Did you know 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 saving less than $14 a day for one year). As your profitability slowly improves, you can easily build up your productivity with better equipment and increase your profit margins.
And that $100,000 is actually a modest estimate based on one sample printing job (you can get a breakdown of the calculations here).
If you’re serious about building your screen printing business and can invest a little more time in sales and marketing, you could get big orders that yield even higher profit margins.
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
- Screen Printing Kit Essentials
- Mesh Screens
- Screen Printing Press
- Buying a Printing Kit vs. Buying Individual Printing Tools
- Types of Screen Printing Kits
- What are the Best Printing Kits for Beginners?
- Shopping Guide: How to Choose a Printing Starter Kit
- Starting Out with Success
Benefits of Starting a Print Shop
There are plenty of good reasons why you should run your own print shop instead of having others print custom apparel for you.
- Low Entry Cost: Print shops need a small starting capital compared to other businesses. You can get decent starter kits at $3,000 and high-quality kits from $7,000 to $10,000. With $15,000 or more, 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, depending on the number of colors, the size of the design, and other factors. You can markup your prices for the services you offer and get your return on investment within a year or less, depending on the number of orders you accept.
- Run Your Business From Home: Printing presses are relatively compact. If you can’t afford to rent out space, you can run your business from your garage and do most of your sales and marketing online. That immediately lowers your monthly operating expenses. Screen printing also doesn’t emit harmful gasses or chemicals throughout the preparation and printing process so you can work with peace of mind.
- One-man Business: It’s possible to run a very successful printing shop without hiring any workers. At first, you can do all the jobs yourself and then recruit family members to help out when there’s a rush order. You can get jobs done quickly and efficiently with the right equipment and an ideal setup.
- Fast Money: With the right equipment and setup, it will only take 25 minutes to print as many as 72 shirts (excluding preparation time, such as getting your screens ready). Even if you take a big order of 200 to 500 shirts, that’s easily less than half a day’s work. If you’re looking for a business you can do part-time and at home, this gives you a great profit quickly.
- Accessible Training: You can find many short screen printing courses from community colleges, vocational schools, and even other print shops on their YouTube channels. If you’re going to a physical place to learn, look out for courses that are free to attend. Even if you (or your staff) don’t have prior experience in apparel decoration, it’s relatively easier to pick up the skills than in other more technical businesses.
Screen Printing Kit Essentials
Ideally, your starter kit should have enough equipment and tools for a professional print shop. This will be the biggest chunk of your investment, so knowing what you need and how to pick the best ones is important.
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 print jobs you plan to accept.
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 even stainless steel.
You will find screens with different mesh counts. The most commonly used mesh count is 110 to 160, which is suitable for most printing jobs. However, depending on the orders you accept, you may need other screens for specialty orders. Here are some other mesh counts that are generally used:
- 25 to 40 mesh have larger holes and are typically used with glitter inks that can’t go through a fine mesh
- 60 mesh 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 mesh is suitable for heat transfers, puff ink, and other types of specialty inks
- 110 to 160 mesh will work for most print jobs. The size allows for enough ink deposit for a bold color to show up on a bright fabric while maintaining the details of the design. It’s also ideal for text, including blocky fonts
- 180 to 200 mesh will deposit less ink and are best for very finely detailed images, or light inks on a dark fabric
- 230 to 280 mesh are only used for very fine details or intentionally soft or blurred effects
Screen Printing Press
This is the most expensive 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. The simplest screen printing presses usually support two colors and between two to four platens for simple screen printing orders. Advanced presses are usually automatic and can quickly screen print on multiple garments in a short span of time.
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. Expert screen printers can quickly screen print hundreds of garments in a single workday; if you’re new to the business, it’ll take some practice to get to such incredible speeds.
Despite the impressive productivity of a manual press, an automatic press easily overtakes it in terms of overall output. It’s possible for an automatic press to sometimes double your output while using a manual press. Industry experts suggest that you upgrade to a heavy-duty automatic press when you’re at the point where you need 1 or 2 full-time workers to keep up with orders.
Since automatic presses shorten and simplify the printing process—reducing a full day’s manual work to just two hours—it becomes cost-effective in the long term. The only downside is that they require a significant investment to afford one, so make sure your finances are in good shape before you actively consider acquiring one.
Automatic presses are larger than manual presses to accommodate all the hardware that makes the automatic press work. You’ll have to remember this if you upgrade to an automatic press. The biggest question you’ll need to answer is, “Will I be able to fit my new automatic press in my shop without any problems?”
Another consideration is how many colors you would like to use per design (including the white you will use as an under base for dark fabrics). If you only plan to print 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 three colors on dark fabrics.
Bigger commercial print shops will have 8-color (or more) print machines, greatly shortening print times. This allows them to accept rush jobs, high-volume orders, and even complicated printing jobs with little difficulty. Remember that more colors mean more stations and possibly the need for more people to complete the job promptly.
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.
You apply the emulsion on the screen before you tape in your film. The emulsion is light-sensitive, and once exposed to UV light, it creates the stencil or image—pretty much the same principle behind developing photographs.
Not all emulsions are created equal. There are pre-sensitized emulsions, which are more sensitive to light and exposes faster; there are also dual-cure emulsions which require diazo to be light-sensitive
Emulsion Removal Powder
Emulsion powder is usually diluted in water (based on the manufacturer’s recommended 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.
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 are comfortable to use even after a long day’s work.
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. You’ll find them in a variety of shapes for different purposes:
- 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
This thin, flexible sheet is used to transfer your design to a screen. You can either hand-draw your design or use design software and print on it. You’ll need to ensure that the design is opaque enough where it needs to be so that the stencil doesn’t have any pinholes where inks can leak through and affect the final product.
Graphic Blackening Agent
Brush or spray this on your printed graphics to improve the exposure. It can be used on either parchment paper or transparency film.
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. You may need to mix these with clear, opaque bases to use them.
Some kits will already include a selection of colors, but these usually come in small sizes. Eventually, you must replenish your supply and get gallon-sized inks instead that will last you for multiple jobs.
Buying a Printing Kit vs. Buying Individual Printing Tools
Let´s get the obvious out of the way: a print shop will need a significant amount of equipment and materials to succeed. There’s no escaping that fact!
So, you need to ask yourself, “Should you source your equipment and materials individually 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 your decision.
Sourcing materials can be quite a headache—even choosing mesh sizes, squeegee shapes, or pigments can take hours. Unless you have someone on your team whose only job is to compare the products and prices, it inevitably wastes 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 consider what emulsions best fit for your shop?
A starter kit is exactly what it sounds like: it helps you start your print shop business and get to printing. Later, when you have more time to think about the details and have first-hand experience with what type of materials work best for you, you can get more involved in purchasing and pick out all the necessary things you’ll need.
The items in a starter kit are pre-selected by the seller, who understands what is needed for first-time printers. They’ll include their recommendations of materials, equipment, and other items that you’ll most likely need. They also account for cross-compatibility, such as picking the right mesh sizes for the included inks.
A starter kit takes out the guesswork and lowers the risk of wasteful spending on products you don’t actually need in the first place.
Starter kits are generally more affordable since all the essentials are bundled together. You’ll find you need to pay far less for a kit than if you had bought the items individually. Printing presses are generally the highest expenditure on your shopping list, and a starter kit that includes a press (sometimes two) is much more affordable than buying the press alone.
It’s also easier to control the overall cost. You might end up overspending when you’re buying items individually or end up miscalculation your budget. If it’s your first time doing this, it can be a complete waste of time and precious funds (which is why you should do your homework before purchasing anything).
Eventually, as you gain more experience in apparel decoration, you’ll find the best suppliers to give you great deals on bulk purchases. Since you’re still new, you’ll get more value from buying a starter kit.
Recommended Reading: 4 Reasons Why Every Print Shop Needs Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)
The only advantage of buying items individually is that you have full control over what you purchase. You can choose the brand and type of products you prefer and choose price ranges that suit your budget.
However, we suggest doing this only after you’ve been running the print shop for some time. The printing business is something you master through experience, and to some extent, from trial and error.
Only by working with the materials and equipment can you find the kind of ink consistency you need, pick out your favorite squeegee, or even determine the best way to apply emulsion to your mesh screens.
Every screen printer also has their own style and technique, and as you become aware of your personal working style, you can find the tools and techniques that work best for you.
There will also be cases when you 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, buying only what you need is more cost-effective, especially since the cost per item is higher than average.
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 a stencil for a particular color. So if you use three 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 multiple colors, that means you’ll need to have several stations too.
Some printers also dedicate one station for flashing a white under-base, which 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. Remember that you can always start small and simple and add more presses and stations as your business expands.
One of the advantages of buying a kit from one store is that you can establish a long-term relationship with one supplier. You’ll enjoy better customer care and may even be able to get competitive pricing on key supplies. Some suppliers may also be able to provide free training or refer you to places that offer them, among other perks. Maintaining a good rapport with your supplier(s) is always a good idea.
Types of Screen Printing Kits
You’ll find a variety of kits that vary in price and the kind of printing jobs they can do. You should pick the one that suits your business 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, usually amounting to 20 to 30 orders. For example, this could be an artist who wants to turn her artwork into T-shirts and tote bags and sell them on Etsy.
The kits usually include a basic tabletop press, frames (usually with two to three stations), squeegees, some transfer paper sheets, and inks. Some may include emulsion and emulsion remover (mostly in small quantities).
These cost about $250 to $500. We know it’s a wide price range, but the difference usually lies in the quality of the included items, especially the screen printing press.
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 may be too flimsy to really stretch the mesh. Over time, wooden frames can also become warped, adversely affecting your prints’ quality.
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 presses cost between $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 orders, you’ll need industrial printing kits that you won’t find on Amazon. Amazon is a good place for simple starter kits, but not so much for professional-grade ones. We’d recommend visiting a B2B site specializing in printing tools and materials, such as ScreenPrinting. These are just some websites 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, among other things.
The price range is quite wide—from $3,000 to $30,000—depending on the brand and the number of equipment included.
As mentioned earlier, ScreenPrinting has entrepreneurial starter kits for different types of businesses. Their Semi-Pro Plus Kit costs around $3,700, which includes a four-color, two-station press, a flash dryer, an exposure unit, some small tools, and chemicals like emulsion and adhesives. This kit 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 turnaround time for bulk orders.
For large-scale print jobs, you can get the more advanced entrepreneur kits that cost about $8,000 to $10,000 or more. This includes a more powerful four-color, four-station press, dryers, an exposure unit, a 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 you need to start a full-scale screen printing shop.
This printing supplier offers a Scout Start-up Package for about $5,000. That includes their Scout four-color, one-station press, flash dryer, exposure unit, a set of inks, metal frames, and access to a hands-on screen printing class that’s available on a monthly basis.
You’ll also find packages priced from $10,000 to $20,000, including machines that can handle detailed or high-volume jobs. With any of these professional kits, 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 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.
What are the Best Printing Kits for Beginners?
Professional printing kits assume that you already have the expertise to operate them and get a solid print run going at all times. While some kits will include video tutorials, and some sites will include free classes, you’ll have to get your training elsewhere. If you’re lucky, you might be able to learn the ropes from a screen printing expert in your area.
When comparing kits, it’s not really about how much you know about the business but how large you want it to be. You’ll need to ask questions like how many colors you’ll need, your production volume, and what materials you will need.
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 your print shop’s scope, size, and budget. They will either recommend the best package available or customize a kit that’s within your means.
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 include a screen printing press, and do you also get other equipment like a flash dryer and exposure unit? How many screens, inks, or other items do you require?
- What else will I need to buy? If the kit doesn’t include everything you need, ask how much it would cost to get the rest of the materials and/or equipment—then use this as a guide for your budget.
- What are the brands? Check their reputation and reviews. This is especially important for the printing press and the inks, as that can affect the quality and even the durability of your prints.
- 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 sales forecasts and what promises you can make to your customers regarding delivery time.
- How big is the equipment? Consider the size of your shop and whether you plan to provide live printing services. Ensure your shop can fit multiple presses without sacrificing space for you and your team to operate them efficiently.
- 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. Smaller screens mean smaller designs, but that can also mean faster curing times, You can slowly work your way up as your printing improves.
- How long is the warranty? Find out more about the equipment’s warranty policies. 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 immediately. 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 you will be buying. While starting with a basic set, you’ll probably need to buy more items as your business expands—so any starter 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 beginning, you have to get equipment that guarantees you can produce high-quality products: bright colors that won’t fade or bleed, crisp designs, and how fast you can print a hundred shirts. You may have to spend more than $1,000 to get the quality your customers deserve, but that’s nothing compared to the money you’ll lose when customers think poorly of your services.
Starting Out with Success
A printing shop is a simple business with relatively low capital and a high profit margin. However, don’t just go into it thinking that you’ll get rich quickly. The most successful shops take pride in their work, investing time and money in their business. It’s not just good equipment, but it also includes time to train new staff (or learn new print methods), attention to detail, and service with a smile. All these come together so customers eventually trust you and your shop 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 must exercise strict quality control and be willing to go the extra mile to impress your first customers and turn them into indirect 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.