The online t-shirt market is booming – think fundraisers, events, or just cool, casual wear. It's a world filled with potential, but let's face it: the idea of piling up boxes of unsold shirts in your garage isn't exactly appealing.
What if there's a smarter way? Imagine selling awesome t-shirts without the hassle of inventory. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, it's a reality for countless savvy entrepreneurs, and now it's your turn.
We're here to guide you through the ins and outs of selling t-shirts online, inventory-free.
Table of Contents
- How to Sell T-Shirts Online Without Inventory: An Overview
- Understanding Print-On-Demand Services
- Designing Your T-Shirts to Sell Online
- A Note of Caution
- The Takeaway
How to Sell T-Shirts Online Without Inventory: An Overview
If you want to sell customized organic t-shirts online, you've come to the right place. Here is a quick overview of the process:
Step 1 – Create Design Concepts
You'll want to create an innovative design, such as a slogan, photo, logo, or illustration.
If you don't have something in mind, you can do what I do and start with ChatGPT and DALL-E 3.
I'll begin with a simple prompt like the one I used for my drone t-shirt business.
ChatGPT Prompt: “come up with cool drone tshirt ideas.”
You really don't need more than a single sentence to get going. This gave me a list of 10 concepts with a description of an image and a slogan for each. I then prompted:
ChatGPT Prompt: “Make these images. Create designs without showing the tshirt and just produce the image itself.
The reason I ask it not to produce the t-shirt itself is because you'll get an image like this on top of a t-shirt. You only want the design itself.
Here's the design itself.
You'll notice the spelling error. More on that later.
You'll also notice the images are slightly different. When making changes, the best way to get close to the original image is to ask ChatGPT for the gen_id of the image (a unique identifier). It will return a long, weird value like nbtkQGRhpkrIcJf4. You can now refer to that and ask for changes.
ChatGPT Prompt: What is the gen_id of that image?
Wait for the response, example: nbtkQGRhpkrIcJf4. Then prompt:
Generate another image that is the same as nbtkQGRhpkrIcJf4 but change the color to green.
ChatGPT will only produce an image or two at a time. To get more designs, just prompt, “make more.”
One of the big challenges with ChatGPT is that the text within an image is almost always incorrect. I'm sure that will get better over time, but for now, I've found you can only create usable designs if they don't contain text.
To get past this issue, I use a human designer to go the last mile and get a professional-looking design.
Step 2 – Create Polished Designs
Take the sample designs you got from ChatGPT and share them with a professional designer to polish up for you. This will fix any misspellings and provide you with higher-resolution images than ChatGPT.
The final designs don't have to match the concepts. But if you give your designers a conceptual starting point, the process goes significantly faster. I'll also go to Google Images and look for similar slogans to get ideas and share these with my designers as well.
Where to Find T- Shirt Designers
If you are only creating a small number of designs, Fiverr is great place for quality but affordable designers.
Here are our favorite Fiverr Profiles for T-Shirt Design:
With an impressive 4.9-star rating from over 1,000 reviews, Sergey offers high-resolution PNG files that reflect the newest and unique fashion trends. The basic package starts at $260.
We use subscription graphic design services for our own t-shirt stores. These are great if you are going to be producing a lot of designs. You can get 5-15 designs per day, depending on how complicated your requests are.
Our Favorite Subscription Design Service: We use Kimp to create dozens of t-shirt designs to save money.Check out Kimp
Step 3 – Setup a Print on Demand Partner
Find a trustworthy fulfillment partner, like Printful or TeePublic, to produce and deliver your brand's personalized t-shirts to eager customers. My experience is with Printful, for which I'll share my tips and insights below.
Step 4 – Customize Your Online Store
You'll want to set up your online so that your customers locate your products and place their orders.
You can set up your online storefront via multiple methods. For example, you can make an aggregate storefront on TeePublic or Amazon. Or, you can build your own website with a company like Printful.
Printful setup isn't too bad, but if you want to run it on WordPress you'll also need to install WooCommerce (this wasn't in the documentation and would have saved us a ton of time knowing this in advance).
Printful Setup on WordPress
You'll need to install two WordPress plugins: WooCommerce & Printful.
The WooCommerce plugin is used to create online store functionality on your website.
The Printful plugin connects to WooCommerce and pulls in the products you setup on the Printful website.
There's much more to understand when it comes to learning how to sell t-shirts online to make money. An essential component to selling shirts in an online store is a reliable print-on-demand service. Read on to learn more.
Understanding Print-On-Demand Services
Some eager entrepreneurs may be wondering, “Can you rent DTG printers and sell t-shirts online?” While you certainly can, the hassle often isn't worth it. DTG printers aren't cheap, and you'll have to learn how to use one efficiently.
Instead, you can recruit a fulfillment partner to print and distribute t-shirts with your custom design. Print-on-demand (POD) services are when a fulfillment partner customizes, produces, and delivers your products for you.
Some online sellers are open about their involvement with fulfillment partners. Others prefer to participate in “white labeling,” which is a type of rebranding. It means you ask your fulfillment partner to make their involvement discrete. They'll place your brand's logo on shipping labels that go out to customers and maintain a low-key profile on your website.
POD services are versatile, as you can use them to sell unique merchandise to your customers at low upfront costs. And, you can reach customers worldwide by working with fulfillment partners across the globe.
The best part? You have a lot of control over your business. For example, you can lessen your ecological footprint by choosing to design and sell organic t-shirts online only.
Printing on demand is a great middle-ground between affiliate marketing and dropshipping, and it will make your entrepreneurial opportunities limitless.
Print-On-Demand: How It Works
Print-on-demand is an innovative solution that means no work for you, the creator. It's especially beneficial for those who want to learn how to sell t-shirts for fundraising online since it minimizes costs and maximizes value.
With this hands-off business plan, you can
- Avoid hefty startup costs
- Eliminate tedious data entry tasks
- Circumvent the need for creating shipping labels
- Take away the work of printing or ironing on adhesives
- Let someone else pack your products into boxes
- Avoid trips to the post office
- Reduce operating costs (e.g., leasing a warehouse to store inventory)
- Expand your production to outside your country of residence
You'll have to get with your fulfillment partner to adjust your product profit margins. Your FP will show you how much their production costs are and allow you to create a markup price. Customers won't see this number, so you don't have to worry about low-balling it. It would be best if you created a fair markup price by evaluating your competition and other factors.
When a customer finalizes a sale, your FP will take their portion of the transaction. You'll take the rest as profit.
POD Startup Costs
Before you dive headfirst into this online business idea, you're likely wondering, “What does it cost to sell t-shirts online on average on your own website?”
POD comes with meager startup costs. Some examples of startup expenses include:
- A designer's services (typically start at around $5, depending on the platform)
- Product listing fees on online marketplaces (usually start at about $0.20 each)
- The rights to stock art to use in your designs (typically start at around $5)
- Costs to self-host a website or Shopify store (rates will vary)
After your first sale, you may encounter other costs. For example, an online ad campaign will help you reach more audience members, but it doesn't happen for free.
As far as risk goes, POD is pretty low-stakes. You won't ever carry the cost of any products before a customer submits an order.
T-shirt printing is an art, and not everything will always go seamlessly. If a customer requests a return, you'll have to know what to expect.
Let's say a customer receives a product. After a few days, the stitches start to tear, and the print job is bleeding. If these mistakes occur, your partner will send a replacement to your customer for free.
However, you may be responsible if your design is of poor quality or the customer returns the product for unspecified reasons. In cases like these, you'll have to issue a full refund and see your profits suffer.
Printful Billing & Returns
We use Printful and one confusing point during setup is that you will be asked to enter your own credit card billing information.
This is because you will collect a payment from your customer yourself (let's say you charge $20), but in the same transaction, Printful will charge you for the cost of the shirt (let's say $15).
This should result in a $5 profit. However, if the customer wants to return the shirt because they don't like it, you'll be on the hook to return the full $20 you collected and Printful will likely not give you back the $15.
POD Order Fulfillment
Your fulfillment partner can fall into one of two categories: marketplaces or integrations.
Marketplaces are one-stop shops that place your products on the same sites as millions of other sellers.
Common marketplaces include TeePublic and Teespring. Some marketplaces, like Merch by Amazon, will only take on sellers who can maintain sales requirements. Otherwise, you could lose your spot and have to find a new partner to fulfill your orders.
Integration refers to when a customer places an order on one platform and another platform processes it.
For example, let's say you own a website with the domain name “www.t-shirtsrock.com.” A customer places an order on T-ShirtsRock, and the order gets sent to another company like Printful for fulfillment.
Many sellers prefer integration, as it allows them to keep customer information on file, get paid quicker, and have more intricate administration features.
If you sell t-shirts online with Shopify or Printful, you're participating in integration. With other websites like Etsy and WordPress, you no longer have to wonder about how to sell t-shirts online not using Facebook or other social media platforms.
Designing Your T-Shirts to Sell Online
Besides logistics, the design is the other crucial element in how to sell shirts in an online store. We've broken down the design process into manageable tips:
Create Your Idea
First, pick a design idea that'll never go out of style. Some themes for inspiration include:
- Fitness mottoes
- Holiday themes
- Career puns
- Popular and “punny” sayings
- Barbecue attire
- Cute animals and pets
- Life milestones
- Clubs and organizations
- Schools and universities
- Social justice and civil rights
- Pop culture and memes
- Motivational quotes
Choose your design idea by studying search engine activity and existing marketplaces. This research will help you determine what customers will buy.
Meet Design Requirements
Most fulfillment partners will ask for the following design requirements:
- A minimum of 150 dots per inch for small products (aim for 300 DPI for larger products)
- A transparent background
- CMYK color mode
- Rasterize all fonts
- Export the file as a JPG, PNG, or EPS
- No effects like “Glow” or “Drop Shadow”
Invest in T-Shirt Design Tools & Services
The following t-shirt design tools will help you design and sell custom organic t-shirts online:
Canva has a “drag-and-drop” interface and an extensive library of pictures, graphics, fonts, and vector images at your disposal. You can use it for free, but some of the best features are available with the premium subscription.
Shuttershock has unique and case-specific photos you can use to realize any design idea you have in mind.
Creative Market is an excellent site to access pre-made graphics, fonts, and design templates. It operates on an à la carte basis so that you can purchase exactly what you need.
Unlimited Graphic Design
If you're looking to create multiple t-shirt designs and want to scale out your store, consider using an unlimited graphic design company. These services can provide you “all-you-can-eat” graphic design at a low, flat monthly fee. This is a great resource for established apparel sales companies, as well as new entrepreneurs looking to quickly create a nice database of original t-shirt designs.
Take Advantage of Free Design Ideas
If you have a limited budget, you can implement some free design ideas to get started. These ideas can be effective in the beginning, but you shouldn't rely on them as your business expands.
Use Free Stock Images Exclusively
In the early stages of your online t-shirt business, you can stick to sites that offer free-to-use photos in commercial applications.
While you can't use copyrighted memes, you can trace (rotoscope) them. The outcome will be a shaky, rough-looking image, but that's the meme style people love. Just be sure to trace it in high resolution.
A Note of Caution
POD t-shirt printing is a perfectly legal business model that gives you freedom as a seller over the custom designs and shipping process. However, you'll need to ensure you stay within specific legal requirements when you design and sell t-shirts online.
While there's no required license to sell t-shirts online, you must adhere to copyright laws and restrictions, especially when using existing images. Also, make sure to abide by your area's tax requirements. Conduct business ethically by learning about taxes for people who sell t-shirts online.
As long as you take these precautions, you'll have a lucrative endeavor ahead of you!
Print-on-demand services let you sell shirts online without inventory, thus reducing startup and operating costs.
Whether you want to sell shirts online to raise money, bring awareness to an issue, or share your creativity with the world, you can do so easily with POD t-shirt printing services!
Is It Profitable To Sell Shirts Online?
Yes, it is profitable to sell shirts online if you approach the business with a solid strategy. The profitability of selling shirts online depends on various factors such as your niche, design quality, marketing efforts, and the platform you choose to sell on.
By targeting the right audience and keeping up with trends, you can create a lucrative online shirt business. It's important to consider the costs involved, such as marketing, website hosting, and production costs if you're not going for a no-inventory model.
But, with the rise of print-on-demand services, you can start selling shirts online with minimal upfront investment and without holding any inventory, which significantly reduces the risk and cost.
What Platform Is Best For Selling Shirts?
The best platform for selling shirts online may vary depending on your business model, audience, and marketing strategy.
Popular platforms include Shopify, which offers extensive customization and integration with various print-on-demand services. Etsy is another platform that's great for selling unique and custom shirt designs to a large audience.
Other platforms like Amazon Merch allow you to sell t-shirts online by simply uploading designs and using their customer base.
Each platform has its own set of benefits and costs, so it's important to choose one that aligns with your business goals and target market.
Can I Sell Shirts Without Inventory?
Yes, you can sell shirts without inventory by using a business model called print-on-demand (POD). This model allows you to create your shirt designs and list them for sale without purchasing any physical stock.
When a customer orders a shirt, the order is sent to a POD service that prints, packs, and ships the product directly to the customer.
This way, you can start how to sell t-shirts online without the need for a large upfront investment in inventory, warehousing, or handling logistics.
It's a low-risk method to start a shirt-selling business and can be easily scaled as your sales increase.