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How to Start a Custom Screen Printing Business

How to Start a Custom Screen Printing Business

Look up screen printing and what pops up is quite a dry, technical description of something that is increasingly becoming a creative outlet AND a good business opportunity: “to force ink or metal onto a surface through a screen of silk or artificial material to produce a picture” (Oxford Dictionaries). Well, there’s so much more to screen printing than that!

Are you the creative type? Do you have an eye for colors and design and can visualize an idea? Are you looking for ways to become your own boss? Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit and good customer service skills? If you’ve answered yes to all of these questions, then starting your own screen printing business might be the opportunity you’ve been searching for. 

Business Description

We think of screen printing, and we immediately think of t-shirts! Although that might be the most common printing method for custom T-shirts, any garments, coffee cups, merchandise, posters, stationery, labels, uniforms, and large banners can be screen printed. Custom screen printing relates to job-order printing and on-demand design – and the demand for such personalized products is increasing. 

Custom screen printers often work closely with their client to develop a specific and unique design. For many, it is also a way to create and sell their own designs. 

Industry Summary

According to IBISWorld, there are well over 12,000 businesses in the custom screen printing industry, commanding a $7 billion market share in the US. The barrier to entry into this industry is deemed low, but competition is high. 

Apparel printing is the biggest product segment by far, making up almost 50% of the entire custom screen printing production. 

There are currently no companies in the US that hold more than 5% of the market share. This is largely due to the highly competitive nature of this industry but also due to its localized market. Fort Dearborn Company and Multi Color Corp are two of the larger players in this industry. 

Industry Trends

The success of screen printing businesses will always be affected by the state of the country’s economy and the disposable income available. The cancellation of large events and festivals in 2020 impacted this industry heavily, for example.

IBISWorld notes an expected decline in print advertising, a trend observed globally. That said, the custom T-shirt printing industry alone is forecast to reach $9 billion by 2032, according to a recent ScreenPrintingMag news article. 

Target Market

Custom screen printing is a highly competitive market. Your competitors are not just within the US but increasingly overseas. That makes thorough market research and competitor analysis a vital part of the success of your business. 

What are you going to specialize in? Find your niche. Your target market could be start-ups and businesses developing their brands and needing uniforms, banners, labels, etc. Or you might decide to join the lucrative t-shirt and apparel custom printing market with your designs. Another segment could be event and festival merchandise. 

Checklist for Starting a Screen Printing Business

Starting a screen printing business can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it’s important to do your research first and make sure you have all the necessary tools in place. This checklist will help get you started on the right foot.

Step 1: Write a Business Plan

When starting a screen printing business, it’s important to create a business plan to lay out the roadmap for your success. Common elements that go into a business plan include a description of what you want to do, competition, financial projections, and potential challenges. I

In addition, creating a business plan forces you to contemplate various aspects of the business and can help identify potential roadblocks before they become costly problems. Ultimately, taking the time to write a thorough business plan can set your screen printing business up for long-term success.

Related: How to write a business plan

Step 2: Decide on a Business Name

Naming any business can be a challenge, but with some brainstorming, creative thinking, and checking that it is available to use, you’ll be able to come up with the perfect name for your screen printing business.

First, consider your target audience and the image you want to convey. Do you specialize in trendy shirts for teenagers or customized uniforms for corporate clients? Next, think about what sets your business apart from others in the industry. Are you known for speedy turnaround times or eco-friendly printing processes? You could also incorporate elements of your personal style or interests, such as including a favorite color or hobby in the name. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for input from friends and family. They may have ideas or insights that you hadn’t thought of before.

Related: Tips on naming a business

Step 3: Form a Business Entity

A business entity (also referred to as a business structure) refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business structures to choose from, which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability exposure, costs, and administrative requirements.

When deciding on which business entity is best for a screen printing business, it normally comes down to the sole proprietorship and Limited Liability Company.

A partnership opens the owners up to unnecessary personal liability because if a partner does something to get the business sued, or runs off with cash from the business, the other partners are personally liable to repay.
 
The corporation can be a good choice to minimize liability risk because it separates the business assets from the owner’s assets. If the corporation is sued or certain business debts can’t be paid back, the owners aren’t personally responsible to repay them. The downside to the corporation is that it is more complicated than all the other entities and requires more administration than the LLC. If you plan on raising a lot of investment though, the corporation is usually the better choice.

That leaves the sole proprietorship and LLC.

The sole proprietorship is the least expensive and easiest entity to start which is appealing. The downside is that the owner is personally liable should anything happen to the business, which is an important consideration. The LLC offers the ability to operate as a sole proprietorship with the liability protection of a corporation. Depending on the state, the cost to form an LLC runs from $40 – $500, which is pretty inexpensive for protecting the owners from business-related lawsuits and certain debts.

Related: Guide to forming your LLC
 

Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.


Some popular LLC formation services include:


IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

IncAuthority - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent the first year!

ZenBusiness - $49 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

Step 4: Select Your Location

When starting a screen printing business, one of the first decisions to make is where to set up shop.

For some, a home-based setup primarily operating online may be the most practical and cost-effective option, allowing for easy storage and a low overhead cost. However, operating from home may limit clientele and deter potential customers who prefer to do business in a professional storefront setting.

On the other hand, renting or buying a screen printing shop can provide greater visibility and credibility but comes with higher expenses such as rent and utilities.

If you plan to sell products out of your home, be sure there are no neighborhood covenants or landlord restrictions before starting.

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 5: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

It’s important to make sure that you have all of the necessary licenses and permits in place before starting your screen printing business.

Also, if you plan on printing copyrighted images, such as those for some sports teams, bands, etc. you will need to obtain licensing and pay a royalty in most cases, to legally sell that merchandise.

The specific requirements will vary depending on the location of the business, as well as whether you operate out of your home or a storefront. A few common ones to look out for include a sales tax permit, local business license, and Employer Identification Number (EIN).

Related: Common business licenses, permits, and registrations by state

Step 6: Find Suppliers

Starting a screen printing business requires more than just passion and creativity – it also requires the right tools and materials.

First and foremost, a reliable silk screen printer is necessary to transfer designs onto t-shirts or other items. Ink in various colors will be needed to complete the designs, as well as squeegees for spreading the ink evenly. Additional materials such as tape, emulsion, and screen fabric will also be required for prepping screens and ensuring quality results.

Along with screen printing equipment and materials, a screen printing business should also have reliable suppliers for purchasing high quality t-shirts or other products to print on.

Step 7: Find Financing

Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a screen printing business is another.  Fortunately, the cost to start a new screen printing business is relatively low; however, if funding is needed, it can be difficult for a startup.

Investors are typically going to be hard to access for this type of business and banks are typically going to want the borrower to have good credit and be able to invest at least 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.

Related: Finding the money to start a business

Step 8: Open a Business Bank Account

Keeping your small business and personal finances in separate bank accounts is important to track the income and expenses of your business and identify trends.
 
Many banks offer free business checking accounts, so be sure to find a cost-effective option for your business.

Step 9: Get your Marketing Plan in Place

One important aspect of any business is attracting customers and generating sales.

There are many ways to promote a screen printing business, depending on your target market. One way to market your new business is through word of mouth, by providing excellent service, and by asking satisfied clients to spread the word to friends and family. Networking with other retailers and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce in your local market can also provide opportunities. Being active on social media accounts like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are also valuable tools for sharing examples of your work and reaching a wider audience.

If you are marketing online, pay attention to eCommerce platforms like Shopify or BigCommerce to build a strong and well optimized online storefront.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to marketing – consider offering specials or promotions, participating in local events or markets, and creating packaging that showcases your branding and design skills. The key is finding what works best for you and your target market, and continually seeking out new ways to get your name out there.

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

Every business is going to need a logo. Make a professional logo in no time with the free logo makers from BrandCrowd and Canva.

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

As a business owner, it’s important to consider all the potential risks and liabilities you may face and opt for insurance coverage to protect you and your business.

Property insurance is important to cover damage to the building or loss of equipment. While this is often thought of for a storefront, it can also be important for a home-based business as most homeowner or renter’s policies don’t cover claims for business equipment or inventory.

Another type of insurance to consider is general liability insurance, which can provide coverage in case of accidents or injuries on the premises. Additionally, you may want to look into product liability insurance to protect against any issues with the products you produce for customers. And depending on if a vehicle is used in the business, commercial auto insurance may be worth looking into, as most personal auto insurance policies won’t cover a loss when the vehicle is being used for business purposes.

Related: Types of insurance your business may need

Step 11: Set up an Accounting System

When it comes to managing the finances of a screen printing business, having the right accounting software can make all the difference in accurately tracking income and expenses.

Also important is keeping track of orders, customer payments, and streamlining communications with clients.

Related: Setting up the accounting for your business

The thought of accounting can be intimidating for a lot of new entrepreneurs. There are a number of ways of handling bookkeeping, from DIY to hiring a bookkeeper. These include:

- Pen and paper - Low expense, but difficult to track.
- Spreadsheet - Low expense, but easy to make errors.
- Accounting software - Medium expense, but owner typically inputs expenses. Some great accounting software programs include Freshbooks or Wave Accounting.
- Hire a bookkeeper - Higher expense, though very affordable at $100-$200 per month in most cases. A dedicated bookkeeper will probably save money because, in addition to handling all of the bookkeeping (so you can focus on the business), they also provide personalized tax advice and ensure the business is in compliance.

Find bookkeepers in your local area or use a service like 800Accountant.

Common Questions

How much does it cost to start a screen printing business?

Because of the relatively low initial costs, this is an excellent opportunity for someone to start small, online and from home, test the waters, fine-tune the business plan and then gradually grow the business. 

Here are a few websites that specialize in selling screen printing presses and screen printing supplies. Some even point out what and the quantities you need for a basic starter kit:
Lawson Screen and Digital Products Inc.
Anthem Screen Printing
Screenprinting.com

You will see starter kits cost anything between $1,200 and $23,000. It depends on the type of equipment (screen printing machine, flash dryers, washout booth, heat presses, etc.) and the quantities you aim to print. 

Depending on your business model and your target market, also consider these additional points:
– A range of apparel in various sizes and/or colors – $500
– Printing supplies, chemicals, blank shirts, etc. – $300
– Licencing and insurance (depends on your area) – $250
– Graphic design software such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop – $100
– Marketing, web presence, branding – $100 – $4,000 (depending on your business setup, use of existing social media platforms, and level of competency in setting everything up yourself)
– Packaging and delivery service – $400

In summary: you can get started for as little as $2,700, with no significant overheads. Since you will likely be printing on demand, you will not have to invest in a large inventory.

How profitable is a screen printing business?

The T-shirt and apparel custom printing is where business growth and income are highest. However, it is a competitive market, and your designs will compete with thousands of others. 

Consider this: The average salary of a screen printer in the US is just under $31,400. Add your initial expenses, overheads, and running costs, and then work out what you will need to charge to achieve a healthy profit margin. 

Are there grants to start a screen printing business?

It’s extremely rare to find a grant to start a screen printing business. If you search for business grants, you will come across a lot of scams and misinformation. Occasionally an organization will offer grants to start a business, however, be skeptical and don’t provide any sensitive personal information or pay money to get more information.

Legitimate federal grants can be found at Grants.gov, and you can check on your state’s economic development office to see if they have any grants available.

What skills are needed to run a screen printing business?

Know your craft. If you are not already a screen printing virtuoso, we highly recommend you join a class to master the skills needed to bring your designs to life. There are various online classes available such as an introduction to screen printing on clothing; alternatively, check for screen printing classes in your area. 

Knowledge gained in such courses will help you in the long run, minimizing time-consuming and material-wasting errors. A screen printing certification will always be an extra feather in your cap. It will reassure clients that you have expert knowledge of industry standards and best practices. 

No matter your experience, it may be worth joining screen printing associations as they offer industry insights and professional development opportunities. A few relevant associations include:
American Screen Printing Association
FESPA, the global federation of national Associations for the screen, digital, and textile printing community

Excellent communication and marketing skills. Be prepared to work one on one with customers. Being an attentive listener and communicating your ideas, the process, and timelines clearly will help the success of your business immensely. Being a good networker will also help secure larger merchandise and event contracts.

Screen printing is a very visual industry. Your marketing material, your company’s logo, website, social media posts, and everything should have strong visuals, consistent branding, and a message that connects with your target audience. 

What is the NAICS code for a screen printing business?

The NAICS code for a commercial screen printing business is 323113.

The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.

Related: What is a NAICS code?

Final Thoughts

Do you have an artistic vein? Are you looking for an outlet for your creativity that can earn you an income as well?  A successful screen printing business combines all of that and can be a great way to ease yourself into being your own boss. 

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