How to Open Up a T-Shirt Printing Business and Survive the First Year – Part One
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There may be a bit of romance to opening up a T-shirt printing business but the bottom line is that it is a lot of work, and not the easiest field to break into. Realize that there is a lot of competition. Acknowledge as well that it is a very lucrative field, especially so if you can tap into a custom market.
Overall, the T-shirt business is a multi-billion dollar industry. Everyone wears T-shirts at some point in time and many more wear other type of printed clothing as well. You can succeed and will, if you keep your nose to the grindstone and build your business on solid ground.
Some of the items you will need: A Computer; Screen printing equipment or newer digital imaging equipment; Start up capital; A good business plan; An idea of marketing your products; Some blank shirts; a place to work. There could be a lot more depending on how you will break into this field. Don’t overlook the possibility of screen printing for other promotional items such as coffee mugs, bags, pens… basically anything you can think of. Realize each will have it’s own production needs.
We mentioned digital printing. In recent years digital imaging has gained in popularity as a method to get print onto a T-shirt. Since it is a new technology it can be quite pricey and don’t expect to be able to pick up any used equipment. Traditionally screen printing is the way to print a T-shirt. Digital imaging is excellent for full color printing, although it may not be the best way to go if you have large scale needs, where you would be printing a large quantity of T-shirts. Traditional screen printing is excellent for the single color or two colors and also for short runs, such as custom T-shirts for a small business or bowling team perhaps. Quantity printing on a screen printing press is has a proven track record and will get the job done for you.
There are some more inexpensive ways to get started, although expect to sacrifice quality. Ink-jet printers and transfer paper comes to mind. This may be good for one or two T-shirts, but a quantity will be fairly pricey. A down to basics screen printing kit can be bought to get you started. This kits can work for the long term and produce excellent quality results. You can also build your own equipment, at least the frames and attach the screen. I worked in a shop in New York City who did things this way. They used basic dimension lumber, 2x3s or 2x4s to build their frames and then stapled the screen over that frame. Expect to shell out $10,000 as a minimum to set up a traditional screen printing shop for printing T-shirts.
It may not be the fun part of opening up a business, but you do need a plan. I remember seeing a figure on how many business failed in the first year, it is most of them, but those without a solid plan were destined to fail, particularly because there was no set direction to move forward in. You plan should reflect the area you are in. If you live on the beach, and there is tourism, you should approach the local shops and plan to sell shirts with a beach theme to the tourists. You need to think things out and determine what your local market is. It very well may be your local University, local schools or even local clubs. The smaller markets can be camps, teams, leagues (especially in some areas bowling leagues), dart leagues and many other of these niche markets.
Pricing. You can’t overprice your products. Even if you have a very unique item, phrase or whatever, you need to have a competitive price. Some items can get a buck or two more than others, especially when customized, but overall you can’t charge more than people can shop elsewhere for the same type of item. Especially in this economy. You may do well to sell for a buck or two less and sell more to make more money. You should develop an hourly rate that you will charge for doing the work. You can also have a rate on a per shirt basis with a set-up charge for those smaller runs.
Shop around for suppliers and get prices from several. You will want to have more than just white shirts so get prices on all colors that are offered. Check for suppliers offering different quality levels and lots of colors. Pastels go over well with woman while men don’t really care. Bright and “safety” colors are something you will mostly want to stay away from, although there certainly is a market for them. You just need to be able to sell to it.
You will need equipment, and then a space to put it. First decide what you will need for equipment so that you can get the right shop to fit your needs, and your people. Do not forget you will eventually want to hire help and everyone needs a place to be. Will you have an office as well or a store front? If you plan on selling right from your own operation you may need a sizable showroom, or at least a small office that is open to the public.
You will also need space for inventory. No matter how much space you get you can expect to fill it. It is recommended to not stock a lot of shirts. It is wiser to purchase what you need for a job and then print them. You can charge an up-front fee or deposit and use that to purchase the shirts. This way you won’t have a lot of shirts on hand in a color or size that doesn’t sell.
It may well take a year or more for any new business to show a profit. You will need to be able to float your boat during this time without expecting any income from your business. This may all sound scary but owning your own business is a great feeling and although you may wind up working long hard hours, you’ll also have some freedom that others do not have when they go to their nine to five daily grinds.
There are a lot of places to buy screen printing equipment and supplies. Online and off should provide you with many choices. Online may prove to have the best selection and if you are looking for something in particular, or refurbished equipment with some sort of guarantee, shopping online may be the way to go.
write by Calliope