How To Design & Sell T-Shirts Online:
From First Step To First Sale

Learn everything you need to know to start selling your own graphic t-shirts


Funny, nostalgic, political—graphic t-shirts are a wearable statement. In some circles, wearable art. Yet, in it’s most simplest form, it’s an expression of you. Because of this, making high quality graphic t-shirts has become a lucrative business. And with low barriers to entry … there’s never been a better time to make your statement through wearable design.

Graphic t-shirt design example

It’s no secret you’ll face stiff local and global competition. Everyone from New York’s streetwear titans to Europe’s high-fashion houses create and craft graphic t-shirts. So what this means for you is, you’ll need designs your audience love, quality materials and an authentic voice. Today, we will go through the most important steps of how to sell t-shirts online: design process, store set-up, brand launch.

And It all starts with a solid foundation.

FOUNDATIONS OF A GRAPHIC T-SHIRT BRAND

Before you begin to ink-out designs there are three key elements you must know. Each plays a vital role in building your brand, keeping it synonymous, and most important—ensuring designs are relevant in the years to come. Consider each well-before you start:

Audience:

Get specific here, it will help your brand stand out, naturally attracting more followers.

Brand:

People subscribe to brands. Before starting ask yourself what is your brand’s story? What does it stand for? Who do you represent?

Design:

Are you going for timeless or trend of the moment? Graphic t-shirts are all about making a connection through meaningful designs.

TYPES OF T-SHIRTS

T-shirts are not created equal. It’s common knowledge fast fashion brands use low-end quality blanks. (Quality so abysmal, they're only good for a few washes.) When you want to make your brand a lasting success, quality t-shirts will form a cornerstone for your brand. No excuses here.


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And yes, if your chasing crazy-high margins, printing on cheap blanks is the way to go. A warning though. When you go down the cheap quality path you need to consider how this will affect your customer’s buying decision and your brand perception. The last thing you want is to get grilled on social media because your garments fall to pieces after a few washes.

What makes a quality t-shirt blank? Several things. Cotton type, softness, preshrunk, size, fit and weight. The Far Collective have put together a comprehensive list of the ‘7 Best Blank Tees’ when starting out.

Now, before you go out and order a box of blanks, it’s strongly encourage you do this instead. Buy all seven blanks. Test them out yourself. Put them through a washer and dryer. Iron them. Wear them. Here's why. You want to put the tees through your own durability test to see how they stand up. Only then, should you narrow down your choice.

TIME TO PRINT

OK, you’ve narrowed down your type of t-shirt blank, you need to consider your print options. The three most popular are silk screen printing, heat transfer, and direct to garment. Each method has their own pros and cons, and different levels of startup investments. Plus, each technique has differing levels of input during the creation process. So, make sure to consider this before choosing which is right for your brand.

Silk Screen Printing

Screen printing t-shirt designs

Screen printing is the most commonly used technique for t-shirt printing. The final results are durable, long lasting and resistant to fading. Albeit, labour intensive, screen printing is the most cost effective for large volume printing.

Pros

  • Good for up to 12 colours
  • Print is durable and resistant to fade
  • MOQ (minimum order quantity) for most silk screen shops will be 30-50 garments
  • Volume discounts available

Cons

  • Expensive if you are doing small quantity
  • Screen printing is done in sequential order
  • Set-up time is lengthy and can be complex depending on the amount of colours used
  • Messy if you do it from home
  • Intricate design details are not easy to achieve

Heat Transfer

Heat transfer printing is the one easiest methods to get your design onto a blank. It's as simple as printing on inkjet transfer paper, apply it to the garment, then pressed in the heat press.

This method allows you to print complex designs, in detail with plenty of colour. Yet, this is not recommended for running a graphic tee business. Albeit, fast and easy to print, heat transfer gives the t-shirt a heavy feel and it cracks easily.


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Pros

  • Quick and easy to print multiple colors and complex design
  • Perfect for small orders

Cons

  • Heavy feel of transfer makes t-shirt feel bulky
  • More colors = more costs
  • Cracks Easily

Direct-to-Garment (DTG)

DTG is a more recent form of t-shirt printing. Compared to large volume screen printing, it's a cost-effective method for small-to-medium sized projects. And because DTG works like an ordinary inkjet printer, you print your design directly on the blank garment. Now this is good news for you, because it means no harsh chemicals. No messy set-up. No lengthy setup time. A quick turnaround process that's affordable.

T-shirt design ideas

Pros

  • Print stunning full colour detailed images
  • Minimal set-up time and only need a small space to operate
  • No minimum orders
  • No harsh chemicals (uses water-based ink)

Cons

  • Requires large financial cost upfront (If you invest in a DTG printer yourself).
  • The higher the print resolution, the longer to print.
  • Garment selection is critical. DTG works best on 100% cotton. It’s best to avoid 50/50 blends and other non-cotton fabrics.
  • Not cost effective for large volume printing

Now, whichever method you choose to use, be aware of the pros and cons of each and how they can affect your brand. And this leads me to my next thought…

“I don’t know how to design anything, let alone a t-shirt! How do I come up with designs?”

DESIGNING YOUR FIRST TEE

If you recall, in the beginning I mentioned your audiences MUST love your designs. So what do you do if you’re not a graphic designer… Or didn’t graduate from art school?

Do it yourself.

Stay with me here, it’s actually quite simple. To create stunning graphics design all you need is CorelDRAW Graphics Suite. Why CorelDRAW Graphic Suite—it provides a simple turnkey design solution for non-designers. The beauty of doing it yourself is you can get your t-shirt design idea right in-front of you, exactly as you want. No need to rely on expensive designers or pre-made designs.


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CorelDRAW has three key ways to create graphic tees with impact:

T-shirt design ideas

1. Fit Objects to Path

Fit Objects to Path is a CorelDRAW extension. It gives you the ability to fit any type of object to a path of your choice, then customize it’s placement. This video below outlines the steps needed to get your design ideas out in front of you.

T-shirt design ideas

2. Pointilizer

Another easy-to-ene extension for CorelDRAW is Pointillizer. Which allows you to create high quality mosaics, pattern and artistic designs. To get started all you’ll need is a design in vector or bitmap format, import into CorelDRAW, then adjust settings and hit ‘apply’. In just a matter of clicks you will have a high quality pattern design. Easy done.

T-shirt design ideas

3. Impact Effects

If you prefer comic and graphic art designs, then Impact Effects extension is perfect for adding action and movement to designs.

This extension offers two effect styles: Radial and Parallel. Radial effects is used to add perspective or bring focus a certain design element. Parallel effects is used to add energy and signify motion.

Design in motion: Parallel (left), Radial (right)

T-shirt design ideas

As you can see above, by shaping the impact effect you end up with two vivid designs. Line settings can be rotated and randomized for a natural look. Plus, you can distort and reshape effect lines for added impact.

These three extensions above only scratch the surface of your design possibilities. With CorelDRAW’s friendly tools and library of extensions, it is simple for you to create eye catching graphic designs.


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STORE UP SET-UP

Now that your t-shirt designs and mockups are ready, now you need to set-up-shop. You have two options here:

Option 1:

Setting up your t-shirt store

The quickest and easiest route is to use an ecommerce platform like Shopify. A complete turn-key solution, you’ll have your graphic t-shirt store up-and-selling in a matter of hours. Shopify offer a FREE trial catering to t-shirt designers. Plus, you’ll have access to a library of free templates. Another benefit of Shopify; you can integrate your store with on-demand t-shirt drop shippers. They’ll take care of printing, processing, and packaging on your behalf for a small percentage fee of each sale. Easy done.

Fulfillment Apps:

Option 2:

The second option takes more time, upfront investment and input in the creation process. You will still use Shopify (or similar platform) to build your store. But printing, packaging and fulfilment will be your responsibility.

The major benefit of option 2, you keep 100% of the profit when compared to using a fulfilment partner.

GET YOUR BRAND OUT INTO THE WORLD: THE HUSTLE AND GRIND

Social Media

Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter. These social media networks make it cheap, easy and fast to get your brand in front of your target audience. Now keep in mind, you will need to put some work in here. So, here’s some starting points:

  • Contact t-shirt bloggers in your market and determine if they can plug your brand through their network
  • Post high quality images. NO low-resolution photos that look like they were captured using a potato
  • Joining groups where potential customers are a part of
  • Offer freebies to friends and families if they will upload a photo of them wearing your design
  • Invest into PPC advertising. (Be wary though. This only works well if you have etched out a specific target market.)

Check out this article about using social media to create brand awareness.
(The 4 Essentials to Building Your Brand on Social Media)

Trade Shows

Start applying for retail trade shows-a lot. You need to prepare a ‘cold pitch’ about your brand, then practice, practice, practice. Because you'll be pitching to bloggers, buyers and store owners. There's more. Trade shows give you access to industry influencers, magazine reps, and fashion photographers. If they like what they see, they can flood your brand through their own professional network.

Launch Party

Marketing your t-shirt business

Got social media? …

Got some friends?…

Know someone who can take a photo?…

Tie these together—throw a launch party. This concept is nothing new. Boutique stores use this when a new season arrives in-store and want to create PR, and the process couldn't be more simple.

Put a Facebook event up, flooding it through yours and friend’s networks. Offering clothes for sale, music, snacks (optional) and having a photographer-friend document the launch. A simple method for huge PR!

There you have it. It has never been easier to start a graphic t-shirt business and sell meaningful graphic t-shirts. And by using Corel Draw's industry-leading design tools, and turn-key ecommerce platforms-you will be selling within hours. https://teespring-fulfillment.readme.io/


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