,000? $10,000? $50,000? That's going to be the most significant determination for what her options are. Does she plan on simply doing design work, or printing as well? I think at the most basic, she would need Corel, Photoshop, clip-art subscriptions, and a laser printer. That's to create design positives to be sent off to be printed by someone at significant cost (for someone interested in resale).

So then it gets tricky. Digital printers, silk screen printers, dryers, burning units, these all require significant capital outlays and training to use and maintain. They also require a lot of practice to get a quality product. I think another important question is whether your wife expects this to be a profitable business. Printing is an extremely competitive business. Without signficant experience, a sound business plan, and smart capital investment decisions, profitibility is virtually impossible. It can, however, be a lot of fun.

I recommend she buy a few books on printing, order a few product catalogues, and see how deep she wants to get in. If she is going to spend $5,000 and have 150 sq ft. of work space, she she could probably set herself up pretty well to do manual screen printing on used equipment (digital printers would be out of the question with that level of investment).
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:43 AM on April 23, 2006

She wants to silkscreen the shirts. Previously on AskMe.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 8:56 AM on April 23, 2006

Well, if she wants to be able to print on any colored shirts she'll need a fast t-jet 2. which is $14,000 on the site I linked too.

And the quality sucks, too. The only way to get a 'production' quality t-shirt is to silkscreen print it.

(There are cheaper options for printing on white only shirts, but they're still pretty expensive.)

The equipment she'd need to do real screen printing, which is used to mass produce shirts you buy in stores is much cheaper, but still pretty expensive I'm not sure of the actual cost.

The shirts themselves are very, very cheep. About $2 a shirt in bulk. American Apparel is the most expensive commonly used shirts and they cost about $7.

Also remember that you're going to need to have a huge inventory of shirts on hand, thousands of dollars worth. Because you'll need to have at least a bulk load of every size t-shirt in every color.

I'm actually thinking of doing this myself and plan to invest about $5k to start, but I have access to the actual screen printing equipment.
posted by delmoi at 9:38 AM on April 23, 2006

Delmoi (and OP as well) -- please, please, please do NOT inventory shirts except for standard sizes of white t's, or anything you want to eventually test-print on. Order garments as needed to begin with. Also, you can get good white ts cheaper than $2. Probably down around $1.25 for average quality, XL or smaller (priced per gross). AA shirts are great, but most people won't want to pay for them -- Fruit of the Loom will be fine for most clients.

Also, "Production quality" is the name of the game and is what seperates a skilled enthusiast working with a $500 set-up and professional working on commercial equipment. It's not just how the shirt looks, but how it wears as well. A shirt printed by a professional should wear out before the actual print itself. To achieve that level of durability, you need to be using the appropriate ink for the substrate, properly prep the shirt, use the appropriate squeege and stroke, spot cure properly for multicolor, and dry it exactly to temperature and time specifications. A perfect looking print can look pretty lousy after 10 washings without accounting for numerous factors.

If you already have access to the equipment to take a design from positive to screen to shirt (and recycle screens), your inititial investment should be way less than $5,000. You'll want your own screens (assuming we are talking manual and not automatic printing), squeeges (again, manual), inks, etc. It is important to get high quality for all of these, but it still shouldn't cost you more than $1,500 to start for that stuff and I'm giving some wiggle room for purchasing extra screens, squeege ribbon, a few specialty inks to experiment with, etc.

If you are interested, I could give you a list of what I would start with as far as garments, screens, squeeges, inks, to start a small business. Also, if you plan on selling garments, you need to spend time scoping out what designs people are wearing on what garments and where and test print them. I've noticed that back shoulder prints seem to be the new fad (replacing butt-prints).
posted by mrmojoflying at 10:14 AM on April 23, 2006

Another vote for silkscreening, I'm in the process of doing something similar. I feel like you can't beat the price/quality of silkscreening. Full color designs are a bit trickier but that's not really an issue for me. I'm not interested in being a t-shirt producer, just a designer and reseller.

I'm curious though, about size breakdowns, ie how many large, med, and small to produce. That's something I need to look into.

Also, I've heard of, but don't know much about, a process of screening a design onto paper in quantity, and then heat tranfering to a shirt 'on demand'. Anyone know anything about this?
posted by rschroed at 10:40 AM on April 23, 2006

mrmojoflying i would be interested in a list of equipment i would need to do some silk screening. could you possibly contact me through my email address on here?
posted by moochoo at 2:01 PM on April 23, 2006

I second cafepress. It offers the cheapest, fastest and most convenient method to getting started.
posted by arrowhead at 3:45 AM on April 24, 2006

I find the quality of Cafepress shirts truly atrocious. If the shirts aren't for personal use, stay away from it at all costs. If you want an online service that lets you print shirts in bulk, I've had good experiences with both CustomInk and Zazzle in the past.
posted by TunnelArmr at 9:08 AM on April 24, 2006

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