I’ve sold t-shirts online for years and I marvel at how the market has grown. Nowadays anyone can create and sell t-shirts online, even with minimal design skill and absolutely no screenprinting know-how. You can create designs on t-shirt marketplaces that do it all for you, upload designs to print-on-demand vendors who drop-ship orders for you, or even sell tees that you print and ship yourself via your own online store.
If you’re going to set up an online store we recommend using Shopify. Their eCommerce platform makes it easy to sell your products from your website, social media, and more. Click here for a free 14 day trial.
Best of all, you can get started with little to no upfront costs, like I did on my own site:
This guide will walk you through three primary ways to sell t-shirts online. First, we’ll take a peek at each option, its startup costs, who it’s best for, and what you need to get started. Then we’ll explore each t-shirt selling method in further detail. By the end of this guide, you’ll know which type of t-shirt business is right for you, and how to get started so you can take advantage of this lucrative market.
Three Options for Your T-Shirt Business
Option 1: Sell t-shirts online via t-shirt sales sites
|Startup Cost||Best for||What you’ll need|
|$0||Anyone with fun ideas for t-shirts||Creativity, a free graphics program like Inkscape, social media accounts, and an account with TeeSpring, SunFrog, or another t-shirt marketplace|
Your first option for selling t-shirts online is the simplest of the three. Several large t-shirt printing outfits have marketplace-style websites where you can create an account, add your tee designs, then they take it from there. When your tee is ordered on their site, they print it and ship it straight to the buyer. You’re paid a cut of the profit, which you set when you create your tee. With this option, you don’t even need your own website to sell t-shirts online. But you will need a way to market your tees, and most sellers turn social media for this. Learn more about this t-shirt selling method here.
Option 2: Sell t-shirts via drop-ship using a print-on-demand vendor
|Startup Cost||Best for||What you’ll need|
|$3.99 - $29/mo. for website hosting||Anyone wanting to sell a line of tees from their own website||Creativity, a free graphics program like Inkscape, social media accounts, and an ecommerce platform like Shopify, Etsy, Ecwid for WordPress, or others that integrate with print-on-demand (POD) vendor apps.|
This is the simplest way to sell t-shirts online through your own website. This option lets you build your own brand with tees that you market and sell through your online store, but you don’t print them yourself. Instead, you’ll use what’s known as a print-on-demand (POD) vendor who prints and ships each order for you. The top POD vendors have apps that integrate with ecommerce platforms so you can quickly list tees for sale on your website. As they sell, orders are routed to your POD vendor, who prints and ships tees to your customers, then bills you the wholesale cost.
This is an ideal way to sell branded collections of fashion, fun, or fandom tee shirts, along with other POD items like mugs and pillows, with no upfront costs other than website fees. You can even sell the POD items alongside items that you sell and ship yourself. And if you’re testing out brand concepts or different tee designs, the POD option lets you do it risk-free. Learn more about this t-shirt selling method here.
Option 3: Sell t-shirts that you print and ship yourself
|Startup Cost||Best for:||What you’ll need|
|$0 to $20/mo. for an online store|
$300 to $1000’s for t-shirt printing equipment and materials if starting from scratch
|Established t-shirt print shops and custom t-shirt printers who want to sell online||Creativity, Adobe CS or CorelDraw graphics programs, an ecommerce platform like Shopify or Etsy screenprinting and design knowledge, a heat press and transfer materials, or t-shirt screen printing equipment|
If you don’t already make your own tees using screen printing or heat press equipment, this option requires the most knowledge, skill, and upfront costs of the three. In this case, options 1 and 2 are far better ways to start selling t-shirts online.
But if you already have a screen print shop or create custom heat-press shirts, this option suits you to a T. Essentially, you just need to launch a simple ecommerce store so you can sell t-shirts online that you print and ship yourself. With your own online store, you can also grow a custom-order business by letting customers design their own tees right on your website. We’ll explore how to do that, and more, here.
So, which online t-shirt selling option is right for you?
As you see, there’s something for everyone when it comes to selling t-shirts online. One of the three methods discussed above is sure to fit your t-shirt business needs. Now we’ll explore these options in more detail and show you how to get started with each.
Option 1: How to sell your designs on t-shirt sales sites
Whether you have a fun idea for a t-shirt or a full line of designs, you can quickly create and sell t-shirts online using marketplace sites like TeeSpring, Sunfrog, GearBubble, TeeChip, Spreadshirt and RedBubble, to name a just few.
What do t-shirt sales sites cost?
T-shirt sales sites are free to use. It costs you nothing to sign up for an account, upload or create t-shirt designs, and sell your tees. In fact, t-shirt marketplace sites don’t bill you at all. Instead, they pay you for every tee shirt that you sell. Many even let you set your own profit margin, too. The only cost you might incur is advertising if you choose to use Facebook ads or promoted Facebook posts to market your t-shirts.
What do you need to do this?
All you need to create t-shirts to sell in these marketplaces is a good idea, some rough layout skills, and some spare time to create and post your design. Most of these sites have a built-in tools that let you create basic designs with text and clip art. But if you want to craft your own designs, you can use Inkscape, a top-notch design program that’s free, or Adobe CS, Photoshop, or CorelDraw if you already use them.
Since these marketplaces list massive numbers of tees created by all sorts of sellers, it’s hard to stand out. So to really be successful selling through online t-shirt marketplaces, you’ll need an audience, either a blog following or, more commonly, a fan base and followers on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Pinterest. Most successful sellers rely on social audiences and Facebook advertising to sell their tees.
How do t-shirt sales sites work?
Each t-shirt marketplace website has its own unique features, but at the core, they operate similarly:
- Step 1: Upload your artwork or create a tee using their online design tools
- Step 2: Finalize your tee style and colors, and price your tee
- Step 3: List it for sale on the marketplace website
- Step 4: Market it to your social followers and other audiences, like your blog or email list
- Step 5: The website handles all sales, printing, and shipping for you
- Step 6: You get paid your cut of the profit
That’s really all there is to it regardless of which t-shirt sales site you use, however there are some differences between them:
1. Most let you sell far more than t-shirts
T-shirts were the starting point for most of these websites, but now many let you sell your designs on hoodies, tank tops, mugs, totes, iPhone cases, and more. This is something to consider when deciding which to use.
2. Most give you a storefront page for your designs and even a feed for your blog
Most of these sites give let you build a storefront page so you can market a single page listing all of your tees and other products. Many, like Sunfrog, even let you bring a collection feed into your blog, like this:
3. Most t-shirt sales sites sell your tees individually, but a few use crowdbuying campaign methods
Most t-shirt marketplace websites sell and print tees to order, so buyers can purchase tees whenever they wish. But a few, like TeeSpring, still use the crowdbuying format. With crowdbuying, a minimum number of shirts, which you set, must be ordered before any are printed.
Some sellers use t-shirt sales campaigns as a clever marketing tactic, listing their tees as limited-time offers on their Facebook feed. That’s something to consider to drive sales, too.
How do you get started on t-shirt sales sites?
You simply need to create a free account and design a tee to start selling on any of these t-shirt marketplace websites. Here’s a quick look at how I set up an account and a t-shirt for sale using TeeSpring:
Step 1: Create your account on TeeSpring, this takes about half a minute:
Step 2: Upload your artwork or design your tee from scratch in the dashboard:
Here you can design a tee with text (A), add clipart (B), or upload your own art, which is what I did, also under the Art Tab (B). You can select which type of tee or other item you want to sell (C). (D) gives you the base cost of the item as you design it. Once you have your design in place, click Sell This (E), to go to the next page.
Step 3: Finalize your details:
Here, I set my campaign target sale (A) at 10 tees, but I could make this less or more if I wish. Remember, TeeSpring is a crowdbuying format, so if I select 10 tees, I need to sell 10 tees for the campaign to print and ship. Since I usually sell more than 10, I’m good with this. (B) shows me the estimated profit for the campaign. This is what I’ll be paid if I sell 10 tees. (C) lets me change my tee price if I wish, which will change my profit estimate. (D) is where I can add more items to sell in the same campaign, so I add a tank top. As long as I sell a total of 10 items, tanks and/or tees, the campaign will print, and I’ll be paid.
Step 4: Enter some final information and launch:
In this screen, you can name your campaign (A), with your item title. Then enter a description (B) for your item and some details about your design, like why you were inspired to create it. Under (C) select the category that matches your subject. (D) is where you can set a certain campaign length or make the item always available. If you select this, TeeSpring will automatically print every 3 days if there are orders. At (E) you can change the item url if you wish. It automatically creates one from your campaign name. When this screen is complete, hit Launch (F).
After hitting Launch, my t-shirt is live on the TeeSpring site, shown below, and ready to accept orders. The whole process took about 15 minutes. Not bad! Now I can go into my TeeSpring dashboard, post this t-shirt to my social media sites, start marketing and, hopefully, make some sales.
Is this the right online t-shirt business for you?
T-shirt marketplace websites are a no-cost, low-fuss way to get started selling t-shirts online. It’s definitely the best solution if you don’t have, and don’t want, your own website. But if you want to sell t-shirts and other items from your own branded online store, the next option may be better for you.
Option 2: How to sell t-shirts via drop-ship using a print-on-demand (POD) t-shirt printer
If you want to build a brand around your t-shirt business, you really need your own online store so you can fully communicate your brand to buyers. Unlike Option 1, an online store gives you full control over how you present and sell your tees, so you can really build an identity. Plus you can do things like add a blog, grow an email list for marketing new tees to buyers, open a Facebook store, and even sell through other social channels.
Best of all, you don’t have to print and ship t-shirts yourself. Instead, you’ll use a print-on-demand (POD) vendor who integrates with your online store to print and drop-ship orders for you. Setting up this solution is a bit more involved than what we covered above in Option 1, but we’ll walk through the details below.
What do print-on-demand t-shirt printers cost?
It’s free to open an account with most print-on-demand t-shirt printers, and you only pay for t-shirts and other printed items when they’re sold. So the only startup cost you’re looking at is your online store hosting fee. There are many options, but here are my top picks and their costs to give you a starting point:
- The easiest online store solution for selling POD tees is Shopify, which starts at $29/mo. See our review of Shopify, plus other top ecommerce platforms and their costs here.
- Starting at $3.99/mo., a WordPress site costs less than Shopify, but takes more work to set up (see how to do that here). WordPress also requires a shopping cart plugin like WooCommerce (free) or Ecwid (starting at $15/mo.) to enable online sales.
So cost-wise, you’re looking at a monthly fee of $3.99 to $29 or so to operate a POD t-shirt business with your own online store. But that investment isn’t terribly high, especially since it lets you build your brand your way. Next let’s explore everything you’ll need to make this option work.
What do you need to do this?
To successfully sell t-shirts in your own online store using a POD vendor, you’ll need these four things:
1. An ecommerce platform for your online store
2. A POD vendor to print and ship your t-shirts
Next you’ll need to pick a POD vendor to print and ship your t-shirts. Most POD vendors have apps that integrate with top ecommerce platforms, so that part is easy. But picking the right POD vendor is important. You need to consider product selection, pricing, quality, and reliability.
Personally, I like and have used the POD vendor Printful. They deliver consistent quality, their app is simple, and it integrates with many platforms including Amazon, see them all here. PrintAura is another top POD option with many integrations including Etsy, see them all here.
3. A graphics program or another way to design your t-shirt art
You’ll also need a graphics program to create your t-shirt artwork, and the skill to create and save your art files. While POD vendor apps let you add your art to t-shirts, most don’t have built-in design tools. So you’ll need to design your artwork using a graphics program such Inkscape, a free top-notch design package, or Adobe CS, Photoshop, or CorelDraw.
If design isn’t your thing, you can hire a budget-friendly freelancer at Fiverr to bring your ideas to life.
4. Social media accounts to market your online t-shirt business
To be successful selling t-shirts online, you’ll also need social media accounts on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. An online store is just the starting point for selling t-shirts online. The most budget-friendly marketing magic happens in social sites like Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. So that’s where you need to be, too. See how to market your t-shirts for free on Facebook here, and using paid ads here.
How does the online store & POD vendor combination work?
Now that you know what you need to sell t-shirts online in your own website, here’s how it all works:
Step 1: Set up an online store using Shopify, WordPress, or another platform
Step 2: Select a POD vendor and connect their app to your store
Step 3: Use the POD vendor app to create and list t-shirts and other items for sale in your store
Step 4: Market your t-shirts on social sites, via email, on your blog, or through Google adwords
Step 5: When an item sells, the POD vendor prints and ships it for you
Step 6: The POD vendor charges your credit card the wholesale price
Step 7: You keep the profit and continue to build your brand and market your t-shirts
So the actual t-shirt printing and shipping process is similar to that of Option 1, which is pretty hands-off for you. However, there’s one major difference:
Handling Customer Service & Returns
With your own website, in the customer’s eyes they are buying from you, so you’ll handle any customer service questions or problems yourself. This is in contrast to Option 1, where the marketplace websites actually make the sale and handle returns and other issues for you.
As with any apparel sales, you’ll have returns for items that aren’t as expected, and exchanges for sizes, colors, etc. The top POD vendors are aware of this and work with you, but they typically don’t refund items unless there’s a mistake or a misprint. So you’ll likely end up with returns that you have to refund, and that you won’t be able to return to your POD vendor. When that happens, here’s a tip! Use them for promos like social media giveaways and contest prizes.
Other than the occasional return or exchange hiccup, the POD process is pretty smooth. So if you think this option is right for you, here’s how you do it:
How do you get started?
Since ecommerce platforms differ, the exact steps to connect a store and POD system varies. But we’ll walk through the process to give you an general idea of how they all work.
Step 1: Set up an online store on an ecommerce platform
First you’ll need to set up an online store, which you can learn how to do in these guides:
- See how to set up a Shopify store and connect it to a Facebook Shop here, and learn more about Shopify and other ecommerce platforms here.
- Learn how to set up a WordPress site here, and see how to set up an Ecwid shop for WordPress.
For our example, we’ll use a Shopify store with Printful as our POD vendor since that’s the combo I use in my store.
Step 2: Connect a POD vendor to our Shopify store:
To connect Printful to Shopify, we’ll sign in to our Shopify dashboard. Then click Apps in the lower left navigation and select Visit Shopify App Store:
Next, this screen appears and I type Printful into the search box. Note: under Recommended for You, you can find other POD vendor options, read about their service, and see user reviews:
The Printful App page comes up and from this screen I click Get to install the Printful App into my Shopify store. Here, I can also watch a video tutorial about using Printful with Shopify:
After clicking Get above, the next screen lets me Create a New Printful account or Connect an existing account. You’ll need to Create New if you don’t have a Printful account yet:
We’re nearly done connecting Printful to Shopify. The last step is to Click Install App, below:
And that’s it. Printful is now installed in our Shopify store. Now we can create our first t-shirt.
Step 3: Add a t-shirt to our Shopify store
After installing, the Printful App screen appears in my Shopify store dashboard. From here, I can Add a Product by clicking the button:
Next, this screen appears and I can select the item I want to sell. As you can see, Printful has quite a variety of items that you can sell. But we’re working on tees right now, so I click on Shirts:
The next screen lets me pick the type of tee I want to sell. From here, I can access the full collection and pick the exact tee I want to use. Printful, like most POD vendors, gives you many apparel choices with a range of prices:
After I select my tee style, the next screen lets me upload my t-shirt artwork by clicking choose file. Note that I can have front and/or back prints on my tees. Plus I can select colors and choose which sizes I want to offer:
One nice thing about Printful is that it creates a mockup of your tee in every color you select, shown above.
In the next screen, I can choose which color tee to show as my main image, then enter my product title and description. Printful prefills the description with basic tee information for you, so you just need to describe your design and add other details to help sell your concept. After I do this, I click Proceed to Pricing:
In the Pricing screen, I see how much Printful will charge me for the item under Printful Price. Then, I can set my own Retail Price. The Profit column shows me how much I’ll make when a tee sells. After I’m happy with my pricing, I click Submit to Store:
Here, I see that my t-shirt has been added to my store and is available to sell. Now I can Edit it if I need to, or I can click Add Product and create more tees or other gear:
And here’s my POD t-shirt available for sale in in my online store:
That’s all there is to it. When this item sells, the order is automatically forwarded to Printful to print and ship it to my customer. They even update the package tracking info in my Shopify store. That’s the beauty of the integrated app, it’s completely seamless.
Is this the right online t-shirt business for you?
If you want to sell t-shirts online from your own website, but have them printed and drop-shipped for you, this is the answer. Personally, I find the Shopify/Printful combo pretty foolproof, but there are plenty of other combos to explore if you go this route.
However, if you already print tee shirts in your own screen printing shop, or if you make custom tees using a heat press, Option 3 shows you how to expand your t-shirt business into online sales.
Option 3: How to Sell T-shirts That You Print & Ship Yourself
To sell t-shirts online that you print, or have printed, and ship yourself, you just need to set up an online store to list your tees and take online orders. We’re not going to delve into the details of setting up an online store here since we have several guides that show you how to do this:
- See how to set up a Shopify store and connect it to a Facebook Shop here, and learn more about Shopify and other ecommerce platforms here.
- Learn how to set up a WordPress site here, and see how to sell products using a WordPress site here.
Instead, we’re going to explore exactly what type of online store features you need for your particular t-shirt business. To do that, you need to answer these questions:
- Do you sell t-shirts that you print and ship yourself?
- Do you print custom t-shirt orders for customers?
- Do you do both; print your own designs and custom orders?
The answer to these questions will tell you what type of online store you need:
Answer 1: Yes – I sell t-shirts that I print and ship myself
If sell t-shirts that you print in-house or through a wholesale printer, then your online store needs are pretty simple. You just need to launch an online store using an ecommerce platform like Shopify, Square, Ecwid, or others listed in the links above. Then, list your t-shirts for sale in your store, on your Facebook Shop and social sites, or on seller marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy.
No matter where you sell t-shirts online, you’ll want to take great pictures of your tees. We have a great guide that shows you how to do that using a cell phone camera here.
Answer 2: Yes – I print custom t-shirt orders
If you want to accept custom t-shirt orders online, first you’ll need an online store on an ecommerce platform like those listed in Answer 1. Then you’ll need an t-shirt creator tool so your customers can design their own tees online for you to print. Once upon a time, this technology was limited to those with big budgets, but no more. Several top ecommerce platforms and WordPress add-ons offer this feature at a very low cost. Here are some options to explore:
Answer 3: Yes – I Do Both
If you print and sell your own designs and take custom orders, you’ll want to create an online store that combines Answers 1 & 2. Luckily, this is pretty easy since all of the ecommerce platforms that work with online t-shirt creator tools also have plenty of product selling features, too.
To sell your own branded tees and take custom orders, you need to organize your website so customers have easy access to both sections. BrandX Tee Shirts, a t-shirt printer in Tempe, Az., is a good example of a shop that does this.
Here is BrandX Tee Shirts’ custom-order page. Here, buyers can use their online DIY t-shirt creator tool to design their own tees, or request PRO custom design services:
Plus, under Products they sell a full collection of fun preprinted tee designs based on trending topics, local interest, television shows, movies, and much more:
How to Get Started Selling T-Shirts Online that You Print & Ship Yourself:
As we mention above, if you want to sell t-shirts online that you print and ship yourself, the first thing you’ll need is an online store to list your t-shirts and accept orders. Once you have this, you can expand into custom sales by adding a t-shirt creator tool to your site anytime you like.
Once you have an online store, you can also branch out to sell t-shirts online in a number of marketplaces, including Amazon and Etsy, plus sell on social sites like Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.
If this sounds like the right online t-shirt business solution for you, here are several guides that will help you put it all together:
Step 1: Get started selling t-shirts online through your own website:
Cost: Free to $29/mo and up, each of our guides below detail specific costs
Check out top online store options:
- See our review of Shopify and other top ecommerce platforms here
- Learn how to sell products on a WordPress site here how to use Ecwid with WordPress
- Learn how to set up a free Square online store here
Learn more about selling online:
- See more details about setting up an online store here
- Learn how to take great shots of your tees with you cell phone camera here
- See our comparison of top shipping management tools here
Step 2: List your t-shirts on other online sales channels and social sites
Cost: Starts at free, each of our guides below detail specific costs
- Learn how to sell your t-shirts on a Facebook Shop here
- Learn how to market t-shirts on Facebook for free here, and how to advertise on a budget here
- Learn how to sell t-shirts on Etsy here
Step 3: Enable custom t-shirt orders with an online t-shirt creator tool
Cost: Free to monthly or one-time fees, listed below
If custom t-shirt orders are your goal, an online t-shirt creator tool will give your customers the freedom to create their own tees for you to print. Consider these add-ons for your ecommerce platform:
Online t-shirt creator tools for Shopify:
Online t-shirt creator tools for WordPress stores:
The Bottom Line
We’ve covered the three primary ways you can break into selling t-shirts online. The easiest method, t-shirt sales sites and marketplaces, let you get started with nothing more than an idea. Or you can build a branded line using POD vendors to create t-shirts that sell in your own online store. And if you’re a screen printer or custom t-shirt shop, you can expand your reach by selling tees online and by offering a design tool on your website.
And the nicest thing about any of these options? They cost little to nothing to get up and running.
Of the three, the priciest way to sell t-shirts online is to print them yourself. But if you already do that, then launching an online store to sell tees or take custom orders won’t cost you much. You can even provide your custom-order clients an online design tool at little to no cost.
If you don’t already print your own tees, there’s no reason to invest any money in printing equipment and stock tees. You can sell t-shirts online with no costs at all using a number of t-shirt marketplaces that do all the printing and shipping for you. You just market your tees and reap the profits.
Or, if you want to create your own branded website, print-on-demand vendors give you the means to create a line that’s wholly yours. You’ll need to set up and maintain a website and handle your customer service, but they do the printing and shipping of orders for you. Again, with little to no upfront costs. If you decide to go with this plan, we recommend using Shopify to create your website.
Do you sell t-shirts online using any of these methods? Do you have any favorite methods? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.