How to Start a Custom T-Shirt Business

by Jonah Morrissey ; Updated September 26, 2017
T-shirts are a popular form of marketing for bands, businesses, and organizations.

Entrepreneurs who are artistically inclined and have an interest in serving the public may consider starting a custom T-shirt business. Custom T-shirts are used by businesses, bands, organizations, and individuals. Starting a custom T-shirt business requires research, preparation, and hard work. To produce high quality T-shirts you will need some specialized equipment, such as a screen printing station, and a knowledge of the screen printing process. Master the process, provide professional customer service, and you will be well on your way to starting a lasting business in printing custom T-shirts.

Research the market in your area for a custom T-shirt business. Consider the competition. If there are other custom T-shirt businesses in your target market, think about how you will compete. You will be competing with other types of businesses such as custom embroidery shops as well. Focus on offering services that the competition cannot fulfill. Develop a plan based on creating a unique business with excellent service.

Write a detailed business plan based on your research. Include as much information as possible about how you envision your business. Clearly define your business goals in a mission statement. Write a detailed description of your business. Include the type of equipment you will need after careful research, as well as a description of the day-to-day operations of your business. For a custom T-shirt business, you will need to divide your time between production, marketing, and customer service. Marketing and customer service should be done in regular business hours, while production can be done in off hours. Provide in your plan your marketing strategy, financial projections, and an analysis of the market and your competition. Collect and attach any documents at the end of your business plan that will be necessary to form your business.

Fill out and file any legal and tax documents necessary at the local, state, and federal level to establish your business. These forms will include a business and tax registration form as well as possible local and state permits or licenses that may be required. A local business support organization may be able to guide you through much of the process. Consult a lawyer and accountant if your require more specialized assistance in establishing your business. A custom T-shirt business is not unlike any other business. The basic process will be similar, but specific permits may be necessary for your industry.

Purchase or lease a space with a storefront and production space based on your research and financial projections. A small storefront space with enough room to consult with clients will be adequate. The size of the production area will depend on the size of your screen printing station. It is wise to start out with a small station and expand as your business grows. Set up an area to produce the T-shirts as well as an area to store supplies and orders that are ready for pick-up.

Purchase your screen printing station and the other supplies you'll need based on your research. In addition to the printing station, you will need various colors of screen printing inks, screens, screen chemicals, an exposure unit, screen storage racks, a T-shirt setting press, and cleaning solvents. Purchase training materials or take a few classes or workshops to become proficient at screen printing.

Enter into an agreement with a T-shirt supplier based on your research. Your target market will depend on the brand of T-shirts you offer. Many popular lifestyle brands such as American Apparel would be appropriate for bands, but potential business clients may prefer work-oriented brands. A supplier that is capable of providing a variety of brands would be ideal if you plan to serve many different types of clients.

Work with a web designer to develop an interactive website for your business. Since you are selling custom T-shirts, consider setting up an online portfolio once you have some completed projects you can display. Showcase your ability to provide a wide variety of designs for many different businesses and organizations. Make a few novelty T-shirt designs that you can sell through your website to market your business. Create a forum to encourage interactivity on your website.

Advertise your business in local newspapers. Join your local chamber of commerce. Take advantage of the opportunity to network with local business owners. These business owners may be in need of your services. Every new contact could be a potential client since nearly every organization or business has printed T-shirts or other apparel for their company. Attend trade shows to promote your new business within the industry.


  • Focus on exceeding client expectations by demonstrating creativity and quality in your custom T-shirt printing.

About the Author

Jonah Morrissey has been writing for print and online publications since 2000. He began his career as a staff reporter/photographer for a weekly newspaper in upstate New York. Morrissey specializes in topics related to home-and-garden projects, green living and small business. He graduated from Saint Michael's College, earning a B.A. in political science with a minor in journalism and mass communications.

Photo Credits

  • souvenir shirts in prague image by robert paul van beets from
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