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Below is an excerpt from my book, “Made to Make It: A Guide To Screen Printing Success.”  Learn helpful tips and tricks on how to run a screen printing business.

I think of production equipment the same way I think of buying materials and supplies—quality first. Remember, you get paid as a screen printer when the shirt comes out the end of the dryer and ships to the customer. Good production equipment pays for itself in overhead and labor every time. Your most expensive cost as a screen printer is labor. If you spend $800 more a month leasing or renting high-end production equipment, all you have to do is print an extra 800-1200 shirts per month, and you’re in the black, plus you have happier employees and more reliable gear!

When I started out as a DIY screen printer working out of my mom’s kitchen, I was not production-minded. Printing 30 shirts an hour was flying! So when we started distributing 4-6 station Riley Hopkins manual presses at Ryonet in 2005, which could print 100-120 shirts per hour, I thought we were changing the game for screen printers! Over the next ten years, Ryonet supplied the market with over 80,000 manual screen printing presses. We sold to everyone, from the DIY printer to Nike. The equipment that we sold (and now build) at Ryonet is durable, affordable, easy to use and, as of the writing of this book, is the only that comes with a limited lifetime warranty.

If you think about it, screen printing is an attractive industry to get into, in part because of the low barriers to entry. For under $10K you can set up an entire manual shop with a 6 color/4 station Riley Hopkins press; conveyor dryer; and everything else you need to start producing shirts. That’s a relatively low investment, especially since you can start operating out of your house. Using a manual press, you can print between 400-800 shirts a day and, assuming you maintain a low overhead, make a good living as a small business.

Let’s Do Some Quick Math

400 shirts per day * $2 gross profit per shirt = $800 gross profit per day

$800 per day * 5 days per week * 51 working weeks = $204K annual gross profit

Even after deducting all your other expenses, that’s a pretty good take for a printer who’s just getting started! We’ve helped lots of small companies succeed using a manual printing model, whether they are selling direct or through distributors. That’s not to say manual printing isn’t without its cons. It does have limitations as compared to operating an automated press. And, while an automated press is definitely a bigger investment, if you can swing it, it can afford you better scalability for long-term growth.

Keeping the Presses Full and the Overhead Low

As a manual printer, it’s difficult to accept jobs that generate less than $1 profit per garment. Sure, there are lots of profitable jobs out there, but the trick is keeping your press filled up with them. Many owner-operators find themselves having to hit the street to drum up more business, which forces them to hire a printer to keep things going back at the shop—eating into their margins.

Maintaining Quality and Consistency

It’s hard to find manual printers that can print at the same quality over repeated runs. And while the varied results may work for the local soccer team, they can limit your ability to print for high volume or high-end retail markets who demand a consistent quality of product.

Automating the printing process can help you avoid these challenges from the start. The average “new” automated press can produce 2-3X the amount of garments as a manual press with a single operator and can double that with 2-3 operators. Compared to the cost of hiring a full-time printer, a monthly payment on an entry-level automated press is approximately 50-70% of the overhead of an employee. Besides helping you avoid the costs associated with hiring, an automated press allows you to take on higher volume work, which reduces the cost of printing each garment. And because you can print a higher volume, in less time, an automated press can free up time to focus on other business building activities.

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Like what you read? Get more great business tips on running a screen printing business from my book, “Made to Make It: A Guide To Screen Printing Success.”

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