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How to Start a Screen Printing Business

Written by:

Esther is a business strategist with over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, executive, educator, and management advisor.

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 Screen Printing Business

Fast Facts

Investment range

$9,000 - $27,000

Revenue potential

$90,000 - $360,000 p.a.

Time to build

0-3 months

Profit potential

$50,000 - $110,000 p.a.

Industry trend

Stable

Commitment

Flexible

Do you enjoy graphic design or have a flair for creating eye-catching works of art? Then starting a screen printing business could be a great way for you to grab a small slice of the nearly $8 billion US screen printing market.

Starting a screen-printing business is straightforward and requires little if any training. And thanks to low start-up costs, you could start your very own business without breaking the bank.

But, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to launch and run a successful printing business! As with any business, you’ll need to do some careful planning before you can start making money. Thankfully, you’ve come to the right place, as this step-by-step guide details all you need to do to put yourself on the path to screen printing success.

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

When you plan to start a business, you must choose one that fits your situation and preferences. That’s why, in this section, we’ll delve into everything you need to know to make that decision. 

Pros and cons

Before you venture into the world of screen printing, you should be aware of the pros and cons of the industry.

Pros

  • Low costs make it easy to get started
  • Work with a variety of materials and product types
  • More durable than heat press and digital printing

Cons

  • Production is pricey for small quantities
  • Color constraints mean no photo-based designs
  • Low barriers to entry means stiff competition

Screen printing industry trends

Following a pandemic-driven downturn, the market looks set for significant expansion, with the global screen printing industry expected to see strong 16% growth through 2027.

Industry size and growth

screen printing industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

screen printing industry Trends and Challenges

Trends shaping the screen printing industry include:

  • Use of customized t-shirts as marketing tool
  • Increasing ecommerce penetration
  • Rising demand for pop culture merchandise

Challenges in screen printing industry include;

  • Poor print quality
  • Health risks from chemicals
  • High level of competition

What kind of people work in screen printing?

screen printing industry demographics

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

Startup costs range from $9,000 to $27,000 or more. By far, the highest startup cost will be your screen printing equipment, which includes a screen printing press, a screen print dryer and more. If you need some training, there are countless screen printing courses and workshops online for as little as $40. 

If you’re looking to start with minimal investment, you’ll want to operate out of your home, at least in your first months. It’s also a good idea to look for used screen printing equipment online — this Facebook group with more than 6,000 members is a good place to start. 

On the flip side, the maximum budget will get you something along the lines of Lawson Screen Printing’s Advanced Start-Up Package, which will set you back nearly $16,000. You’ll also likely need commercial space to make good use of all your equipment.

Start-up CostsMinMaxAverage
Licenses and permits$100.00$300$200
Insurance$100.00$300$200
Branding, Marketing and Advertising$1,000.00$5,000$3,000
Website$200.00$1,000$600
Hiring$0.00$200$100
Screen Printing Equipment$7,000.00$16,000$11,500
Shop Décor and Furnishing$0.00$3,000$1,500
Miscellaneous$600$1,200$900
Total$9,000$27,000$18,000

How much can you earn from a screen printing shop?

screen printing business earnings forecast

Revenue will depend on the products you offer and the number of colors you expect to use. For example, printing a T-shirt with three colors will generate different revenue numbers than printing a mug with a single color.

Let’s use an order for 50 custom, three-colored T-shirts as an example. Blank T-shirts are $2 each, while your materials average out to $1 per T-shirt. That means your total cost of $150 breaks down to $3 for each T-shirt, which you then sell for $7 each, making $350. This means you’ll have a profit margin of about 55% and make $200 in profit from this order, which should take no longer than one hour to fulfill. 

In your first year or two, you might average five of these orders per week, bringing in more than $90,000 in annual revenue and around $50,000 in annual profit, assuming a 55% margin. After a few years you might generate 20 sales per week, but with higher overhead, due to staff and facilities, your margin will fall to 30% and you might only make $100 in profit from each order. Still, you’d make more than $360,000 in annual revenue. At a 30% margin, you’d make a tidy profit of almost $110,000.

What barriers to entry are there?

There aren’t many barriers to entry in the screen printing business, but one to be aware of is the intense competition from local, national, and even international players.

Another barrier to entry is that clients face no costs to switch to another service, which means you have got to be excellent at screen printing to keep your customers.

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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting a screen printing business, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market. 

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

Explain how the reader should identify an opportunity — examine the market for gaps and trends, consider your special skills and capabilities. 

Research screen printing businesses in your area to examine their products/services, price points, customer reviews, and what sells best. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing a screen printer that focuses on references to 1990s culture and style. 

You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry, like coffee mugs.

This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away. 

What? Determine your products or services

You could offer a standard set of screen printed T-shirts and mugs, and also offer custom printing for a wide variety of products, including backpacks, binders, ceramics, posters, wood, snowboards, medical devices and more. The possibilities are almost endless when it comes to screen printing. Do your research and decide what works best for you and your business. 

How much should you charge for screen printing?

Assuming you start from home as a solopreneur, your main costs will be materials and ink, and you should be able to achieve a profit margin of 50-55%. 

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

Your target market will hinge on the products you choose. If you focus on T-shirts for instance, you are likely to have a younger demographic, and could find them on platforms like TikTok and Instagram. If your products are mostly mugs, binders and signs, you would do better to target businesses on LinkedIn. 

Where? Choose your business premises

In the early stages, you’ll want to run your screen printing business from home to keep costs low. But as your business grows, you’ll likely need to hire workers and rent out a production facility. Find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.

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
screen printing business idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Screen Printing Business 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 
  • Name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “screen printing” or “custom T-shirts”, boosts SEO
  • Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “Prime Design Prints” over “Sports Screen Printing”
  • 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 Screen Printing Business Plan

Here are the key components of a business plan:

what to include in a business plan
  • Executive Summary: Summarize the objectives and strategies of your screen printing business, emphasizing custom designs on various apparel and promotional items.
  • Business Overview: Describe the core service of screen printing, targeting custom apparel creation for businesses, organizations, and individuals.
  • Product and Services: Detail the types of products offered, from t-shirts and hoodies to tote bags and corporate wear, along with design services.
  • Market Analysis: Assess the demand for personalized printed products and identify key customer segments like local businesses, schools, and event organizers.
  • Competitive Analysis: Evaluate the local and online competition, noting how your business will provide superior quality, service, or design options.
  • Sales and Marketing: Outline your strategy to reach potential clients, such as through social media marketing, attending trade shows, or partnerships with local businesses.
  • Management Team: Highlight the expertise and experience of the team that will manage the business and production operations.
  • Operations Plan: Describe the production process, from design approval to printing and fulfillment.
  • Financial Plan: Provide an overview of start-up costs, pricing strategy, cost management, and revenue projections.
  • Appendix: Include additional documents like sample designs, client testimonials, or detailed market research to support your business plan.

If you’ve never created a business plan before, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider finding and 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 screen 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 screen 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.
  • 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.
  • Corporation – 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 need 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 most 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 be on hand to 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: Venture capital investors take an ownership stake in exchange for funds, so keep in mind that you’d be sacrificing some control over your business. This is generally only available for businesses with high growth potential.
  • Angel investors: Reach out to your entire network in search of people interested in investing in early-stage startups in exchange for a stake. Established angel investors are always looking for good opportunities. 
  • 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.

For a screen printing business, your best bet is probably going the personal route or reaching out to friends and family. Although, if you have a great concept, you could give crowdfunding a shot as well. 

Step 8: Apply for Screen Printing Business Licenses and Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

Starting a screen 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 screen 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 may want to use graphic design tools such as Affinity Designer, Adobe Illustrator, and CorelDRAW for photo editing, typography, and more. 

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:

  • Social Media Engagement: Leverage platforms like Instagram and Facebook to showcase your unique designs, share behind-the-scenes glimpses of your printing process, and engage with your audience through polls and contests.
  • Local Partnerships: Collaborate with local businesses, schools, and community organizations for custom merchandise or promotional items, fostering a strong local presence and word-of-mouth referrals.
  • Targeted Samples and Demonstrations: Provide sample prints to local businesses and organizations, allowing them to experience the quality of your work firsthand, and consider hosting live printing demonstrations at events to attract potential clients.
  • Referral Programs: Implement a referral program that rewards existing customers for referring new clients, creating a cost-effective way to expand your customer base through word-of-mouth recommendations.
  • Seasonal Promotions: Capitalize on holidays, sports seasons, or local events by offering limited-time promotions on themed merchandise, attracting customers looking for unique and timely prints.
  • Quality Business Cards and Flyers: Design visually appealing business cards and flyers that showcase your printing capabilities, distributing them strategically at local businesses, community bulletin boards, and relevant events.
  • Customer Loyalty Programs: Encourage repeat business by implementing a customer loyalty program, offering discounts or exclusive deals to clients who consistently choose your screen printing services.
  • Online Tutorials and DIY Kits: Share screen printing tutorials on platforms like YouTube to position your business as an industry authority, and consider selling DIY screen printing kits to a broader audience.
  • Attend Trade Shows and Events: Participate in relevant industry trade shows, fairs, and community events to network with potential clients, suppliers, and collaborators, expanding your reach beyond online platforms.
  • Quality Assurance and Guarantees: Build trust with customers by offering quality assurance guarantees, ensuring satisfaction with your products and services, and prominently displaying positive customer reviews on your marketing materials.

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 screen printing business 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: 

  • The hottest, coolest T-shirts in town 
  • Mugs, tablets, desks, posters — your whole business branded
  • Custom screen printing at great rates! 

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 screen printing business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in screen 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 a home office, you may not need any employees. But as your business grows, you will likely need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a screen printing business would include:

  • Screen Printers
  • Designers
  • Marketing Lead
  • General Manager

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 Screen Printing Business – Start Making Money! 

Running a Business

Now that you’ve put a strong foundation in place, it’s time to get out there and grab your slice of the $8 billion US screen printing industry! 

To ensure your business starts off on the right foot, here are some key tips to keep in mind:

  1. Meet your deadlines: Whether it’s the deadline for a printing project or your bills, make sure you meet your time commitments—your stakeholders will appreciate it!
  2. Provide more value than you take: Ensure your clients and stakeholders get more value from you than you take from them, and they’ll stick with you for life.
  3. Always implement quality control: A simple quality assurance check will reduce product returns and customer dissatisfaction.
  4. Engage the local community: You know the local community and have a direct connection with them, so it’s better to serve their needs before you market your products on a state or national level.
  5. Address complaints with humility: Always listen to your clients, especially their negative remarks as these are areas where you can improve. And even if a complaint is illogical or unfair, address it calmly and professionally.
  6. Keep improving your production capacity: You don’t know when a big client will come out of the wood work. Make sure you’re able to seize the opportunity when the time comes.
  7. Attend events: Ensure your participation in industry events and trade shows. Bring your best designs as samples and prove yourself as a creative and capable printer.

Screen Printing Business FAQs

Is screen printing a profitable business?

It can be if you generate enough demand for your services. As a solopreneur with minimal expenses and 20 hours worth of printing projects per week, you’d earn just shy of $150k in net profit per year, on average. If you operate in a similar capacity with employees, your profit can be much higher.

How much does a screen printer cost?

The cost of screen printing equipment starts from as low as $1,500 for hobbyists, $7,000 for beginners, and $42,850 for advanced-level printers. The cost of an automatic screen printing machine ranges from $30,000 to $80,000.

How do I make my screen printing business successful?

To make your screen printing business successful, you should first focus on creating a valuable offering for your customers. Next, you’ll need to focus on key areas, including business planning, training, team building, targeting a niche, and marketing strategy.

What do you need to start screen printing at home?

To start screen printing at home, you will need the following basic equipment and supplies:

  • Screen printing press: A device that holds the screen and allows you to apply ink onto the printing surface.
  • Screens: A mesh screen stretched over a frame, which is used to transfer the design onto the printing surface.
  • Squeegee: A tool with a flat, rubber blade used to push the ink through the screen onto the printing surface.
  • Ink: Specialized screen printing ink designed for fabric or other surfaces.
  • Emulsion and emulsion remover: Emulsion is used to create stencils on the screens, and emulsion remover is used to clean and reclaim the screens.
  • Screen exposure unit or light source: A light source used to expose the emulsion-coated screens to create the stencil.
Is it hard to start screen printing?

Starting screen printing can have a learning curve, but it is possible to start at home with dedication and practice. Understanding the basic techniques, such as preparing screens, mixing inks, and operating the press, is essential. There are various online resources, tutorials, and classes available to help you learn the techniques and best practices of screen printing. 

What material is best for screen printing?

The best material for screen printing depends on the type of printing you want to do. Common materials used for screen printing include fabric (such as cotton, polyester, or blends) for creating custom apparel, paper for printing posters or artwork, and various substrates like wood, metal, or plastic for creating custom prints or signage.

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How to Start a Screen Printing Business