Screen Printing Kit: The Definitive Guide to Start a Printing Business

Screen Printing Kit The Definitive to Start a Printing Business

Did you know that you could earn at least $100,000 a year from a small screen printing shop?

This isn’t some random number we invented. This is actually the yearly average earning for a t-shirt shop in the US according to the American Screen Printing Association (ASPA).

It is a very profitable business that you can start with as low as $5,000 in capital (when you think about it, you can raise that money by just saving less than $14 a day for one year).

And that $100,000 is actually a modest estimate based on one sample printing job (you can get the breakdown of the calculations here.)

If you’re really serious about building the business, and invest a little more time in sales and marketing, you could get big orders that yield even higher profit margins.

Fact
According to Grand View Research the global custom t-shirt printing market size was valued at USD 3.64 billion in 2020, and it is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.7% from 2021 to 2028.

So, as you can see, this could be a great opportunity for you to start your own print shop business.

Recommended Reading: Choosing The Right Software For Your Print Shop

Benefits of starting a print shop

  • Low Cost of Entry – Compared to other businesses, print shops need a small starting capital. You can get decent starter kits at $3,000, and high-quality kits from $7,000 to $10,000. With $15,000, you can already accept high-volume rush jobs.  
  • High-Profit Margins – The cost of printing a T-shirt can be as low as $1.50. With these high margins, you can earn back your investment within a year or less, depending on the number of orders you accept.
  • Run Your Business From Home Printing presses are compact. If you can’t afford to rent out space, you can actually run your business from your garage, and just do most of your sales and marketing online. That immediately lowers your monthly operating expenses.
  • One-man Business – It’s possible to run a very successful printing shop without having to hire workers. At first, you can do all the jobs yourself, and then recruit family members to help out when there’s a rush order.
  • Accessible Training – You can find many short courses on-screen printing from community colleges and vocational schools. Some of them even offer them for free! So even if you (or your workers) do not have a prior background in printing, it’s relatively easier to pick up the skills than other more technical businesses.
  • Fast Money – With the right equipment, it will only take you 25 minutes to print 72 shirts. So even if you take a big order of 200 to 500 shirts, that’s less than half a day’s work. If you’re looking for a business you can do part-time and at home, this gives a great profit in a low amount of time.

Screen Printing Kit Essentials

Ideally, your starter kit should already have enough equipment and tools for a professional print shop. This will be the biggest chunk of your investment, so it’s important to know not just what you need but how to pick the best ones.

This list can help you plan your initial capital investment, but you can also ask your suppliers to recommend the specific products that best work with the kind of print jobs you plan to accept. 

Mesh screens

This is the most essential tool in your screen printing kit.

Traditionally, the mesh was made with silk threads (which was why the method became known as silkscreen painting).

Today, most mesh screens use synthetic threads like polyester, nylon, or stainless steel.

You will find screens with different mesh counts. The most commonly used is 110 to 160 count and is suitable for most printing jobs.

However, depending on the orders you accept, you may need to have other screens for specialty orders.

  • 25 to 40 count have larger holes and are typically used with glitter inks that can’t go through a fine mesh
  • 60 count yields a heavier ink deposit and may be used for large block prints such as the letters or numbers on sports uniforms
  • 80 to 86 count is suitable for heat transfers and puff ink
  • 110 to 160 count will work for most print jobs. The size allows for enough ink deposit for a bold color to show up on a bright fabric, but still maintain the detail of the design
  • 180 to 200 count will deposit less ink and are best for very finely detailed images, or light inks on a dark fabric
  • 230 to 280 count are only used for very fine details or intentionally soft or blurred effects
Pro Tip
The lower your mesh count, the more emulsion it will hold. Lengthen the exposure time so the emulsion will set properly

 

Screen Printing Press

This is the most expensive piece of equipment in your print shop and a long-term investment. The kind of press you get will determine what type of orders you can accept, and how quickly you can produce them.

Manual vs Automatic

You can choose between a manual press or an automatic press.  Most print shops start with a manual press since it is more affordable. It’s better to get a high-quality manual press than a shoddy automatic press that doesn’t deliver quality prints.

Industry experts say that the only time you need to consider upgrading to a heavy-duty automatic press is when you’re already at the point when you need to hire 1 or 2 full-time workers to keep up with volume orders.

Since automatic presses shorten and simplify the printing process—reducing a full day’s worth of manual work into just two hours—then it becomes cost-effective.

Color capacity

Another consideration is how many colors you would like to be able to use per design (that includes the white you will use as an under base for dark fabrics).

If you will only be printing with one color, or mostly block designs, a 1-color or 2-color press will be enough.

If you are offering CMYK printing, you will need a 4-color press. This will also allow you to print four colors on white or light fabrics, and 3 colors on dark fabrics.

Pro Tip
If you´re working in the digital industry, you’ll probably want to use RGB but, if you plan on printing your work on a t-shirt, you might want to use CMYK.

Bigger commercial print shops will have 8-color print machines, which shorten the waiting time. This allows them to accept rush jobs and high-volume orders, and the ability to accept even the most complicated printing jobs.

However, bear in mind that more colors mean more stations, and possibly the need for more people.

So, If you’re just starting out, a 4-color job hits the sweet spot as most customers will only ask for 1 to 3 colors anyway, and you won’t need to invest too much money (and space) for your printing press.

Emulsion

You apply the emulsion on the screen before you tape in your film. The emulsion is light-sensitive, and once it’s exposed to UV, it creates the stencil or image—pretty much the same principle behind developing photographs.

Pro Tip
Douglas Grigar, a master screen printer, recommends using an emulsion that has about 35% to 40% solids content. This helps prevent pinholes, which often happens if it is too thin.

 

Emulsion removal powder

Emulsion powder is usually diluted in water (follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the ratio). You will need this to clean your mesh screens after a printing job.

First, wash off any ink and apply the emulsion solution. Leave it on for about five minutes before rinsing off with a high-pressure water hose.

Spatulas

This is typically used for mixing pigments and applying them on the screen. The material is designed for use with solvents, and the best ones have ergonomic handles that feel comfortable even after a long day’s work.

Squeegees

This is what you use to press the ink through the mesh screen. You will need them for both automatic screen-printing machines and manual machines. 

A commercial print shop will usually carry several types of squeegees to be used for different types of ink, substrates, or design.  

Squeegee shapes

  • Straight-edge blades are good for most printing jobs
  • Round or ball-shaped tips are used for heavy substrates or some specialty inks
  • Beveled or angled blades are typically used for curved or uneven substrates

Transparency paper

This is a thin, flexible sheet that is used to transfer your design to a screen. You can either hand-draw your design or use a design software and print on it. 

Pro Tip
When using a printer, make sure to take into account a mirror image setting. Otherwise, you will end up with your design backwards

 

Graphic blackening agent

Brush or spray this on printed graphics to improve the exposure. It can be used on parchment paper or transparency film.

Transparent paste

This is often used to achieve translucent colors, or for glitter and other special effects.

Colored inks and pigments

Pigments can be used on their own or mixed to achieve different shades and hues. You can also find specialty pigments, such as glitter, shimmer, iridescent, puffed, or embossed.

Some kits will already include a selection of colors, but the sizes are small. Eventually, you will need to replenish your supply and get gallon-sized inks.

Did you know?
Water-based pigments can dry out faster, especially if you are using a finer mesh screen that needs a longer exposure time. That leads to faint or uneven ink transfer, and wastes your material. If you use a water-based pigment, consider getting a retarder.

 

Buying a Printing Kit vs Buying Individual Printing Tools

Let´s get the obvious out of in the open, a print shop needs a lot of equipment and materials. ..PERIOD!

So, the question you need to be making to yourself is…Should you source them one by one, or get a kit that includes everything you need for your first printing orders?

And the answer is…It depends on what matters to you.

Let´s break down all the factors that will influence this decision the most for you.

Time

Sourcing materials can be quite a headache—even just choosing mesh sizes, squeegee shapes, or pigments will take hours. Unless you have someone on your team whose only job is to compare the products and prices, it is a waste of your time.

As a business owner, you’ll be in charge of more important business decisions like choosing a location, building a sales and marketing plan, and ironing out things like business permits or contracts. So, do you really want to think about what kind of emulsion to buy?

A kit is enough to get your business started but, later on, when you have more time to think about the details and first-hand experience about what type of materials work best for you, then you can get more involved in the purchasing.

Expertise

The items in the kit have been selected by people who understand the printing business. They know the kind of materials you will most likely need, and then make sure the products are compatible with each other (i.e, the right mesh size for the ink).

A start kit takes out the guesswork, and lowers the risk of wasting money on products you don’t need or use.

Recommended Reading: 4 Reasons Why Every Print Shop Needs Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)

Cost

Start printing kits generally are more affordable, and cost less than if you actually totalled the individual prices of the items included.

It’s also easier to control the cost. When you’re shopping for every item, it’s easy to overspend or miscalculate your budget—especially if it’s your first time to buy these items.

Eventually, as you gain more experience in the printing industry, you’ll discover the best suppliers, and get a good deal from buying items in bulk. But if you’re just opening a print shop, you’ll get more value from a starter printing kit.

Control

The only advantage of buying items individually is that you have full control. You can choose the brand, type, and price range.

We suggest doing this after you’ve been running the print shop. The printing business is something you master through experience…and to some extent, trial-and-error.

Only by working with the materials, you will be able to find the kind of ink consistency you need or your favorite kind of squeegee.

Printers also have their own style and technique, and as you become aware of your personal working style, you can find the tools that work best for you.

Specialty products

There will also be cases when you will need to buy items individually. Most premium products are typically sold by the piece rather than in a set, and you will probably buy specialty inks on a per-need basis.

In these cases, it is more cost-effective to buy only what you need, especially since the cost per item is higher than average.

Customer care

One of the advantages of buying a kit from one store is that you can establish a long-term relationship with one supplier. You enjoy better customer care and may be able to get better prices. Some suppliers may also be able to provide free training or refer you to places that offer them.

Number of Stations

How many stations do you need to set up to have a full-scale printing shop? It depends on the kind of printing jobs you will accept.

Screen printing only allows you to print one color at a time. Each printer head can hold a single screen, or the stencil for a particular color. So if you use 3 colors, these will have to be added one by one at different “stations”—as soon as the first color sets, you move it to the next station, and so forth.

If you buy a press that allows several colors, that means you’ll need to have several stations too.

Some printers also dedicate one station for flashing a white under-base and that cuts down the delays caused by waiting for the item to be flashed before it’s sent to another station for additional color layers.

So, the number of stations really boils down to the number of colors, and how quickly you want to complete a printing job.

Just remember that you can always start small and simple, and then add more presses and stations when your business expands.

Did you know?
Many of the largest print shops first started with a very basic press— and even when they already have large, top-of-the-line machines, they still use their original basic press for small printing jobs.

 

Types of Screen Printing Kits

You’ll find a variety of kits and vary in terms of price and the kind of printing jobs they can do. Choose the one that suits your needs.

The Budget Kit for the Home Business

These simple starter kits are for people who used to enjoy screen-printing as a hobby, but now want to turn it into a small home business. They plan to take small custom orders. For example, this could be an artist who wants to turn her artwork into T-shirts and tote bags, and plans to sell her items on Etsy.

The kits usually include a basic tabletop press, frames, squeegees, and a few pieces of transfer paper, and inks. Some may include emulsion and emulsion remover.

These cost about $250 to $450. We know It’s a wide price range, but the difference usually lies in the quality of the press and the frames.

Cheaper kits will have a very small and simple press, which you will likely replace if you start doing bigger jobs. The frames are also made of wood, and maybe too flimsy to really stretch the mesh.

So, if you plan to do this professionally, we suggest investing in one of the higher-priced kits, or at least, buying the press separately.

The smaller ones cost about $300 to $400, but more heavy-duty presses will cost upwards of $1,000. 

Professional Printing Kits for Full-Scale Printing Shops

If you’re opening a full-scale printing shop and accepting several types of orders, you’ll need industrial printing kits that you simply won’t find on Amazon. Go to a B2B site that specializes in printing tools and materials.

These are just some of the sites where you can find professional printing starter kits.

There are many more out there, but the kits will all include heavy-duty machines and high-quality inks.

The price range is quite wide—from $3,000 to $30,000—depending on the brand and the number of equipment included.

ScreenPrinting has entrepreneur starter kits for different types of businesses. Their Semi Pro Plus Kit starts at $3,000, which includes a 4 color 2 station press, flash dryer, exposure unit, some small tools, and chemicals like emulsion and adhesives.

This semi-pro plus kit already has a really good press that can handle print runs of 200 or more, at a rate of 90 shirts in an hour.

That’s already enough for most print jobs, though it means that you will need to ask for a longer turn-around time for bulk orders.  

For large-scale print jobs, you can get the more advanced entrepreneur kits that cost about $7,000 to $10,000.  This includes a more powerful 4 color 4 station press, dryers, exposure unit, washout booth, and a set of inks. The package also includes instructional videos and customer support.

They also have equipment-only kits or a premium kit that costs $20,000 that already has everything to start a full-scale screen printing shop.

Pro Tip
Before making any investment decision make sure to analyze all the pros and cons from each kit and decide what suits your current and future needs the best

 

Lawson

This printing supplier offers a Scout Start-up Kit for about $5,000.  That includes the press, flash dryer, exposure unit, a set of inks, metal frames, and access to a training course for two people.

You’ll also find packages priced from $10,000 to $20,000, which will include machines that can handle very detailed or high-volume jobs. With this kit, you can run a thriving print shop right from your basement or garage—making everything from garments to customized bags.

Lawson even has specialty kits (like Face Mask printing kits and athletic numbering kits). This is good if you want to carve a niche for yourself, i.e. focus your marketing on producing sports uniforms.

Advanced Screen Technologies

This print equipment supplier also has starter kits that range from $2,500 to $25,000. One advantage of the site is that it carries several brands, and also sells gallon-sized ink sets.

What are the best printing kits for beginners?

Professional printing kits assume that you already have the expertise to operate them. While some kits will include video tutorials, and there are some sites that will include free classes, you’ll have to get your training elsewhere.

So when you compare kits, it’s not really about how much you know about the business, but how large you want your business to be.

How many colors do you need, how much volume will you produce, and what kind of materials will you be using?

If you’re new to the business and aren’t sure what equipment to get, you can ask the customer service teams of the B2B sites for help.

They will help you describe the scope and size of your print shop and your budget. They will either recommend the best package or customize a kit for you.

Shopping Guide: How to Choose a Printing Starter Kit

You can use these questions as criteria for choosing a kit, or as a list of things to ask the customer service people when you first inquire about their products.

  • What is included in the kit? Does it just include the press, or do you also get a flash dryer and exposure unit? How many screens, inks, or other materials do you get?
  • What will I need to buy, aside from this kit? If the kit does not include everything you need, ask how much it would cost to get the rest of the materials—then use this as a guide for your budget.
  • What are the brands? Check the reputation and reviews. This is especially important for the printing press and the inks.
  • What kind of volume can I produce with this kit? Get a concrete estimate of the maximum load of the press, and how many it can make in one hour. This is important for your own sales forecasts, and what promises you can make to your customers in terms of delivery time.
  • How big is the equipment? Consider the size of your shop, and whether you plan to provide live printing services
  • What is the size of the screen? You may want to start with smaller screens, but it’s best to get a press that can accommodate larger screens in the future.
  • How long is the warranty? Ask about maintenance, service, and parts.
  • How do I contact you if there is a problem with the machine?  If your machine breaks down, you can’t afford to wait days for someone to fix it—each day of downtime is money lost, and possibly an angry customer who needs his order right away. Ask how to contact them, how quickly they can send someone, and if they do urgent repair jobs.
  • Is it compatible with other plates and accessories?  It’s important for any screen printing press to be compatible with any other plates, pallets, or accessories that you will be buying in the future. While you are starting with a basic set, you will probably buy more items as your business expands—so any start kit should be future-proof.

A Long-Term Investment

Your printing equipment is the heart and soul of your business. While you can start with smaller jobs, you should always get a reliable machine and high-quality inks.

Print shops depend on word-of-mouth and reputation. If a customer likes your work, he will order again. And every t-shirt you make is like your calling card: “Hey, who made the junior soccer varsity team’s shirts? They look pretty good. My boss is looking for a printer…do you have their number?”

So from the very beginning, you have to get equipment that will guarantee that you can produce high-quality products: bright colors that don’t fade or bleed, crisp designs, and even printing. You may have to spend $1,000 more, but that’s nothing from the money you will lose when customers say, “That print shop sucks.”

Starter kit for success

A printing shop is a simple business that needs relatively low capital and has a high-profit margin. However, don’t just go into it thinking that you’ll “get rich quick.”

The most successful shops take pride in their work. They invest in their business—not just in good equipment, but time for training, and attention to detail—so customers eventually trust them for all their printing needs.

A starter kit can give you the equipment, but you will also need to invest in your skills, and personally manage all aspects of the business in the first few months. You will have to exercise strict quality control and be willing to go the extra mile to impress your first customers and turn them into your ambassadors.

But clearly, the quality of your work—or even the quantity of the jobs you can accept—depends on your equipment. A starter kit is just that: it helps you get your business off the ground. Get the best equipment you can afford, but also be willing to re-invest part of your income into getting better tools.

This will enable you to provide high-quality products and services and offer important benefits like speed and customized printing services. That will set you apart from your competitors, and help you become the best print shop in your area.

COO & Principal Engineer at

Jason founded YoPrint to build the best-in-class print shop management software. Having previously owned and operated a large scale print shop, Jason utilizes his vast industry expertise to create the perfect software for all print shops.