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How to Start a Printing Business

Written by:

Howard Tillerman is the Chief Marketing Officer for Step By Step Business and an award-winning marketing professional.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Start a Printing Business

Fast Facts

Investment range

$8,100 - $32,200

Revenue potential

$100,000 - $200,000 p.a.

Time to build

3-6 months

Profit potential

$50,000 - $100,000 p.a.

Industry trend

Growing

Commitment

Full-time

The global printing industry is worth more than $800 billion and presents a wealth of opportunities amid the shift to digital and 3D printing. You could grab a slice of this vast and growing market, but you may have to work hard and acquire the relevant entrepreneurial knowledge first.

Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place, as this in-depth guide lays out every step you’ll take to develop and launch your own successful printing business.

Let’s dive right in!

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

The first step is market analysis, to understand what’s happening in the industry and the prospects of building a successful business.

Pros and cons

Before you open a print shop, it’s best to weigh the pros and cons to help you determine if the risk is worth it.

Pros

  • Highly profitable
  • High customer retention rate
  • Easy to start; work from home if needed
  • Broad and exciting market
  • Little experience required

Cons

  • Cutthroat competition
  • High overhead costs

Printing industry trends

The printing industry is seeing a rebirth. For starters, research firm Mordor Intelligence expects the global printing market to see steady annual growth of nearly 2.5% for the next five years.((https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/commercial-printing-market)) 

That’s nothing compared to the explosive forecast for 3D printing, which is becoming more common in many sectors, including healthcare and manufacturing.

Industry size and growth

printing industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

printing industry Trends and Challenges

Trends shaping the printing industry include:

  • Growing preference for 3D and digital printing
  • Emergence of erasable printing technology, security printing, and cloud printing

Challenges in the printing industry include:

  • Declining demand due to adoption of digital technology
  • High level of competition

What kind of people work in printing?

printing industry demographics

How much does it cost to start a printing business?

The cost of starting a printing business depends on location, initial equipment, and upfront supplies.

You should expect to spend at least $40,000 for a barebones operation and up to $400,000 on the higher end. However, most in the printing business spend about $200,000 for a well-rounded print shop.

Signing on with a franchise such as the UPS Store boosts income. But if you’re not getting a franchise, your startup investment as an independent printing business will cover the following:

Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Printing shop$4,000 - $12,000$8,000
Equipment$1,500 - $12,000$6,750
Printing supplies$1,000 - $5,000$3,000
Software per year$500 - $1,000$750
Website per year$100 - $200$150
Marketing$500 - $1,000$750
Insurance and licensing$500 - $1,000$750
Total$8,100 - $32,200$20,150

How much can you earn from a printing business?

printing business earnings forecast

Depending on industry segment and size of operation, a printing business tends to generate $100,000 to $200,000 in annual revenue, at a 50% profit margin. After costs, such as design software subscriptions, equipment maintenance, supplies, salaries, rent, and insurance, you’ll have a pre-tax profit of $50,000 to $100,000 per year.

Of course, if you add another printer, move to a larger space, or open a second and third location, you can make significantly more.

What barriers to entry are there?

The biggest barrier to entry in the printing industry is the high level of competition. Printing is a relatively popular market, attracting a lot of entrepreneurs. Your ability to offer competitive pricing and custom print options can help you gain a share of the market.

The high cost of equipment is another barrier. Printing equipment is expensive, and unless you have adequate capital, you’ll have a problem running a well-rounded service or outperforming your competitors.

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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

The second step to starting a printing business is to get more clarity about what you need to do to achieve success. Here’s what you need to do during this phase:

Market research will give you the upper hand, even if you’re already positive that you have a perfect product or service. Conducting market research is important, because it can help you understand your customers better, who your competitors are, and your business landscape.

Why? Identify an opportunity

Your competition will be other businesses offering the same services in your area. You will also be competing against larger companies with a nationwide presence, such as American Printing.

One of the easiest ways to establish a strong presence quickly in the printing industry is to leverage franchising. Partnering with printing franchises such as The UPS Store can provide your business a steady stream of business cards, brochures, and other marketing materials to boost income.

These materials are an integral part of fostering relationships during seminars, trade shows, and other promotional events.

What? Determine your services

Running a print shop typically involves providing one or more printing services, including screen, offset, 3D printed products, or digital printing. You could also offer a combination of services, such as screen and digital. Most printing businesses offer various specialized services such as T-shirt printing, signage, brochures, magazines, business cards, catalogs, and more.

Knowing which commercial printing service to start will help you determine your target customers, competition, and how to stand out.

  • Digital printing involves creating designs on a computer and then printing it on various materials, including paper, canvas, fabric, and more. The leading digital printing technologies include inkjet and laser. Inkjet is commonly used for signages, short print runs, and posters. Laser printers are used for direct mails and brochures.
  • Traditional offset printing, also known as lithography, is ideal for high-volume commercial jobs. Ever seen a video of newspapers running through big rollers? That’s offset printing.
  • Screen or silk printing involves pressing ink through a stenciled mesh screen to create a printed design. It is popular for T-shirts, mugs, and billboards.
  • The newest and fastest growing market segment is 3D printing, which involves the construction of a three-dimensional object from a computer design. This is not your grandfather’s printing method.

With a niche strategy, you can leverage your expertise in a particular area to stand out from your competition.

Think of it as a way to help you focus on printing services that your competitors aren’t offering in your area.

Decide whether you want to provide digital, screen, or offset printing services, or a combination of these services. That way, you won’t have a problem identifying your ideal customers.

While most print shops run from Monday through to Friday, operating hours depend on your current orders, which means you might work on weekends and late hours if you have a deadline to meet.

How much should you charge for printing?

Your pricing structure can make or break your printing business. Here are a few pricing strategies you can use:

Cost + markup pricing

This model involves determining the price by forecasting the cost of printing for a specific project then adding the desired profit markup on top.

Gain market share pricing

This strategy involves setting low prices to gain market share against competitors. The model works well if you’re offering multiple printing services.

For instance, you may lower prices for 3D printing to attract new customers knowing that you’ll later sell these clients more profitable services such as long-run offset printing. Research industry rates to help you determine the best pricing model for your business.

Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

You’ve chosen your niche. The next thing you want to do is pinpoint your target customers. Targeting specific groups of potential clients can help reduce your marketing costs and maximize profits.

For instance, if you run a 3D printing business, your target customers would be display companies, ad agencies, marketing firms, and manufacturers. If you’re operating a screen printing business, your customers would include college students and T-shirt design firms.

When you know the printing customers to target, you can easily reach them, not to mention that you’ll be in a better position to provide quality services.

Where will your business be based?

While you can run your printing service from home, you’re better off with a storefront location. Ideally, you’ll want an area that’s visible and accessible.

Even if you don’t plan to attract many walk-in customers, a visible location can help spread the word about your business to local customers. You’ll also need a site that offers quick access to clients picking up their orders and people delivering supplies.

Also, as you evaluate a potential location for your print shop, consider zoning regulations to ensure that your chosen site allows for the legal operation of your business. Lastly, make sure that the cost of renting and running your selected location is within your budget.

You can find commercial space to rent in your area on Craigslist, Crexi, and Commercial Cafe. When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these rules of thumb:

  • Central location accessible via public transport
  • Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
  • Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
  • Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
printing business idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Printing Company Name

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better 
  • The name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “printers” or “digital printing”, boosts SEO
  • Choose a name that allows for expansion: “Inkwell Printing Solutions” over “T-Shirt Printing Hub” or “Business Card Printing Solutions”
  • A location-based name can help establish a strong connection with your local community and help with the SEO but might hinder future expansion

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that sets your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity. 

Step 4: Create a Printing Business Plan

Here are the key components of a business plan:

what to include in a business plan
  • Executive Summary: A concise overview of the business plan, summarizing key points and objectives.
  • Business Overview: A detailed description of the printing business, including its mission, vision, and core values.
  • Product and Services: Clearly outline the printing services offered, such as digital printing, offset printing, and additional services like graphic design.
  • Market Analysis: Research and analysis of the printing industry, including target market demographics, trends, and potential opportunities.
  • Competitive Analysis: Assessment of competitors in the printing market, identifying strengths, weaknesses, and strategies to gain a competitive edge.
  • Sales and Marketing: Strategies for promoting and selling printing services, including pricing, advertising, and sales channels.
  • Management Team: Introduction to key members of the management team, highlighting their skills and roles in the business.
  • Operations Plan: Details on the day-to-day operations of the printing business, covering production processes, equipment, and workflow.
  • Financial Plan: A comprehensive financial forecast, including startup costs, revenue projections, and a break-even analysis.
  • Appendix: Supplementary materials, such as resumes, additional market research, or legal documents, supporting the information presented in the business plan.

If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist to create a top-notch business plan for you.

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s complete, you’ll have your own business! 

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you are planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to printing. 

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state. 

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your printing business will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely. 

Here are the main options:

types of business structures
  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just needs to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using an online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.

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Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN. 

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate in a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you are completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

types of business funding
  • Bank loans: This is the most common method, but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Venture capital: Offer potential investors an ownership stake in exchange for funds, keeping in mind that you would be sacrificing some control over your business.
  • Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.

Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding a printing business. You might also try crowdfunding if you have an innovative concept.

Step 8: Apply for Printing Business Licenses and Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

Starting a printing business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits. 

You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more. 

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.

Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your printing business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account. 

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

types of business insurance
  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of any of the above insurance types.

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

Launching a Business

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business. 

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks.  

You can use design software such as The Print Shop, Canva, and Printavo, to create professional print layouts, adding flair to your projects.

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero
  • If you’re unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial. 

Develop your website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism.

You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google. 

Marketing

Here are some powerful marketing strategies for your future business:

  • Local Partnerships: Forge partnerships with local businesses, such as event planners, schools, and restaurants, to offer exclusive printing services, creating a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Sample Kits: Develop eye-catching sample kits showcasing your printing capabilities and distribute them to potential clients, leaving a lasting impression and tangible evidence of your quality.
  • Social Media Engagement: Leverage social media platforms by regularly sharing visually appealing content, highlighting your printing projects, and engaging with your audience through contests or polls to build a strong online presence.
  • Referral Programs: Implement a referral program where existing clients receive discounts or perks for referring new business, turning satisfied customers into advocates for your printing services.
  • Specialized Packages: Create specialized printing packages for occasions like weddings, corporate events, or product launches, demonstrating your ability to tailor services to specific needs.
  • Community Events Sponsorship: Sponsor local events or community gatherings to increase brand visibility, and consider providing on-site printing services to showcase your capabilities directly to potential customers.
  • Interactive Workshops: Host workshops or seminars on printing techniques, design trends, or DIY printing projects, positioning your business as an authority in the field and attracting a diverse audience.
  • Customer Loyalty Programs: Develop loyalty programs offering discounts or exclusive deals for repeat customers, fostering long-term relationships and incentivizing clients to choose your printing services consistently.
  • Targeted Direct Mail Campaigns: Design and execute targeted direct mail campaigns to specific industries or demographics, showcasing how your printing services can meet their unique needs.
  • Testimonials and Case Studies: Collect and showcase client testimonials and case studies that emphasize successful collaborations, building trust and credibility with potential customers.

Focus on USPs

unique selling proposition

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your printing meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire. 

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your printing business could be:

  • Fastest printing service in town!
  • If you can design it, we can print it
  • No job is too small, or too big

Networking

You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a print shop, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in printing for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections. 

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in printing. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership. Online businesses might also consider affiliate marketing as a way to build relationships with potential partners and boost business.

Step 12: Build Your Team

Building a Team for a New Business

If you’re starting out small from home, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a printing business would include:

  • Designers and Printers
  • General Manager
  • Marketing Lead
  • Accountant

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need. 

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent. 

Step 13: Run a Printing Business – Start Making Money!

Running a Business

In the near future, 3D printing and digital printing will likely come to dominate the market. Other trends to look out for include erasable printing technology, security printing, and cloud printing. A smart entrepreneur would get in now while the market is still taking shape.

You’re now ready to start printing and making money! Thought you might want to bookmark this page, just in case.

Printing Business FAQs

Can you make money with print on demand?

Yes, you can. However, you’ll need to partner with the right people and stores. Also, you must have a well-thought-out marketing plan and, of course, sell high-demand products.
One of the critical determinants of how much money you can make with a print-on-demand business is the quality of your designs – so create high-quality designs to attract customers.

How much money can you make printing t-shirts?

The amount of revenue you can generate with a t-shirt business depends on several factors, such as your customer base and location.
You can make about $573 with an average order of 72 custom t-shirts which takes one hour to print. Wages and materials cost about $169, leaving you with a profit of $304.

Is 3D printing a profitable business?

Yes, it is. Even so, revenue may vary depending on your target market and location. Industry insiders say the prospects look good since 3D printing is still at its infant stage. The trick is to invest in the right equipment to produce work that customers can buy at a premium price.

How do printing companies get clients?

Printing companies can acquire clients through networking, referrals, online presence, direct marketing, local partnerships, and participating in industry events.

Are digital prints profitable?

Digital prints can be profitable due to cost efficiency, quick turnaround times, and the ability to offer customized prints, but profitability may vary.

How do I make my printing business successful?

To make a printing business successful, focus on high-quality products/services, excellent customer service, strong branding and marketing, staying updated with industry trends, building relationships, expanding service offerings, efficient operations, and continuous improvement.

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How to Start a Printing Business