T-shirts are an iconic fashion item in every person’s closet. They can be dressed up or down, worn plain, or used promote to a business. They are cheaper and quicker to manufacture than other garments, accounting for T-shirts being so popular. However, the design or prints set one T-shirt apart from another.
To start a profitable and successful vinyl T-shirt business, identify your target market, and determine the product price while incorporating direct and indirect costs. Use social media and set up a website to promote and market your products, or sell on a marketplace like Etsy.
If you are looking for more information on setting up a vinyl T-shirt business, this article will be helpful. I will share with you the equipment, materials, supplies, and costs involved in setting up and how profitable a Vinyl T-shirt business can be.
Reasons For Starting A Vinyl T-Shirt Business
We all have many reasons to start a business, the main one being to make a profit. However, before you start a vinyl T-shirt business you should consider the following.
Low Startup Cost
Compared to other embellishment types of businesses, setting up a Vinyl T-shirt business requires low startup costs.
Low Learning Curve
Unlike other businesses, where training is required, setting up a Vinyl T-shirt business is fast and easy. You can be up and operating in a matter of hours. Provided you have all the correct equipment, and materials, of course.
Freedom To Produce
With a heat press and vinyl, you have the freedom to design and create T-shirts to suit your time frame and needs. You can create designs to help build your brand or create custom t-shirts as orders come in.
When starting a vinyl T-shirt business, you will gain a vast amount of skills, knowledge, and experience that you can share with others and with other aspects of the business as it grows.
Your Business Will Benefit From A Heat Press
Whether you produce a small run of between ten – fifty garments, or even a hundred per day, investing in a heat press is essential.
Every clothing manufacturer and the boutique owner has one tucked away somewhere. They are a handy piece of equipment with many uses within the garment industry.
What is Vinyl Transfer Printing?
Vinyl transfer printing is a method of printing used on T-shirts. It involves a machine that traces and cuts out various designs or letters out of colored vinyl. The cut-out designs are then transferred onto the T-shirts using a heat press.
What Type Of Vinyl Transfer is Used On T-Shirts?
Essentially there is one main type of vinyl used to transfer designs onto T-shirts: Heat transfer vinyl.
What Is Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV)?
Heat Transfer Vinyl, also known as iron-on, due to the fact it is applied via a heat press, is another method of printing designs onto T-shirts. There are various colors, textures, and designs available on the market.
Here are a few examples of Heat Transfer Vinyl
- Flocked vinyl is thicker than smooth vinyl and has a velvety finish.
- Glitter Vinyl has a sparkly finish and is excellent for adding a little sparkle to children’s T-shirts.
- Metallic vinyl is a good choice for the metal finish, especially for those wanting a bit of sparkle and shine on their T-shirts.
- Holographic vinyl gives a multi-color, shimmery look.
- Stretch vinyl, as the name suggests this vinyl has some stretch making it ideal for stretchy fabric such as knit fabrics used for T-shirts.
- Patterned vinyl, this pre-printed vinyl is available in a variety of colors and designs. The patterned vinyl may be cut to accommodate the design of your choice.
Now that you are aware of the different types of vinyl available, you can base your designs on these. Heat Transfer Vinyl is far more durable than adhesive vinyl. Therefore, if you are searching for supplies to start a Vinyl T-shirt business, this should be your choice of vinyl.
A general guideline when setting up a vinyl T-shirt business, especially if you are doing this for the first time, is to purchase more standard colors like red, black, white, blue. You will find you go through these colors more quickly than any patterned ones.
You rather have more of these plain colors rather than having an excess of animal prints or some other zany print!
The joy of vinyl transfer is you can make a once-off for a client. Provided you factor in the costs of the once-off! Plan your designs around the colors you have unless a customer makes a specific request.
Heat Vinyl may be purchased in bulk, in which case you get them in rolls; alternatively, you may buy them in sheets. The sheets are more acceptable for the specialized type of vinyl. For example, if the customer requires patterned, metallic, or holographic ones for a once-off design or to add a bit of embellishment to an otherwise boring, plain T-shirt.
What Equipment Is Needed To Start A Vinyl T-shirt Business?
Before getting into any business, you first need to assess what equipment is needed, the costs, and factor in supplies, repairs, and space requirements. Below I have listed the main equipment needed, with some costs attached. It would be best also to consider whether you will work alone or employ an assistant.
Be selective about the equipment you purchase. If you are seeking to invest in a business, ensure you have the best equipment. If you provide your customers with high-quality products, they will return time and again.
You cannot start a vinyl T-shirt business without having a heat press. It is an essential piece of equipment in operating your business.
When deciding on a heat press, you need to consider the following:
- The size of the items you will be creating
- The size range of the T-shirts you will be pressing. Whether or not you will be encompassing the entire size curve from adult Small to Extra Large or perhaps even beyond that.
- You need to consider your production space and whether it allows for either a clamshell or swing-away heat press machine.
- Your production volume is another crucial factor to consider when purchasing a heat press.
- Finally, will the equipment need an upgrade in a year or two?
Once you have these considerations, it enables you to plan your business expectations, clearly point out your wants and needs, and create a vision of what you want your business to look like.
There are two types of heat presses for you to consider when setting up a Vinyl T-shirt business. You need one heat press. But we started with these two back in 2013 in our Etsy store:
A Manual Clamshell 15×15 Heat Press
This heat press is perfect for beginners or those startup home-based industries. It has the following features.
- Fully digitized temperature and pressure gauge. The LCD screen displays the temperature and time.
- The thickened heating plate effectively guarantees an even and stable heat distribution.
- The aluminum heat plate ensures heat uniformity on the surface
- Teflon-coated heat plate prevents burning and fabric from sticking onto the press.
- A signal indicator to show when the transfer process is complete.
- It has an easily adjustable pressure gauge.
- A silicon pad can reach a maximum temperature of 350 Fahrenheit (180 Deg Celsius) without distorting the garment or design.
- Easy to maintain and clean when and if required.
- It has a dual electric protection system which ensures the user’s safety.
If you are currently running a T-shirt manufacturing business and are thinking of adding another feature to suit your customers’ needs, then the Clamshell Heat Press is ideal. It enables you do smaller production runs of higher quality, thereby satisfying your customer base.
Automatic 16×20 Heat Transfer Press
If you consider the needs of a business owner, you cannot be a part of every business section. Therefore, investing in an automatic, slightly larger heat press is a good idea and makes more sense in the long term.
The following features of this automatic press are beneficial for your T-shirt business.
- Table Loading Design
- Fully digital temperature control between 32- 600 F (0-315 Deg C)
- Automatic digital timer and dual pre-press timer
- Digital Pressure Graph
- Has 70 programmable presets
- Able to accommodate materials up to 5cm (2,5 inch) thick
- The temperature readout reflects temperature in either Deg Celsius or Fahrenheit.
- It is Teflon Coated to prevent burning and or fabric from sticking onto the press.
- This automatic press records the number of pressing cycles done.
As a business owner, you must know the ins and outs of the workings of your machinery. This prevents a lag in production in the unfortunate situation you are down an employee, or any maintenance is needed.
You need to research and see the types of presses other Vinyl T-shirt businesses use. Look at their production methods, the quantities produced, what brands are popular. In this way, you gain more knowledge about your competitors and learn more about the business of Vinyl T-shirt production.
You can find heat presses between $300 – $3000. The price will depend on the style, features, and performance type. You will need to find a machine that provides the best functionality and fits your budget.
Your machinery and equipment determine the quality of your product. Therefore, invest in machinery that gives the best quality within your budget range.
When selecting vinyl cutters, consider the size of the heat transfer vinyl and the expected production output per day. Knowing this, you will need durable, long-lasting cutters and can stand up to the pace of order requirements per day.
Just deciding one day to start a vinyl T-shirt business may be fantastic for the Gary Vaynerchuks of the world, but it is a learning process for many of us. So, consider your knowledge and expertise with cutters and graphic design programs before purchasing one.
If you are starting out with very little knowledge and expertise, consider programs and cutting machines best suited for beginners. Certain brands cater to the small businessperson in mind. They come with pre-programmed design software with a vast library of designs to choose from.
Look at your production volume per day. If you intend to produce more than twenty items per day, investing in larger equipment compatible with design programs such as Adobe and Photoshop may be wise.
When purchasing any machinery or equipment, do your research first as you would for any product on the market. Find a reliable supplier who offers good customer service, product support, and warranty for the machinery.
You can source vinyl cutters between the price range of $200 – $4000. These will also depend on speed, size, and features available. Vinyl cutters can cost as much as $20 000!
Assess which model and brand are best suited for you and your business.
Selecting Fabric And T-Shirt Supplier For Vinyl Printing
Not all fabric types are suitable for Vinyl printing. It is best to know which fabrics are suitable before searching for a T-shirt supplier.
It is important that the fabric does not shrink, as this may cause the vinyl to wrinkle, pull, and ruin the design. With a 100% polyester T-shirt, you know your shrinkage will be minimal.
Polycotton blends are the best of both worlds. You have the durability and minimal shrinkage from the polyester, but the softness and wearability from the cotton. This blending of the two fabrics creates a mix you will love.
But I love Ringspun cotton t-shirts for Vinyl Printing. They are pre-shrunk and look and feel great! Bella Canvas 3001 t-shirts are my #1 choice for vinyl printing, as are they the most popular t-shirt brand used on Etsy t-shirts.
Never scrimp on the quality of the T-shirts. Your quality will set you apart from your competitors, so choose the best. However, always take your budget into account. Don’t break the bank on one item to sacrifice on another.
Get a sample T-shirt from your supplier and run it through a few tests. Before applying any vinyl, do a wash and color test on the T-shirt. I also recommend a heat test. These tests will determine how the fabric will hold up under washing and ironing conditions.
If your customer requires a T-shirt once off, the price and quality are not that important. This is not to say that one customer is less important than others. You do not have to spend a lot on one item. It is better to keep costs low.
However, if your customer is ordering in bulk and expects to wear the T-shirt for many years, you need to invest in a better-quality T-shirt.
Most T-shirt suppliers will give you a good discount if you purchase in bulk. They may also offer low-cost or free shipping rates. Avoid ordering from a third-party supplier. Go directly to the manufacturer. You have a better chance of getting the garments you need; in the sizes and quality you require.
Marketing Your Vinyl T-shirt Business
You have a few options when marketing a vinyl t-shirt business.
I recommend selling on Etsy even if you have an eCommerce store. Etsy SEO and Etsy Ads are a powerful combo to sell more products on the Etsy platform.
Social Media Marketing
Market your business and products over social media. According to statistics, an average person spends roughly 2,5 hours daily on social media. Of that, 50% of the time is spent on social media apps on mobile phones.
- Facebook is the most popular. People spend an average of 2 hours and 25 minutes per day.
- Instagram users spend about 28 minutes per day on the app.
- Pinterest users scroll slower, with an average of 14 minutes per day.
From my experience, Instagram is the best platform for selling your vinyl t-shirts because “lifestyle” products and content do very well on Instagram. Use mockups for your designs or take “model photos”. Photos of your shirts on people perform much better than shirts pictured on a flat surface.
TikTok has also become a very popular platform for building brand awareness and driving people to search for your brand online.
When you decide to start a Vinyl T-shirt business, you have many factors to consider, from the machinery, materials and supplies to customers.
Setting up a Vinyl T-shirt business is a more accessible, less costly business with a higher return on investment if conducted correctly, with the right machinery and equipment. Go on, start creating and making your vinyl T-shirt business a success.
Bryan E. Robinson is the former owner of TshirtGrowth. He has sold t-shirts since 2006 through dropshipping, screen printing, vinyl printing, DTG, Print on Demand, and more. Bryan has created his own t-shirt designs through Photoshop, Canva, and other platforms, as well as worked with freelancers to create many of his designs. Besides t-shirts, Bryan has over 18 years of experience in online marketing with eCommerce, B2B SaaS, B2C products, and more.