What I Learned From Spending $1k on Photographing Blank T-Shirts

October 5, 2015

I’ve been really diving into the market of designing t-shirts for the music industry and apparel brands over the past couple of years.

Out of all the t-shirts I’ve been designing, there’s one common thing in each project – the t-shirt mockup.

I’ve been using several different t-shirt mockups my entire graphic design career, and they get the job done, but they could be better. Either the mockup is just a photo of a t-shirt that you can change the color of, or it doesn’t accurately display the artwork to what it’d actually look like printed.

The only way to solve this problem was to create my own, so that’s what I did!

I spent nearly $1,000 on blank t-shirts and upgrading my photography equipment to custom design my own t-shirt mockups.

I either blew a bunch of money on a new wardrobe of blank t-shirts, or I made one of my best business moves this year that’ll help grow my freelance business.

That’s what I’m going to share here – what I learned from spending nearly $1,000 on photographing blank t-shirts.

Why I Spent Nearly $1k on Blank T-Shirts

Spending nearly $1,000 on blank t-shirts and photography equipment isn’t a decision I easily made on a whim.

I truly love designing t-shirts, and it’s work I can see myself fully niching down in, so the first reason behind this decision was it being an investment on getting a better understanding of the work.

I get to experience what it’s like to contact and purchase straight from the t-shirt manufacturer. Then once I got my hands on the blank shirts, I could physically feel and examine the garments; what the different blends looked like in person vs. a photo online, how they fit, etc.

These blank shirts were the key item to this project. If I wanted to get high quality photos of these shirts with unique wrinkles that you wouldn’t see anywhere else, then I had to get my hands on them.

Aside from the shirts, I also needed to upgrade my photography equipment in order to shoot these shirts effectively and professionally. Not only will these upgrades help me in this project, it’s also an investment for future projects, like the videos I shoot and the countless other photos I’ll need to take in my journey freelancing.

Breakdown of what I purchased

To create these custom t-shirt mockups, I needed a few things:

  • Blank t-shirts
  • Tripod with horizontal arm
  • Lighting kit
  • Flat white background
  • Computer setup for easy photo capture and quick editing

Blank t-shirts

Blank Next Level Tri-Blend T-Shirts

In order to create my own t-shirt mockups, I needed the shirts to photograph. In order to get the shirts I had to research manufacturers, and contact them for samples.

I decided to go with Next Level Apparel, because it’s a comparable brand to American Apparel, and with everything American Apparel has going on internally as a company lately, I wanted to explore a solid alternative to learn more about.

Photography Setup

Computer Setup

In order to get an accurate photo of each shirt in many different wrinkle patterns, I needed a setup to capture consistent looking photos. The angle couldn’t change, lighting has to be consistent, and it needs to be flat on the floor.

In order to make this happen, I needed a new (crazy awesome) tripod that can take straight down photos. I researched and researched for what was needed. I actually purchased one tripod with a horizontal arm separately, but once I received it, the tripod wasn’t as sturdy as I’d like and the it was such a hassle to set up the separate side arm.

I returned the setup I purchased and went back to researching. Then I stumbled across this Manfrotto Tripod with a built-in horizontal column. It was everything I needed, all-in-one! I knew it would get the job done and it was a huge upgrade from the $20 tripod I was currently using, so I bit the bullet and invested in it.

As for everything else, I purchased what I knew I needed: I needed plywood for a flat surface to use in my office (which is currently carpet), a seamless white paper background, and better lighting.

Computer setup

Once I had everything in hand and set up, it was time to put these pricey assets to use!

Rather than depend on the tiny inaccurate display on my Nikon D5100, I purchased a 15ft USB cable to tether my camera to my computer.

This way I can open up Adobe Lightroom and instantly tweak and capture photos directly to my computer.

Price Breakdown

$14.42 - Plywood
$349.88 - Tripod
$86.77 - Tripod Ball Head
$49.50 - Umbrella Lighting Kit
$38.04 - Seamless White Background Paper
$45.72 - 15ft USB Tethering Cable for Nikon
$150.85 - Next Level Blank T-Shirts
$735.18 - TOTAL

Ouch… Now that put a ding in my business finances. However, majority of the equipment is reusable for many other aspects of my business. The only thing that doesn’t have a long-term use are the t-shirts. Once I get every photo needed, they just become part of my brand research and then part of my wardrobe.

However, I do have a plan on making my money back aside from just reselling my own assets to other t-shirt designers.

How Can I Turn a Profit?

I can’t just blow nearly $1k on new equipment and not plan a return on investment. I made this decision and purchases knowing I’ll be able to put these assets to good use.

  • The mockups will improve the look of my work.
  • The mockups will help in marketing my freelance business and brand.
  • I can create 3–4 digital products and sell them to other t-shirt designers in need of professional, premium t-shirt mockups.
  • I now have the necessary equipment to take t-shirt product photos for my clients.
  • Upgraded equipment can be put to use on all future projects.

What Can You Learn From All This?

It’s hard to know when making an investment is a smart decision to make for your business. Whether you’re investing in new equipment, a new website, a product line, etc.

There will always be risk to investing – no matter how large or small.

Investment + Risk = Growth = Success

When you’re trying to grow as a freelancer, there are countless times you’ll be presented with opportunities, which most likely will be outside of your comfort zone. These are the best opportunities to take if you’re looking to grow.

Invest in new projects. Invest in yourself. Invest in ways you can turn a profit. Then use this opportunity to teach. Share everything along the way to enhance your brand. I’ve learned you can use what you’re doing to market your business. (That’s what I’m doing here in this post, which brings me to...)

My Instant Tri-Blend T-Shirt Mockups are Available

My first product with this investment is live and available for purchase on Creative Market!

If you’re designing t-shirts for clients, improving your portfolio, or mocking up your next product, this is a must-have resource.

Instant Tri-Blend T-Shirt Mockups
Before - After T-Shirt Mockup

Purchase My Instant Tri-Blend T-Shirt Mockups

If you have any questions about what I've shared here, please don't hesitate to comment or reach out to me directly!

See my latest work and more on Instagram @BrentGalloway