Starting a T-Shirt Business: How to Choose a Printing Method

start a t-shirt business

Printing your own t-shirts is super easy. When you want to start your t-shirt business, especially if you want to work from your home, you don’t need to make it more complicated than it needs to be.

There are several ways to print custom shirts.

Pay Someone Else to Print

You can pay other companies to do the printing for you. This may sound like a good idea at first, but there are pros and cons. The pro is that you can start quickly with no equipment.

However, in the long run, it won’t be good when you want to grow. There are limitations as well. There is less control.

If you want to sell shirts besides custom group shirts, you will have to wait until you have a substantial order using this method. You will need to have a pre-sale, and when you get enough orders, then you can place your order for the shirts to be printed. Not a good option. You don’t know when or how long that will take. Your customers will have to wait to receive their shirt.

If you are having someone else print the finished shirts for you, you are really only acting as a middle man, and your profits will be reduced.

Finally, when you use others to print your shirts, what happens when you place your order, and then you have a few straggler orders that come in later? That always happens. You won’t be able to print a hand full more without large costs to do this.

Direct Screen Printing

“Ok”, so you’re thinking, “I will just buy the equipment and print myself.” Sure, you can buy the equipment to do the screen printing yourself. Screen printing equipment, though, can cost thousands of dollars, not to mention the chemicals, inks, etc. if you want to do the printing yourself.

However, if you want to work out of your home and start a small t-shirt business on the side, buying lots of equipment isn’t really an option anyway.

You need lots of space for screen printing equipment, and when you are just starting out, spending money on the equipment and renting a space will really build up a lot of overhead quickly.

You are still able to screen print without the expensive equipment, but it is much slower if you are trying to turn lots of orders quickly.

Let’s take a look at how traditional screen printing works. It is a long process with lots of steps.

Before you start printing, you need to have your artwork created and ready, printed onto a transparency sheet.

Coat your blank screen in emulsion and let it sit in a pitch dark room for 2 hours.

Expose your transparency image to the screen for 15 minutes.

Spray your screen down with water to wash away the emulsion to reveal your image.

Dry the screen and cover any parts that are exposed that are not supposed to be, so they don’t print. This includes the edges of the screen.

Add your shirt to a sturdy surface.

Cover the shirt with your screen.

Layer the ink nice and smooth onto the screen, and even it out.

Press the ink through the screen using your squeegee several times.

Pull up the screen slowly from your shirt.

Put the shirt in the oven on 400ºF for about 30 seconds.

Don’t forget the clean-up. Wash the ink off the screen.

If you want to re-use the screen, you have to get an emulsion remover to wipe the screen clean.

Did you notice all the gloves, garbage bags, water spraying, inks and chemicals being used?

Messy, messy, messy.

That was a long process and way too messy for me. And that was for a 1-color print. If you want a 2 or 3 color print, you will need to do that same process for each color of the design.

You will also need to take care to line the screen up each time when applying the inks so the colors align properly in the design, also known as registration.

That was a DIY route to screen printing shirts. If you want to start a t-shirt business, especially out of your home, this is one method you can use to screen print your own shirts, but probably not recommended. As soon as you start to grow your business, you won’t be able to keep up.

Printing Shirts with Screen Printed Transfers and a Heat Press

On the other hand, there is another way you can make your own screen printed shirts in just seconds, with no hassle, with just a fraction of the amount of work. Literally.

Let me show you this alternative way using just a screen printed transfer sheet and a heat press.

When you go the route of screen printed transfers, you can make a screen printed shirt, with any amount of colors, in just seconds with no messy inks and without the labor intensive process.

We do all the messy work and print the screen printed transfers for you. All you have to do is apply them to your blank apparel using a heat press. It is so easy and fast.

Here is the process for printing with custom transfers:

  • Place your t-shirt on the heat press.
  • Place your custom transfer on the shirt.
  • Lock your heat press down for as little as 4 seconds (depending on the transfer type).
  • Peel off the transfer paper.

That’s it!

The end result is a screen printed t-shirt, with the same durability as if you screen printed it directly on the shirt.

Using this method, you are still handling the final production of your shirts. You can print on demand and control inventory.

You have more options with transfers and have more control over the process – another way you can increase your profits.

[Related Content: How to Choose the Best Heat Applied Transfer Type for Custom Printing]

There are a lot of heat presses out there on the market, but they are not all made equally. If you are starting a t-shirt business, this is your only piece of equipment. You need to make sure you get a reliable heat press that you can depend on to produce orders and not get them returned to you with complaints.

Hotronix heat press

One bad order could cost you the difference of the good heat press vs. the poor quality heat press.

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

Most businesses who do their own screen printing end up buying a heat press in addition to their screen printing equipment.

A heat press makes names and numbers on sports jersey a breeze. Just line up the transfer edges. Otherwise, you would need to make a separate screen for every player on the team if you are screen printing them yourself. Whew!

screen printed name and numbers

Just touch the paper edges and our names and numbers align perfectly!

[Related Content: 11 Advantages of Transfers for Screen Printers]

With transfers and a heat press, you can turn orders around quickly with little to no waste. You only have what you need for each job.

You don’t need to stock up inks and other cleaning solvents, emulsions, etc.

3 feet of space is all you need to use your heat press. You can do this out of any room of your home, or your garage, or basement.

Using a heat press and screen printed transfers takes almost no skill or training to print shirts. If you can place a piece of transfer paper onto a blank shirt and lock down a heat press, you can print your own custom screen printed shirts!

It really is that easy.

You can start your t-shirt business immediately and start selling your custom shirts.