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How to Sell Custom T Shirts on Shopify: A Beginners Guide

Deborah Mecca
September 14, 2023

How to Sell Custom T-Shirts on Shopify: A Guide

Selling custom T-shirts on Shopify is a great way to venture into entrepreneurship, especially for graphic designers and first-time business owners. It’s a relatively simple business model to learn, and an online T-shirt business can be very profitable – in a short period of time, too.

“The global T-shirt market is expected to reach nearly $300B by 2025,” reports Printful, adding that “Over 2B t-shirts are sold every year” and “The T-shirt segment’s revenue is estimated at $44B in 2023.” That’s a pretty big pie, and there’s no reason you can’t have a share of it if you set up a high quality online T-shirt store.

Shopify makes this task easy. It provides a huge amount of e-commerce functionality in its native system, and anything it doesn’t provide, you can make up for with the apps you’ll find in its app store … but we’ll get to that in a bit.

For now, you’re probably wondering exactly what it takes to sell T-shirts online. Let’s take a look at the step-by-step process, including designing shirts, sorting out a supplier or dropshipper, and setting up and promoting your store. Once you’re finished reading, you’ll know exactly how to sell custom T-shirts on Shopify.

Dig in!

Design Custom T-Shirts

The first step in building a high quality T-shirt brand is good design. With so many options on the market, no one will buy your tees (or hoodies, workout tops, etc.) unless you have something special to offer.

That doesn’t mean you need to be a graphic design expert, though. With the wide variety of software and free art out there, there are plenty of design ideas from which to choose and to help inspire your own mockup ideas. Here’s the basic design process for how to sell custom T-shirts on Shopify.

  1. Brainstorm design ideas: Before designing custom T-shirts, it's important to research your chosen niche and target audience. Do your buyers like street art, steampunk, literary references, woodblock printing? What are your competitors selling? Knowing this will help you create designs that appeal to a specific audience and increase your chances of making sales.
  2. Create high-quality designs: When designing custom T-shirts, you should use high-quality designs that are relevant to your niche. This will make your designs more appealing and professional-looking. Luckily, programs such as Canva and Photoshop make this easier than you’d think, and subscriptions are low-cost too – only $14.99 a month for Canva Pro, which offers you millions of free graphics to use commercially.
  3. Keep it simple: Avoid cluttering your designs with too many elements. Instead, keep your designs simple and easy to understand. This will make them more appealing to customers who are looking for clean, beautiful T-shirt printing that matches their interests. They are not looking for a testament to your design creativity, so avoid going overboard just to prove you can.
  4. Use typography effectively: Typography can be a powerful tool in T-shirt design. Use fonts that are easy to read and complement your design. You can experiment with different font styles to create unique designs, then pass this customization functionality on to your customer with a Shopify app such as Product Options and Customizer, which allows your customers to select their preferred Google fonts at the click of a button.
  5. Use mockup generators: Mockup generators are an amazing tool to keep in your repertoire, allowing you to test designs without ordering physical samples. These are ideal for testing several, hundreds, or even thousands of product and design combinations without having to order real-life samples for each one.

By following these tips, you can design custom T-shirts that are appealing to customers and that increase your chances of making sales on Shopify.

Find a Dropshipper or Supplier

Next up: find a supplier or a dropshipper, or someone who will act as both. This is a crucial component of how to sell custom T-shirts on Shopify, and although it’s not strictly necessary, many people choose to go this route.

What’s the difference between the two? A supplier is someone who makes your T-shirts for you. A dropshipper is someone who ships them out for you, but who never takes customer orders directly. There are many ways you can use these assets.

One common model is to pass T-shirt orders to dropshippers, who place the order with suppliers themselves, then ship the shirts out when they’re ready. You pay them a reduced rate over what customers pay you through your Shopify site, and you keep the profits without having to do the work.

Another is to place your orders with suppliers, have the designed T-shirts or other wearables shipped to your house, and fulfill the orders yourself.

A third custom printing option is to do all the printing yourself with a press. However, this dramatically decreases your ability to make a wide variety of custom designs, instead limiting you to what you can produce by hand with wood blocks or linocuts. It is also heavy on supplies, so it’s not the best for a startup.

Most people opt to design digitally, then send their orders to dropshippers, who place them with suppliers (or better yet, who are the suppliers). Not only does using dropshipping suppliers minimize your workload and still net you a profit, but it also means you can print shirts on demand for customers, producing one shirt as needed without keeping inventory on hand.

Research Dropshipping Suppliers

It hardly needs to be said that you want the best dropshipping supplier options available. Many people find that print-on-demand services fulfill this need well, allowing you to create and sell without holding any inventory. This is a growing trend in the T-shirt industry, allowing you to build your own T-shirt business sans having to learn screen printing.

You’ll want to prioritize dropshipping suppliers that have large inventory capability. Think mugs, blankets, notebooks, and tablet covers in addition to tees. When their print-on-demand business is bigger and more flexible, yours can be as well. Plus, this means you can send orders to just one supplier rather than several, keeping your background processes streamlined and serving your customers seamlessly.

Finally, make sure your dropshipper’s processes integrate nicely with your own Shopify setup. You want orders to pass along to the dropshipper directly, without you having to go in and update anything. Otherwise, you’ll spend all your time managing order transfers, which cuts into your design, marketing, eating, sleeping, and everything else time.

Order Product Samples

Before you throw designs up on your site and give buyers the go-ahead, you need to test your samples. Not all suppliers are created equally, so be smart and confirm quality ahead of time. This will help you avoid returns and negative reviews.

Happily, this is usually a very easy process. You simply upload a design to a supplier’s site and order a test sample, which many suppliers will offer for less than a regular item that’s going to a customer. Order several different fabric types and cuts, in several different sizes each. When you receive them, make sure that sizing seems appropriate across the board. Wear each style yourself for a few days, wash it, see how it feels on your skin, and watch how the design withstands the wash. If you’re not comfortable with the quality you’re seeing in these samples, you may need to go back to the drawing board and select a new supplier.

Once you’re feeling good about the quality you’ve received, you can feel safe ordering from that shop in any color of shirt and any design. For any changes in fabric or cut, though, you should order samples in advance again.

Choose One or Multiple Partners

Choose one or multiple partners based on your needs. If you can’t find everything you want through one supplier (for instance, fabric, cut, wearable product type, or other non-wearable products), then it’s okay to have multiple.

To save you some research, we’ve curated a list of some of the most reliable dropshipping suppliers, based on existing Shopify store owners’ feedback:

  • Printify
  • Printful
  • Gooten
  • CJDropshipping
  • Spreadshirt

Once you’ve designed your shirts, feel confident in your product, and have firmed up relationships with your supplier, it’s time to launch your store.

Set Up Your Shopify Store

If you want to sell enough shirts to create a thriving side hustle or even quit your day job, you need a high quality, streamlined, and beautiful storefront on Shopify. Here’s the crash course on how to sell custom T-shirts on Shopify, Storefront Edition.

1. Create a Shopify Account

First things first, you’ll need to set up your Shopify account. Shopify does offer a free trial option, but note that it’s only 3 days, after which you’ll need to pay.

The cheapest plan is the Basic at $39/month, but you can get your first 3 months for only $1/month to make sure you really like the platform before committing money. That way, you can completely set up your shop and its products without ever having to spend more than $6 – a major win over many other platforms.

If you already have a business elsewhere, you may wish to set up a larger shopfront with more advanced features, which will cost you more accordingly. However, most people setting up a new business will likely choose the free trial.

2. Provide Store Information

Once you have created your account, you will be prompted to provide detailed information about your store, such as the store name, domain name, address, and contact information. Have this with you ahead of time so you’re completely ready to go.

What should you call your business? That’s a good question. If you can’t think of a fun shop name that points to what you do, consider naming it after yourself. Many entrepreneurs use their own names, and it’s a great way to build a brand upfront without killing yourself brainstorming.

3. Choose a Theme

Don’t know how to design a website? No worries! Shopify offers a variety of professionally designed templates you can use to customize the look and feel of your online store.

The best bet is to choose one of the templates native to Shopify, but if you truly don’t love any available templates, you can choose a theme from one of the many other providers associated with the e-commerce platform. Any small coding adjustments can usually be found via online tutorials, which can help you truly customize your theme and make it your own.

4. Add Your Products

After choosing a theme, you can start adding T-shirts to your store. You can do this by going to the "Products" section of the Shopify dashboard and clicking on the "Add product" button. Here, you can add product details such as title, description, price, and images.

Know that there are some limitations to the Shopify business model. Essentially, even very similar types of merch will each need their own product page. This can be irritating if you’re selling several varieties of one product type.. like, for instance, one standard tee that comes in several colors, sizes, and design options. Having a separate product page for every single product variation becomes pretty cumbersome for a store owner to manage.

The beauty of Shopify, though, is in the thousands of apps available to make ecommerce store management easier. For example, the Product Options and Customizer app allows you to add unlimited customization options to your store, so you can list one product type, and the customer can select their size, color, and design preferences right there on the product page. You can even adjust the price for different variables, so you don’t have to lose money for the more expensive options.

5. Set Up Payment and Shipping Options

Shopify offers a variety of payment, credit card, and shipping options that you can set up to make it easier for customers to purchase your products. You can do this by going to the "Settings" section of your Shopify dashboard and clicking on "Payment providers" and "Shipping."

Spend some time thinking about the functionality of your e-commerce store when you do this. What will your shoppers be looking for in a checkout process? Will they care more about free shipping or about paying a lower price on the item itself? If you want to offer free shipping on every purchase, you can simply raise your product prices by a few dollars to compensate.

6. Test and Launch Your Store

Once you’ve added products to your Shopify store, set up your payment and shipping options, and tested your functionality by buying a product yourself, you can launch your online store! Do this by going to the "Settings" section of your Shopify dashboard and clicking on "Sales channels" and then "Online store." It’s always a good idea to consult a Shopify launch checklist before officially going live.

Promote Your Store

If you build it, they will come might have worked for Kevin Costner, but it’s unlikely to work for you. Instead, you’re going to need to promote your swanky new T-shirt store. Luckily, you can get your Shopify custom product options in front of potential buyers with savvy strategies relating to email, social media, influencers, coupons, and more. Let’s take a look.

Launch an Email Marketing Campaign

You can use email marketing tools like Mailchimp and Klaviyo to keep customers informed about new products, promotions, and sales. All you have to do is give your target audience the option to sign up for your email list somewhere along their journey: when they land on your site, when they make a purchase, or in your post-purchase Thank You email. This is a great way for small businesses to turn one-off sales into repeat customers.

Advertise Through Social Media

Use platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to showcase your designs and engage with potential customers. Being active on social media doesn’t need to take all day, either. Choose the highest-performing content type and make it snappy.

For instance, right now, carousel posts are doing best on Instagram, so you can stick to them for the most eyeballs, then pop an occasional reel up as well.

Offer Discounts and Promotions

Offer upfront discounts for first-time customers or run limited-time promotions to create a sense of urgency. You can find plugins in the app store that will help you run sales and promotions and create coupons for shoppers.

Collaborate With Influencers

Collaborating with influencers can help you reach a wider audience and increase your brand awareness. Influencers know how to get your products in front of their audiences, so simply send them media collateral that matches your Shopify theme or let them make it themselves. They might also share it with a pod: a group of influencers who all help one another out.

Optimize Your Store for SEO

Agnostic of marketplaces, good SEO is critical. Optimizing your store for search engines can help you rank higher in search results and attract more organic traffic. You should use keywords related to your niche and products in your product descriptions, titles, and tags. If you’re looking for help, this list of the Best Shopify Apps for Marketing and Sales Growth has an entire section dedicated specifically to SEO.

Use Google Ads

Lastly, you can use Google Ads to create targeted ads that appear in results when people search for keywords related to your product pages. Google Ads work just as well on Shopify as they do on Amazon and Etsy, for example, and they can help significantly increase your profit margins.

The only caveat with online advertising is that you can balloon your budget quickly without meaning to, so take your time and start small. See how an ad or two impacts your earnings before committing to larger batches, then scale up from there. That way, you’ll preserve your budget for other marketing activities as well.

Scale Your Online T-Shirt Store with Product Options and Customizer

And that’s it: your complete crash course for how to sell custom T-shirts on Shopify. With the above tips and tools, you’ll find yourself well situated to earn money and enjoy yourself doing it, all while providing your buyers with a popular way to express themselves every day. Pretty good gig, right?

And remember: Product Options and Customizer is one of the best-loved tools by Shopify store owners for enabling product variations and customization. This cutting-edge app works to enhance each of your product pages – the main selling factor on your site – by offering shoppers deep levels of customization, so they can get exactly what they want each time they order from you.

Use color swatches and Google fonts to help people design the shirt of their dreams. If they want to have a greater hand in curating it themselves, offer text boxes for users to type in their exact requirements, or checkboxes and radio buttons to let users select one or several options of many.

As you can see, Product Options and Customizer is ideal for managing and enhancing your Shopify T-shirt sales. If you’d like to learn more about it, we invite you to sign up for a 14-day free trial today!

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