How to Start A Screen Printing Business

a business General how-to management printavo printing screen start

Bruce from Printavo here. I wanted to begin writing more blog posts on my experience of running a printing business back in college. I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and had not but business on my mind. This printing business turned into a software company that helps fellow printers run and manage their shops now, called Printavo. I always loved fashion, design, skateboarding and computers, which brings me to my first point.

1. Make sure you love being involved with apparel, customer relations and have a business sense. These three parts are extremely important. Don't get in the business, or any business for that matter, just for the money. I can almost promise you that you'll burn out and end up hating printing as a whole. When push comes to shove and you need to finish and order at 2am or redo an order because of a client request, that love for the industry will help you get through those tough times.

2. Want to know what else will get you through tough times? A dedicated team. Before you begin, look for friends you trust, family you can depend on or both to create your business squad. These will be the folks you'll be around more than your family and other friends. If you question any of them, pass and look for someone else to partner with. I would look for someone who's good with money and can handle the accounting, a designer who knows their way around Photoshop and Illustrator and a leader who will keep the group together and heading forward. Each person shouldn't be afraid to get his or her hands dirty and get a job done. Going solo in this business is definitely doable but for long-term growth, support, financial assistance and more, a dependable partner(s) is crucial in my book.

3. Once you have a team ready for battle, it's time to look into your business plan. No, this step doesn't mean creating a 20-page detailed outline of what you're 3-5 year financial projections look like, but more so where the money will be coming in, marketing plan and estimated costs for the following year. Here are my tips on this from what I learned when I was running my shop:

- Create a Google Docs ( Excel sheet and create a basic balance sheet. The columns should be Description, Income, Expense.
- Fill out the expenses you believe you'll incur. This includes: A printing press, a 4x4 should do at the beginning, dryer, washing booth, pressure washer, 6+ silk screens that are 100dpi, ink (International Coatings colors: lots of White, Black, Blue, Yellow, Green, and other basic colors), squeegee's, emulsion, emulsion-safe lights for your dark room and emulsion coater. I'm sure there are a few things I'm missing but generally starting printing kits has all this included you'll need. Other non-print related expenses are: 500 business cards, logo designed by a professional ( and 500 postcards with all your information and a 10% first-time customer coupon on the front ( These expenses are all called "sunk costs".
- Once you've thought of everything possible that's expense related, time to figure out income. If this business will be your full-time job, don't forget to factor in a livable salary. Grab a Tax ID from your state's website and create an account at TSCApparel or a similar wholesaler and check out the garment prices. When calculating income, don't forget to calculate garment costs per job. I've attached an example pricing sheet you can use to help calculate what you should charge per job. You should now understand the target amount of income you need to survive.
- Time to check out your market. We were located at a Big 10 college town, which has 40,000+ students, and a surrounding town. Everyone loved wearing our university color, making their own shirts for clubs, Greek organization, bar crawls and more. This means plenty of business we could tackle. I would recommend looking at your town, how large it is, approximately what percentage of people wear custom shirts and how many printers are already in the area. If these factors make your business look favorable then continue.
- Start thinking about your marketing plan. How will you acquire new customers? I would start with posting those flyers you purchased from all around town in the most trafficked areas. Then gather email lists from your address book and your business partners' to mass email. You're going to want to include a small percentage off in the email to entice them to try out your printing services. This was key to convert potential customers into buyers. Since we were in a college town, most people check their email, making this marketing method our most efficient (along with email being a free platform).

4. Build, push, reiterate. This should be your motto. You want to get your business going fast and as low cost as possible (we ever did without a storefront and delivered all orders to their home). Find someone who's printing in town that can show you the best methods of getting your jobs done quickly and efficiently. If this isn't an option, watching many YouTube videos so you can understand the process. The fewer errors you make, the better off you'll be. This takes time but make sure you learn from each job.

5. Customer interaction is crucial and will help create loyal customers. Give them little treats inside their shirt boxes that put a smile on their face. This could be as simple a hand-written Thank You note or a lollipop. Small details add up.

6. Focus on long-term growth, don't skimp to save pennies and do the right thing when dealing with customers.

7. Lastly, have fun with it! Print funny shirts for your friends and enjoy what you do. There's nothing worse than going to a job you hate every day, life is too short.

If you have any other questions, post them in the comments! Don't forget to checkout Printavo to help manage, create orders, store customers and collect payments for your new shop!

Attached example pricing sheet.

Next Post: How to Start a Successful Clothing Business

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Printavo is simple shop management software. Whether your shop works with screen printing, embroidery, signage, digital printing, or awards & engraving–we make your complex workflow simpler to manage and understand. Printavo keeps your shop organized by handling scheduling, estimates, quote approvals, workflow, payments, accounting and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.

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