PrintHustlers Guide To: Growing a Successful Screen Printing Business, Chapter 7: Equipment

Business Lessons

Whether you’ve never purchased a piece of printing equipment before, or are looking to upgrade your current equipment to expand your shop, think carefully through any equipment purchase you make for your business.

The “Why” 

The first thing to think through is why you need the equipment. Are you just getting started? Or have you outgrown your current equipment? Are you ready to make the jump to automatic equipment that will increase production? Your equipment plays a significant role in the success of your business. Buy the wrong equipment and your production quality can falter. Buy too much, or more than you can handle, and you can see your profit margins spiral out of control. 

Before buying equipment, speak to a professional in the industry. Spend time at a trade show, or speak to a local rep: dig into exactly why you are looking at that piece of equipment. You may not need everything that armchair experts on forums discuss just to get started. You might find better solutions for your problems than purchasing equipment – such as contract printing. Plunging into production means you are dedicating yourself to a type of manufacturing that will require much more technical proficiency than you can learn on YouTube in your spare time. 

Before you buy, ask why!

The “What”

You’ve rationalized needing equipment. Now it’s time to dive into what equipment you need. Do you have to buy brand new? Do you need to buy a 12-station auto and a dual-conveyor dryer just yet? That new direct to garment printer looks awesome, but do you know everything that goes into maintaining the beast that is a DTG printer? Buy what you need, and buy with quality and upkeep in mind. 

Your equipment will need to be maintained, so it’s vital that you’ve budgeted for maintenance expenses. Although buying used might be a great deal, the manufacturer may have stopped servicing and creating parts for that equipment. That’s not to say buying used is a bad idea if you are getting started. If you are looking for manual equipment, buying used is a good deal because manual printing equipment is very simple. 

Understand that when purchasing a press, your equipment list does not stop there. You will need to look at pre-press and exposure equipment. You will also need to look at the right computer printer to produce artwork for burning your screens. The list of items you’ll need continues with a washout station, power washer, and screen drying rack. Approach all of your equipment purchases with this same mentality: understand the complete picture.

Here are the standard screen printing equipment needs:

  1. A powerful computer with design software such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop or CorelDraw. You might also need a ripping software like SimpleSeps or AccuRIP.
  2. Film output equipment like an Epson Printer with a compatible film. 
  3. Screens and emulsion. You will need to buy a collection of screens that have different mesh counts based on what you will be printing. For finer and more precise jobs, you will need screens with a higher mesh count. A 110 or 158 screen is a great start. You’ll also need plenty of emulsion and a scoop coater to properly coat and prepare your screens. 
  4. An exposure unit that has the correct light source to burn screens. If you are going to buy a brand new auto press, look into a direct-to-screen system to burn your screens without going through film. Direct-to-screen is an advanced tool that the industry is migrating toward. Reducing exposure time is an easy way to improve overall productivity.
  5. After you burn a screen, you will need a washout station that can quickly clean out screens and get them ready for production. Some shops couple their washout process with screen reclaiming – so you will definitely need a water source with adjustable pressure, like a low-powered electric power washer. 
  6. To quickly dry screens, it is best to get a small air compressor. Don’t forget about a drying rack so screens can dry evenly.
  7. A screen printing press best suited for your business volume. For manual presses, start with a four-color, four-station press. As your business grows into higher volume jobs, an automatic press can really serve you well.
  8. A flash unit will be required if you are printing on dark fabrics that require an underbase. Unless you plan to print solely on light fabrics, a flash unit is necessary.
  9. A dryer that can cure apparel at the appropriate temperature is needed to produce garments at a rapid rate. Different garments and printing methods require different temperatures. The speed and heat chamber of your dryer will determine the volume at which you can print. Buy a dryer too small, and you will be backed up waiting for ink to cure.
  10. Don’t forget about ink and squeegees! Make sure you have done the research to buy the right ink that will print well on your garments. Different materials require different types of ink, and if you don’t pay attention to this you can run into print quality issues. Squeegees are simple tools and are standard across the industry. Make sure you have squeegees of all sizes and durometer (hardness) on hand.
  11. Miscellaneous items like screen tape, spray adhesive, ink degrader, screen wash and screen opener are small items – but are extremely important for successful production.

Overwhelmed? Don’t be. There are so many useful starter packs to get you printing. The lesson here is that equipment doesn’t start and stop with a press. The same exercise can be done for a heat press, a sign printer, a DTG machine or embroidery equipment. Talk to a reputable industry supplier like Ryonet, T&J Supplies or M&R to get the entire checklist before you start. 

Do you really need an auto?

An automatic printing machine is one of the largest investments you will make. They can range from $10,000 to $100,000 when all is said and done. Make sure you are financially able to sustain the costs associated with an automatic press, and that you have a robust support system. Before picking the brand, do some research on the logistics involved in supporting your equipment. 

If you are consistently taking orders for more than 75 pieces over the course of the entire year, an auto could be a good investment. But on the flip side, an auto can be a bad investment if you are not ready for it. There is a lot of learning involved with an automatic press, so be ready to buckle down and spend some time with your equipment. While online videos make it look easy, it is not as simple as hitting a button. 

Before you take the automatic equipment plunge, spend some time researching contract printing. An automatic press increases your overhead tremendously, particularly if you are renting, leasing or financing it. You may find that contract printing is actually less overhead than owning your own equipment. 

To lease or buy?

Every business is different. There is no single right or wrong philosophy to owning, buying, leasing or financing equipment. Similar to owning your own home, buying equipment may have better tax implications for your business. You may find you don’t have the capital to buy. Or you may not know the fate of your business, so buying a piece of expensive equipment may be above your risk tolerance. 

The best way to determine whether you can lease or buy is to closely look at your cash flow, savings, and the sustainability and growth of your business. It is not a bad idea to lease early and buy later. Independent printers are fortunate that this industry offers low start-up costs, so don’t think leasing is doing a disservice to yourself. If your business is established, and you have a good track record, buying may be the answer. Either way, don’t tie yourself down too tightly. Technology changes quickly.


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 6: Sales and Commission Team Management

Next chapter: Chapter 8: Training is Undervalued
Coming soon!


Next Post: Attention Screen Printers! Always Request 100% Down Payment. Here's 3 Reasons Why

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