Start an “Instant” T-shirt Printing Business

T-shirt printing is a popular business but what is the best one to start if you are only one person with limited skills? If you are looking to start your own t-shirt printing business here is an idea for you.

There are various t-shirt printing techniques out there, screen-printing probably the best and cheapest but it’s not suited to single quantity shirts as it has a time-consuming setup process (positive making and screen exposing), there is direct-to-garment printing that allows for quick colour printing one at a time but it requires an expensive machine and some floor space. I will be looking at a method that can instantly print t-shirts from a single table allowing it to be operated places where you have limited space.

Transfer vinyl (also known as “heat transfer vinyl” or by its brand name “Video Flex”)
Transfer vinyl is a thin film that can be cut using a vinyl cutter (or even a scissors) and applied to a t-shirt using a heat source such as a heat press (although a home iron can also be used). It produces a nice rubbery feel (some soccer jerseys use this technique for the numbers). For the sake of this business concept, I will be looking at cutting it with a vinyl cutter and applied using a heat press (you are more than welcome to try to cut it out using a stencil and applying it using a home iron).

What you will need to get started
Computer, with design software (such as CorelDraw)
Vinyl Cutter
Heat press
Transfer vinyl

The process is as follows
1. Design artwork on computer
2. Send to vinyl cutter to be cut
3. Vinyl is weeded and applied to garment and then pressed with heat press to adhere it.

Pros & Cons
Pro: You can make single t-shirts, cost-effective and sell it for enough money to make a good profit.
Con: You can only print letters, shapes and numbers, no photos or gradient graphics (basically any shape that can be cut with a vinyl cutter) and do single colours (any colour vinyl you can get on any colour shirt), you can layer multiple colours but this is not advised in this business idea I’m looking at here (I’ll get to why soon).

Why transfer vinyl?
Now if you have read my T-shirt printing techniques tips you will be thinking but why wouldn’t I just do it with the inkjet, laser or sublimation heat transfer methods? I mean you can then print images and photos? One word: speed. Those methods take too long, scanning in photos while others wait in the queue, this and that changes that the customer wants, struggling with memory cards containing photos, cropping of photos etc. With vinyl heat transfer printing, you give the customer a choice of five or ten fonts, keep it basic, thin, thick, serif and sans-serif, script and blocky, the customer comes to choose a font and the message they want on the t-shirt. You don’t even need a helper but if you want to work faster all you need is someone with basic computer knowledge.

Where is best to operate this business from?
This is a carnival or kiosk t-shirt novelty printing business it should be run from a stall in places with lots of foot traffic, making and selling novelty t-shirts, containing custom text. Print a few samples with funny quotes, hang it up and let people have their own t-shirts made.

Here is how it works:
Customer comes says they want “Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote.” emblazoned on their t-shirt in a bold font/typeface. You already have a template setup (maximum borders to fit on t-shirt) on your computer and you type this text in there and send it to the cutter. You don’t need a big vinyl cutter because someone’s chest is only so wide. After it cuts, the vinyl is weeded (goes quick as the text is big, so no time-consuming small outlines to peel off), vinyl is applied to t-shirt and pressed with the heat press adhering it to the shirt.

This is a quick process, customer knows what they want, limited fonts to choose from, and there is the novelty for the customer to watch how their t-shirt is being made. This is a high margin novelty business because it’s a custom product.

Profit wise, you should not go for less than R50 (profit) a t-shirt, there will be a cost involved to rent your stall space, so consider that as well, alone you can do five t-shirts an hour, ten with a helper (the one takes order, types it out and send it to cutter, the other collects it from cutter, weeds and applies it to –shirt), this allows for double the speed (while the one is being pressed, another order can be sent to cutter). So factor in t-shirt cost, material (transfer vinyl) and add your profit. I like to add a 10% above this as well to compensate for wear and tear on machines and put that money away in case machine breaks and needs to be repaired or replaced.

These high margin novelty businesses requires a location with lots of foot traffic, so either get a position at a mall or have a twice or thrice weekly stand at sports events, fairs, carnivals etc.

Image credit: SignGround

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