Business Overview

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.

Who is this business right for?

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.

What happens during a typical day at a screenprinting 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 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 screenprinting 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.

What is the growth potential for a screenprinting 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.

Getting Started

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful screenprinting 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 are the costs involved in opening a screenprinting 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 steps to start a screenprinting business?

Once you're ready to start your screenprinting business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:

  1. Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
  2. Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your screenprinting business is sued.
  3. Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
  4. Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your screenprinting business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
  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.
  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.
  7. Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
  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.
  9. Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Where can I 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.

Recommended: offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for for free.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a screenprinting 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.

Growing Your Business

How to promote & market a screenprinting 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.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

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.

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.

Legal Considerations

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, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

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.

Reduce Personal Liability

Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) ensures your personal assets are protected in the event your business is sued.

What is an LLC?

Form an LLC in 5 easy steps

Earning Potential

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.

What are the ongoing expenses for a screenprinting 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.

How much profit can a screenprinting 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.

Next Steps

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