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I'm looking for some advice on printing and selling tshirts. Is there a tutorial somewhere out there for designers who have created a design and want to make and sell shirts?

I know a couple of local printers that I could use, but I'm interested in the pros and cons of using local printers versus online services that would handle payment processing, printing, shipments, etc.

I hope this is an okay place to ask this question. It isn't technically a graphic design question, and I know there isn't a correct answer, but I'm hoping someone can point me to a nice guide out there somewhere that covers all the bases of making and selling shirts.

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Local = screen printing, highest quality, need to produce in quantity up front. Online = often 'ink jet' printed, lesser quality, but can print on-demand (no up front costs). –  DA01 Feb 26 '13 at 21:34
    
you could always try and get your design on Threadless. it is mostly visual trash on there now but they still pay you a nice sum of money for winning designs. –  brnnnrsmssn Feb 27 '13 at 17:18
    
Thanks for all the advice, everyone. I probably should have mentioned in the post that I'm not looking to make money, or start a business, I just have a design that I think other people would like, so I'm hoping to (at least) cover costs. Wish I could accept more than one answer. –  mwcz Feb 27 '13 at 21:43
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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It really depends upon the quality of product you are after, the desire for return customers and any online service or local provider.

Be aware, there's no margin in T-shirts (you won't make any real money). Regardless of the shirt designs. Costs of shirts and printing will push production costs high and in order to compete with any other shirt vendor you have to keep retail pricing low. Unless you are planning on huge quantities, there's little point to trying to create a market for specific shirts. You can make some money, but profits per shirt are generally very very low unless you're dealing in quantities in the three or four figure range. Or you are doing your own production rather than paying another vendor for that aspect.

That being posted, quality of any vedor is key. Places such as cafepress.com or zazzle.com (purposely not made live links) are bottom-of-the-barel quality in many cases. Their process is essentially heat sublimation or iron-on. This means shirt designs fade and peel after a few washes. In addition to the iron-on appearance of any design. While adequate for the one-off sales that traditionally never spark return clientele, they are sorely lacking if trying to deal in quantity or create a brand.

There are other online vendors such as customink.com which do a much, much, better job and actually silk screen shirts. However, these vendors aren't "user shops". So its up to you to maintain inventory and do your own sales.

There's also the factor of artwork set up. If using the less expensive online vendors, they will accept practically anything in jpg or raster form. This is primarily because it's heat sublimation and they simply "print" an iron-on and apply it. However, with higher quality vendors who are silkscreening shirts, you need to be aware of the restrictions and requirements for silk screening. Setting up artwork for silkscreening will take much more time, effort, and expertise. This could also greatly impact production costs.

Once you determine which quality you are after, then it's a matter of price shopping between the online vendors and local merchants.

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Beside sublimation, iron-on and silk screen printing I would also mention ink-jet printing with special textile colorants which, in my opinion, produces even better quality than silk screen - possible halftones with no visible raster and absolutely no palpable thickness. –  Const Feb 26 '13 at 17:25
    
@Const I'm not aware of any vendors providing such services. Can you provide a link, please? I'd be interested in testing. –  Scott Feb 26 '13 at 17:30
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You may search for "digital textile printing" for your nearest vendor. I'm aware of some local vendors but considering my location I'm afraid it's not an option... –  Const Feb 26 '13 at 17:37
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The 'industry' term for what I believe @Const is referring to is "Direct to Garment Printing". I've personally never dealt with a vendor who supplies this service but searching for that reveals a few providers –  JohnB Feb 26 '13 at 19:10
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One of the biggest roadblocks with screen printing is the huge amount of setup involved to print just one design. To find a printer who will provide you with quality products, you will pay for the nose for small quantities.

If you're willing to get your hands dirty (quite literally, it can be very messy), you can get some relatively inexpensive equipment to do this yourself. Ryonet offers a nice all inclusive starter kit that will allow you to print your own shirts. The biggest limitation with this kit is that you'll only be able to print 1 color designs.

The best part about this kit is they provide you with a video walking you through every step along the way to print your own design on a shirt. If you'd like to see if it's right for you, the video is available on YouTube.

There are also many plans out there to construct your own printer; a lot of things you can easily construct yourself (such as an exposure unit or a printer), but some of them you are just better of buying (such as a screen or an emulsion scooper).

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I was thinking of this exact thing before I saw your answer. I have two (independent) friends who started working with printers, and quickly switched to having their own equipment. This proved to be the best decision for them. Learning how to use it didn't take long, they concentrated on only a few designs as first, and they are both doing great now, nice margins and everything (EDIT: They do this full time, so that's an important factor) –  Yisela Feb 26 '13 at 19:46
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some great advise here but I wanted to add some other details from my experience. As @scott has pointed out there are some shops that offer sublimation which is not a great return in product and typically produces fading or bleeding of color after time. Its hard to make any money in apparel unless you are doing massive quantities or have a large order.

With that said starting out the ideal method would be silk screening(an example added). With silk screening you have a wide range of materials and tools to choose from. One thing I noticed is you did not mention how many colors or the type of shirt you are printing. I mention this because it would be beneficial to get a two screen over a one screen if you regularly plan to run two colors.

In regards to the tools I highly must advise NOT doing your own DIY screen printer. You will suffer in quality and that is not something you want to get into when starting a company. I would advise searching online for used silk screening companies. Used equipment goes for pennies on the dollar and it is so much better than a do-it-yourself kit. I typically browse Digitsmith for used equipment.

To the comment of "Direct to Garment Printing" let me also explain that it is termed as a DTG printer. That will return more results. We plan on putting down for a DTG printer in the next year because we are printing more darker shirts than white. This is one factor that is complicated when using silk screening with black shirts. With a DTG we will not have to worry about a mess and storing different screens.

If you really want to get some good tutorials and recommendations on equipment and materials I would also check out T-shirt forum. We have been there for years and its a joy to be a memeber. If you do plan to go into the apparel printing business I cannot say how much I enjoyed going to SGIA. I felt like a kid in the candy store!! It was a great way to obtain vendors, see demos, and also price out equipment. Plus the best thing about it was a vendor paid for my crew and I to get in free. We booked our rooms cheap on Expedia and made it a four day road trip to get there.

EDIT: If you do plan on screen printing and dont have a "shop" but plan to do it from home try and do it in a well ventilated area, preferably a garage. It can be messy.

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+1 for hunting for used equipment, Craigslist is another good place to look. Listings are sometimes few and far between on there, but you can usually get a very good deal. –  JohnB Feb 26 '13 at 21:42
    
Ive sadly not had any luck with Craigslist. Also Ebay will have some pop up but its mostly a shop sell out and a buy all bid. –  Matt Feb 26 '13 at 21:44
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