Confessions & Ramblings of a T-shirt Marketing Rebel…

My name is Cartess ‘Big Tees’ Ross, and today I’m going to reveal little-known strategies I used to sell hundreds of thousands of t-shirts to customers all over the world…

While I’ve easily made a ton of money selling t-shirts, let me be clear–this ain’t no easy business! You have to understand that I’ve been at this for many many years and I have made a bunch of mistakes.

I’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to build this business because..

  • I’ve lost money running ads that produced very little — and in most cases, zero return
  • I’ve purchased bad t-shirts and inventory from vendors overseas
  • I got burnt by advertising agencies who promised me the world on a silver platter
  • I’ve ran ads with the wrong phone number on it
  • I’ve mailed direct mail packages that generated ZERO interest
  • I’ve slept on my floor because I felt it was more important to invest the money back into the business versus getting a bed (my wife hated me for that)
  • We had cars repossessed (on more than one occassion)
  • I’ve been thrown out on the streets because I took the rent money and gambled it on the business–sometimes it worked out, and sometimes it didn’t…
  • I’ve worked extra shifts and even took on extra jobs to invest back into the business
  • I did what I had to do to make this business successful-– I was rewarded for it later

I took my young and new family through hell trying to get this t-shirt business going — so please understand that I feel no sympathy for the guy or lady who is sitting around making a bunch of excuses about why their business isn’t working…

If you want this — you’ll figure out a way to make it work… So save the sad stories for someone else, because I ain’t buying it.

But if you have the stomach, and the courage to see your t shirt business through, you too could pack away a small fortune for yourself…

But please don’t mistake these simple concepts I’m about to share as easy and typical stuff. At the end of the day, it’s going to be the basic fundamentals that’ll get you to the next level.

I often come across people who always say, ‘I already know about that’, or ‘that’s common knowledge’, but yet, they never implement it…These types know everything, yet they do nothing–don’t fall into that trap.

You MUST take action if you want to win BIG in the t-shirt business. Don’t overthink this stuff — keep is stupid simple (K.I.S.S.)

Enough of my ranting — Let’s get started…

T-shirt Business Startup Guide

I’m going to move pretty quick and as I go, I’ll talk about different aspects of the business.

For now, most people want to know how to get their t-shirt designs made and onto t-shirts.

That’s the easy part. For me, I can’t draw. I have no choice but to pay a graphic designer to do it for me.

The prices for a t-shirt graphic designer can range from very low, to very high. I’ve paid some designers as little as $25.00, to as much as $1,000.00.

At the end of the day, it’s not about how cheap you can get a design made — it’s about getting exactly what you want, and how you want it. These designs ARE you business.

If the designs aren’t right, you make little-to-no money. Many people don’t seem to understand this simple concept. They’re so bent on getting the cheapest price possible.

These designs are your brand… You MUST get it right.

If you can find someone to do it for $25 bucks, and it takes you going through 20 different designers, and 5 months have gone by, then that’s crazy…

I always look at the graphic designers portfolio. If I like his style and his or her work, and I feel they can turn my vision into a work of art, then I hire them.

Let’s be honest — what type of quality can you expect to get out of a designer who only charges you $50 to $100? Not much — and for my brand, I want it right, not cheap.

So if you have to spend the money, do it… Time is precious. The weeks you’re wasting trying to get it right with one guy is insane — that’s lost revenue.

T-shirt Printing Methods

I like to use a heat press machine and screen printed transfers, also known as ‘plastisol transfers’. There are a variety of other methods available, but this is my preferred method.

When I first started, I went and took a weekend screen printing class and quickly realized I didn’t have the money, nor the space to even consider doing screen printing.

The amount of space and equipment needed was insane — the learning curve would have been a complete nightmare… After taking that class, I now have a newfound respect for screen printers. You work your butt off, and I didn’t get into business to learn all of that technical stuff — it’s way too much!

Regarding the inks on the screen printed transfers — these are the same type of inks used by screen printers to screen print onto actual t-shirts. But instead of putting the ink onto your t-shirts, these guys put them onto a special release paper called ‘plastisol transfers (or screen printed transfers).

When transferring these inks from the transfer paper with my heat press machine, I’m essentially making a screen print quality t-shirt… The inks do not peel, split, crack, smear or fade. It’s just as good as an actual screen printed shirt.

In fact, many screen printers can’t tell the difference when presented with the shirt.

Play the video below to get a better understanding of this process

Using this method, I’m able to get my transfers for as little as .50 cents each… And depending on how many more I order, I can actually get my costs down to .15-to-.25 cents each.

But keep in mind, costs is based on the quantity you order, and the number of colors in your design.

So if you plan on only ordering 12 transfers — then it’s gonna cost you a pretty penny.


Because the screen printer still has to go through the entire setup process, as if they’re screen printing onto a t-shirt, and it just doesn’t make sense for them to do all of the prep work, just to make 12 t-shirts.And if that’s all you’re wanting, you’re going to pay…And rightfully so!

There are a variety of techniques you can do to get your costs down to .25 cents, but that’s for another conversation…

There are a variety of companies that do this process, with each having their pros and cons.

I often use Transfer Express, but they’re expensive… However, they provide the fastest turnaround time in the industry — and their quality of work is superb.

TransferExpress isn’t my first choice because of price — but if I absolutely, positively must have my transfers immediately, they’re the first ones I go to…

Also, when I’m getting samples made, so I can have them right away to get catalogs printed, or need the shirts for my websites, Transfer Express is who I use to get my initial batch.

Yes, I will pay a lot more for their transfers on the front-end, but it’s more important I have my stuff to get immediate feedback for myself and from the public.

Seeing your designs on a computer screen and in-person are two different realities.

With Transfer Express, I don’t have to order 100 or 500 transfers at a time… I can order a small quantity of 12 if that’s all I wanted… And while it’ll cost a lot, I just need proofs for my marketing purposes. I’m not using these to make a profit — I’m using them to start and build my business.

If I’m pitching to an investor or family friend who I’m trying to borrow money from, it only makes sense to have the physical product in-hand to show them.

It’s hard asking for money when you won’t even put anything up yourself — having actual proofs in hand actual shows to some degree that you’re serious — not a wannabe.

 Screen Printing Your T-shirts

Although I bash screen printers in some of my videos (it’s all a marketing ploy), I do use them on a regular basis… When I get big custom orders, it makes sense for me to use a screen printer.

Why press 750 t-shirts with the same design, when I can simply outsource it to a screen printer and still make a sizable profit, while letting them do all the work?

That’s what I call a ‘win-win’.

Also, when I need samples or ‘proofs’, I’ll use a screen printer. As I mentioned a moment ago, when I need to make a presentation, or if I need to get my shirts online as quick as possible, I’ll use a screen printer just to move the process along quickly, versus waiting the 2-4 weeks to get my custom transfers back (I generally order in bulk, and I usually have multiple designs being made, and it takes longer to get them back)…

For some, getting started with the heat press method will require you to spend a decent chunk of money upfront to get equipment and supplies… But if you don’t have the money to get all the equipment to press your own shirts, then source it all through a screen printer just so you can get going.

Having the shirts in-hand is more valuable than not having them.

Printing Your Own Heat Transfers at Home with a Printer

I generally don’t recommend this. The quality just ain’t there folks.

Printers were made to print onto paper, not t-shirts. While you can print from home, it’s not advisable. The shirts that use this method generally crack, fade and peel after the very first wash…

And for a new customer, that’s a huge turn-off, and they’ll likely never buy from you again.

It’s not worth the risk of messing up your brand. There are some transfer papers you can buy that are better than others, but for me, nothing is better than screen printed t-shirts, or screen printed transfers. These 2 methods trump all.

If you insist on buying and doing your own transfers, then stay away from the packages they sell at your typical retail or hobby store like Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, JoAnn’s, Walmart, etc…

The transfer paper they sell is crap, and you will be disappointed with what you press onto the shirt — especially the Avery brands. I don’t know how these guys get away with even selling these.

Using High Heat Pigment Inks

If you’re going to do it, go with high heat pigment inks. This method will require specific types of inkjet printers and special inks.

Here’s a package I’ve purchased from one of the leading pigment ink suppliers…

High Heat Pigment Inks
High Heat Pigment Inks

What you see in the picture above are replacement cartridges at the top… These cartridges will replace the cartridges that come with your inkjet printer. You’ll use the syringes to pull the ink out of the bottles and inject them into those cartridges. These cartridges will replace the inkjet cartridges, thus providing you with high heat pigment inks that will now print onto the transfer paper, and then you’ll press onto a t-shirt.

If you insist on making your own transfers at home, this process is much better than the typical inkjet printer method… You’ll get much better results.

Understanding Sublimation Printing

Sublimation printing has both pros and cons… I would never use this process to make t-shirts.

This is a special process where the high heat from your heat press turns the sublimation ink into a gas. This process works BEST with polyester t-shirts–not cotton.

With polyester shirts, the ‘pores’ open up and allows the gas to enter into the fibers of the shirt, thus trapping the inks within those fibers. You’ll get a smooth finish with this method, but it only works best on polyester.

If you were to use cotton tees, the colors won’t be as clear and vivid as when on 100% polyester. Another drawback is that you can’t use this process on dark colored shirts…

But, there’s soooo much more you can do with sublimation.

sublimation printing
Sublimation Printing

You can use this process to make custom license plates, buttons, coffee mugs, iPhone covers, mouse pads, puzzles and a whole lot more…

This is great because you now have the opportunity to make money by quickly up-selling other profitable items…

There’s lots of stuff to buy to make this all work, but the profit center here is great…

Positioning: Appearance is Everything

At this stage, you should now have your shirts in hand… And this is where you can stand out.

Take the time to get some professionally shot photographs. Don’t lay your t-shirts on the ground and take photos with your cell phone. I mean, whose going to take you seriously?

But yet, we see pictures online with people taking shots of their t-shirt brand on the kitchen floor. That’s just plain tacky. Just spend the money–this is your brand!

I didn’t hesitate to spend the money. The photographs we took were used to create mini-catalogs that we mailed out. We used the pictures to put onto jumbo postcards as well.

We didn’t do in-studio pictures. Most were on-location photos.

We went to parks, abandoned warehouses, rustic looking railroad yards, museums, downtown streets, etc…

Take a look at one of my teen models — these go a long way in your presentation.


Now that I have the high resolution files of these photos, I can make catalogs that make us appear larger than life… When I send sample tees to potential Christian bookstores, along with a catalog of images that look like these, I look like a company that’s been in business for a long time. I look stable.

Imagine how much better your website looks with quality photographs like this

Perception is everything in this business. Don’t skimp out on this.

Now, I find many of my models on websites like Craigslist and ModelMayhem.

I pay them a fee, and they sign a release that enables me to use the photographs in any manner I like…

Please note: We’re now re-opening Protege300 for a limited time … We’re giving away a free t-shirt website and 4 of your t-shirt design ideas created for you free of charge by my graphic designers … Get in while you still can. Click here

Getting Your T-shirt Business Online

There’s no question about it. You MUST have a presence online. Your brand must have it’s own home. I listen to ‘Klowns’ all day talk about how they don’t need a website. I realize how foolish they really are when they think they can build their entire business just by being on Facebook.

That’s completely absurd…

I don’t deny you can make money from having a presence on Facebook, but it’s absolutely foolish to build your entire business around Facebook. You need your own website.

I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on Facebook — so I know it’s power, and yes, it’s an extremely profitable platform from which to pull business. But why continue to build Facebook’s brand by sending your people their to buy? You need to send them to your own brand — your own website.

By having a website, I’ve been able to sell to people all over the world–in countries I can’t even pronounce. In places I never knew existed. The t-shirt business opportunity is truly global and each of us can tap into this opportunity and make a fortune.

Technology has changed drastically since I started back in 1999. I had to build my own site because I couldn’t afford to pay thousands of dollars to higher a developer.

There are so many options that allow you to get a fully functional store online in a matter of minutes.

Now I’m about to use a dirty word, so please excuse me… And that word is ‘Templates’.

Many people don’t like using them. I like them because it brings my costs down and makes it cheaper for the average man or woman to get started right away. Templates save time because you’re not having to build a website up from scratch…

With templates, you can take an existing setup, make a few tweaks, change a few colors and add your own logo and you essentially have your own branded website.

As I said earlier, the key is to get started as quickly as possible, for as little as possible. Don’t go spending all of your money trying to get fancy websites when you really should be investing those savings into your marketing and advertising campaigns. That’s what is going to really grow your business, not a customized website.

One platform I really like is Shopify. They have absolutely everything you need to get started.

  • Secure Shopping Cart
  • Mobile Commerce (customers can buy from your mobile friendly store)
  • Website Builder
  • 100s of professional made themes/templates
  • Customizable (you can modify colors to match your brand/insert logo)
  • Use Your Own Dot-Com Name
  • Easy Website Builder Too
  • Flexible With Most Payment Gateways (Paypal, AuthorizeNet)
  • Calculate Taxes
  • Search Engine Optimized (help potential customers find your store online)
  • Social Media Integration
  • You can still sell on Facebook, LOL

They have so many features and options for you. It only makes good sense to go this route when getting started. As of this writing, they have packages ranging from $29, $79 and $179 per month.

Their Professional Plan is their most popular option, and they have a 14-day free trial.

There are other options as well, and I’ll save that topic for another day. The most important thing is that you get started. Don’t make excuses. What Shopify has is more than enough to get started. If you wish to get something more elaborate, do that after you make some money first — although I can’t imagine anything much more elaborate than what they have.

*Please note, I do have links throughout this post, some of which I collect a commission if you sign-up… I just wanted to disclose that to you as you continue to read through this post.

 Marketing and Growing Your T-shirt Business

There’s no other way to put this, so I’m just going to say it. If you don’t have any money to spend on marketing and advertising your business, then you’re dead in the water before you even get started.

There are a few whack-jobs out there who believe they can build an entire business around SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This is a technique used to make your website search engine friendly, in hopes of getting top rankings on search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing.

I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but it won’t work for ‘MOST’ people. Even if it does, you have absolutely no control over how these search engines manipulate and change their algorithm, which could have you on page 10 overnight.

SEO is ONE strategy of many that you should have as part of your marketing strategy. Relying on one thing for your livelihood is foolishness.

The reason we were so successful was because we were marketing and advertising everywhere our target market was… None of the stuff we were doing was random. It was all calculated and executed.

Know Who Your Customers Are

We had a niche… We sold Christian and religious themed t-shirts to Christians and churches.

In order to be successful faster, and for cheaper, you must identify a niche. In other words, it’s a whole lot easier to make and sell t-shirts to people who are most likely to buy them.

If I was into surfing, then it’s easier for me to come up with slogans and sayings specific to surfers because I’m one of them… I know the language, I know the culture.

Not only that, it’s extremely easy to find surfer dudes (or ladies).  So instead of running a full-page ad in a magazine for dentists — my money would be better spend running a full-page ad in a magazine that’s exclusively for surfers… And there are magazines out their for diehard surfers.

That’s what niche marketing is all about — taking your offer to a group of folks who all share a common thread.

Not only do surfer dudes (and ladies) read and subscribe to niche specific publications, you can also find online forums dedicated exclusively to surfers. And in many cases, you can advertise your brand, or line of t-shirts within those forums–to a specific group of people who are likely to purchase.

The surfers forum below has over 2 million posts:

Their magazine has over 86,000 paid subscribers… In many cases, you can buy the names and addresses of those people who subscribe to the magazine. You can then mail them a catalog of your designs.

Here’s another HUGE community for surfers:

There are trade shows held each year for retailers who cater to surfers… You can rent yourself a booth and sell directly to retailers…  There are competitions and events multiple times a  year — you can rent booth space and sell directly to consumers–a great way to build your brand.

There are different associations you can join and become members — by joining niche specific associations, you’ll be kept in the loop of many of the events, conferences and workshops happening within your industry throughout the year.

The opportunity to get exposure and sales are endless… If you aren’t part of an association, look it up and see if your niche has one… Most do.

If you are just randomly making t-shirts in an effort to try and sell to everybody, then slow down and try to focus in niches. It’s harder trying to sell to everybody, and it costs a lot more money.

Think about Apple. They only make software for their operating system. They’re aren’t trying to be all things to all people. At one point, back in 2012, Apple’s stock rose to a new high — they became the most valuable public company in history… This position has always been held by the big oil companies like Exxon

Apple’s iPhone business alone brings in more money than the entire Microsoft corporation.

Apple has niched itself to riches… It has multiple divisions (or niches)

  • the iPhone
  • the iPad
  • iTunes
  • iMacs
  • MacBooks

If it’s good enough for Apple, then it should be good enough for you…

As I mentioned earlier, my niche catered to churches and Christian folks. We marketed and advertised everywhere we could get our message. We ran ads on…

  • Christian radio stations (in big cities and small rural towns)
  • Christian printed newspapers
  • Christian printed newsletters
  • Christian themed websites
  • Christian themed online newsletters
  • Christian forums
  • Christian magazines
  • We had affiliate programs
  • Direct mail

We were everywhere — now obviously, I didn’t start out that way… I bought one piece of advertisement. Sometimes I made a profit, many times I didn’t. But when we found a profitable venue that made us a return, we reinvested back in that advertisement and then found a 2nd place to advertise; then a 3rd place, and a 4th place, and so on…

There are many online networks where you can get your brand in front of a targeted audience. Some of these sites may only charge you $100 per month to be there — but if you’re bringing in $750 in monthly sales, then it’s obviously a no-brainer to continue advertising.

Some may require you to spend $1,000 or $3,500 per month to advertise on their site… And that’s fine too, considering they have huge amounts of unique visitors coming to their site each month. You’ll generally pay more if they have a HUGE number of people, so you’re essentially paying for their eyeballs.

This business is a numbers game — you need to be testing and tweaking and testing and tweaking…. That’s how you make money in this business.

It’s hard work running a t-shirt business. There are no secrets. You just have to get off your butt and stop making excuses and work. Yes, you will make some mistakes. Yes, you will have some major failures. But that’s part of the business.

If you’re afraid of failure, then don’t even bother stepping foot in this arena. Because I’ll tell you straight up… You’re going to make mistakes and you will have some failures — I guarantee you that much.

But you will never experience success in this business unless you’re willing to take the chance.

 Take a look at our extensive online training course: Click Here

I’ve made every possible mistake known to man when I started my t-shirt business back in 1999. I can save you thousands of dollars just by keeping you from making many of these same mistakes.

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