How to Start a Print on Demand T Shirt Business that Scales. – Phase 1

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The steps on how to start a t shirt business can be quite unclear. Oftentimes the information you're being given is not from people who are actively selling t shirts, or worse yet, have never had any success selling them.

I have been selling t shirts since way back in 2014 when Teespring blasted onto the scene and have enjoyed a lot of success in the print on demand industry since. The screenshot below shows you one of our Teespring accounts where we cut our teeth selling print on demand apparel.

Print on demand t shirt business

In this article, I am going to not only show you how to start a t shirt business, but I will also show you;

  • the 4 fundamentals of viral t shirt design,
  • the lowest cost platforms and tools you will need to use in order to start
  • where and how to sell your products

And the best part, with print on demand t-shirts you won't even have to worry about the cost of inventory. The low barrier to entry is what got me started all those years ago. Such a low cost and focusing only on platforms allow you to focus on what matters most. Phrase design.

If you want to read a t shirt business success story like no other… then have a read of Keegan & Corey's interview. It is absolutely phenomenal what they have achieved and has surely cemented them as PODGODs.

Here is what I will cover in this article;

  • What is Print on Demand
    • Do you need to order samples
  • How to Start a T Shirt Business in 2021
  • The 5 fundamentals of viral T shirt design
  • Most Popular T shirt Color
  • T Shirt Design Ideas
    • Creating Variations of a Trending T Shirt
    • How to Come Up with Killer T shirt Business Names
  • Phase 1 – Starting a T-Shirt business for <$25/mo
    • Step 1 | Print on Demand Platforms You Need
      • Cost Breakdown of Phase 1
    • Step 2 | Winning with Your T Shirt Niche Selection
      • Niche Grouping
    • Step 3 | Phrase design research
    • Step 4 | Getting Those Designs Done
      • Canva
    • Step 5 | Creating Consistency in Your Schedule
  • Wrapping up Phase 1

What is Print on Demand?

If you don't fully understand what print on demand is then you're about to have your mind blown. I have loved this industry since it started because of the extremely low cost to get started.

So what is print on demand? POD allows you to sell products you don't own, to people you don't know, whilst never having to touch the product…

Here's a quick rundown;

      1. You create a design
      2. Upload design to your chosen POD supplier (you'll have given your payment details to them during the initial account setup.)
      3. You drive traffic/customers to the product page (usually on a platform or Shopify)
      4. Customer Purchases from you
      5. Your supplier automatically receives that order and prints, packages & ships it on your behalf.
      6. Once it has been fulfilled your supplier will debit your account (again, this happens automatically).

Do you need to order samples?

This is a question I get asked all the time. The short answer is, no. That's for a couple of reasons.

Each of the platforms whether it be Merch by Amazon, Facebook, or Etsy, have a review system in place. What this means is that it is absolutely vital that our pod suppliers uphold a very good level of quality.

How to start a t shirt business

On Facebook, if our Customer Feedback Score falls below 2 (you're graded out of 5 based on feedback from people who purchase from you) they will restrict your advertising privileges. If you fall more than 1 point in a 12 month period they'll also start to limit your reach.

On Etsy it is similar. If the reviews are poor the platform will stop promoting you in the search results.

How to start a t shirt business

However, if you've got an established brand then by all means you should be ordering samples. Your thinking around your business will be completely different to that of someone starting out.

How to Start a T Shirt Business in 2021

In this strategy I am about to share with you there are 3 phases and will be a series of articles on Storehacks.

  • Phase 1 – Getting started for less than $25/mo + Listing Fees. Which I will cover in this article.
  • Phase 2 – Stepping up the margin. Creating ShineOn products for Etsy using paid apps/platforms. Starting on Shopify. This will be covered in the second article.
  • Phase 3 – Getting started on Facebook advertising

Breaking it down into these phases allows a framework to transition from a low-cost side hustle into a real business that can replace your income. By focusing on each will allow the fastest possible route into financial independence on offer today.

Before we get into the phases it is important to understand the most critical component to make your new business profitable. Understanding the fundamentals of viral design is absolutely integral to your overall success.

You cannot start blindly, only wanting to sell what you want to sell. You must remember, this is not about you. Whilst it will be you who ultimately benefits, you will only do so by understanding what your customers want.

The following fundamentals make this process much easier.

The 5 fundamentals of viral T shirt design

No one is talking about this and it is the most important part of success in Print on Demand. The number 1 thing that we must become great at is creating phrases & designs people want to purchase.

How do we create products people want to buy? By focusing on the 5 fundamentals of design;

    1. The phrase must be clearly legible with no fancy fonts.
    2. Attention put on the niche/person
    3. Punchline, message, or sentiment of design is easy to read
    4. Very limited use of color
    5. Design must be on a contrasting background

These fundamentals can be applied to all types of design for print on demand. These fundamentals are most important when breaking into a new niche. Once you understand your market that is when you can start getting fancier with your designs and being more creative.

Until then, follow the K.I.S.S. principle, it is an absolute MUST.

T shirt business Easy to Read

T shirt business 1

  1. As you can see with both these designs they are easy to read and the message stands out. In a crowded newsfeed, it won't take much time to consume the message. The design embellishments in each help to make it pop to the right target.

Focus on Niche or Person

Focus on Niche or Person 2

2. Each of these designs focus on the key points of the design. The white nurse shirt calls out the “Retired Nurse” first and foremost. Where the bass shirt calls out the person/niche with the use of the bass guitar.



3. It is imperative that designs are easy to read. Particularly the hard-hitting punchline…which is, after all, what sells the design.



4. The limited use of color is so no target is cut out from wanting to purchase. The most common shirt color is black with a white block font. NO COLOR. Any extra color gives your potential customer a reason not to like what they're seeing. Not everyone likes pink…or purple…or red. Keeping it black and white is keeping the appeal as open as possible.

We need to indicate to the platforms that we have the highest relevance as possible which is tracked through clicks, comments, shares, scroll stops, enlarging the photo etc. This is achieved by ensuring everyone in the target market engages at some level with our designs.



5. The high contrast (as with point 1 of making it clearly legible) allows the shirt to stand out in the newsfeed. When you're first starting you need as much of the attention as possible because what we ultimately want to be doing with our new t shirt business is advertising on Facebook.

This is where the true scalability happens. Etsy is a fantastic start, and allows you to build a side hustle that can create real money that can then be invested into runnings ads on Facebook.

Etsy teaches you the fundamentals of SEO, how to optimize your listings in order to show up in the search results. When you start on Shopify, the SEO is the same. It is all about learning the key tools you'll need as you progress further into your business.

Most Popular T shirt Color

Circling back to the high contrast designs. Standing out allows the extra milliseconds you need in the results/newsfeed to be the product your target chooses. Attention spans are shrinking so we must hit the key points fast with our designs.

Since 2014 the most popular t shirt colors have always tended to be dark. Personally we've had a lot of success selling purple tees to women as well.

For shirts;

    1. Black
    2. Navy
    3. Grey


    1. Black
    2. Navy
    3. Maroon (this was surprising to me).

Women's Tank Tops & Tees

    1. Black
    2. Navy
    3. Grey
    4. Purple

T-shirt Design Ideas

There are 3 main tools I use to find t-shirt design ideas. You should never use these tools just to find what's selling so you can sell the exact same thing. When you find trending t shirts by using one of these tools you need to create your own unique product.

  • SpyPro (The one I use personally)
  • TeeSpy
  • DMMSpy

Print on Demand t shirt ideas

In SpyPro, I use the search function to find the more relevant 2021 shirt ideas that are currently selling. In the example above I have restricted the date from January to now, indicated I wanted 500+ reactions and for the keyword to be “shirt”.

As you can see from the example below by restricting the date we now have the most popular t shirts for the current year.

50,000+ reactions indicate that there is a lot of money being pumped into this particular design. Anything with over 500 shows that there is the first signs of the merchant investing in the phrase, which means they're making sales.

The correct way of doing t-shirt design ideas research is by finding one design and applying it to your niche with a spin. This is the most basic form of making a new design from an original.

Shirt Business 1

Once you have found trending t shirts it's then that you need to vary up the niche, recipient and also the phrasing.

Creating Variations of a Trending T Shirt

Travis Petelle posted in the ShineOn group today a very cool way of creating new concepts (if you're looking for an educator that knows how to sell Travis is a veteran of the industry and has been helping teach others from his own experience the whole time).

Write down the phrase and rewrite it in your own words. Make sure it's as succinct and then test.

Shirt Business

t shirt business

How to Come Up with Killer T shirt Business Names

Now the final step before getting started with your brand new business is coming up with a few t shirt business names to shortlist.

My favorite tool I have found for doing this is Namelix. It not only helps you to come up with the business name, it also shows you different logos you can use as well.

T shirt Business Names

For this example I searched for “shirt”. A word of warning. If you're wanting to scale your business it pays to think outside the product type you're selling. Instead of “Shirt” use a broader term that relates to your niche.

Let's use “Outdoors”. Instead of saying “Outdoor Shirts”, which is incredibly basic, add in another word. Like “Forever”. Add this to your niche and you could have a pretty cool name like “Forever Outdoors”.

This will take you from being pigeon holed to shirts and expand your potential product offering once you start to build a successful business.

For simplicity, the below shows you the search results for “shirt”.

T shirt Business Names 1

When I was starting it was never this easy to come up with names for my business. Namelix supercharges the process for me when I start new stores or pages.

Phase 1 – Starting a T-Shirt business for <$25/mo

To start your new business you need to find a print on demand company that integrates with Etsy. The idea in Phase 1 is to create a side hustle for the lowest cost possible that still gives you an incredible opportunity to succeed.

My go-to is Teelaunch for multiple reasons. For starters, as an internet marketer myself, it is important that the platform I choose is built for internet marketers. Second, its user interface is second to none, their product offering is phenomenal, and best of all they integrate with Etsy and have a Shopify app (which we need in Phase 2).

To learn how to get yourself set up on Etsy I have written an in-depth article recently to help ensure you get set up correctly. How to Optimize Your Print on Demand Etsy Listings for Ultimate Success.

The article shows you the same steps I have taken that allowed me to sell $78,000+ in one year on the platform.

Shopify vs Etsy



Step 1 Print on Demand Platforms You Need

Now, time to get started. After reading the above article you may have already completed some of these steps. If you haven't, you're going to need to sign up to the following;

  • Teelaunch (They have the products you sell)
  • Etsy (The platform that allows you to sell your products)
  • Canva Pro (How you design your Products)
  • eRank (How you find highly searched, low competition keywords to create products for)
  • SpyPro (How you find the types of products people are currently buying)

NOTE: SpyPro is offering the Storehacks family a 10-day free trial. This is enough to get you started and heading in the right direction. Just use code “STOREHACKS” when signing up. This tool will supercharge your design output and spy tools form an integral part of our phrase research. Once you start making sales it pays to sign up for a spy tool.

Etsy Print on Demand

Etsy Print on Demand is the cheapest way to get started, even more so than when I started in 2014. What I love about Etsy is that it now allows print on demand on its platform. But with strict rules. If you do not abide by them you will quickly be banned.

The focus of print on demand on Etsy is to create designs that people are already searching for. Finding the low competition, highly searched terms, and creating designs specifically for what is being searched.

I've had so many people asking how to get started on Etsy that I have created the POD Etsy Evolution course which takes you through each of the steps to get started.

The methods that I share in the course are what have helped me personally do over $78,000 in 12 months with relatively little effort. I've kept the price point low to ensure that I can help as many people as possible.

Cost Breakdown of Phase 1

Understanding your costs in any business is vital to your overall profitability. The cost breakdown for Phase 1 of the t shirt business plan is as follows;

    • Teelaunch = $0 (Cost of Goods Only i.e. how much you pay for your product once you've made a sale)
    • Etsy = 20 cents per listing + 5% of transaction value (Pays to spend the extra on Etsy Plus)
    • Canva Pro (Free for 30 Days) = $9.99/mo (on the annual plan)
    • eRank = $6.99/mo

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Step 2 Winning with Your T Shirt Niche Selection

In step 2 of phase 1 you will need to pick 3-5 niches. Picking 3-5 t shirt niches is important as it's going to help you start thinking about how to create multiple products for different audiences. As you start to gain experience being able to quickly come up with ideas supports your success.

In my free 1000+ Niche List eBook I take you through exactly how to select a niche and I encourage you to take a look.

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What I don't cover in the eBook, however, is how to pick niche groups. It is important on Etsy that we don't create a store for one specific niche when starting. There are too many variables that we must be aware of at the outset. Niche grouping is how you can hedge your bets.

One of the many variables being is that we may just not connect with a specific niche. By grouping niches it allows testing outside and increases our chances of finding success faster.

Niche Grouping

Instead of focusing purely on horses. You look at the sub niches within. Where do horses usually live? On farms…

  • Horses
    • Cows
    • Pigs
    • Chickens
    • Llamas/Alpacas
  • Bikers
    • Trucks
    • Hot Rods
    • Off-roading
    • Motocross
  • Nurses
    • Doctors
    • Radiologists
    • Enrolled Nurses/Registered Nurses
  • Military
    • Army
    • Navy
    • Air force
  • Law Enforcement
    • Firefighters
    • Police
    • Paramedics

This method makes it much easier to create similar phrases and designs quickly for a group of niches, increasing your chance of finding that winner exponentially.

Step 3 Phrase design research

The more unique your search criteria the more chance you have of creating a product that has never been seen before. Searching things like “Funny Cow Shirt” in Google Images will bring up the same shirts everyone else has seen using that phrase. It's easy to come up with that search term…

By digging a little deeper and searching for more uncommon things will fast-track your unique phrase output. Try searching for something like “Funny cow one-liners”, or “hilarious cow jokes” and find punchlines that hit hard.

Another method for creating unique products is by using a paid tool like SpyPro. As mentioned previously, it shows you what is currently selling and with that information you can create a variation to suit your niche.

There are several tools that I use when doing my phrase research;

  • Google Images (Free)
  • Sorting Social (Paid – $10/mo)
  • SpyPro (Paid – $49+/mo)
  • Gearbubble Best Sellers (Free)

These days I tend to want to get my phrase research done very quickly. Because of this, I go to the paid tools.

Step 4 Getting Those Designs Done

Canva is the gift that keeps giving. I'm very active on TikTok and I tell you, it seems every second day there's a new feature that they Canva has dropped.

One of the biggest ones is the ability to be able to create your own t-shirt canva designs. The platform makes it so incredibly easy to put together a basic design very quickly.

The below is a quick design I created on Canva for a TikTok demonstration.

Canva T Shirt Design Tutorial

The easiest way I find to design products is by finding what's working elsewhere and recreating it better. Don't try and come up with something brand new. It's too difficult. Use inspiration.

Step 5 Creating Consistency in Your Schedule

Consistency will make or break your new Print on demand T Shirt business. If you want to scale to the nose bleeds you need to be willing to put in the work. A weekly schedule and clarification around what one should look like is about to follow.


    • 30 Minutes – Find 5 New Phrases. Use a tool like SpyPro or Sorting Social to shortlist new ideas


    • 1 Hour – Shortlist your top 3 phrases and create a unique phrase for each niche within your niche group. Design each in Canva or Photoshop. Minimise the amount of work by keeping designs similar. You should be able to create 4-5 designs in 1 hour.


    • Same as Tuesday


    • 30 Minutes – Finish remaining designs
    • 30 Minutes – Upload designs to Teelaunch and push to Etsy. They should be in your drafts folder. Before you publish watch the following video to understand how to optimize each listing.


    • 60 Minutes – Optimise your Etsy listings

The success of your new business will come down to the consistency in which you put into it. In order to fail forward, mistakes need to happen, questions need to constantly be asked.

Starting is the only way that these questions show themselves. No amount of study at the beginning will make up for actually getting in and putting in the sweat.

Wrapping up Phase 1

That is it for Phase 1. This phase is all about learning the fundamentals, putting the time and effort into the moneymaking areas with the lowest cost possible. How to start a print on demand t shirt business does not need to be an expensive exercise and is one of the many reasons I absolutely love print on demand.

Very few other businesses allow for such a small investment with such a ridiculous upside through scaling. It's kinda ruined me for creating a “real” traditional business. Making money in POD can be very, very easy. My wife has a dance studio and the moving parts within that business are enormous compared to the simplicities of POD.

I can't wait to see you posting your results. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to ask below or reach out to me in the Storehacks Facebook group. I am always happy to help. See you at the top!

How to Start a T Shirt Business 1

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