Printing and Selling T-Shirts

How to start a T-Shirt business:

Dear Janet,

I have a couple of ideas for clothing designs but I haven’t the slightest idea as to where to get information about starting my own clothing line or just getting my clothes designs put together. Where do I purchase the T-Shirts and where do I go after I get the T-shirts to get my design put on them? Could you possibly help me? 


Dear BigA

The first thing you’ll want to do is to produce some samples of your garments to see if they will sell. If you have a color ink-jet printer and if you have created the designs on your computer (or can transfer them to the computer), you can print them out onto special transfer paper. You can then use an electric iron to transfer the design from the transfer paper to blank T-shirts. To test the process, you can purchase transfer paper in small quantities from office supply stores like Office Max, Office Depot or Staples. If the result is satisfactory, then you can look on the Internet for suppliers who will sell you larger quantities of transfer paper at lower per/sheet costs. If you don’t have a color printer or your designs are not on your computer, you may want to contact a local screen printer and have them produce your initial samples for you. (Look in the yellow pages for printers). Stenciling is yet another option, if the designs are suitable.

You can find manufacturers and wholesalers from whom to purchase T-shirts on the Internet, too. You can find those by searching the web for terms like T-shirt manufacturer or wholesale t-shirts. Some may have large minimum order requirements, and many may require you to have a resale tax number to purchase at wholesale price. (I’ve included some links below to get you started.)

Using your ink jet printer and an electric iron to create the shirts is not something you’ll want to do once you identify which designs sell and want to print any of them in quantity. It will help you determine which designs are most saleable, but once you do need to produce them in quantity you’d want to look into other means of producing the shirts or find someone to produce them for you.

Trade magazines for the screen printing industry and the promotional products industry are a good source of information and leads to industry suppliers. So, too, is the Internet. There are a number of links at the end of this article that will help find suppliers and additional information about imprinting apparel and other items as well.

Once you have some samples made up, it’s time to start selling them. You can do this in several ways. If you have just a few samples, take orders for them. Show the samples to friends and family and ask them for orders. You might want to have a home party, perhaps sharing the time with a friend who sells items suitable for display and sale at home parties. Or, you could display your shirts at flea markets and craft shows and either sell them outright (if you have enough made) or take orders. If you see there is a big demand for your designs, you could do additional research into the apparel, promotional products (if appropriate) and screen printing industries to see how to grow your business.

One additional thing you should consider doing is registering a copyright for your designs. Forms and instructions to do that are available at the US Copyright Office. ( Although you own a copyright in your original designs without registering them, you need to register the copyright to be able to collect legal fees and statutory damages if someone copies your designs.

Here are several resources to help you gather more information, locate suppliers, and talk with others who produce imprinted apparel:

Internet resources for products, supplies and general information

  •  (information about transfer paper and printing transfers from your computer)



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