Start a Screen Printing Company

A screen printing business can be started with little capital as the majority of equipment can be easily made for much cheaper than the commercial equivalent. Start your own screen printing company that you can run from almost anywhere.

Screen printing operation in the lobby of a house on the Cape Flats

What is screen-printing
Screen-printing or silk-screen printing is a print technique whereby a mesh is used to transfer ink onto a substrate, except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil. A squeegee is moved across the screen to fill the open mesh apertures with ink. This causes the ink to wet the substrate with the design.

Printing carousel used to print garments

Equipment needed
You will need:
• Screens covered with mesh
• A printing surface: starting out you can build tables which can be used to print both textiles and the other substrates mentioned above. But as you grow you may want to get proper machines: multi-colour carousels for textiles and flatbed printers for the other substrates (the one arm band machines are popular for printing flat items).
• A computer to make positives (basic) positives can be made on a normal inkjet printer, but more complex halftones and CMYK prints require an imagesetter (this can be outsourced to a graphics bureau).
• A dark rooms to coat the screens with photosensitive emulsion
• A lightbox to expose the coated screen
• Place to wash off the exposed area (a hosepipe can be used instead of a pressure washer)
• A machine to dry the ink once printed (if printing textiles):

DIY curing machine

There are a few other things you’ll need but I’ll link to a few articles I wrote for another website that has photos and more details.

What to print
When starting out it is best to decide what type of substrates you want to print onto. Locally the most popular items are textiles vs. small-format signs: vinyl/correx/abs etc. While you can do both, I have worked at places in the past that both specialised in only one area so it is possible to just focus on one.

Textile printing (t-shirts and other garments) is more lucrative but needs more skills/experience and most inks require a machine or oven to “cure” the ink.
Vinyl/correx/abs– vinyl (bumper stickers), correx (estate agent boards), abs (emergency signs) is another option with corrugated plastic (correx) being the most lucrative to print per unit. Bumper stickers are good income generators as well but only in large volumes.

Deciding what to print will impact what types of ink you buy (which is very important starting out as you do not want ink standing on your shelves).

Marketing your business
Like anything else that is easy to learn and cheap to get into this is a business with a lot of competition. Both screen print companies I worked for hardly did any advertising and got most of their business through word of mouth. Starting out you can’t really depend on that so you have to start out by letting friends and family know what you do. Other channels include marketing to schools as well as advertising on classified sites such as Gumtree.

Screen printing is fairly easy to learn (there are thousands of tutorials to read and watch online) and you will need to practice or take a course before taking on clients (or get an apprenticeship if you can just to learn the ropes before going on your own).