Go back to your childhood for a moment. What did you dream of doing with your life? Did you want to become an astronaut, or maybe a dinosaur trainer? Well, for Bhavik Dhanak, that dream was to own a clothing brand. He wanted to print his own designs, and started to learn screen printing through YouTube.
When he entered high school, he started getting more serious. Aesthetic Imprints, based in Frederick, Maryland, was born in early 2017, during Bhavik’s senior year of high school. Yeah, you read that right. Bhavik is now a 22-year-old print hustler who’s been screen printing since he was 16 years old. Starting a business as a teenager isn’t easy, but Bhavik didn’t let that stop him from day one.
Photo by Bhavik Dhanak
During Bhavik's senior year of high school, his career coach told him to go for it and make his clothing brand a reality. Wanting to jump straight into screen printing, Bhavik bought a blue press on Ebay, but couldn’t wait for the press to arrive to print some shirts. The screens and ink had arrived before the press, so he got started. He placed a shirt on the kitchen table and had his family members hold the screen in place so he could screen print on it.
Soon enough, Bhavik realized that just having a press and some supplies wasn’t going to cut it. He needed a full shop setup: emulsion, exposure unit, ink, and more. He used his savings from snow shoveling jobs to buy the basics, and got printing.
Beginner’s luck favored him, and the first time he burned a screen and printed a shirt went perfectly. After his beginner’s luck ran out though, Bhavik struggled to learn the screen printing process. It doesn’t happen overnight.
The first time he got paid for a job was euphoric. His career coach in high school asked Bhavik for an order of club t-shirts. Bhavik agreed, designing and printing the order of 20 shirts. The logo he had designed included multiple colors, and Bhavik struggled to make it work on his Ebay press. He made it work. When he dropped the order off, he got a taste of the fruits of his hard work and motivation.
“She gave me a check and I was like, ‘Wow, did I just make money selling t-shirts to my school?” Bhavik said.
He experienced the rewards of his hard work, and wanted more. But first, he needed to get some better equipment.
Aesthetic Imprints got its start in Bhavik’s family’s townhouse in early 2017. Bhavik’s living room became the darkroom, with tarps secured across the windows to block off light (it looked like a haunted house all year round). When Bhavik was printing, his press took up the front entry, so no one could get in or out of the house. Since he didn’t have a washout booth, he used his driveway. His family got HOA complaints about the mess that ink and emulsion made on the pavement.
The old Aesthetic Imprints. Bhavik blocked up windows and the entry of his family's home to make room for his print setup. Photo by Bhavik Dhanak.
Then Bhavik’s family moved to a bigger house with a basement. Bhavik set up shop in a corner of the basement and decided to invest in better equipment, since he had a space dedicated to screen printing. He talked with a rep from ScreenPrinting.com for hours, who walked him through the needs of his shop. Bhavik decided to jump all in and purchased a Riley Hopkins Jr. 6x4 press, a flash dryer, an exposure unit, emulsion, ink, and a Riley Jr. Conveyor Dryer.
Better equipment meant better prints. While Bhavik had managed to pull off multicolor jobs on his Ebay press, the stars practically needed to align in order for the print to look decent. With his 6x4, he not only had more color heads and platens to work with, but had micros to help him dial in jobs. The press was a huge upgrade, but Bhavik’s favorite new piece of equipment was the conveyor dryer.
“It doesn’t matter if you have an amazing print. If you’re not curing it properly, that print is going to be worthless,” Bhavik said.
By now, Aesthetic Imprints had taken over the entire basement. In 2021, he added embroidery to his shop offerings. Why? Because it’s awesome.
“I feel like screen printing and embroidery are the best combo,” Bhavik said.
His goal was always to add embroidery, but he wanted to make money from screen printing first. Mastering one craft before adding another is always better than struggling with both. Besides, with an established screen printing clientele, he already had customers to offer embroidery too.
But how does a young entrepreneur get customers? For Bhavik, it wasn’t easy.
BUILDING A CLIENTELE BASE
One thing many new print shops struggle with is finding customers. Now imagine you’re still a minor. Getting customers starting out as a 16 year old kid is hard. No one trusts you because, well, you’re 16. Most teenagers aren’t known for their responsibility and great decision-making skills. So how do you get customers when you’re that young?
Bhavik started by DMing people on Instagram, sending emails, and cold calling businesses. This tactic was not super successful. Out of 100 calls, emails, and DMs, he’d only get one or two responses.
“Going to somebody and saying, ‘Hey let me make your shirts: I’m 16, but I’ll do it,’ they wouldn’t trust you as much,” Bhavik said.
Without much business, but a passion to screen print, Bhavik took whatever jobs came along. He wanted experience wherever possible, so when a job came in for a multicolor, multi-location job on only three shirts, Bhavik took it. He only made $50 for the order, but gained valuable experience.
For every job Bhavik finished, he saved one shirt. This way, he’d have a “show rack” so customers could see his work with their own eyes. This helped provide legitimacy to his business, and gave the customers a way to gauge his standards of quality. They didn’t have to take the young entrepreneur for his word: they could visit the shop, touch a shirt, and see for themselves.
Now that he had some experience, all he needed to do was expand his business. Part of this expansion was getting his business license. When he started in early 2017 as a minor, he wasn’t doing much “real” business. He didn’t have a flood of customers, and was focused on learning the trade. Once he started gaining customers, he realized that screen printing was something he wanted to pursue as a career.
Registering for an LLC was the last step in establishing Aesthetic Imprints as a bona-fide screen printing business. Now, all he needed to do was promote himself even more.
Photo by Bhavik Dhanak
UTILIZING 21ST CENTURY TECHNOLOGY
Doing business in the 21st century almost requires having a social media presence. Showing equipment, process, and final product on social media is important. People want to see what they can be getting if they go to you for business. Bhavik knew this, and began setting up his online presence.
RELATED: HOW TO ESTABLISH A BRAND
First came social media. He set up an Instagram account for Aesthetic Imprints, and then added his business to Google. This added another level of legitimacy: when people Googled “Aesthetic Imprints,” they could preview his print shop, see his location and hours, read Google reviews, and contact him without leaving the “Search Results” page. Bhavik also created a website using Wordpress, and created a custom inquiry form for potential customers.
Bhavik also started a YouTube channel to document his experience. The channel got off to a slow start, but eventually picked up steam as people discovered his educational, honest content.
Fun Fact: One of the main questions Bhavik gets in his YouTube comments is about finding customers. It’s not just a struggle for young entrepreneurs — it’s tough for all.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
What does a 22-year-old screen printer do with his days? Bhavik’s days start at 6 AM, as he goes to the gym in the mornings before settling in to work. To start his day, he answers Instagram messages, emails, YouTube comments, and more. Then he sends out invoices and checks which jobs he’ll need to print first before heading to his press.
To break up the long hours of printing, Bhavik takes breaks to reply to messages and make content for social media. Since he’s a one-man show, his days don’t usually end until 10 PM. The next day, it’s back to the grind.
Bhavik is most proud that he’s still climbing the ladder after starting out with such a small shop. He has big dreams, and doesn’t plan to slow down. He wants to move his shop out of the basement and into a commercial space. Eventually, he wants to get an automatic press.
One of Bhavik’s short-term goals is to invest in a shop management software, so his days can be a little shorter and he can relax a little bit. Not having this software means Bhavik has had to be extremely organized and keep track of everything himself. With software to help him, Bhavik can focus on his passion without getting bogged down with logistics.
Freshly-printed garments ready to be sent out. Photo by Bhavik Dhanak
ADVICE FOR PRINTERS
Bhavik is making waves in the screen printing community, but he started with just a tiny press and a dream. There’s nothing wrong with starting small. Bhavik’s advice? Start where you can, master it, and move up.
“Make your money back—and then some—and use that same money to invest in another press,” Bhavik advised.
Another piece of advice that Bhavik has for printers starting out is to use modern technology. Create and cultivate social media and a website. Make them great: that’s what people will see when they search for your shop.
Bhavik’s last piece of advice? Keep one shirt from every job you print. Not only will you be able to reference an old job, but potential clients will be able to see what you’re putting out. They’ll know what you can provide for them by seeing the work you’ve already done.
Photo by Bhavik Dhanak
Every screen print shop starts somewhere. It’s not about how much space you have, how old you are, or where you are in life. Don’t be afraid to start with what you can, then work up to achieve your dreams. Bhavik and Aesthetic Imprints have proven to be an unstoppable force, and we’re here for it. It’s all about that entrepreneurial spirit.