Business Information Factsheet

Setting Up As A T-Shirt  Printer

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Qualifications and skills
  • Key market issues and trends
  • Trading, commercial and legal issues
  • Legislation
  • Further information

Introduction

T-shirt printers produce garments to order for consumer, trade and corporate customers, charities and other organisations requiring personalised, promotional or branded T-shirts. Sports teams, schools and colleges are key customer groups, as are individuals requiring personalised T-shirts for special events such as stag and hen parties.

Most T-shirt printers operate online, enabling customers to create and order garments customised to their own designs. Some T-shirt printers also print other garments and promotional items, such as sweatshirts, hoodies, caps and mugs.

T-shirts are typically printed using screen printing, digital printing (known as direct-to-garment printing), sublimation printing or thermal transfers. Some T-shirt printers also provide artwork design services, or customised garment labels and packaging, for example for trade customers such as fashion brands.

This profile provides information about starting up and trading as a T-shirt printer. It describes the skills required, the training available, the current market trends and some of the key trading issues. It also explains the legislation that must be complied with and provides sources of further information and support.

The 2020 coronavirus outbreak and resulting Government restrictions have had an impact on all UK business sectors. Appropriate advice should be sought to understand how the outbreak has affected T-shirt printers trading in the UK.

Qualifications and skills

There are no qualifications legally required to start up and run a T-shirt printing business. However, practical and creative printing skills, as well as knowledge and experience of design and print technology, are essential.

Various courses are available that are suitable for T-shirt printers and their staff. Examples of courses and training providers include:

Anyone starting up or running a business as a T-shirt printer will benefit from training in general business and enterprise skills. Suitable courses include:

  • Free webinars provided by HM Revenue & Customs, which cover topics such as business expenses, self-assessment online, VAT, self-employment and becoming an employer. Go to www.gov.uk/government/collections/hmrc-webinars-email-alerts-and-videos for further information.
  • Contracts of Employment, Recruitment and Selection, which is a distance-learning course run by Stonebridge College that may benefit T-shirt printers who are new to recruiting staff. The course costs £110. Go to www.stonebridge.uk.com/course/contracts-of-employment-recruitment-and-selection-byte-size for information.
  • Consumer Rights Training for Retailers – Goods (www.ihasco.co.uk/courses/detail/consumer-rights-for-retailers-goods) and Consumer Rights Training for Retailers – Services (www.ihasco.co.uk/courses/detail/consumer-rights-for-retailers-services), which are 35-minute online courses provided by iHasco that cost £25 each (excluding VAT). The courses briefly explain the Consumer Rights Act 2015, what it applies to and how it relates to the sale of goods and the provision of services. Topics covered include handling customer complaints, fair wording of terms and conditions, and handling disputes, including alternative dispute resolution.
  • Social Marketing Training, which is a collection of six free online courses run by Hootsuite Academy. Topics covered include optimising social media profiles (on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube), developing a social media strategy, building an online community of customers and creating online content that will engage followers’ attention. Go to https://education.hootsuite.com/courses/social-marketing-education for more information.
  • GDPR Online Training, which is a 60-minute course provided by High Speed Training that covers the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Topics covered include recognising personal data, understanding individuals’ rights, the importance of appropriate security measures and the consequences of breaching the legislation. The course costs £25 (excluding VAT). Go to www.highspeedtraining.co.uk/business-skills/gdpr-training.aspx for more information.

Industry news and developments

T-shirt printers can keep up to date with news and developments in their industry and improve their awareness of trends by attending industry events and reading trade journals and resources, including:

  • ‘Images’ (http://images-magazine.com), which is an online trade journal for garment and textile decoration professionals featuring industry news and events, new product profiles, market intelligence and business development advice.
  • ‘Printwear & Promotion’ (www.printwearandpromotion.co.uk), which is an online and print-based trade publication providing industry news, product updates and technology advice and information.
  • ‘PrintWeek’ (www.printweek.com), which is an online trade journal that has news, product releases, reports and interviews relating to all areas of the print industry, including garment printing.
  • ‘T-Shirt Magazine’ (www.t-shirtmagazineonline.com), which is an online trade publication providing news, features, interviews and business advice relating to all areas of T-shirt manufacture, design and marketing, including T-shirt printing.
  • FESPA news (www.fespa.com/en/news-media), which is published by the Federation of Screen and Digital Printers Associations (FESPA) and includes international news and developments in the digital printing industry.
  • Printwear & Promotion LIVE! (www.printwearandpromotionlive.co.uk), which is an annual three-day trade exhibition held each January at the NEC, Birmingham. Exhibitors include suppliers of clothing lines and garment decoration equipment. There is also a seminar programme, a fashion show and a screen printing workshop. The event attracts printers, embroiderers, promotional product distributors and retailers.
  • The Professional Clothing Show (www.professionalclothingshow.com), which is an annual three-day trade exhibition for buyers and suppliers of workwear, corporate wear and personal protective equipment. It is held each June at ExCeL, London. The exhibition provides networking opportunities and insights into the latest workwear and promotional clothing trends.
  • FESPA Global Print Expo (www.fespaglobalprintexpo.com/welcome), which is an annual trade exhibition for screen and digital wide-format print and textile printing. It takes place in a different European city each spring. It features seminars, speakers and awards, as well as the latest technology, equipment and consumables in digital printing, textile printing and garment decoration, exhibited by leading graphic arts suppliers. It is an international event and venues in the past have included Amsterdam and Hamburg.
  • T-shirt Forums (www.t-shirtforums.com), which is a discussion forum providing news about the industry, networking opportunities, the sharing of best practice and troubleshooting tips.

Key market issues and trends

Current market issues affecting T-shirt printers include the following:

  • Customers who order T-shirts online increasingly expect them to be shipped the same day, and T-shirt printers who rely on older technology will find it hard to keep up with this demand for speed. This is according to a forecast of trends in the ‘apparel decoration’ industry published by trade journal ‘Images’ in 2018. The journal also forecast that there will be strong demand for better quality, sustainably produced T-shirt fabrics printed with eco-friendly pigments using lower temperature processes to reduce energy consumption (https://images-magazine.com/crystal-ball-gazing/).
  • Other trends identified in the ‘Images’ forecast include T-shirt printers diversifying to offer a wider range of printed garments and accessories (such as phone cases, tote bags, etc) and the increasing importance of developing effective marketing techniques on social media platforms such as Instagram.
  • According to a blog published by Gearlaunch, Sevenly is among the ‘top five’ T-shirt printing brands marketed on Instagram. Sevenly partners with not-for-profit organisations to create and sell T-shirts that are used to raise awareness and funding for good causes. Other brands in the Gearlaunch top five include Dumbco, which prints humorous T-shirts based on internet memes, and Ink it Out, which offers “tattoo-inspired” prints. For more information, go to http://blog.gearlaunch.com/5-T-shirt-brands-with-the-best-instagram-marketing.
  • New and improved versions of e-commerce software are frequently introduced that make it easier and faster for customers to design, personalise and order T-shirts online. For example, in 2018, DecoNetwork launched the DecoNetwork Version 8 ecommerce suite for apparel decorators (including T-shirt printers). Customers can upload designs and text, customise pre-existing designs and order garments using their mobile phone, tablet or desktop computer. For business customers, DecoNetwork Version 8 can provide quotes and automate the design-approval and sign-off process (https://images-magazine.com/deconetwork-launches-version-8-update/).
  • T-shirt printers face competition from the increasing number of specialist online marketplaces that enable T-shirt retailers to upload designs and sell custom-printed T-shirts to consumers, with the marketplace handling both printing and delivery. Examples include Spreadshirt (www.spreadshirt.co.uk), Redbubble (www.redbubble.com), Gearlaunch (www.gearlaunch.com/how-it-works) and Teezily (www.teezily.com). However, these marketplaces also present opportunities for T-shirt printers because many outsource at least some of their printing.
  • T-shirt printers also face competition from T-shirt retailers on e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, who can use specialist print-on-demand apps to enable customers to place custom orders for printed T-shirts. The many apps available include Printful, teelaunch, Teescape Fulfillment, Printify and Rocketees. However, this may also be a source of outsourcing opportunities for T-shirt printers to fulfil print-on-demand orders on behalf of app providers and e-commerce platforms.
  • In 2018, several fashion brands began supplying T-shirts made from recycled plastic, in response to the sharp rise in consumer concerns about plastic waste pollution. For example, Tech Prep, a T-shirt fabric made from upcycled ocean plastic, was introduced by fashion brand Gant, and a range of T-shirts made from recycled plastic was launched by Anita Dongre on World Environment Day 2018 (www.livemint.com/Leisure/weKo6BvwwZGn0qoMicpX1H/The-future-of-fashion-is-recycled.html).
  • Rising interest in politics and campaigning has created opportunities for T-shirt printers, particularly those that market their services via social media, to specialise in printing T-shirts with political or campaigning slogans. For example, Allriot (www.allriot.com) is an online store that only sells “radical political T-shirts and the most audacious statement apparel”. Online marketplaces with dedicated politics sales categories include Shirtcity (www.shirtcity.co.uk/politics-T-shirts) and Redmolotov.com (www.redmolotov.com/political-tshirts).

Trading, commercial and legal issues

Start-up and established T-shirt printers face the following trading, commercial and legal issues.

Premises and business rates

T-shirt printers require a secure, well-lit workshop with space for tools, printing equipment and supplies. A secure storage area for materials, sundries and finished items is essential. Some T-shirt printers run their business from a home base, while others rent or lease a small workshop or light industrial unit.

A T-shirt printer renting or leasing a workshop will need to budget for costs, including solicitor’s costs, rent, utility bills, water rates and business rates.

Serviced workspace and business incubators often offer workshop or studio space for rent. The Business Centre Association (BCA) maintains a directory of managed workspaces, workshops and studios at www.bca.uk.com/search.

T-shirt printers intending to rent or lease premises will need to enter into a rental agreement with the proprietor or landlord of the premises. The agreement should be in writing and include, for example:

  • The terms covering the duration of the agreement.
  • The rental fee.
  • An inventory of any equipment (such as shop fixtures and fittings) included in the lease.
  • Cancellation terms.

Commercial rent and business rates vary significantly depending on the location, layout and size of the premises. In England and Wales, the Valuation Office Agency (VOA, www.gov.uk/introduction-to-business-rates/overview) is responsible for determining the rateable value of premises based on their size and rental value, and this figure is used by local authority valuation officers to set local business rates.

In Scotland, the determination of business rates is the responsibility of the Scottish Assessors (www.gov.scot/Topics/Government/local-government/17999/11199/brief-guide), and in Northern Ireland, it is dealt with by Land & Property Services, part of the Department of Finance (www.finance-ni.gov.uk/topics/property-rating).

Change-of-use planning permission may be required if the premises were previously used other than for similar business purposes. Go to www.planningportal.co.uk/info/200130/common_projects/9/change_of_use for more information.

T-shirt printers intending to operate from a home base should inform their mortgage company or landlord and check that they are allowed to do this under the terms of their mortgage or tenancy agreement.

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 amended the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 to allow tenants to run a home-based business from a rented residential property under a specific ‘home business tenancy’ granted by their landlord, as long as it is the kind of business that someone could reasonably be expected to run from their home. Go to www.landlordsguild.com/consenting-to-carrying-on-a-home-business for more information.

T-shirt printers intending to operate from a home-based workshop should also contact their local authority to find out whether they will need change-of-use planning permission to run a business from home. This is particularly important in certain circumstances, for example if an outbuilding is to be converted and used as a workshop. Go to www.planningportal.co.uk/info/200130/common_projects/9/change_of_use for more information. Landlords and local authorities may be unwilling to grant permission if, for example, there will be nuisance to neighbours such as noise or parking problems caused by frequent deliveries to the property.

Anyone running a business based at home will need to find out whether they will become liable for business rates. The VOA has information about rates for a home-based business in England and Wales at www.gov.uk/introduction-to-business-rates/working-at-home. Guidance for Scotland is available at www.mygov.scot/business-rates-guidance/do-i-need-to-pay-rates-if-i-work-from-home and guidance for Northern Ireland can be found at www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/rates-and-your-business-premises.

It is also essential to obtain adequate insurance cover both for the home and for business purposes.

Printing techniques and equipment

Different printing techniques vary in the quality and durability of the image that they produce, and in the cost and time involved in completing each order. Many T-shirt printers offer customers a choice of techniques so that they can chose which one best suits their needs.

The cost of equipment and materials required by T-shirt printers varies widely according to the printing techniques they use and the scale of production. Some of the main printing techniques, and approximate costs for the equipment for each technique, are as follows (all prices are exclusive of VAT):

Screen printing

Screen printing requires skilled labour to set up each print run. It produces durable images with significant economy of scale, making it suitable for large-quantity orders. It involves a design being printed onto a garment using Pantone-matched inks that are pressed through a specially created silk mesh screen with a squeegee and then dried using specialist heating machines.

‘Tabletop’ screen-printing kits cost from around £100 for a kit including mesh screen, squeegee, coating trough, and consumables such as inks, degreasing liquid and emulsion.

Screen-printing machinery packages, including press, flash cure unit, exposure unit, drier and a range of tools and consumables such as squeegees, screens, inks, cleaners and paper, cost from around £1,800 to £30,000. Alternatively, items of equipment can be purchased separately.

For examples of suppliers and prices, go to Screen Print World (https://screenprintworld.co.uk), www.wickedprintingstuff.com and www.cadisch.co.uk/screen-printing-kits.

Direct-to-garment printing

This is the process of printing directly onto garments using modified inkjet printing technology. Unlike screen printing, there are no set-up costs for each order, making it suitable for smaller print runs. Orders can be completed within a few hours of being received. Direct-to-garment T-shirt printers cost from around £1,500 to £11,000. Suppliers include Resolute Ink (www.resoluteink.co.uk), YES (www.yesltd.co.uk) and Adelco (www.adelco.co.uk).

Heat-transfer printing

Heat-transfer techniques involve printing designs onto commercial heat-transfer paper using professional-quality inkjet or laser printers, and then applying the paper onto the T-shirt with a heat press. They produce a relatively low-quality image, but allow orders to be completed very quickly.

There are various types of heat presses, including clam presses, swing presses and pneumatic presses. A small clam press can be purchased for around £170, although professional models are more likely to cost between £600 and £2,500. Pneumatic presses are the most suitable for high-volume production and cost from around £600 to £10,000. Suppliers of heat presses include www.xpres.co.ukwww.themagictouch.co.uk and www.thetransferpress.co.uk.

Ink jet and laser printers are both suitable for heat-transfer techniques. Inkjet printers are cheaper, at around £100, but laser printers, costing around £9,000, produce a better-quality finished product.

Most T-shirt printers use a cutter to shape their transfers. Costs of cutters range from around £200 to over £1,000. Ink and toner costs vary according to the type of printer, and transfer paper costs around 40p per sheet when bought in bulk. For examples of suppliers, go to www.xpres.co.uk and www.themagictouch.co.uk/index.html.

Sublimation

Dye sublimation is an innovative printing technique for producing high-quality, full-colour prints that cover the entire T-shirt. The image is printed onto a sheet of specialist paper and transferred onto the T-shirt using heat and pressure that converts the dye into a gas so that it is absorbed by the fabric.

Printers that are suitable for sublimation techniques cost from around £3,000 to £25,000. The price of sublimation ink varies according to the printer used, but sublimation ink is more expensive than inks used in other printing techniques.

For examples of suppliers, go to www.sublimationinks.com/products-category/sublimation/ and www.xpres.co.uk/c-345-hardware-sublimation-printers-xpres.aspx.

For most printing techniques, used printing machinery is available. For example, Screen Print World supplies a range of high-quality used and discontinued screen-printing machinery at https://screenprintworld.co.uk/product-category/equipment/used-equipment/ and YES has used direct-to-garment printers and accessories (www.yesltd.co.uk/used.html).

Sourcing T-shirt blanks

T-shirt printers need to source reliable suppliers of blank T-shirts in various sizes and colours. Blanks are widely available from garment wholesalers and cost from around £1.20 each for bulk orders of 200 or more. T-shirt quality varies and not all are suitable for printing. Popular brands of T-shirts used by printers include Hanes, Fruit of the Loom and Gildan. It is important to test samples of different garments on printing equipment to ensure that the fabric is suitable before ordering in bulk. Examples of wholesale T-shirt suppliers in the UK include www.buytshirtsonline.co.uk and www.qtag.com.

T-shirt blanks that are certified as environmentally friendly and ethically manufactured without exploiting third-world workers cost from around £3.00 each (minimum orders may apply). For an example of a supplier, go to www.shirtworks.co.uk/products/fairtrade-fairwear-clothing/.

Applying for a trade credit account

Typically, wholesalers and other suppliers require new trade customers, such as start-up T-shirt printers, to pay for stock at the time of purchase. However, many offer trade credit accounts to regular, established customers.

T-shirt printers will usually be asked to provide the following information when applying for a trade credit account:

  • The full name and address of the business, including any trading names.
  • The trading status of the business (sole trader, partnership or limited company).
  • Company registration number and registered office address, if appropriate, as well as the invoice and delivery addresses, if these are different.
  • Details of two trade references and permission to seek bank and credit references.

Wholesalers and other suppliers usually carry out credit checks on new customers applying for a trade account. This includes taking up references, reviewing published accounts (if available) and checking public registers such as County Court Judgments.

Sourcing workwear and protective clothing for use by T-shirt printers

T-shirt printers require workwear such as protective overalls or aprons, gloves and masks to minimise health and safety risks from contact with machinery or potentially harmful substances such as printing inks, dyes and cleaning fluids.

Black PVC aprons typically cost from around £11 for a pack of five, while boilersuits cost from around £11 each. Disposable gloves cost from around £4 for a box of 100, heavyweight chemical gloves cost from around £2.85 per pair and masks cost from around £2 each (all prices exclude VAT).

Suppliers of protective workwear include www.protecdirect.co.ukwww.arco.co.uk and www.screwfix.com.

Most T-shirt printers provide basic designs, graphics, wording and clip art to which customers can add their own images. Alternatively, some customers choose T-shirts with ready-made designs or they can upload their own designs or photographs to be printed.

Under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988, the copyright of original images, including photographs, is protected by law.

T-shirt printers must ensure that they do not infringe the intellectual property rights of copyright owners. Their terms and conditions (Ts and Cs) should specify that it is the customer’s responsibility to ensure that they have the copyright owner’s permission for the use of any images they submit to the T-shirt printer. Ts and Cs should also state whether the printer will retain the copyright of designs that they have themselves created for customers.

If a T-shirt printer commissions design work from third parties, such as graphic designers or illustrators, the printer should ensure that any contracts they enter into make clear whether the copyright for the finished work will transfer to the printer, or if the designer will license the work only for a specific use.

If a T-shirt printer is using characters, designs, images or templates created by other organisations such as TV or film companies, a licence to use the character or image will be required and royalties will be payable to either the copyright owner or a copyright licensing body that collects royalties on copyright owners’ behalf (known as a collecting society).

The Intellectual Property Office has published guidance about using digital images that have been downloaded from the internet at www.gov.uk/government/publications/copyright-notice-digital-images-photographs-and-the-internet.

The Copyright Hub is an online source of information relating to all copyright issues in the UK. It includes information about how to get permission to use copyright material and how to protect creative work. Go to www.copyrighthub.co.uk for details.

Go to https://licensing.disney.com/licensee-requirements/?lang=en for information about how the Disney Corporation treats requests to use its characters or images under licence.

Providing customers with quotations

For straightforward orders, many T-shirt printers have online tools that enable customers to select a style, size, colour and number of T-shirts, upload images and place orders or receive an instant quote. T-shirt printers who do not accept orders via an e-commerce website will take details of customers’ requirements by e-mail, over the phone or in person at their workshop premises.

For large or complicated orders, for example when trade customers have very specific requirements about the appearance of a corporate logo on a printed T-shirt, T-shirt printers usually request that the customer contact them to discuss their needs before a quote is provided. During this discussion, the T-shirt printer should advise the customer about the printing techniques that they offer and establish which one the customer wants to use. They should assess the images that the customer wishes to have printed, to determine whether they have been submitted in a high enough resolution and will produce an adequate print. To ensure that colours are correctly reproduced, it is advisable to ask the customer so supply Pantone reference numbers.

Following this discussion, T-shirt printers should provide a fully costed written quotation.

Terms and conditions of business

As best practice, T-shirt printers should provide all customers with their standard terms and conditions (Ts and Cs) of business alongside their written quotation. These will effectively form a contract once the customer accepts the terms and decides to order the T-shirts.

Under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 (CCRs), T-shirt printers must provide ‘consumers’ (meaning customers who are acting for purposes unconnected with their business or profession) with certain pre-contract information, such as their pricing, payment and cancellation terms.

As best practice, this information should be provided as part of the T-shirt printer’s Ts and Cs, which should typically include:

  • Their trading name, address and telephone number, along with their limited company number and VAT registration number, if applicable.
  • The business name that will appear on any credit or debit card statements, which is often different to the trading name.
  • Clear details about pricing, including delivery charges, and payment terms. Many T-shirt printers require payment in full before they begin to process an order.
  • Details of their cancellation policy. Typically, T-shirt printers do not offer any refund if an order is cancelled after work has already begun.
  • The typical time taken to complete an order, and how the customer will be informed if the order is delayed.
  • A disclaimer indicating that small variations, including colour variations, may occur in the finished products.
  • A clause giving the T-shirt printer the right to refuse to print any offensive designs submitted by customers.
  • The rights and responsibilities of each party. For example, T-shirt printers generally specify that it is the customer’s responsibility to submit images in an acceptable format (eg Adobe Illustrator) and check that all details of an order are correct before they confirm it.
  • Indemnification against claims of copyright infringement if the customer supplies designs for use on T-shirts without the permission of the creator or copyright owner, and a statement that designs that are originated by the printer remain the printer’s property.

It is worthwhile having a solicitor draft or review Ts and Cs to ensure they comply with the law.

T-shirt printers who accept orders from consumers online must make a cancellation form available, based on a model cancellation form that can be viewed at www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2013/3134/schedule/3/made. If the consumer uses the cancellation form provided online, the retailer must confirm its receipt and acknowledge the cancellation of the order.

T-shirt printers who accept orders online must also meet the requirements of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002. This includes providing clear information about the technical steps to follow to conclude the contract, and how the consumer can identify any input errors before confirming their order.

Setting up an e-commerce website

Some T-shirt printers build and manage their own e-commerce websites, using platforms such as Shopify (www.shopify.co.uk/online), which provides a range of options for selling online:

Other e-commerce platforms include:

Providers of e-commerce platforms typically charge a monthly fee, as well as commission for each item sold via their platform.

Selling through online marketplaces

Many T-shirt printers trade via online marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay.

An ‘Amazon Pro’ account (which is for retailers who sell more than 35 items monthly) costs £25 per month. There is no per-item listing fee; however there is typically a ‘referral fee’ of around 15% per item. For more information about Amazon’s fees for retailers, go to https://services.amazon.co.uk/services/sell-online/pricing.html.

T-shirt printers who intend to start selling on eBay must register and set up an eBay business account. For more information, go to www.ebay.co.uk/pages/help/account/how-to-register-business.html. T-shirt printers can choose to set up an ‘eBay Shop’, displaying all their stock for a monthly subscription fee. Shops can be personalised with their brand name, images and logo.

Fees charged by eBay to T-shirt printers with a business account vary according to what is sold, how listings are set up and whether or not the seller has an eBay Shop. Go to https://sellercentre.ebay.co.uk/business/fees for more information.

Pricing and VAT

Prices charged for printing T-shirts vary according to the printing method, the type of garment blank, the complexity of the design and the number of garments ordered. Pricing also depends on whether there is any copyright licence fee or custom-printing of the customer’s own design.

For example, a single plain white women’s T-shirt, customised with an image, would typically be priced at around £12 to £15 per garment, although some large, well established T-shirt printing firms offer basic garments at prices starting from around £7.50 each.

Other custom-printed garments such as hoodies are typically priced much higher, for example at around £50 for a single garment, falling to around £45 for bulk orders of between 51 and 100 garments. Go to www.zazzle.co.uk/custom/clothing and www.streetshirts.co.uk for examples of prices.

Adult’s clothing sold by a T-shirt printer is standard-rated for VAT and proprietors must register for VAT once their turnover reaches the mandatory threshold. However, clothing for children aged 13 and under is zero-rated for VAT. Go to www.gov.uk/guidance/rates-of-vat-on-different-goods-and-services for more information about VAT rates and the current VAT registration threshold.

Taking payment

A Chip and PIN machine will be required to process credit and debit card payments. Examples of providers include Lloyds Bank (https://lloydsbankcardnet.com), Worldpay (www.worldpay.com/uk/sme/face-face/card-machines) and Chip & PIN Solutions (www.chipandpinsolutions.co.uk). Alternatively, machines can be leased from banks. Equipment rental costs between £15 and £35 a month, plus per-transaction charges starting from 3%.

It will be necessary to apply for a merchant account to process online payments. Examples include PayPal (www.paypal.com/uk/webapps/mpp/home), Worldpay (www.worldpay.com/uk) and Nochex (www.nochex.com).

Most T-shirt printers take payment via smartphone apps and card readers. Examples of providers include:

  • iZettle (www.izettle.com/gb), which requires a contactless reader that can be purchased for around £60 and charges variable rates on a percentage basis depending on sales figures. iZettle also includes bookkeeping tools and sales reports to record transactions.
  • PayPal Here (www.paypal.com/uk/webapps/mpp/credit-card-reader), which requires a card reader costing £45 (excluding VAT), although this cost may vary. The fee per transaction is based on total monthly sales volume.
  • SumUp (https://sumup.co.uk), which requires a card reader costing £29 (excluding VAT) and charges a fee of around 1.7% per transaction.

Consumer protection legislation

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, items supplied to consumers by T-shirt printers must be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. The T-shirt printer’s services must be provided with reasonable care and skill and for a reasonable charge.

Consumers can claim a full refund if T-shirts supplied by the printer are not of a reasonable quality or not as described.

Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, it is an offence for a T-shirt printer to mislead or otherwise act unfairly towards a consumer in the course of promoting, selling or supplying a product or service to them, whether before, during or after the transaction. For example, if a T-shirt printer misleads a consumer by claiming skills and experience that they do not have, they will have committed a criminal offence.

Business protection legislation

Under business protection legislation, a T-shirt printer’s trade customers have many of the same protections that are provided to consumers.

The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 makes it an implied term of business-to-business contracts that goods, such as printed T-shirts, must be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. The T-shirt printer’s services must also be provided with reasonable care and skill and for a reasonable charge.

The Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 make it a criminal offence for T-shirt printers to make misleading claims to their trade customers (for example by claiming knowledge and experience that they do not have). The Regulations also make it a criminal offence for T-shirt printers to promote their business by making unfair comparisons between their own services and those of other T-shirt printers or similar traders.

Privacy and data protection

To comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), any personally identifiable information or data that the T-shirt printer holds about their customers or employees should be stored securely and used only for the lawful purpose for which it was collected.

Guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) about complying with data protection legislation is available at https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/.

Customer parcel deliveries

T-shirt printers who accept orders online will need to arrange delivery by courier or parcel service. T-shirts will need to be wrapped and packed carefully to ensure that they are not damaged in transit.

T-shirt printers can list items requiring delivery on auction-based trade exchanges that enable couriers to bid for jobs on a ‘reverse auction’ basis, where the lowest bidder wins the contract. Examples include Delivery Quote Compare (www.deliveryquotecompare.com) and Shiply (www.shiply.com).

T-shirt printers typically charge customers a delivery fee, which varies according to the size, weight and value of the order.

Boxes, mailing bags and other packaging (which can be branded with the T-shirt printer’s logo) can be sourced from suppliers such as Kite Packaging (www.kitepackaging.co.uk) and UK Packaging (www.ukplc.co.uk).

Health and safety

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 require T-shirt printers to protect the health and safety of their employees and anyone else that may be affected by their business activities, such as suppliers, customers and members of the public.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, all employers, and those who are self-employed, are required to undertake a risk assessment of their workplace and work activities, and to provide employees with adequate health and safety training. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publishes a guide to carrying out a risk assessment at www.hse.gov.uk/risk/controlling-risks.htm.

According to the HSE, T-shirt printers face significant risk of injury from contact with printing equipment, for example when cleaning presses or freeing up blockages. Typical injuries include cuts, fractures, dislocations and crushing injuries to fingers and hands. Causes of accidents include an absence of properly fitted guards, poor maintenance of guards and ‘unsafe interventions’ (for example attempting to unblock presses without first following a procedure to ensure that they have been shut down).

The HSE recommends measures such as checking that equipment is adequately guarded and providing training to employees in order to minimise these risks; go to www.hse.gov.uk/printing/machine/index.htm for more information.

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 (and equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland) set out requirements regarding the use and maintenance of work equipment and protective clothing, and the training of employees in their use. A T-shirt printer should ensure that they and their employees wear protective clothing such as overalls, masks and gloves when appropriate. They should also ensure that the correct guards are fitted on printing machines. There are guides on how to comply with both Regulations on the HSE’s website at www.hse.gov.uk/work-equipment-machinery/puwer.htm and www.hse.gov.uk/toolbox/ppe.htm.

The HSE also advises that chemicals used in printing can cause health problems through skin contact and through the inhalation of vapours and mists from dyes and inks. It provides detailed information about risks associated with printing chemicals at www.hse.gov.uk/printing/coshhessentials and www.hse.gov.uk/printing/coshhessentials/printing-process-chemicals.pdf.

Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH), employers are required to put health and safety measures in place to protect themselves, employees and customers from health risks arising from exposure to potentially harmful substances. For example, a T-shirt printer must take care to ensure that they and their employees are protected from the potentially harmful effects of exposure to inks, dyes and cleaning fluids. Go to www.hse.gov.uk/coshh and www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg136.pdf for more information.

According to guidance from the HSE, T-shirt printers must ensure that areas used for storing potentially harmful substances are well organised and well ventilated. Containers should be clearly labelled and heavier containers stored on lower shelves. Go to www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/guidance/sr24.pdf to view the guidance.

Under the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, T-shirt printers must assess and manage potential risks of electrical equipment that they use in the course of their business, such as printers and computers, and regularly assess their safety, for example by carrying out regular visual checks and arranging formal PAT (portable appliance testing) (www.hse.gov.uk/electricity/faq-portable-appliance-testing.htm).

Under the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, T-shirt printers should assess risks arising from the lifting or moving of heavy items such as boxes of garments or printing inks and ensure that any unnecessary lifting is avoided.

In England and Wales, under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, it is a legal requirement for T-shirt printers to install appropriate fire detection and prevention equipment on their premises. This typically includes an automatic fire detection system with manual break-glass points (costing from around £300) and portable fire extinguishers (costing from around £30). Similar requirements apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Fire safety equipment suppliers include Discount Fire Supplies (www.discountfiresupplies.co.uk) and Fire Safety Equipment (www.firesafetyequipment.co.uk).

Under the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 and equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland, most T-shirt printers are required to provide first-aid equipment. First-aid kits cost from around £10 and can be sourced from online suppliers such as Eureka! Direct (www.eurekadirect.co.uk/First-Aid-Supplies) and Safety First Aid (www.safetyfirstaid.co.uk).

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland place a duty on all employers to ensure that the workplace meets the health, safety and welfare needs of all employees, including those with disabilities. They cover all aspects of the working environment, including the provision and maintenance of equipment, ventilation, temperature, lighting, toilets and washing facilities, and provision of drinking water. Go to www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg244.htm for information.

Waste disposal

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Waste and Contaminated Land (Northern Ireland) Order 1997, T-shirt printers must ensure that any trade waste they produce in the course of their business is properly and safely disposed of. T-shirt printers need to dispose of, or recycle, printing ink containers, small quantities of leftover ink and dye, backing papers from heat-transfer printing processes and damaged or unsaleable garments, such as incorrectly printed T-shirts.

Some local authorities provide collection services for general trade waste produced by T-shirt printers. Alternatively, a licensed waste carrier can be contracted directly to do this. Go to https://environment.data.gov.uk/public-register/view/search-waste-carriers-brokers to search for licensed waste carriers.

The Textile Recycling Association is the trade body that represents used clothing collectors, sorters and reprocessors. It maintains a list of licensed clothing waste handlers, which can be viewed at www.textile-recycling.org.uk/memlist.htm.

Under the Water Industry Act 1991, which applies in England and Wales, the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which applies in Scotland, and the Water (Northern Ireland) Order 1999, waste water produced by T-shirt printers, such as water that may contain residues of ink or cleaning fluid, is classed as ‘trade effluent’ and, depending on the scale of their activities, T-shirt printers may require formal consent from their water company to dispose of this waste water at their premises.

In England and Wales, they should find out if they need trade effluent consent by contacting their local water company, for example Northumbrian Water (www.nwl.co.uk/services/business/trade-effluent/) or Welsh Water (www.dwrcymru.com/en/Business/Trade-Effluent.aspx). In Scotland, this is handled by Scottish Water (www.scottishwater.co.uk/business/our-services/compliance/trade-effluent) and in Northern Ireland by Northern Ireland Water (www.niwater.com/trade-effluent-charges).

Trade associations

Membership of a trade association can provide a wide range of individual and business benefits. Relevant associations include:

  • FESPA UK Association represents UK screen and digital wide-format print service providers, including garment printers. It also represents UK suppliers of goods and services to these printers. Membership benefits include discounted training, networking opportunities, technical advice, and support with employment legislation, tax, and health and safety requirements. The annual membership fee is based on turnover and starts at £150. Go to www.fespauk.com for more information.
  • PROMOTA is the Promotional Merchandise Trade Association, which represents UK suppliers and distributors of all kinds of promotional products, including T-shirts. Members can access a range of benefits, including advertising opportunities, use of the PROMOTA logo, discounted insurance, networking events and discounted delivery services. Membership fees are available on request from PROMOTA. Applicants must provide two referees, who must be PROMOTA members that they have done business with. For details, go to www.promota.co.uk/about-us.

Promotion

Opportunities for promoting a T-shirt printing service include:

  • Listing the business in a specialist online directory, such as Printers In (www.printersin.co.uk/t-shirt-printing-c131.html), which costs £30 a year (excluding VAT), and Promotional Directory (www.promotionaldirectory.co.uk/promotional-clothing-suppliers/tee-shirt/537/suppliers.aspx), which provides prices for listings on request.
  • Networking with local organisations that may require T-shirt printing services, such as schools, universities, hotels, event organisers, local clubs and sports teams.
  • Sponsoring a local sports team and printing the team’s T-shirts with the T-shirt printer’s logo to increase awareness of the service.
  • Attending local business networking events. Organisations including local Chambers of Commerce (www.britishchambers.org.uk) provide networking opportunities for their members. A useful directory of local networking events is available at www.findnetworkingevents.com.
  • Creating a Facebook business page. Facebook pages can be customised with the T-shirt printing firm’s name, logo and other information, and regularly updated with photos, articles and special offers. Go to www.facebook.com/monsterpressstudio and www.facebook.com/pages/Oriss-T-shirt-Printing-Embroidery/174803952576040 for examples of T-shirt printers with a Facebook business page. Go to www.facebook.com/business for further information about how to use Facebook for business promotion.
  • Creating an Instagram business profile, uploading photographs and videos and using an Instagram selling tool to enable Instagram users to purchase T-shirts. Information about how to use Instagram to promote a business is available at https://business.instagram.com/gettingstarted.
  • Uploading images to other social media and photo-sharing websites such as Twitter (https://twitter.com), Instagram (www.instagram.com) and Pinterest (www.pinterest.co.uk) of, for example, new stock. Go to https://twitter.com/allriot_tshirts and https://twitter.com/garmentprinting?lang=en for examples of other T-shirt printers doing this.
  • Attending and exhibiting at wedding fairs, which provide opportunities for T-shirt printers to showcase their work to potential customers who are organising stag and hen parties. Go to www.allweddingfayres.co.uk for a list of wedding fairs around the country.
  • Creating a five-minute video tutorial about T-shirt printing, uploading it onto online video-sharing websites such as YouTube and including a link back to the business’ website. Go to www.youtube.com and enter ‘T-shirt printing’ in the search box for examples of other T-shirt printers doing this.
  • Advertising in the hard copy and online versions of local business directories such as Yellow Pages (www.yell.com) and Thomson Local (www.thomsonlocal.com). Yahoo Local (www.infoserve.com/local-listings/yahoo-local) provides free listings for services such as T-shirt printing by location.
  • Using Google My Business (www.google.com/business) to edit and update the information about their business that appears in Google search results and Google Maps, for example by adding details of opening hours. Google My Business also enables retailers to respond to customer reviews and to view statistics about how customers find their business information via Google, and what they do with the information.
  • Adding their details and location to Apple Maps, which enable customers to find shops near to them using their Apple devices, such as iPhones, tablets and smart watches. Go to https://mapsconnect.apple.com for more information.

Insurance

A T-shirt printer requires several types of insurance cover, including:

  • Public liability insurance, which covers a T-shirt printer against claims for compensation from customers, suppliers and members of the public injured or adversely affected as a result of its activities.
  • Professional indemnity insurance, which covers a T-shirt printer against claims relating to copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation.
  • Employers’ liability insurance, which is mandatory as soon as the T-shirt printer employs staff.
  • Legal expenses insurance, which provides cover for defending or pursuing claims arising from contractual disputes with suppliers or landlords, or to defend employment tribunal cases.
  • Cyber-security insurance to cover the T-shirt printer for the cost of computer system restoration and recovery of compromised data as a result of cyberattacks and to compensate customers or suppliers affected by data breaches as a result of a cyberattack.
  • Building and contents cover, which will be needed to cover the T-shirt printer’s premises, office and IT systems, equipment and stock against accidental damage, fire, flood, theft and any business interruption arising as a result.
  • Cover for use of any vehicles for business purposes, which must include a minimum of third-party cover.
  • Adequate goods-in-transit insurance to cover any stock that is delivered to customers by courier or parcel post.

Specialist insurance for T-shirt printers is available from insurers such as the Blackfriars Group (www.blackfriarsgroup.com/t-shirt-printing-insurance) and Fastbusinessinsurance.com (www.fastbusinessinsurance.com/types/printing-screen-printing).

Legislation

This section provides an at-a-glance list of the legislation that T-shirt printers must comply with. Professional advice about the impact of legislation should always be taken before making any business decisions. Relevant legislation includes the following:

  • The Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 make it a criminal offence for T-shirt printers to make misleading claims to their trade customers (for example by claiming knowledge and experience that they do not have). They also make it a criminal offence for T-shirt printers to make unfair comparisons between their own services and those of other T-shirt printers.
  • The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 (CCRs) govern all types of contract between T-shirt printers and consumers (individuals who are acting for purposes unconnected to their business or profession). They require T-shirt printers to provide consumers with certain pre-contractual information, such as pricing, payment and cancellation terms.
  • Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, it is an offence for a T-shirt printer to mislead or otherwise act unfairly towards a consumer in the course of promoting, selling or supplying a service to them, whether before, during or after the transaction.
  • Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, printed T-shirts supplied to consumers must be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. The T-shirt printer’s services must also be carried out with reasonable care and skill, within a reasonable time and for a reasonable charge.
  • The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) require T-shirt printers to put health and safety measures in place to protect themselves, employees and customers from health risks arising from exposure to potentially harmful substances, such as inks and cleaning solvents. In Northern Ireland, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003 (COSHH) apply.
  • The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 protects the copyright of original images such as original designs and photographs printed on T-shirts. Copyright is automatically assigned to the creator of the work.
  • Under the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, T-shirt printers must assess and manage potential risks of electrical equipment that they use in the course of their business, such as printers and computers, and regularly assess their safety, for example by carrying out regular visual checks and arranging formal PAT (portable appliance testing). The Regulations apply in England, Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, similar provisions are made under the Electricity at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1991.
  • The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 require T-shirt printers who accept orders online to provide clear information about the technical steps to follow to conclude the contract and about how the consumer can identify any input errors before confirming their order.
  • The Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Controlled Waste (Duty of Care) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2002 impose a legal duty on T-shirt printers to ensure that any trade waste they produce in the course of their business is properly and safely disposed of.
  • The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 require T-shirt printers to protect the health and safety of their employees and anyone else that may be affected by their business activities, such as suppliers, customers and members of the public.
  • The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 and the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1982 require most UK employers to provide first-aid equipment, such as a first-aid kit, in the workplace.
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers and self-employed people to carry out a risk assessment of their workplace and work activities and to provide adequate health and safety training for employees. In Northern Ireland, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000 apply.
  • The Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992 require T-shirt printers to assess the risk of injury to themselves and their employees and to ensure that any unnecessary lifting is avoided.
  • The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1999 require equipment used at work to be suitable for its purpose, maintained in good working order and inspected regularly. The Regulations also require employees to be trained in its safe use.
  • Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 and the Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010, T-shirt printers must install appropriate fire detection and prevention equipment on their premises.
  • The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 makes it an implied term of business-to-business contracts that goods supplied must be of satisfactory quality, as described and fit for purpose. The T-shirt printer’s services must also be carried out with reasonable care and skill, within a reasonable time and for a reasonable charge. Some provisions of the Act have been introduced in Scotland through the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994. However, common law in Scotland has a similar effect to the Act.
  • The Water Industry Act 1991 applies in England and Wales and makes it an offence to pollute controlled waters. In Scotland, the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 applies, and in Northern Ireland, the Groundwater Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009 apply.
  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993 place a duty on employers to ensure that the workplace meets the health, safety and welfare needs of all employees, including those with disabilities.