Are you looking to start your own screen print shop, working from your home? It sounds pretty appealing, being your own boss, choosing your own hours, working from your house and avoiding all that crazy traffic – and being creative simultaneously. That said, what do you need to get started? A screen-printing kit is probably where you’ll start the list, but it’s not where you’ll finish it – you will need a few more bits and pieces before you can get going, or you won’t be going far.
Doing some research in advance will increase your chances of getting good prints immediately and decrease your chances of spending money and then finding out that you need equipment you can’t afford, which would waste your initial investment.
Screen printing can be a surprisingly daunting business to get into, as you need to build up expertise on how to do it properly – and that’s on top of the purchases for equipment and materials you’ll need. The good news is that it’s not as hard as it seems once you get going!
What Do You Need for a Home Screen-Printing Business?
A screen printing kit covers quite a broad range of equipment, and while you may not need the latest screen printing presses with plenty of bells and whistles when you’re only starting out, you still need a basic starter kit to get printing.
Firstly, you need a way to dry your ink; otherwise, you risk getting smudgy, smeared work and wasting a lot of precious time. You can theoretically dry ink out with a heat gun if you have one handy, but it’s not easy to get consistent heat applied to the garment, which can be very time-consuming and may result in poor-quality prints.
You would be better off purchasing a flash dryer, especially if you’re doing multiple prints. A flash dryer will apply heat across your entire print, ensuring even distribution across your print. This will give you a very professional finish and the confidence that your prints have been properly dried.
But you can’t just apply inks to the garments by hand. You need mesh screens to get the design you want on a garment. High mesh counts are better for fine details, while low mesh counts are suitable for images that don’t require finesse. If you’re going for blocky and simple images to start with, you can afford to get the lower mesh counts. Make sure you know the purpose of different types of mesh screens before buying any – the quality and type of screens you acquire can make a big difference to your prints.
DalesWay points out you also need an inkjet printer to create a film positive. This will help you create the stencils you’ll need by printing designs on a special kind of film – which you’ll also need to buy – that lets UV light through the transparent areas but blocks UV light wherever the artwork has been printed.
You’ll also need an exposure unit to burn the images onto the screen. Various kinds are available, and the quality you can get will depend on how much of a budget you have to play with. You might be able to manage with a simple light bulb setup in your darkroom, but if you can afford to spend a bit more upfront, you’ll find LED units last longer and use a lot less electricity, saving you money on two fronts. They also tend to produce crisper outlines for better prints.
Space is another important factor to consider. Without enough space, you’ll struggle because you need a darkroom for preparing your screens and a washout area to clean your screens off excess inks and other chemicals. You also can’t flush them down the standard household drain!
On that last point, if you can’t afford to add a washout booth, you’ll have to devise alternative ways to avoid your screen printing waste going down household drains, or you’ll end up with an expensive plumbing bill. If you can afford a washout booth, get one pronto. Moreover, you might run into trouble with the law if your waste goes down household drains!
Next, you’ll need a heat press, and there are many options out there. Imprint Next discusses some of the benefits of having a proper press versus screen clamps when it comes to creating a t-shirt screen printing kit.
Another important element of your DIY screen printing kit is a computer that is capable of doing designs. That means you can create your designs on a reasonably powerful laptop or desktop with some vector software; Microsoft Paint won’t cut it!
Next, if you’re creating a t-shirt printing kit, you’ll want something which helps you to cure the image onto the t-shirt. Remember that clothing needs to stand up to constant washing, and if your designs fade fast, you’ll hear a lot from dissatisfied customers. ScreenPrinting suggests using your flash dryer(s) to cure clothes, which helps to keep costs low if you’re just getting started. However, variables in temperature and the materials in use can affect the curing times and, thus, the final product.
If you can afford it, a conveyor dryer is a good addition to a screen press kit and will let you produce consumables faster, as they can handle multiple t-shirts simultaneously. If you can’t afford one immediately, keep your eyes open for second-hand options and put money aside to buy one.
Consumables You’ll Need To Keep Buying
Obviously, your printing kit is not complete without the gear you’re actually going to be using up every time you print something. This should be something you budget for when you’re getting set up.
Don’t buy vast quantities of stock immediately, but make sure you have enough to get a feel for the equipment and give yourself enough leeway to allow for test pieces and accidents. Once you get a handle on things, you can confidently acquire what you need for the jobs ahead.
Obviously, the first thing on the list of consumables is ink. You should research the types of ink available and what they’re best used for. For beginners, start with plastisol, especially if you’re feeling nervous. Plastisol inks are easier to handle because they don’t dry out quickly and provide great color consistency.
There are also water-based inks. Icon Printing explains that these inks give you a more pleasant hand, making the image feel like a “part” of the clothing. However, water-based inks can be tricky to handle and cure, and they can dry on the screen if you’re not careful.
You’ll also require some emulsion, which you’ll be using to coat your screen with. Again, there are two kinds of emulsion: diazo and pre-sensitized. Diazo is a better option for beginners as it’s easier to get exposure times right when using it. Pre-sensitized emulsions are ready to use out of the bucket but are very light-sensitive.
There are other things you’ll need as well. Inkjet film is used to print your stencils; you’ll use these every time you need to print a positive film. You’ll also need chemicals appropriate for cleaning your tools and spills, as well as chemicals to strip your screens if you’re going to be reusing them (which, ideally, you should be).
You will also need a source of whatever you plan to print on, whether t-shirts, silkscreens, cushion covers, or something else.
You should make sure you have a high-quality, reliable supply as these will be part of your finished product, so don’t skimp on cost wherever possible. You can still buy low-quality versions for practice prints while you get the hang of the equipment and processes involved.
Other Useful Things
Still not enough? Some additional tools can be useful to have in your shop. For example, a pressure washer may be needed if you’re stripping and reusing your screens often, as the force of the water will help the chemicals do their job.
You’ll want various squeegees, too, as this will help you press down firmly and evenly during the screen printing process. Sponges, craft knives, gloves, screen tape, scrubbing brushes, and scoop coaters for spreading the emulsion smoothly are also handy tools to have on hand.
There are probably many other tools you can get, but as you start to get a feel for your job and the particular things you want to do with your screen printing kit, you’ll have a better idea of what tools will be best for your prints.
Once you have the basics, you can take some time to figure this out, so don’t feel you have to buy anything vaguely related to “screen printing” before you can start.
Does a Screen-Printing Kit Cover All That You Need?
We ran a poll on many different screen-printing-related Facebook groups asking its members the same question.
“CAN YOU START A PRINT SHOP BUSINESS FROM HOME WITH JUST A SCREEN-PRINTING KIT?”
And these were the responses we got…
93 people participated in the poll, and 97% voted YES! People with experience in the business overwhelmingly agree that starting a print shop business from home with only a screenprinting kit is possible.
As outstanding as this result was, you still need to take it with a grain of salt and look at the bigger picture.
Sure, it’s entirely possible to start a screen-printing business from home using nothing but a basic startup kit. However, this greatly depends on how comprehensive your kit is: the tools you have, the consumables you’ve bought, and so on. Chances are you’ll still need to get a few extra things to get going unless you’re only interested in basic screen printing.
If you search for a screen printing kit on Amazon, you’ll find several options to choose from. You can easily find and purchase a silkscreen or t-shirt printing starter kit. However, most of these kits are quite basic in what they provide, so unless your project is extremely simple, you may find that they don’t fully meet your needs – moreso if you want to set up a proper home screen printing business. So, what do they contain?
Many screen printing kits include some variation of the following:
- Screen-print frame(s)
- A scraper
- Tape/adhesive (to hold the garment in place on the platen)
- Transparent films (for the stencil)
- A loofah
- A mat/disposable underlay
- Wooden sticks
- Disposable gloves
- Cleaning rags
- Measuring cups
- Ink knives/spatulas
- Ink/emulsion scoop coater
- Other cleaning items
Despite this exhaustive list, screen printing is quite a complicated business, and you’ll likely find you still need some things. For example, very few screen printing kits contain emulsions, and most don’t have the bigger or more complicated tools (for obvious reasons). However, you will need those things for a home screen printing business, so let’s think about what the kits fail to cover.
What Might I Be Missing?
It depends to some extent on what the particular kit you purchase includes and what you plan to do. If you’re going to be printing onto clothing, you will probably need at least some additional bits and pieces. For example, many people have an inkjet printer at home, but if you don’t, you’ll need to purchase one, along with suitable inks to go with it.
If you’re setting up a t-shirt business starter kit of your own, you’ll also require a flash dryer, a press, and possibly a conveyor dryer.
We’ve already mentioned the lack of emulsion in many kits, which is something to consider. Remember to check out the quantities of the other necessary consumables that come with the kit, such as inkjet film and screen printing inks.
Even if a kit covers your initial needs, you’ll still have to purchase consumables going forward. Make sure that you think about this in advance, as you’ll need to source the supplies, and you don’t want to find yourself unable to get something you’ve built your business plan on.
A Thorough Checklist of What You Need
We aren’t going to pretend that the list was a short one, so let’s cover the must-haves and nice-to-haves in a handy checklist. This should help you make sure your screen printing machine kit is fully equipped before you start trying to build a business based on it.
- Mesh screens
- Computer with relevant design software
- Heat gun/flash dryer
- Inkjet printer
- Darkroom with a light source
- Flash dryer/conveyor dryer (if printing clothing)
- Inkjet film
- Cleaning chemicals
- Print target (e.g., shirts)
- Screen tape
- Simple manual screen printing press
- Scoop coaters
If one or two items on this list are proving impossible to get hold of, you may be able to find workarounds, but these are all pretty essential parts of a home screen-printing kit, and you won’t get far without them!
- Washout booth
- Heat press
- Pressure washer
- Other tools – e.g., craft knives, scrubbing brushes, loofahs, etc.
This “nice-to-have” list will slowly grow as you get familiar with screen printing. If your business succeeds, you’ll easily build a toolkit of useful items and the like.
Don’t get overwhelmed! Although this seems like many things to acquire before you can set up a home screen printing business, many of them are fairly inexpensive and easy to get hold of, while the expensive ones can be purchased later.
You can try printing at home without buying all the fancy equipment immediately, though if you want to gear up for a business, you will need most of these tools to achieve professional results at a reasonable pace.
With a careful approach and a good foundation of knowledge, you’ll avoid many of the mistakes which other fledgling screen printing businesses fall prey to. A screen printing kit may not cover all your needs, but it’s a great place to start. Happy printing!