Screen printing is a challenging, creative process. Many screen printers start out as a hobby, or get into the trade through other means of garment decorating, like vinyl or embroidery. Stepping into screen printing doesn’t have to be a big investment, but it can have big effects on your business. Let’s talk about what it takes to start screen printing, and how it can be combined with other aspects of garment decoration.
WHY START SCREEN PRINTING?
Do you like a challenge? Want to expand your crafting know-how? Screen printing can be that creative, challenging outlet. Learning to screen print takes time, patience, and a desire to learn by experimenting. Just like many creative trades, there’s not just one way to do it. By learning to screen print, you can expand your resume and create quality garments time and time again.
Quality control is another great reason to screen print. Say you have a clothing brand. You’re sending artwork to a company who prints the designs for you. But the finished product doesn’t always meet your standards. What do you do about it? Start screen printing. You can control the quality of your brand’s garments and reproduce them at that standard.
That’s why Jerome of Aerogant Prints started his screen print shop. He was outsourcing his prints, but they weren’t coming back the way he wanted. Rather than find another company, he decided to cut out the middleman and produce his own garments.
By printing your own shirts, you can create quality garments that also have a personal, handmade feel. Shopping small is important, especially in today’s rocky economy. By creating something handmade, you can show customers that you care not just about the quality of their garments, but about them as a customer. You can specialize in whatever type of screen printing you like, and experiment with other mediums to give tote bags, wood signs, and more a personal touch.
STARTING SCREEN PRINTING
To start out in screen printing, many beginners start with just a screen and hinge clamps mounted to a table and create one-color designs. This method means that screen printing can easily be added to a crafting setup. Printing shirts for parties, family vacations, or groups you’re involved in can be a great way to dip your toes into screen printing. With tons of free education available, it’s easy to learn the ropes of screen printing and get started on a new creative hobby.
CREATING A SIDE HUSTLE
Looking to take screen printing from a hobby to something more? Many crafters set up Etsy shops to sell their creations, or sell on other websites. Selling your product on a website like Etsy or even through social media is a great way to get started. You won’t need a business license or Tax ID until you decide to scale up.
The good thing about screen printing is that it’s completely scalable. When that sports team comes back to you for shirts next season, you can upgrade your press and business to accommodate more traffic.
Depending on what you’re looking to accomplish with your side hustle, you can keep scaling your t-shirt printing business to fit exactly what you need. Keep it small or take it big time; it depends on you.
Take Josh Dykstra, the printer behind PRNT SCRN Screen Printing. Josh has a full-time, 9-to-5 job, but prints t-shirts on the side out of his garage. Other shops, like Aesthetic Imprints, started in whatever space they had available and kept upgrading to make screen printing their full-time gig.
No matter how you choose to use screen printing, there are plenty of ways to personalize your business and make it unique to you.
PAIRING GARMENT DECORATION METHODS
One of the best parts of screen printing? It can be combined with other methods of garment decoration. Embroidery is the most popular decoration method to be combined with screen printing. It brings a diverse range of garment decorations to whatever you’re looking to do. Want an embroidered logo with a 5-color back print? Combine embroidery with screen printing to create unique garments.
Many screen printers also use heat transfers as well as screen printing to speed up their production while giving the garment a personal touch. Heat transfers are great for low-volume, long-term jobs.
Say a customer owns a construction company and needs 5 shirts every month. You could screen print them every time that customer needs more shirts, or you could use transfers. By printing plastisol heat transfers, you can have hundreds of those prints ready to heat press onto a garment as soon as the customer needs the shirts.
Heat transfers are also great for prints you know you’ll use constantly, like brand logos or neck labels. Simply create the transfers in bulk — or order them — and have them on hand whenever you need them.
A heat press is a great tool for every decorator to have in their arsenal for more than just transfers. With a heat press, printers can decorate garments with foil and even use it to cure ink. There are many specialized heat presses, so you can decorate specialty items like hats or mugs and make your brand stand out.
WHAT DO I NEED?
If you’re just getting started, there are tons of ways to dip your toes into screen printing. Typically, screen printing includes the process of screen creation, printing, and reclaiming. This means you’ll need a washout booth, exposure unit, film, cleaning chemicals, a press, ink, and more. These can be bought separately, or in a kit for a one-stop-shop option that has everything, you’ll need to be successful.
Many screen printers looking for a less traditional screen printing process that fits their lifestyle, needs, and space constraints a bit better. Don’t want to coat and burn screens? Use vinyl to create screens, like Jennifer from Pigskins & Pigtails. Jennifer uses her Cricut to create vinyl designs for the screens, then tapes them up and screen prints with water-based ink.
Don’t have room for a press with multiple color heads? Small presses exist, like the Riley Hopkins 150 or DIY press. As mentioned before, a screen with hinge clamps mounted to a cart or table also will get the job done for simple jobs. Some shops take an even less conventional approach, creating stencils from rubber and stamping the shirt with inked-up stamps. The options are wide open.
Reclaiming screens can get messy, and some printers don’t have the space or capability to do the job efficiently. While you can use a spare bathroom as a reclaimed room, rinsing out screens in a bathtub can stain the tub and send chemicals down the drain.
The good news is that outsourcing screen creation and reclaim is totally possible. Find a print shop near you that will reclaim your screens. By simply paying someone else to reclaim screens, you can keep that spare bathroom free of chemicals.
Another option to keep reclaim in-house is to get a small washout booth with a DIY filtration system. Filtration is key when reclaiming screens, as sending chemicals, emulsion, and ink down the drain can clog pipes and cause issues later on. By creating a filtration system with buckets and screens of different mesh sizes, you can conquer reclaim in your own space.
Where there’s a will to screen print, there’s a way. It’s all about your creativity and willingness to experiment to see what works for you.
No matter your level of interest or investment, screen printing can benefit any creative individual looking to learn something new. Combine many creative hobbies into one awesome side business and make money doing what you love. Check out all the free education available and dip your toes into the wonderful world of screen printing.