Word to the Wise

Things I Wish I'd Known Before Getting into the Screen-Printing Biz

Bruce Ackerman is the founder and CEO of Printavo, a business he started in 2012 after growing a print shop in college.  Since that time, Printavo has grown to help shops all over the world get organized and streamlined. He previously held a position as the head of design for Avant. Ackerman also produces content for Printavo's blog, which covers topics of shop management and efficiency. You can contact Ackerman at bruce@printavo.com

Screen printing is an art. Screen printing is a skilled trade. Screen printing is not something that is learned overnight. If you are considering pursuing your lifelong dream of creating a screen printing company, here is some advice to help you get started. 

Printing is not a completely automated trade. There is expensive equipment that can burn screens quickly, auto-align your screens, and even print apparel automatically, but screen printing is not done by a simple push of a button. This is a dangerous myth for the pioneer screen printer.

Screen printing consists of a few main components that are essential to know and understand. 

Artwork

You have to be well-versed in the artwork process. We call this preproduction. Screen printing artwork is delicate, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can instantly find a graphic designer to create something from scratch. You must first use a combination of software to design the artwork, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, or Corel. Second, you need to be familiar with the process of ripping and separating your artwork using software like Separation Studio or AccuRip. These programs are costly and have quite the learning curve, especially if you want to produce high-quality and creative prints. Knowing the difference between spot colors, simulated process, four-color process, and flashing is imperative to quality printing. Spend some time learning this process hands-on with someone experienced in the industry.

Burning

Once you’ve tackled the artwork component and can produce film using the correct type of printer, there are several preproduction steps that need to be handled very carefully. Learning mesh counts and coating screens with emulsion can get messy. Burning screens can be a long series of trial and error for proper burn times. Although there are resources and videos out there, you will spend a lot of time getting the science down to a perfectly burned screen.

Printing

Artwork is completed and screens are burned, now you have to learn how to print! Pulling ink through a squeegee seems simple enough, right? Try printing on black fleece! You thought polyester would be easier? Welcome to a terrible thing us printers call dye migration. Learn your ink types and what ink can be printed on different colors of apparel. Not every customer will be ordering a plain white T-shirt like the tutorials show you, so make sure you spend time learning about what flashing really is and how drying times and temperatures change from garment to garment.

Finances

Beyond the actual trade of printing, remember that there are financial commitments that need to be made to run a successful screen-printing company. It is important that you have a plan to continue bringing in business, and that you can keep your price competitive. Outline all overhead costs of running your business, without missing marketing costs, a good website, and overall staff fees that will be there whether you print or not. 

Create a plan, and get dirty. Don’t be afraid to look for alternative solutions, like contract printers.  Most importantly, remember, this is a skill you will never stop learning.

Find more screen printing and business tips from Ackerman here