Have you ever Googled “Start a business for less than $5,000?” If you have, you’ve probably realized that there are a multitude of articles and blog posts on the internet with ideas of businesses you can start for $5k or less. However, most of these ideas are either too far fetched or just plain bad. If selling term life insurance or starting a landscaping company is not what you’re looking for, let me introduce you to the best-kept secret in the apparel industry…You can start a profitable business producing and selling t-shirts for less than $5,000 using the three steps mentioned below.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? You’re probably thinking “Could I really quit my job and work for myself?”, or “Is there really enough money to be made in a business selling t-shirts?” I can assure you that the answer to both of those questions is YES! And, here is how you can do it:
Step 1. The Equipment
Obviously, the first step in starting your very own t-shirt business is to acquire the proper equipment, software and supplies necessary to produce the shirts.
Here’s what you will need:
- A high-quality digital transfer printer (What you use to print your t-shirt designs onto what’s called a “transfer paper”)
- A heat press (What you use to “transfer” the design from the transfer paper onto the t-shirt)
- A laptop or desktop computer (For downloading or creating designs)
- Image RIP software (This software is used to rasterize your designs which gives you a higher quality and more cost-effective print)
- Transfer paper supplies & toner (This is the actual paper and ink that is used to print the transfers with the transfer printer)
There are several options available for a graphic transfer printer. We highly recommend the OKI C711WT Digital Transfer Printer. What sets this printer apart from the rest is that it has the ability to use white toner which allows you to print on dark colored shirts in addition to printing vibrant colors on light-colored shirts. With the OKI C711WT you can print transfers up to 8.5″ x 17″ which is plenty large enough for any t-shirt order you may encounter. Includes a starter pack of supplies so you can make t-shirts and money right away. You can get this transfer printer online for less than $3,400.
As with the transfer printers, there are also a lot of options on the market for a good heat press. We’ve tested out a lot of them with the OKI C711WT and our favorite so far is the Hotronix Auto Clam. This heat press features a patented magnetic auto-open feature which prevents overheating during the transfer process to the garment. The Hotronix Auto Clam is perfect for new t-shirt businesses because of its ease of use, small footprint, and temperature steadiness. This press is lightweight, and has a compact design which makes it a great choice for small to medium size t-shirt companies or producing at off-site events. You can purchase this high-quality heat press online for around $1,000 plus shipping.
Image RIP software is very important in this process because it not only makes your designs look better on the finished shirt, it also can save you up to 60% on printing costs by automatically using your printer toner more efficiently. Our best recommendation for image RIP software is the TransferRIP software made by FOREVER. With this software, you can easily rasterize image files and prepare them for printing with 1-click. You can also replace colors, remove colors, edit images, view in-depth cost analysis, and more with this amazing program. TransferRIP supports a laundry list of file formats including EPS, PSD, PDF, TIFF, JPG, and PNG. This program also gives you the ability to preview how your image will look on various products or garment colors. It can be purchased online for under $600. The best thing about this program is that the cost savings it brings are more than enough to pay for itself in no time at all.
Ok, now that we have established what is needed and how much money it will COST to start your t-shirt business, let’s figure up how much money you can MAKE. To do this we are going to break down our cost vs profit. Let’s start with the cost:
There are two main costs that go into making a t-shirt:
- Blank Shirts
- Supplies (Paper & Toner)
Let’s start with the cost of a t-shirt. A standard blank t-shirt at wholesale pricing will usually cost around $1-$3 each. This is for cotton, high-quality t-shirts. The price difference will vary on manufacturer, brand, color and cut. So a blank white t-shirt might only be $1, whereas the same t-shirt in red or navy blue might be $2. A shirt with moisture-wicking material or “dry-fit material” might be as high as $3. We recommend setting up a wholesale account with an apparel provider like SanMar or S&S Activewear to acquire these shirts.
Secondly, to sum up the cost of supplies we will simplify it by adding up the cost of the paper and toner together and breaking it down to find our cost per print. As an example, an 8.5″ x 11″ rasterized image on a t-shirt costs approximately $2.95 per print.
Total cost per print including all supplies and a blank white t-shirt: $3.95
Now that we have figured out our cost per t-shirt, let’s break down the numbers to see our profit:
In order to find the profit, we took a look at what some of the already established companies are selling their t-shirts for and figured up an average selling price. What we found, is that the average selling price for a good quality custom printed t-shirt is $20.00. The math is simple, if we sell a t-shirt that costs us $3.95 to make for $20.00, that leaves us with a profit of $16.05 per shirt.
Using the cost vs profit calculations above, let’s figure out how much revenue you could be looking at over a monthly period:
Just one OKI C711WT graphic transfer printer and a Hotronix Auto Clam heat press can produce up to 20 shirts per hour. In an average 8 hour day, that gives us a maximum production output of 160 shirts per day. In a 5 day work week, that is 800 shirts produced per week. And finally, that translates to roughly 3,200 shirts produced per month. At 3,200 shirts produced in a month, that would equal a profit of $51,360. And that is with just one transfer printer and one heat press that you can easily operate by yourself in the comfort of your own home if you like.
The sky is the limit when it comes to how many t-shirts you can produce, but, who will buy these t-shirts? Obviously there are many different ways to go about selling your t-shirts from starting an online store to setting up shop at local festivals. Our answer, why not do them all? Just sit back and think for a second about all of the local businesses in your area that are buying custom printed t-shirts for their employees. Local sports teams (or leagues!) that are buying printed shirts for all the players and coaches. Or, non-profits that buy printed shirts to give away at their events or fundraisers. These three examples are just the tip of the iceberg! Getting t-shirt orders is as simple as downloading a companies logo, putting it on a nice t-shirt, walking it right up to the business owner and saying “This is what we can do, let me know if you’re interested.” After some time, you will likely find that the majority of these local businesses are using expensive online services like VistaPrint or Custom INK to purchase their shirts and are likely way overpaying and receiving cheap quality. You will have the ability to sell them a much higher quality custom t-shirt and at a lower price than they are currently paying.