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How to start a t-shirt printing business

Updated March 23, 2017

The imprinted T-shirt industry is a multibillion dollar industry. Almost everyone wears T-shirts and other imprinted garments. With a keen eye on the bottom line and attention to detail, it is not difficult to turn a profit in the T-shirt printing business.

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  1. Determine which type of printing you want to do. T-shirts are traditionally printed with screen printing. In recent years, digital imaging has become a popular method for printing T-shirts. Which technology will you use in your shop? Screen printing is good for one- and two-color prints and for multicolour prints on long runs. Digital imaging is good for full colour short runs.

  2. It is possible to purchase an inkjet printer for less than £65. With this, some T-shirt transfer paper and some blank T-shirts you will be set up to create a run of T-shirts. Likewise, many art supply stores can sell basic screen printing kits for £65 or less. However, to create professional quality work, it is best to use professional tools. Consult the website Screen Printers for basic information about all things screen printing. They also sell direct-to-garment digital imaging printers, which cost close to £13,000. The more direct line to a profitable business is to set up a screen printing shop with a manual T-shirt press. One outstanding supplier is Midwest Sign. A complete screen printing shop can be set up for under £6,500. It is also possible to set up a screen print shop with basic or homemade equipment.

  3. Create a business plan. Who is your target market? If you live in a university town, you may choose to focus your sales and marketing efforts on the university community. Do you live in a tourist destination? You may focus your sales efforts on selling to retailers catering to tourists. Perhaps you are aiming at schools, summer camps or some combination of target markets. Spread the word about your new business with various marketing techniques, including online listings. Create business support materials such as brochures, cards, price lists and a website.

  4. Develop a price structure. Research the cost of blank T-shirts from several wholesalers. Consult with other T-shirt printers and collect sample quotes to familiarise yourself with prices. Each job will consist of the blank shirt cost, the markup on the blank shirt and a printing price. Calculate an hourly shop rate. Most T-shirt printing shops need to pull £32 to £65 profit (before fixed costs) per production hour to be profitable. Know your fixed costs such as rent, electricity and loans to determine your monthly bottom line. Determine your terms of business, such as requiring a 50-percent down payment and the rest upon delivery, with credit terms of net payment due in 30 days to creditworthy clients.

  5. Set up shop. Determine your square footage, plumbing and electrical needs. Rent your space and set up your equipment. Test your equipment on sample jobs before running a commercial job.

  6. Tip

    Whether on inventory, marketing or equipment, do not spend one dollar you don't have to. Do not stock blank T-shirts; simply order them on a per job basis from your blank shirt distributor and use the client's down payment to buy the shirts for each job.


    It typically takes a new business a year or more to reach profitability. Most new businesses close in the first year.

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Things You'll Need

  • Computer
  • Screen printing or digital imaging equipment
  • Budget
  • Business plan

About the Author

Nina Makofsky has been a professional writer for more than 20 years. She specializes in art, pop culture, education, travel and theater. She currently serves as a Mexican correspondent for "Aishti Magazine," covering everything from folk art to urban trends. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mills College.

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