Selling custom t-shirts: alternatives to CafePress?
May 23, 2006 6:19 PM   Subscribe

Selling custom t-shirts: alternatives to CafePress? Also, questions about getting off the ground, general advice very welcome.

My friend and I are both designers. We have cool t-shirt ideas and would like to start a humble project selling t-shirts. This is a small-time endeavor, and we are not looking to run a full-time business. Therefore I don't think we will be able to set up our own silkscreening operation and manufacture the t-shirts from start to finish. I know there are places like CafePress that take care of the entire thing, but their quality is not up to our standard, and if we're going to be charging $20+, I'd prefer our customers receive a high quality garment.

I wouldn't mind working with a silkscreening shop to print the t-shirts while I handled the inventory and shipping, but I do not know what it would entail. Would I be getting way over my head? Should I look online or to the local shops (Austin)? And if that's too complicated, what are the CafePress alternatives (besides zazzle)? Also, we want to establish a local as well as online presence, i.e., sell through consignment shops, so I don't know how CafePress-like places would fit into that scheme.

I've read 3 or 4 AskMe threads about selling t-shirts, but any further information and advice is most welcome!
posted by lychee to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Spreadshirt seems to me the new, better Cafepress. If someone thinks it isn't, I'd like to know why.

Getting designs approved by the Threadless folks is probably good for visibility building, and their remuneration seems fair.
posted by blueshammer at 6:50 PM on May 23, 2006

Spreadshirt is FAR better than Cafe Press.
posted by frenetic at 7:33 PM on May 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

I do this on a very (very!) small scale, working with a local screenprinting shop here in Chicago. I would recommend this sort of relationship wholeheartedly; call around your area for quotes on, say, a couple dozen shirts with 2 colors of ink. Figure out if you'd rather support a large screenprinting company or a small DIYish press (there are many of these associated with the local music scene); each has its advantages and disadvantages. Shipping by yourself is timeconsuming, but the cost savings are tremendous, and if it starts to cut into your leisure time - that might be a signal that you should hire an employee (or snare an intern). Good luck, and feel free to email me if you have any more questions on the process!

Oh, and "we're going to be charging $20+"... oh, come on now. $25 for a fucking tshirt?
posted by jtron at 7:47 PM on May 23, 2006

I agree with jtron - it'd be a very rare occasion that I'd pay over $15 for a t-shirt.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:45 PM on May 23, 2006

Yeah, Spreadshirt is much, much better.

I run my store Amorphia Apparel through them, and I've had a lot of fun using it as a part time little side job.

For the basic heavyweight Tees I charge $17.99-18.99 depending on if it's a one or two color design, and my cut is between $3.59 and $5.09 on the basic stuff., so that's in the $20 range.

My startup cost was $40 ($10 for a month of the premium spreadshirt account, $30 to register a domain and get a years worth of basic hosting, which I later upgraded when my traffic increased.) So that was great, and the products are much, much better if you go the plot-printing route.

You should definitely get a premium account, it's just $10 and gives you the ability to upload unlimited vector designs, which is what makes the better quality products. It also has a number of other side benefits (no banners, XML product exports and other goodies).

They also just started an in house silkscreen division, but those aren't made to order for obvious reason and thus will incur larger startup costs (but offer a fatter profit margin).

I highly recommend making a myspace page! It really is a great way to share your work, but be sure to list a little something about yourself on your page, share your interests and you will find people far more receptive to you.

Oh and it seems basic, but I've found just making sure your designs are different is really important. There are tons of fads in ironic hipster tee shirts (and I sometimes find myself accidentally dipping a toe into them) but it's much harder to compete if you are just planning on following the trends. In particular there seems a glut of "states/cities with a funny slogan", Graffiti sheik, illustrated puns, movie quotes or parody logo designs. So doing anything in those routes will have the advantage of carrying with it a built in audience, but it will be an uphill battle to get noticed.
posted by Jezztek at 11:54 PM on May 23, 2006

Spreadshirt totally sucks ass. Their amazingly shitty flash interface will turn off about 50% of your customers.

Plus, you either have to go with digital printing (like cafepress, although spreadshirt can print on any color), or 'flock' printing which is like screenptinting but done by a plotter that actually cuts out the patterns. You can only print simple designs with this, nothing cool like you can do with a screenprint.

these guys will print shirts and and mail them for you, but you have to order in bulk. Remember, you'll need to print shirts in every size and color, some of which you won't sell. It's kind of a drag, but oh well.

But seriously, spreadshirt is totally lame.
posted by delmoi at 11:57 PM on May 23, 2006

sorry, at least 50%, probably more like 90%. Really, it's terrible.
posted by delmoi at 11:58 PM on May 23, 2006

Hmm, seems like spreadshirt may have gotten rid of the flash thing. Anyway, flock printing still sucks.
posted by delmoi at 12:00 AM on May 24, 2006

That flash interface is purely optional, so if you are worried about turning people off with it, then I wouldn't use it. Or like on my current product pages it loads the basic product page (no flash whatsoever) and then you can hit a button to customize your shirts which loads the flash thingy.
posted by Jezztek at 12:02 AM on May 24, 2006

Oh, and yes there are certainly limitations with the flock (and flex) printing offered by spreadshirt. Namely there is a max of 3 colors, no gradients and no objects can be smaller then .06" in diameter.

So yeah, there are reasons to prefer silk screening, but as I mentioned earlier Spreadshirt is just opening a silk screening department, so you can have the best of both worlds (not having to spend all day folding shirts, mailing packages and screwing around on the billing) but not having to deal with these alternative production processes.
posted by Jezztek at 12:05 AM on May 24, 2006

jtron, you completely edited my words to support your t-shirt outrage. *If* we were going to be charging 20+ through CafePress, which is what I had to pay last time I really wanted a shirt from someone on there, then the high charge should warrant the high quality, which I was disappointed with when I received the shirt. Please don't rage against the t-shirt machine without any basis. Also, Austin's hipster scene definitely can definitely afford a premium price if it means premium quality.

As for the designs, my friend is a legit artist and has wonderful ideas that we aren't seeing in the streets now but are nice enough that we think can tap into a specific market.

So I'll poke around Spreadshirt but keep the local shops in mind. Thanks.
posted by lychee at 1:38 PM on May 24, 2006

Spreadshirt sucks because they don't sell anything larger than a 2XL. Don't these bastards realize that America is getting fatter? why would anybody limit their market like that when they could spend a few extra dollars to stock some big shirts?
posted by Megafly at 6:28 PM on May 24, 2006

PrintMojo does real screenprinting and embroidery, and they handle inventory and shipping for you, similar to what CafePress and Spreadshirt do, except it's not print-on-demand -- you do need to pay for the inventory up front. They're not as cheap as the others, either, so you'd need to either price your shirts relatively high or accept a very low margin. Still, if it's quality you want, screenprinting is the way to go.
posted by Acetylene at 8:20 PM on May 24, 2006

Spreadshirt sucks because they don't sell anything larger than a 2XL.

Actually we sell up to XXXL, but you have to pick the XXXL Heavyweight T-Shirt Option which is in it's own category, rather then just a size option on the "basic" Heavyweight T-shirts (they come from different suppliers, and are priced differently, so they aren't listed together).
posted by Jezztek at 5:14 PM on May 25, 2006

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