PrintHustlers Guide To: Growing a Successful Screen Printing Business, Chapter 17: Contract Printing

Business Lessons

New to the printing industry? Contract printing might be a foreign concept. But it can be something you rely on to launch your business. Contract printing is a business-to-business practice where the customer shop supplies the raw products and print-ready artwork to the contract printer. The contract printer decorates the products and returns them to the customer shop. In this chapter, we will discuss the pros and cons of contract printing. We will cover the basics of contract printing, and also detail steps to take if you want to become a contract printer. 

Contract printers are often set up with multiple presses and decorate on anything you send. When your business cannot personally produce the volume of orders that you are taking, start exploring relationships with contract printers.  Perhaps you have not purchased your first auto yet, and you get a rather large order you don’t want to turn down. This is where contract printing shines. You might not have the equipment required to decorate your orders. You don’t do sublimation, direct to garment or even embroidery, so – you contract it out. This practice has allowed for custom apparel companies that do not print a single thing in-house and rely solely on contract printing!

Find the right contract printer. While most printers may claim they are contract printers, do some research to find the best ones. After all, your brand name is still selling the apparel, so you want to make sure you meet your customers’ standards. Start by asking your local sales reps: your apparel rep, ink rep and equipment rep are great resources. They will be able to point you in the right direction to generate a good relationship with a professional contract printer. 

After you find trusted printers, make sure you closely communicate about their service and understand their exact terms. You want to understand print costs per impression since every shop will have slightly different pricing. They should offer you a term sheet that outlines quantities and price breakdowns. Contract printers usually have strict turnaround times, typically with an upfront breakdown of their exact schedule. You will also have to consider any additional fees. Many contract printers charge premiums for set-up costs, additional screens, special inks and even artwork-related fees like digitizing costs. For an additional fee, some contract printers even offer individual bagging, special tagging and unique labeling for your apparel. Take all these fees into account when pricing contract printed items to your customers. 

When you are comfortable with your contract printer, ask them how they like to receive their orders. Most will prefer that you send a work order, packing slip, print-ready artwork and a purchase order for them to use. In Printavo, you can send your contract printers a direct link so they can see all of the job’s specific information. You can also upload artwork to the job online so the contract printer can easily download it. When you have a strong relationship with a contract printer, you can make them a user in your Printavo system so they’ll be notified whenever you take an order. 

The contract printer will deal with your shop in much the same way you deal with customers: through art proofs and payment requests. When you contract with a print shop for a long time, consider asking for better pricing once you’ve both benefited from your relationship.

One downfall to using a contract printer? You are putting the decoration of your products in another company’s hands. This seems like a very easy solution. So recognize that they have a margin of error in their printing that they are not ultimately responsible for. If an item does not come correctly printed, it’s tough to rectify the situation in a timely fashion for your customers. As always, mistakes do happen in this industry, so be prepared and always have a backup plan. Contract printing can also have heavy reordering fees, as they make much of their profits from set-up and impression premiums.  


Screen printing is a multi-billion dollar industry with customers from every part of the world. Every year, thousands of entrepreneurs discover their passion for screen printing - and they want to claim their cut of the billions and billions of dollars spent on custom printed apparel.

But the majority of new screen printing shops fail before they reach the 5-year mark. They fail because of poor business planning, dull branding, and a lack of ability to scale.

Your shop can be different.

This is an excerpt from our book, The PrintHustlers Guide To: Growing a Successful Screen Printing Business. Written by Printavo's dynamic founder Bruce Ackerman, Campus Ink's enterprising Steven Farag, and Adam Cook. The PrintHustlers Guide To: Growing a Successful Screen Printing Business is the next generation's guide for building your own lucrative print shop.

You can purchase a physical copy of the book on Amazon.

Previous chapter: Chapter 16: Post-Production

Next chapter: Chapter 18: Defining Your Own Success Coming soon!


Next Post: PrintHustlers Guide To: Growing a Successful Screen Printing Business, Chapter 18: Defining Your Own Success

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