Where should you buy screen printing supplies?
Every print shop – even the biggest ones in the world – struggle with this question. From inks to emulsion to screens to simple things like tape and ink cards, your supplies are how you turn a customer’s idea into a paying order.
You don’t want to overpay, you can’t stockpile most supplies, and you have to get your supplies quickly. So choosing a supplier is a delicate balancing act for print shops.
Matt Marcotte from Printavo breaks down where you should buy screen printing supplies from. You may be surprised that we aren’t just going to give you a list of companies!
Instead, Matt will arm you with the right strategy for purchasing supplies.
Read on for more info.
Buy screen printing supplies from local vendors first: overnight or less
Here is a nightmare scenario that has happened in too many print shops:
It’s Thursday morning, and you have a big order due at the end of Friday.
For some reason, your usually diligent ink department screwed up and doesn’t have enough white ink. You can’t print the order without white ink, so you call a screen printing supplier that’s a few states away.
They have tons of white ink! Cha-ching! We are in business. Except…wait…shipping.
They can’t get it to you until Saturday at the earliest. You can’t leave the shop to pick it up because they’re too far away and you have too much to do. You’re basically screwed and have to make a super uncomfortable phone call to a great client.
“Sorry…we’re not going to have your shirts in time for the concert” is not a way to win lifetime customers.
Now: the flipside when you know a local supplier. You run out of white ink, call your buddy at the local supplier, and they drop off 5 gallons on Friday morning. You print the order, everything goes to plan, and you figure out why the heck you ran out of white ink!
This exact scenario is why you always want to have a good relationship with a local screen printing supplier. Maybe you don’t order every single thing from them, but you make a point to be friendly and order from them once or twice a month.
So that’s the very first rule: shop local first. Find a supplier in your town or state – the closer, the better.
Always have multiple suppliers and vendors
The second rule is simple as well: have multiple suppliers, particularly for mission-critical supplies and consumables.
Even if a supplier has everything you need right now, that may not be the case in a month or during the busiest printing season.
Don’t put all your eggs into one basket.
You don’t buy t-shirts and hoodies from one single supplier. Why would your inks, emulsions, tools and other consumables be any different?
Even if you find a supplier with great prices and a great selection, avoid leaning too hard on a single supplier.
There are two major benefits to this:
- You’ll have an alternative source when someone is (inevitably) out of something you really need.
- You’ll get to try different products, forcing your shop to do some passive “research and development” work.
So: go find a new vendor today and place a small order. Try a couple of affordable products. Start building that relationship.
Ok, but who are the biggest screen printing suppliers?
We always suggest shopping local when possible – not just because supporting local business is a great thing to do, but because local suppliers can typically offer faster delivery than a national business.
That said, don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Order supplies from multiple vendors! This not only lets you explore pricing and products, it gives you multiple options in case a vendor runs out of a crucial supply at the wrong time.
These are all trusted, highly reputable, well-known suppliers for print shops across the US and the world:
- Ryonet – started as a hobby and has become a prominent distributor in the US, led by the unstoppable Ryan Moor. Based in Washington state, but with multiple distribution hubs across the US now.
- Lawson – manufacturer and distributor, Lawson has a long history in the US (particularly in the Midwest). Based in Saint Louis.
- Atlas Screen Supply – from equipment to niche consumables, Atlas has a massive catalog. Based outside Chicago.
- NorCal Screen Supply – from pre-printed screens to kits to robust ROQ automatic presses, NorCal offers a diverse range of quality products. Based in Northern California.
- Anthem Screen Printing – a versatile supplier and wholesaler with dozens of highly respected brands. Based in San Francisco.
While major retailers like Dick Blick and Amazon do sell screen printing supplies, it’s unlikely they can offer the service that an industry-specific supplier can.
Make friends with other print shops – you may need them
You may think the print shop in the town over is a competitor – and that’s true. They are! But one of the best things you can do is develop a relationship with other print shops near you.
You don’t have to bend over backwards to accommodate them, nor do you need to create a “salesy” relationship. Just touch base and let them know you’re willing to share supplies at cost in a pinch.
“This is something I did a lot of when I was a sales rep – basically lining up shops that needed something that we didn’t have in stock and helping them swap and exchange supplies.” – Matt Marcotte
So make that phone call and send that email. “Hey guys! I know we’re competitors, but I thought we’d both benefit if we could exchange ink in case we’re ever in a pinch. Just thought I’d offer – we use a lot of plastisol and water-based ink, so hit us up if you’re ever in a bind!” It’s worth it.
Trade shows & the internet: the hidden key to finding supplies
Why do screen printers love trade shows like Impressions Expo?
Because they’re a chance to network, find new products, and (perhaps most importantly) blow off some steam with people that do the same kind of work you do.
If there’s a shop you respect on Facebook or Instagram, shoot them a message. Ask them where they get their supplies and if they have any recommendations for who to reach out to. You’ll be surprised to learn that a lot of shops will be more than happy to help.
Conclusion: shop local, shop around, build a network
You don’t need to find the secret supplier that has the lowest prices and the fastest shipping – it doesn’t exist. The best supplier for your screen print supplies is not a single supplier at all!
The best way to buy screen printing supplies is to purchase from local suppliers, shop at multiple suppliers, and build a relationship-based network of local print shops and suppliers.