Should You Print Promotional Products in Addition to Apparel?

Should You Print Promotional Products in Addition to Apparel?

Promotional products are all the rage today. While custom apparel is still nice, consumers are also interested in various goodies they can customize with their designs. Whether it’s on mugs, pens, tumblers, or even first aid kits, the opportunities of making and selling custom promotional products shouldn’t be underestimated.

Tempting though it may be to jump right into creating promo products, you’ll still need to think it through. Are you willing to invest in more equipment to do it in-house, or would you prefer to outsource it? Which one makes the most sense from a business perspective? The last thing you want to do is spend tens of thousands of dollars on something that ultimately proves to be a fruitless endeavor.

Why Print Promotional Products Anyway?

A decorative Christmas mug sits atop a scarf and some wrapped presents

The promotional products industry is lucrative, with ASI – a for-profit organization that serves the industry – recording sales of $25.8 billion in 2022 in its latest report, and it will continue to grow in the future. You should leverage this opportunity to your print shop’s advantage for many reasons.

A New Source of Revenue

If you’re already an established custom print shop, selling promo products is a great way to add a new, stable source of income, especially when there’s a demand for it. You can invest in an additional printing method that works best for promo products (we recommend direct-to-film, or DTF, printing) or use your available equipment. For example, screen printers can easily use screen-printed transfers to apply designs to non-garment items.

A Variety of Products

A custom made coaster rests atop a wooden table

There are so many different kinds of items you can turn into promotional products you’d be spoiled for choice – or rather, your customers would! From pens to ceramic mugs, tote bags to tumblers, even backpacks and umbrellas, too: with the right equipment and the skills to do it, you can turn (almost) anything into promo products for your customers.

Have a Well-Rounded Business

You can market your shop as a one-stop solution for a wide range of customer needs, from custom apparel to promotional goods. You can promote your ability to help customers find creative ways to advertise their business or have unique gifts for special occasions. If you can give them excellent service and great products, they’ll be sure to return whenever they need your services. It’s a win-win scenario for both sides!

Chances to Upsell or Cross-Sell

A man working at his computer

If a customer comes in with an order for custom apparel, why not pique their interest with other custom goods? Perhaps a custom tote bag to keep the custom shirt and a nice custom tumbler to go with it? With how much impact custom branding can have on your customers’ friends, family, or their own customers, giving them options will open up prospects for both of you: you’ll earn more with each order, while your client has exciting gift ideas for whoever they’re giving these items to.

In fact, ASI’s Global Ad Impression Study of 2019 found that promotional products are “the most highly regarded form of advertising.” 85 percent of consumers who received promotional apparel from an advertiser or seller were more likely to remember them. Meanwhile, 51 percent of consumers were willing to do business “with the advertiser that gave them a writing instrument as a promotional product.” Leveraging this is a big win for you and your customers!

Should You Print In-house?

An automatic screen printer at work

For established print shops, it makes sense to print promo goods in-house, especially when you already have the means to do it. For one, you’ll have complete control over the production workflow, including the materials to use, the time it takes to complete an order, and more. Once it’s ready, you can immediately ship it to your customers. No delays, no fuss!

Plus, you know exactly what you’ll need for each order. When you can get the necessary materials at lower prices, you can maximize your profitability and cost savings without giving up on the excellent quality you deliver to your customers.

You also don’t necessarily need to invest in extra equipment to make promo goods. We’ve already mentioned how screen printers can create screen-printed transfers, bringing the advantages of DTF-printed transfers into screen printing. You’ll be able to make good use of your available equipment without adding or drastically changing anything different.

Your main concern stems from whether you can still keep up with demand for your regular custom apparel orders. If you can, that’s great, but if you can’t, you’ll start losing customers fast. Moreover, if you need to invest in other printing equipment for the purposes of promo goods (say, DTF printing), it can be a costly investment to make; with how the economy’s currently looking, it’s a considerable risk to take.

Why Outsource It Instead

A man using a squeegee for screen printing

Outsourcing is where you hire the services of a contract printer (or have an arrangement with a distributor who helps you find someone to print for you) that specializes in making promo goods; in some cases, you might contract more than one for different types of items – if it’s economically feasible for your shop, of course.

The main reason to outsource is if you want to focus on your core niche, specialize in it, and become an indispensable choice for your customers for that particular set of services. For example, if you’re a screen printer, you’d probably offer various screen printing services, including halftone and even simulated prints that only a few shops take on.

The other reason is the cost-effectiveness of not needing costly equipment and supplies to add another printing method for making promo goods. You’ll stick to your core niche and grow it while you let another print provider do it for you: it’s still a win-win solution. Plus, contract printers may offer preferential rates for larger orders, which you can take advantage of when you have large order quantities to fulfill.

Do note that outsourcing does have its caveats as well. For one, if the printer you regularly work with is unavailable when an order arrives, you’ll need to find a replacement quickly. In most cases, you might have to rely on a different contract printer who might charge you extra for your orders. Or you’ll hire another printer with a slightly longer fulfillment time and have to adapt your delivery time around them. It can lead to hairy situations where you might be unable to ship your customer’s goods on time.

Making a Choice

It’s all fun and games until you have to choose between in-house printing or outsourcing. Is the investment for in-house printing worth your while, or would it be better to outsource it from the beginning?

In-house with New Equipment

Let’s think about your ROI. Suppose you invest in an additional printing method to help diversify your services. In this example, we’ll go with DTF printing: it’s relatively inexpensive compared to direct-to-garment (DTG) or dye sublimation printing, it’s a decently fast digital printing method that delivers vibrant colors and complex designs, and it’s very versatile with a myriad of substrates and surfaces.

You can easily find affordable DTF starter packages for a decent price point. For $10k, you can get a mid-range DTF printer with a starting batch of supplies, including inks, transfer films, raster image processing (RIP) software, and more.

Mid-range DTF printing costs

You can easily find affordable DTF starter packages for a decent price point. For $10k, you can get a mid-range DTF printer with a starting batch of supplies, including inks, transfer films, raster image processing (RIP) software, and more.

In-house estimates of profitability

Achieving your ROI for your equipment purchase will depend on how well your sales are doing. Given that you’re making a profit of $3 per mug, you’ll need to sell about 6,670 mugs to achieve your ROI. Remember that the more you can sell, the faster you’ll achieve ROI. The following example will give you a clear picture of what to expect.

Total profits from in-house printing based on amount sold per month

$20,000 is still a substantial investment, as you can use that money to improve other areas of your business or boost your marketing strategies. Established print shops are generally better positioned to open a new revenue channel, but it still requires considerable thought to implement it effectively.

However, if you’re a fledgling print shop, $20,000 can mean all the difference in your (limited) budget. If you intend to stay the course, extensive market research and business planning will be needed to help you chart the uncertainties ahead.

In-house with Existing Equipment

Let’s look at another scenario where you own a screen printing shop with many regular customers and large-volume orders. You decide that adding promo products would be an ideal way to build up your shop’s reputation as a one-stop shop for all kinds of custom printing needs.

You won’t need to spend so much on new equipment when you can leverage what you already have in your shop. You can bank on screen-printed transfers, which can be applied to various promotional items you plan to offer. It’s quick, affordable, and easy to do, especially with the experienced staff you have on hand.

Since screen-printed transfers use the same principles as DTF printing, you won’t need to spend $20,000 on DTF-related equipment. You’ll be able to put that capital to use for other aspects of growing your business.

Screen printed transfers estimated profitability


Not having to buy any new equipment is a boon since your budget can instead be directed to paying a contract printer to print promotional items for your shop. Most contract printers will offer preferential rates depending on your order size: the more items you need to be printed, the lower your overall cost. This usually incentivizes print shops with larger orders to do business with the contract printer; any savings are always welcome.

Consider the following sample pricing sheet for mugs:

Example preferential pricing structure for mugs

Let’s say you have orders for 12oz mugs. Note how the cost per unit decreases with more items in an order. Your profitability will therefore be affected by how you price your garments and the volume of orders you receive. The example below clearly illustrates this:

Profits from outsourcing based on amount sold


In-house printing is a good pick for newcomers who want to start small and slowly expand their reach, as well as established print shops looking to broaden their horizons. New printers will have more difficulty setting up, especially when some printing methods have high upfront costs. Screen printing and DTF printing are good starter choices; established shops can easily use their existing infrastructure to quickly make promotional items for their customers.

For print shops that want to prioritize their core niche, outsourcing is a cost-efficient option that benefits your business and your contract printer partner(s). Your print shop can still present itself as a one-stop solution for various printing needs without spending significantly on new equipment, training, and higher overhead costs. Meanwhile, the contract printers you commission are paid for their fast, high-quality printing services for these promotional items you sell to your customers.

The promotional items market is a well of potential gains, but with the number of sellers, it’s also a tight, competitive market. If you plan to make the most of the opportunity to sell these items, you’ll still need a good business plan to stay ahead of the curve.