How to Start a Profitable T-shirt Dropshipping Business 

Today, we will dig deep into how to start a profitable t-shirt dropshipping business. This tutorial is great for those who want to dropship print-on-demand t-shirts, either as a content creator, influencer, or as a business brand. 

 min read
October 31, 2023
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I used several print-on-demand (POD) systems in the past, and not all of them offer the same features. The ones I will discuss here are, by far, the best ones based on my experience. The factors I look into are:

  • Ease of use
  • Pricing
  • Product Catalog
  • Integration 

In this article, you will learn: 

  • The 7 best print-on-demand systems for dropshipping t-shirt
  • How to start a print-on-demand t-shirt dropshipping business
  • How to spy on your competitors and check if your design/product gas a market demand

For starters, here is our list of the best suppliers to use:

1. Printful – best for mock-ups 

2. Printify – best for low-cost t-shirts

3. Spring – best for social content creators

4. Spreadshirt – best for embroidery

5. Teelaunch – best for global t-shirt dropshipping

6. Gelato – best for low shipping costs

7. CustomCat – best for niche dropshipping

In the end, I am positive that you can make an informed decision as to what system to use. In addition, I am confident that you will learn how to ensure that your design ideas will have a reasonable market demand. 

How to Start a Profitable T-Shirt Dropshipping Business 

1. Choose a Niche

Print-on-demand suppliers offer thousands of products. Since these are free, you would find it tempting to just list all of them, or design as much as you can. 

The thing is that you would do better if you concentrated on a niche. A niche is a topic, industry, or theme—anything that you can organize into a single area of concentration or focus. 

Here are some more benefits of choosing a niche: 

  • Lower Competition – you will always have competitors, but the deeper your niche is, the fewer of them are going to be around. This approach works perfectly if you double down on niche selection. For example, you will sell men’s t-shirts only and the designs are zodiac signs only. 
  • Better Visibility – you can dropship in Etsy with print-on-demand, but the challenge is the saturation of products in the marketplace. If you niche down, the algorithm will give you better visibility in the search results, provided that you also use the right keywords to define your product titles and descriptions.
  • Easier Management – since you have only one topic or socialization, you do not have to study the market all the time. You do not even need to create different advertising plans or analyses to find who your market is. There is no need to keep on adding or removing products based on trends. 

Here are some examples of niches: 

  • Astronomy – sells print-on-demand t-shirts that have something to do with stars, galaxies, the universe, etc. 
  • Quotes – print quotes on shirts for men, women, and children.
  • Yoga – sell multiple designs on the yoga niche for your shirts; you can choose specific types of shirt materials like cotton or polyester.

As you can see, there are two types of niches you can choose from in dropshipping print-on-demand t-shirts: by design or by product type.

Choosing a niche is important because it tells people that you are an authority on something. It makes you much more credible than if you chose a general dropshipping print-on-demand store.  

2. Select a Reliable Print-on-Demand Partner

After deciding on the best niches in dropshipping, the next step is to choose a reliable supplier. 

I can name more than 10 print-on-demand suppliers. The problem is that not all of these can help you succeed in your print-on-demand dropshipping store. 

Here are some of the most common problems you will face: 

  • Product quality – not all types of prints are the same; some wear out easily. Some products also feel so cheap that your customer won’t be happy at all.
  • Shipping time – most print-on-demand suppliers merely aggregate products from the printers or the sources. As such, different products come from different suppliers, and the shipping times can eventually become a problem.
  • Refund processing – not all suppliers process a refund. 
  • Product selection – not all print-on-demand sites offer a lot of products. Some only have a few dozen. 

A reliable print-on-demand supplier will not give you these problems. I will provide you with a list of the best print-on-demand dropshipping suppliers later. 

3. Choose a Dropshipping Platform

There are two basic platforms you can use: marketplaces and your store. Now, there are dozens of dropshipping platforms to choose from when dropshipping t-shirts. Here are some examples: 

  • Your Shopify store
  • Etsy
  • Amazon
  • Your WooCommerce store

So, which one should you choose? 

There is no cut-and-dry answer to this question because your interests, knowledge, and passion will all determine what platform to use.

Build your online store if: 

  • You understand web-building principles
  • You want flexibility in your store
  • You have the time to do all the work
  • You know how to market your goods, such as advertising on Facebook 

Sell in marketplaces if: 

  • You are ready to compete against many sellers
  • You do not want the hassle of managing your website
  • You do not want to invest in web hosting and design
  • You do not want to spend a lot of money on marketing

There is no right or wrong option here. It is a matter of your level of readiness, and what you are willing to do. 

In my opinion, I prefer building a store in Shopify. It gives the flexibility to design your store, choose a payment processor, and use Shopify spy tools to find winning products. 

My worry about dropshipping shirts on Amazon and Etsy is that competitors will simply copy your designs—not exactly as they are, but close. In addition, people who view your products can easily move on to the next item—not yours—as Amazon will show these goods to the viewer. 

If that happens, you just lost a sale. With your store, the only thing a viewer can see is your product. You got the site visitor’s attention, and it is up to you to make the most out of it.

4. Create the Products

The next step to successfully dropship t-shirts is to design our products. You can create your designs from scratch, or you can use a graphic arts on-demand platform like Creative Fabrica. 

Creative Fabrica is a subscription-based platform where you can download as many designs as you want for your t-shirt business. 

After downloading the file, you upload it to your print-on-demand platform of choice. Here are the benefits of using Creative Fabrica:

  • Thousands of designs
  • The files are available in multiple formats (SVG, PNG, JPG, etc.)
  • The illustrations have high resolution; they are perfect for enlarged printing 

The cost of a platform like this is around $30 per year. If you ask me, I will say this is affordable. You get more value from your money doing this than hiring graphic artists. It is also much more practical than doing the designs yourself.

The only challenge here is that you do not own a copyright to the images. While you can use them for print-on-demand t-shirts, you cannot sell these images on their own. 

Product creation is crucial to your success in selling t-shirts. I suggest that you separate designs (product categories) based on your niche. 

For example, let us say that your niche is horror. You can create a product category for vampire them, then another one for the werewolf theme, then another one for the ghost theme, then one for monster them. 

Product design also entails keeping up with trends. If the t-shirt trend is to have a simple design on the arm, then do that. If the trend is a large design at the back, but not on the front, do it.

Always be in tune with what the market demands in terms of design, design placement, size, etc. T-shirt dropshipping is still part of the fashion industry, so you must always be ready to conform to social expectations. 

5. Market Your Products

The last step to succeed in dropshipping t-shirt print-on-demand products is to market them. I can say that marketing is probably the hardest thing to do in the t-shirt business. 

The two most effective marketing strategies are:

  • Advertising
  • Video content

Advertising entails a lot of money. You’d be surprised to find out that you would have to spend thousands of dollars on advertising and get only a few sales here and there. 

Facebook, Google, Instagram, TikTok—all these advertising networks are becoming more and more expensive. Millions of advertisers want the same consumer eyeballs as you do. In the end, the one with the biggest budget wins. 

The alternative is to set yourself apart by creating content that people like about your niche. For example, you can create a YouTube channel about astronomy—a knowledge channel that amazes the viewers. 

Then, you can always tell the viewers that you have merch for sale. Add your store link in the video description, and it is how you can get traffic. 

This approach can take a while to work, but it is all worth it if you hit the nail on the head. All it takes is to have subscribers and lots of watch hours. If you succeed in this, the YouTube algorithm will put your content at the top of the search results, and you get more views. 

7 Best T-Shirt Print-on-Demand Suppliers

1. Printful – best for mock-ups 

Printful is one of the leading print-on-demand service companies in the world. They do not possess the t-shirts nor print them. Instead, they provide the platform for the printers (suppliers) and dropshippers to do business together. As such, you have many printing options here.

Printful Features

  • Integations – you can integrate Printful with Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, Etsy, Amazon, and so much more. You also have the option to get an Application Programming Interface (API) if you want a customized integration for your online store. 
  • Sales Channels – you can sell your t-shirts on multiple platforms at the same time like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy. All these stores will get data from your Printful account. Any change you make on Printful will also reflect on these sales channels. As such, you can manage multiple stores on different platforms with only one control dashboard. 
  • Print Options – you have the option to print the t-shirts with direct-to-garment, all-over print, and embroidery.
  • Mock-Up – the tool offers multiple product mock-ups that you can use to market your goods. Mock-ups are images that carry the design you uploaded. There are human models here who will “wear your shirt,” and you can use these images to show your customers the shirt while “in use.”

Printful Pros

  • Lots of integration options
  • There are many mock-ups for your shirts
  • Multiple sales channels with one account
  • Free to use

Printful Cons

  • Embroidery is only available to premium account holders
  • Pricing for membership is not transparent

Printful Pricing  

You can use Printful for free and only pay fees after you process an order. They offer two paid plans: Growth and Business.

The Growth Plan gives you:

  • Up to 20% off on products that use direct-to-garment printing  
  • Up to 30% off other product categories
  • Discount for product branding costs of up to 7%
  • No limit on store integration per account 

The Business Plan has similar benefits but with higher discounts. It also gives you access to embroidery print. In addition, they can digitize the image for you for free so they can use it for the embroidery. Otherwise, you would have to pay for it or use a software program.

2. Printify – best for low-cost t-shirts

Printify is an excellent option if you want shirts at a lower capital price. For example, you can buy a t-shirt in Printify for $9.89 while the same shirt costs $13.25 in Printful. 

Printify’s business model is the same with Printful. However, Printful has more integration options than Printify. Like Printful, Printify is free to use.

Printify Features

  • Integration – you can integrate Printify with Etsy, Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, PrestaShop, etc. They also offer an API if you need one. 
  • Product Transfer – you can transfer your products from one print-on-demand platform to Printify (i.e., from Printful to Printify). If you do this, Printify will give you a rebate for your sales in three months. However, you must meet a specific sales volume requirement to qualify for the rebate. This requirement depends on your sales.
  • Bulk Order – you can design and order your products and pay wholesale. Bulk orders get 30% off on shipping costs, and they ship internationally.

One thing worth mentioning is that multiple sales channels are not available on Printify. Let us say you designed a t-shirt, and you want to sell it on Etsy and WooCommerce, you have to “re-upload” or reconnect the same product on both platforms.

In addition, there are only a few mock-ups of the designs. If you want more product mock-ups, you must subscribe to their partner company, Placeit. 

My issue with Placeit is that the mock-ups here ARE NOT the same shirts or products that you find in Printify. Because of this, the mock-up on Placeit is not exactly the same as the actual product that your customer will receive. 

Printify Pros

  • Easy to use
  • The products are affordable
  • Lot of products to choose from
  • They have suppliers in different parts of the world 

Printify Cons

  • No multiple sales channel 
  • Needs to add more mock-ups

Printify Pricing

Printify is free to use, and you can build a fully functional t-shirt dropshipping print-on-demand business with it. However, the free account limits you to only five stores. 

There is a Premium Plan that costs $24.99 monthly. You can integrate your account with ten stores and get up to 20% off on all products. The Enterprise Plan, which has no fixed price, imposes no limit on the number of stores you can integrate.

3. Spring – best for social content creators

Spring (formerly Teespring) works similarly to the previous two. What sets it apart from the other POD companies is its analytics tool, which shows you sales data and profits based on different periods you choose. In addition, Spring has integrations that the other platforms do not offer. 

Spring Features

  • Integration – you can integrate Spring with YouTube, LinkTree, Instagram, OnlyFans, and Twitch. You cannot integrate Spring with Shopify or marketplaces.  
  • Design Tool – there is a free design tool in Spring, similar to what Printify and Printful have. You can upload images, add texts, and choose from default base colors in the tool. 
  • Pop-Up Shop – Spring allows you to create a widget in HTML format. You can embed this HTML in any site that accepts HTML. The widget shows the product, and the viewer can click this and buy. 

Spring is best for content creators who sell merch. It is not ideal for the typical dropshipper. The integrations only allow for social media sites, which makes it easier for content creators to sell and distribute merchandise to their fans and followers. 

Spring Pros

  • Works with social media channels
  • You can buy a custom domain name
  • Has an analytics tool

Spring Cons

  • Not a lot of mock-ups

Spring Pricing

Spring is 100% free to use. They do not offer subscription plans, which means you will not get discounts in any way. There are no transaction fees, too. Apparently, they already baked their profits in the base cost of the products you sell.

4. Spreadshirt – best for embroidery

Spreadshirt is best for people who want to sell t-shirts with embroidery and not just ordinary prints. They mainly focus on dropshippers who want to build a brand in their respective niches.

On top of t-shirts, SPOD offers several other products: 

  • Hoodies
  • Polo shirts
  • Loungewear
  • Pillowcases 
  • Bottoms

They have over 250 products, and you can use the embroidery design for free. Unlike Printify and Printful, you do not need to pay extra to be able to sell embroidery.

Spreadshirt Features

  • Shop and Marketplace – you can open a shop inside the Spreadshirt platform, or integrate the system with a marketplace. The Spreadshirt Shop is a better option for those who want to control the look and feel of their store. the marketplaces you can integrate the platform to are Amazon and eBay. 
  • Marketing and Traffic – Spreadshirt’s shop has over 100,000 monthly visitors. In essence, it is like Redbubble or Etsy. You can take advantage of this traffic and not pay for ads anymore to make sales. 

Spreadshirt Pros

  • You can do embroidery designs
  • You can build a shop on the platform

Spreadshirt Cons

  • The site is so confusing to use; they combined the seller and buyer platform into one
  • You must pay for each design

Spreadshirt Pricing

Spreadshirt’s business model is a bit weird. They charge $2.00 for each design you make, regardless of how many times you use the design. They also charge you a printing cost. Because of this business model, you will pay several items for a single product: the price of the product, the design fee, and the cost of print. 

The print cost varies. For example, they may charge you $8 for the print at the front of the shirt, and then another $9 for the print at the back of the shirt. It is not unusual that your capital cost is $29 for one shirt. 

5. Teelaunch – best for global t-shirt dropshipping

Teelaunch has 18 production sites in the world. While most of these are in the US, they do have print partners in Canada, the UK, Australia, and Spain. Teelaunch also has products that most POD companies do not offer such as balloons, flags, and basketballs. 

Teelaunch Features

  • Integration – you can integrate Teelaunch with Shopify, Etsy, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce. You can also ask them for an API if you need it. 
  • Product Selection – the company has many types of t-shirts for men, women, and children. In addition, you can also find products that you will not normally find in other POD companies. Some examples are folder card sets, flat card sets, cutting boards, and cuff bracelets.

Teelaunch Pros

  • They have unique products
  • No transaction or subscription fees

Teelaunch Cons

  • No discounts
  • The product catalog is smaller than most PODs

Teelaunch Pricing

The system is free to use. You only pay for shipping and the cost of the product. There are no subscription fees to use Teelaunch.

6. Gelato – best for low shipping costs

Gelato Features

  • Integration – the system integrates with WooCommerce, Wix, Shopify, Etsy, etc. Right now, Gelato does not integrate with Amazon. 
  • Branding – you can print your logo on your products; this strengthens your market presence and helps you create a brand. You can also ask Gelato to create custom packaging for you. 
  • Product Choices – you can add more items to your store that can complement your t-shirts, like bags. They also have separate lines for clothing for men, women, and children (including babies).
  • Global Suppliers – Gelato has printing suppliers from 32 countries. you get to choose which one will print and ship your products. As such, you can expect your goods to arrive faster to your customer. 

Gelato Pros

  • The system is easy to use
  • They offer premium mock-ups and font makers
  • You can have access to a dedicated success manager

Gelato Cons

  • You cannot use the advanced tools if you do not pay a subscription
  • You can only connect two stores at the free plan

Gelato Pricing

Gelato is free to use, with options to upgrade. The price of the subscription depends on your monthly sales volume. At the paid plans, you can get up to 50% discount on shipping rates, receive access to premium mock-ups, and access to millions of stock images. 

7. CustomCat – best for niche dropshipping

Custom Cat like Teelaunch, offers embroidery. This company has been around for over 15 years, and more than 20,000 stores use the app/service to sell t-shirts and other print-on-demand merchandise.  

Custom Cat Features

  • Integrations – you can integrate Custom Cat with Shopify, Etsy, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce. Custom API is also available. In addition, you can upload CSV files into the system to transfer your designs and other products from another site.
  • Print Options – Custom Cat offers dye sublimation, direct-to-garment, and embroidery. They currently do not offer all-over print. 
  • Three Major Categories – unlike some POD suppliers, Custom Cat does not try to be a jack of all trades. They only offer products in the apparel, accessories, and houseware niches. 

Custom Cat Pros

  • They offer direct fulfillment; there is no third-party printer or supplier 
  • Can integrate with major platforms
  • It is free and easy to use

Custom Cat Cons

  • There are only two shipping options: economy and ground

Custom Cat Pricing

It is free to use Custom Cat, but the free account only gives you access to DTG printing. They require a monthly subscription for embroidery and dye sublimation. The Custom Cat PRO account costs $30 monthly. At this rate, you will also get between 20% and 40% discount on the products you choose to sell. 

How to Use Dropship.IO to Validate T-Shirt Ideas

While it is easy to design t-shirts and upload them to your store, selling them is a tad more difficult than you think. It will certainly help if you validate your idea first before making the designs. 

It is where Dropship.IO comes in. We offer a Shopify spy tool where you can find:

  • Winning products
  • The ads that the company released on Facebook
  • Who your competitors are
  • What apps do your competitors use

Overall, Dropship.IO is the only thing you need to investigate, spy, and analyze if your ideas have a market. In this section, I will show you how to use it, particularly in determining if your shirt business is worth pursuing.   

The first step is to go to our Ad Spot database. Next, type the domain, page, or ad copy that you want to search for. Then, hit the blue SEARCH button. You can also toggle the creative type and other metrics to the right. 

It looks like this: 

A screenshot of a computerDescription automatically generated

In this example, I used “t-shirt” as a search term. This is what I got for the results:

A screenshot of a social media postDescription automatically generated

I will focus on the second shirt. What we can do now is click the Facebook icon and the arrow icon. The FB icon will take us to the company’s Facebook account. The arrow icon will take us to the ad creative, which I am showing below: 

A person with braids wearing a grey shirtDescription automatically generated

As you can see, this ad has more than 7,000 likes and 161 comments. An ad with this performance is good—I can say from experience that 7,000 likes would have yielded sales for this company for this shirt product. 

This is how you use our Ad Spot database. What you want to look for are ads that have high engagement rates. Without likes and comments, we can presume that the t-shirt design is not going to sell well. 

Summary: How to Start a Profitable T-shirt Dropshipping Business

After choosing the best print-on-demand tool for your profitable t-shirt dropshipping business, the next logical step that I would love to recommend is for you to try Dropship.IO. We offer a 7-day free trial where you can test all the systems for free. 

Choosing a POD system is one thing. More importantly, I suggest that you use a system like ours that can help you validate your ideas and spy on your competitors. Try Dropship.IO now and see how it can change your business!

Try Dropship
Discover winning products to sell today.
Shopify Offer
Start and sell with Shopify $1/month for 3 months.
Try Dropship
Discover winning products to sell today.
Shopify Offer
Start and sell with Shopify for $1 for one month.

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