How to Start a Screen Printing Business
A screen printing business specializes in printing images on t-shirts or other items of clothing. There is flexibility to operate such a business completely online or via a traditional store. The store may also offer pre-set options for images and phrases as well as allowing customers to submit their own designs. The ability of such a store to create t-shirts for schools and businesses also provides a great way to build community spirit.
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Learn how to start your own Screen Printing Business and whether it is the right fit for you.
Start a screen printing business by following these 10 steps:
- Plan your Screen Printing Business
- Form your Screen Printing Business into a Legal Entity
- Register your Screen Printing Business for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Screen Printing Business
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Screen Printing Business
- Get Screen Printing Business Insurance
- Define your Screen Printing Business Brand
- Create your Screen Printing Business Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your screen printing business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
STEP 1: Plan your business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a screen printing business?
It is relatively cheap to open a screen printing business. The specialized printer you need can typically costs $10,000 or less; the supplies you need to start, including many shirts to print on, can typically be obtained for less than $5,000. Such a business can be operated from your home, so there is no need to lease a separate space. Instead, you can spend about $500 to design a professional website, and about $5,000 on traditional advertising, including radio ads, newspaper ads, and a combination of fliers, business cards, and direct mail.
What are the ongoing expenses for a screen printing business?
The ongoing expenses for this business are variable because you may have to order more materials in some months and fewer materials in other months. Generally, you will spend about two dollars per t-shirt, and about $1.50 per silk screen you create. If you buy pre-made silk screens, they cost about $25 a piece, and ink costs amount to about five cents per shirt. Beyond this—and the need to pay a hundred dollars or less per year to host your website—you don't really have any ongoing expenses, as extra costs such as shipping are billed to the customer directly.
Who is the target market?
While people of all demographics buy screen printed t-shirts, your target market is typically males between the ages of 15 and 25. Such a demographic is more social and enjoys using custom t-shirts to express aspects of their interests and identity to new people that they meet.
How does a screen printing business make money?
A screen printing business makes money by selling individuals t-shirts and other items of clothing with preset or customized designs on them.
How much can you charge customers?
How much you charge customers varies based on many factors such as t-shirt colors, amount of shirts, and how quickly the customer needs them. For instance, you might charge nine dollars for printing a design on a single color shirt, but if the same customer orders a hundred or more, you may charge them as little as five or six dollars. For someone ordering a shirt with six colors, you'd likely charge between twelve and fourteen dollars for the shirt or as low as eight dollars if they are buying in bulk.
How much profit can a screen printing business make?
The amount of profit you can make is completely dependent on how many customers and orders you get per year. Some successful screen printers make $100,000 a year or more by amassing large numbers of clients that need to regularly order shirts in bulk. Realistically, your profits will be smaller to start with, although the ability to do this business from home means that you can start it as a second job and build your brand and reputation before making this your sole form of income.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Most of your customers will order from you online, so consider investing in some form of software to help you monitor customer data and email them about your latest products and deals. Try to offer a large variety of clothing options—while every screenprinter sells t-shirts, you may be able to sell things like hoodies and tank tops that the competition simply doesn't have. Finally, keep detailed records of what is selling well and what is not, and use each quarter to refocus your business on giving your customers more of what they want.
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Screenprinting Business Name Generator
If you operate a sole proprietorship, you might want to operate under a business name other than your own name. Visit our DBA guide to learn more.
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your screen printing business is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
You can form an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
Learn how to get an EIN in our What is an EIN guide or find your existing EIN using our EIN lookup guide.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
- LLC Taxes
- Sole Proprietorship vs LLC
- LLC vs Corporation
- LLC vs S Corp
- How to Start an S Corp
- S Corp vs C Corp
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.
Open a business bank account
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Open net 30 accounts
Net 30 accounts are used to establish and build business credit as well as increase business cash flow. With a net 30 account, businesses buy goods and repay the full balance within a 30-day term.
NetMany net 30 credit vendors report to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our best net 30 vendors, guide and start building business credit.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a screen printing business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Certificate of Occupancy
A screen printing business is generally run out of a storefront. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a screen printing business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your screen printing business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
STEP 7: Get business insurance
Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.
There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.
Learn more about General Liability Insurance.
Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.
Recommended: Learn what business insurance for your Screen Printing Business will cost.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
How to promote & market a screen printing business
As mentioned earlier, be sure to create a professionally designed website. In addition to traditional newspaper and radio advertising, be sure to advertise on social media—highly visual services such as Instagram provide a natural way to show off your designs. Finally, make personal contact with as many businesses and community groups as you can, as these organizations typically have need to produce custom t-shirts in large quantities.
How to keep customers coming back
In addition to the advertising methods mentioned above, you should hold online contests to build interest. This might include free shirts for people who submit the best new shirt designs, or discounted shirts for those who refer their friends. Also, be sure to pre-make shirts you know will be successful and sell them at local events. From music festivals to comic conventions, any concentrated gathering of people with the same interests represents an opportunity to reach a large audience with your products.
Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.
Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2023 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
Start a Screen Printing Business in your State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
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Is this Business Right For You?
This business is great for artists, giving them a venue to create their own designs and sell them via t-shirts. It is also great for those with strong community ties, as it lets them build long-lasting relationships providing t-shirts for various high school clubs, small businesses, local churches, and other organizations. Finally, it's a good business for savvy social media users as they can leverage these skills to reach diverse audiences of customers online.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
What happens during a typical day at a screen printing business?
The daily activities of a screen printing business are pretty straightforward: much of your time is spent communicating with existing customers, advertising to prospective customers, and finalizing designs for shirts. Beyond this, your time is spent buying and receiving raw materials, printing designs on shirts, and delivering them to your customers.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful screen printing business?
Skills in Photoshop and other image manipulation software will be invaluable in starting your business. Similarly, previous experience printing your own t-shirt designs for friends and family is a major help before doing so professionally. Photography experience can also be useful because there are some parallel skills, including working in specialized dark rooms.
What is the growth potential for a screen printing business?
The growth potential for such a business is modest, with the industry growing nearly two percent between 2011 and 2016. It is worth noting that the increasing popularity of buying custom products online through sites such as Etsy gives you more venues to find customers.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a screen printing business?
Try to quickly identify a target market and create a specialty product for that market. Be sure to give yourself ample time to learn how to operate the machinery and develop shirts in short amounts before doing it full time. Finally, don't forget to attach tags to the shirts you sell—this serves as an additional way to build your brand and advertise your products.
How and when to build a team
Because many screen printing businesses are run from people's homes, it is unlikely you will need a team such as a formal retail team. However, you may want to partner with gifted artists in order to offer a greater diversity of designs for your products. If you do so, you should wait until after the first year (at minimum) to ensure there is enough demand to warrant expanding your team and splitting your profits.
Get more ideas with our Business Ideas Generator.
Check out our How to Start a Business page.
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- American Screen Printing Association
- Specialty Graphic Imaging Association
- Instant Imprints franchise opportunity