How Much Does it Really Cost to Start a T-Shirt Business

custom t-shirt design

If you are thinking about starting a t-shirt business, one of the top questions that will come to mind is “how much will it cost me to start a t-shirt business?”

Most people just starting out have a small budget to work with and are trying to start a business on a shoestring budget, and there is nothing wrong with this either.

A t-shirt business is a viable option with very little money and you can start turning a profit quickly.

There are so many ways to start printing your own shirts, especially if you want to print shirts from home in your garage, basement, or spare room.

If this is you and want to start a home based t-shirt business, there are a few printing options that will work especially well. We will specifically cover these options in this post, which are heat transfer vinyl(htv) and screen printed transfers.

Other t-shirt printing options such as direct screen printing or a print-on-demand platform, could be viable options. However, like all the printing methods, they have their pros and cons. In the case of starting a home t-shirt business, the cons outweigh the pros, so we will focus on heat transfer vinyl and screen printed transfers instead.

Screen printed transfers and heat transfer vinyl give you more control over your business than a print-on-demand platform such as Teespring, but won’t break the bank like direct screen printing.

Printing with transfers doesn’t take up too much space either, so you can still work out of your home without converting your entire home into your business space.

 

Screen Printed Transfers

Screen printed transfers are heat applied transfers that are printed using the same plastisol inks as direct screen printing. The end result has the same durability.

To print with screen printed transfers, you would order the transfers with your design from a company that prints them for you. Then, when they arrive, you heat apply them with a heat press to your blank apparel, like this short video shows:

Screen printed transfers are not your “iron-on” transfers that you print at home on your inkjet printer.

Screen printed transfers are screen printing. The ink just gets to the apparel in a different fashion, in this case, with a heat press.

The reason we counted screen printing itself out as a printing option at home, is because the amount of (expensive) equipment and space that is needed to screen print directly to apparel. The actual screen printing process is very lengthy, and takes a lot of learning and skill to accomplish.

This video here shows the process without the expensive equipment, in a “homemade” process.

The process is also very messy and time consuming as well. It can take a long time to print a shirt, start to finish, using screen printing.

With screen printed transfers, you get the same end result, but with no mess, no chemicals, not a lot of space, not a lot of investment, and really no learning curve.

All you need is a heat press to print custom shirts with screen printed transfers. Get the heat press out of the box, plug it in, and you are ready to print! It’s super quick and easy.

[Related content: How to Set Up a Heat Press for T-Shirt Printing]

The cost of a heat press varies depending on the level of press you get. The cheap $300 heat presses are not really the route you should take with screen printed transfers. These presses may work ok in a craft setting, but if you are printing shirts to sell, we would recommend going with a better piece of equipment to make sure your customers get a quality shirt that lasts through many washes.

[Related content: Why You Need to Spend More Than $300 for a Heat Press]

This is because other materials you may use with a heat press, such as vinyl, apply in a wider range of temperatures and pressures. Screen printed transfers, on the other hand, require a much more controlled application with specific settings.

The benefit of screen printed transfers is that the entire process, start to finish, is very fast. You can apply a shirt in as little as 4 seconds with a heat press. Once you get experienced and moving, you can print 90 shirts an hour, or even more!

Screen printed transfers come ready to apply. The only process is to put the transfer onto your blank shirt and heat apply.

[Related content: How to Heat Press a T-Shirt (Step-by-Step Guide)]

Then you are left with an empty sheet of paper after application. No mess or clean up is required.

peel your transfer sheet

So how much does it really cost to print shirts with screen printed transfers?

All you need is a heat press, which can start around $700 for a good press that you can rely on. Done right, and you will be able to pay this off with your first few orders.

Other than your press, you must buy the screen printed transfers with your design printed on the transfers. The price depends on quantity, but is definitely worth it because of how fast the whole process is. You can still make a great profit on the finished shirts as well.

Screen printed transfers with a standard ink, start at about $36 for 5 sheets ($7.19 each). The more you buy, the cheaper they get. For example, if you get 50 sheets, the price per sheet drops to $2.03 each.

 

Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV)

The other recommended route you can go with starting a t-shirt business from home is to use heat transfer vinyl (or htv for short). The process is similar to screen printed transfers, but is a little more involved and requires a little more equipment.

The process is similar because you will still use a heat press to apply your design to the blank apparel. However, instead of ordering your printed transfers from a supplier, you cut out the design yourself using a colored vinyl material, which comes in sheets or rolls.

heat transfer vinyl rolls

In order to decorate apparel with heat transfer vinyl, you need to have an additional piece of equipment – a cutter. This cutter will automatically cut your designs out of the vinyl from software on your computer. Then, you apply the cut out vinyl design to your blank apparel with a heat press.

excess vinyl

This method requires you to have a cutter and a heat press. Cutters can vary in cost. A lot of home based businesses are starting out with a Cricut or Silhouette brand cutter, which you can purchase online on Amazon, or in your local craft stores such as Michael’s.

There are also cutters used more for commercial purposes, that can handle larger rolls of vinyl, are faster, and set up to handle larger volumes of work.

You can get a small Cricut or Silhouette brand craft cutter for around $200 – $300 if you are just starting out.

vinyl cutters for t-shirts

Many people who start out with these types of cutters bought them and started out as simply crafting. Then, they realize that they can make a business out of it. The problem is that the process is a little lengthy and labor intensive. Because of this, the time and effort to create one shirt really makes it difficult to churn out a larger order of custom shirts.

Cutting heat transfer vinyl is great for making 1 shirt or a handful. But as soon as you start getting requests for larger quantities, even starting at 5, you will probably want to start looking at getting screen printed transfers.

[Related content: 4 Reasons When You Should Switch from Vinyl (HTV) to Screen Printed Transfers]

The benefit of getting the cutter and vinyl, is that it opens up options for small quantity orders. If you already have a heat press for your vinyl, you can easily order screen printed transfers for larger quantity orders (and other orders requiring multi color or intricate artwork).

Therefore, the cost of starting a t-shirt business from home using heat transfer vinyl would be your heat press, still starting at about $700, a cutter starting at about $200, and then the cost of the vinyl rolls.

Vinyl rolls are pretty economical. You will just need to make sure you have a roll for each color that you will be using.

 

Conclusion

So how much does it really cost to start a t-shirt printing business from home?

To start a legitimate business that you have control over, we recommend using heat applied transfers and a heat press, whether it’s heat transfer vinyl or screen printed transfers. You will probably want to have both options available, and decide which method will work best for each job you receive.

The main piece of equipment you will need for both methods is a heat press. Make sure you get a quality heat press to make sure that you always get a good application. A good heat press starts at about $700.

If you choose to get a vinyl cutter as well, small craft cutters start at about $200.

No matter which method you choose, you will always have costs of the blank apparel and the cost of the decoration, whether it’s screen printed transfers, heat transfer vinyl, plastisol inks, embroidery thread, etc.

Screen printed transfers and/or heat transfer vinyl give you the fastest and easiest way to print your own apparel with little investment and maximum profits. Not only are these fast and easy ways to decorate apparel, but they don’t take up a lot of space so you can do it right from your home.

In the end, it will cost you about a minimum of $1,000 to start a t-shirt business out of your home. This is a very small investment compared to other decorating methods such as direct screen printing equipment or embroidery machines, which can both cost thousands of dollars each.

Most heat presses and vinyl cutters are also available in starter packages that come with other accessories as well to help you get started.

So what do you think? Are you ready to get started with a heat press?

 

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