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1. What is print on demand?

How to make a custom shirt at home with print on demand

Put down the fabric paint; there’s an easier way to make custom print t-shirts at home! Whether you have an upcoming event, want to gift a t-shirt to a friend, or simply need to flex your artistic skills, print on demand (POD) services significantly simplify designing custom t-shirts. And if you want to build an online t-shirt printing business, POD providers can even help streamline profitability and productivity.

When it’s time to transform a plain t-shirt into a unique work of art, learn how to make a custom shirt at home with print on demand services. All you need to do is create a design to match your personal style, choose a print on demand service to meet your needs, and a POD provider will do the rest — including shipping your custom shirt to you or one of your newfound customers!

Main takeaways from this article:

  • Print on demand is a cost-effective alternative to hand-printing custom t-shirt designs at home.

  • The quality of your design elements and the color and fabric of your t-shirt will influence the finished product.

  • The right print on demand provider with the appropriate product selection and printing technique is the key to how to make a custom shirt at home.

What is print on demand?

t-shirt design

As the name might suggest, ‘print on demand’ refers to the ability to print unique designs on various products in near-real time. When it comes to custom products, like t-shirts and other apparel, print on demand (POD) is a top choice. With print on demand functionality, a creator can design custom products and coordinate with a POD supplier to sell them on a per-order basis.

Suppose you want to design your own shirts at home for an upcoming concert or family event. In that case, you might prefer POD because you can forfeit costly expenses, like printing supplies, because your supplier takes care of the printing for you. And if you’re looking to start your own custom t-shirt business, a POD supplier also handles every aspect of order fulfillment, from printing to shipping.

Even better, print on demand functionality means you never have to order, manage, or store inventory. Your print on demand supplier will house their own inventory of products — from t-shirts and tote bags to phone cases and wall art — for you to select from. Once you’re ready, your supplier will retrieve the desired item from their inventory, print your design, and ship it.

How much does it cost to make one custom shirt?

The cost to produce just one custom shirt will vary considerably depending on your print supplier. If you plan to be your own supplier, you can expect to spend a few hundred extra dollars on professional printing supplies, high-quality fabric paint, and plain t-shirts. However, if you partner with a print on demand supplier, you will only pay for the actual cost of the t-shirt and shipping.

Generally speaking, it will cost less than $20 per custom shirt with a print on demand supplier. Factors that can drive up the price to print on demand include shirt quality and fabric. For instance eco-conscious apparel like recycled or organic cotton t-shirts is more expensive than basic cotton. Regardless, print on demand remains the most cost-effective custom print t-shirt method.

How to make a custom shirt at home with print on demand

With access to print on demand providers around the globe, it’s never been easier or faster to make your own shirts. Whether you want to create a memorable fashion statement or design a product line for an online business, here is how to make a custom shirt at home in five simple steps.

1. Brainstorm design ideas

design brainstorming

The first step to custom print t-shirts is a custom design. So, finding design inspiration to fuel your custom t-shirt ideas may be helpful. To get a sense of what kind of designs are best for your custom t-shirt, consider the type of person who will wear it. If you’re the end consumer of your product, it’s probably safe to stick with your personal style preferences.

On the other hand, if you’re creating a t-shirt as a personalized gift for a friend or loved one, consider what design style they would gravitate towards. Similarly, consider the niche or specific market segment you want to cater to if you’re starting an online t-shirt business. With a better idea of who will wear your t-shirt, you can let your imagination run wild!

Find design inspiration

Not all of us are natural-born artists, let alone professional fashion designers. So, it may be helpful to find design inspiration to fuel your ideas for custom print t-shirts. Fashion and culture magazines are great starting points for your unique designs. You can also browse social media networks like Instagram and Pinterest to find trending design styles, such as popular patterns or in-demand colorways.

While you’re sourcing inspiration for your designs, look beyond basic shapes. You may want to seek out funny sayings, famous quotes, or niche-related references to incorporate into your shirt design. Remember who will wear your finished product to guide your chosen design elements.

As you gather ideas for your t-shirt, don’t be afraid to experiment with multiple design components. Consider the potential color combinations for your finished shirt and how different color palettes can influence your design. Eye-catching graphics and images will make your design pop and help coordinate your color palette. Play around with various design components until they feel right!

2. Choose a print on demand service

choosing print on demand

Now that you have a better idea of the t-shirt design you want to print, it’s time to choose a print on demand service. Your POD supplier will essentially be your partner throughout the printing shirts process, so choosing your print on demand provider wisely is essential. Printing quality should be at the top of your list, of course, but what else should you look for in a print on demand service?

Assess pricing and shipping rates

Since the average custom t-shirt costs less than $20 to produce, you do not want to overpay when selecting your print on demand supplier. First, consider the pricing on apparel items to gauge how much custom print t-shirts may be, then take a look at the available shipping rates and locations.

As a print on demand provider with a global shipping network of 40+ logistics partners and local production in 30+ countries around the world, Gelato can ensure cost-friendly and fast delivery. If you want to save money, subscribe to a Gelato plan and unlock shipping discounts on every order!

Review the available t-shirt selection

Beyond product pricing, you’ll also want to review the selection of available apparel from a print on demand supplier. Remember, ‘print on demand’ means you will never purchase your own inventory and will rely on your supplier for inventory instead. Consider what each POD supplier offers in terms of fabrics, styles, sizes, colors, and their assortment of print shirts and other apparel.

When printing custom shirts from home, look for a print on demand supplier that offers a range of:

Consider t-shirt printing methods

The last consideration when selecting a POD provider is your desired printing technique. There are a few different methods of printing t-shirts, but most are too expensive to make print on demand a lucrative opportunity, and others are simply not as effective at creating long-lasting designs. Here’s a quick overview of the types of printing techniques a POD supplier may use:

Screen printing

It is one of the oldest printing methods. Screen printing requires a nylon mesh screen to hold a stencil in place, but each stencil must be custom-made. This technique allows for vibrant, durable designs, which are ideal for bulk printing. The ink application in screen printing is thicker than other methods, resulting in graphics that stand out and last long, even after multiple washes. It’s an excellent way to express creativity and produce professional-looking apparel with a personal touch.  

Heat press printing

It is a more expensive printing method. This method requires a heat press machine and transfer paper or heat transfer vinyl, which can increase production costs. Despite the initial investment, this method offers quick customization, vibrant color retention, and durability, making it perfect for detailed designs on both light and dark shirts. Precise temperature control ensures consistent quality across products, which is ideal for small-scale businesses or personal projects where you must maintain quality.  

Iron-on designs

Iron-on designs are quick and require iron-on transfer paper or wax paper, but the transferred image often peels or flakes over time. This method is excellent for hobbyists or those looking to personalize shirts for one-time events. It allows for complete creative control and can be a fun activity for all ages. However, for long-lasting wear, additional measures like proper heat setting and careful washing are necessary. It’s an affordable way to experiment with custom designs at home. 

Dye sublimation

It is the most expensive printing technique. A sublimation printer uses a special dye that only works with polyester fabrics, so it’s not ideal for most. Despite its cost, this method offers unparalleled quality, producing vibrant, full-color images permanently bonded to the fabric, resulting in prints that won’t crack, fade, or peel. It’s ideal for complex designs or photographic prints, offering a high-end finish that’s particularly suited for custom apparel businesses or designers aiming to create premium products. 

Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing

DTG is the industry standard for print on demand. DTG works just like an inkjet printer, except the supplier loads t-shirts rather than paper. It’s favored for its efficiency and precision, offering a soft finish that feels great to the touch. DTG is eco-friendly, using water-based inks, and it provides incredible versatility in design possibilities, enabling designers to experiment with various styles and complex imagery without the need for extensive setups or high costs. 

If you’re looking to print custom t-shirt designs that are highly detailed, long-lasting, and less expensive to create, look no further than DTG printing. Here at Gelato, we leverage the direct-to-garment printing technique to produce high-quality shirts in a fraction of the time.

3. Create your design

design creation

Here comes the fun part: designing your custom print t-shirts! With your design inspiration from earlier, combine your desired elements in an image editing program like Adobe Illustrator or Canva. Remember to stick with two or three fonts and color combinations at maximum. Anything more than that can make your design look less cohesive and appear cluttered and distracting.

Likewise, be sure to use high-quality vector images and graphics so your design doesn’t look pixelated and low-quality once printed on a shirt. If you choose Gelato as your print on demand provider, our Design Editor is home to thousands of professional vector images and premium fonts. We even have hundreds of digital mock-ups to preview how your design will look on a shirt!

4. Select your shirt

t-shirt selection

With your own designs in hand, it’s time to select a t-shirt to print it on. The beauty of printing your own custom t-shirts is the ability to select the garment that works best with your design, your style preferences, and your price point. Here are four main factors to consider when choosing a shirt.

Shirt color

Shirt color is crucial to the effectiveness of your t-shirt design. Dark-colored shirts are best for light-colored designs to help the details stand out, whereas light-colored shirts are ideal for darker designs. For ultimate visibility, there must be a contrast between your shirt and the design color.

Shirt fabric

The primary fabrics for t-shirts and similar apparel are cotton, polyester, and a blend of the two:

  • Cotton t-shirts offer premier comfortability that’s gentle on the skin. The only drawbacks of cotton shirts are that they are more prone to wrinkling and shrinking over time and are slower to dry.

  • Polyester t-shirts offer maximum durability with supreme moisture-wicking properties and are less prone to wrinkling and shrinking. But they are less breathable and can feel synthetic and clingy on the skin.

  • Cotton/polyester blended t-shirts are more lightweight than cotton alone and have less of a chance of wrinkling or shrinking. However, they can irritate the skin and do not dry as fast as polyester fabric alone.

Shirt weight

Even if you settle on fabric, you may still need to decide on the weight of the finished shirt. For instance, at Gelato, many of our cotton t-shirts are available in either a classic style or a heavyweight material. Classic t-shirts are thinner and lighter, which makes them ideal for warmer weather and activewear. Heavyweight t-shirts are thicker and are better suited for colder weather and casual wear.

Shirt fit

Shirt fit refers to how a t-shirt is cut and will lay on the body. The main types of t-shirt fits are relaxed, regular, and slim:

  • Relaxed t-shirts have a wider cut across the chest with larger arm holes and sleeves for a more comfortable (and often baggier) fit.

  • Regular t-shirts have a straight cut through the chest and waist but a broader cut across the shoulders and sleeves for comfort and style.

  • Slim t-shirts have a narrow cut across the chest and taper down from the chest to the waist for a more stylish fit that accentuates the body.

5. Design and print your shirt

t-shirt design and printing

With a final design and a chosen shirt, you can begin placing the design on your garment. There are a few design placements with print on demand, from basic placements like the front and back of a t-shirt to the left sleeve and right sleeve of a t-shirt. You can also place a design as an outer label on the high-upper back of print t-shirts or as an inner label to replace the shirt’s tag.

Once your own designs are placed where you want them on a t-shirt, your print on demand provider can work their magic! Your POD supplier will be responsible for t-shirt printing, packaging, shipping, and delivery — you just need to insert a mailing address! Your finished shirt will reach you (or the end recipient) in a few days. It’s as simple as that to print a custom shirt at home!

Create your own custom t-shirt with Gelato

Say goodbye to messy fabric paint and clumsy iron-on designs. With print on demand, it’s never been easier to print custom shirts at home. To recap, all you need to do is brainstorm design ideas, choose a print on demand provider, create your design, and select a shirt to place your creation on. Your print on demand provider will handle the rest; you don’t have to lift a finger!

If you want to begin printing custom shirts from home, partner with a print on demand provider known for high-quality products, fair pricing, and exceptional shipping and delivery. At Gelato, our print on demand services extend across numerous apparel options — from t-shirts to tote bags and everything in between — and can even include complementary stationery and home décor.

With an unrivaled production network of 32 countries and a global shipping network, send your custom t-shirts anywhere in the world via Gelato print on demand. We offerlocal production for custom-printed items to support local economies, streamline deliveries, and reduce carbon emissions on each order. If you’re ready to get printing, learn how Gelatoprint on demand can help!

FAQ: How to make shirts at home

What is the best way to make custom t-shirts?

Making t-shirts at home is easy with a heat press machine and heat transfer materials. It’s cheap and straightforward, and you get great, lasting designs on any t-shirt. It’s perfect for people just starting or who love crafting, letting you try out many designs and colors and where to put them on the shirt to make your designs unique. If you are not ready to bear the upfront cost, you can consider using Gelato’s print on demand service, which guarantees excellent quality and hassle-free shipping across the world.

What is the cheapest method of printing shirts?

The cheapest way to make printed shirts is using iron-on transfer paper - it’s simple for DIY crafts. Print your design using a standard printer, then iron it onto your shirt. This method is excellent for printing a few shirts since it’s low-cost. It’s ideal for creating unique shirts to wear occasionally. However, these designs may not last as long as those made with professional methods, like DTG or screen printing. 

Can you make money by making t-shirts at home?

Yes, you can earn money by making t-shirts at home. If you’re creative and know what people want, you can design shirts they’ll love to buy. Selling them online lets you reach many customers. Affordable methods like heat transfer or screen printing help you earn favorable profits through your passion for design.

What do I need to start a shirt printing business at home?

To start making shirts at home, you need certain essential elements: a good printer, quality transfer materials, plain t-shirts, and software to design your ideas. Also, set up a spot where all your equipment and materials can fit. On the contrary, with Gelato’s print on demand service, all you need is a laptop, an Internet connection, and a knack for design. Gelato will take care of everything else, right from printing your custom t-shirt to shipping.

What is the best t-shirt printing method?

Screen printing is good for big orders, producing long-lasting, bright colors. Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing is excellent for detailed, colorful patterns, resulting in sharp images and a smooth texture on the shirt. Heat transfer vinyl is also a good option for home-based setups, allowing versatility and low startup costs. Each method has strengths, so consider your budget, design complexity, and production scale to choose the most suitable one.


Next steps

Start selling custom t-shirts with Gelato