Start a T-shirt Vinyl & Laser Heat Transfer Business

A vinyl and laser heat transfer business prints onto t-shirts for clients. This dual-strategy (vinyl and laser heat transfer) business caters for people looking for low quantity (even single) prints of images and text onto t-shirts.

This is actually a vinyl heat transfer business that has been expanded with a laser printer to print images as well. If you are familiar with vinyl heat transfer printing you will know that the images are cut using a vinyl cutter, this rules out the printing of complex images such as photographs. Yes, you do get printable heat transfer vinyl but for that you require and expensive solvent printer and this is a way for a small business do something similar with little cost.

Printable HTV (heat transfer vinyl) will not work in the normal desktop printer that you likely have at home, such as an inkjet or laser printer. To effectively print on Printable HTV, it will require a printer that uses either Solvent, Eco-Solvent or Latex inks. Such printers are normally referred to as “wide-format” printers since they significantly exceed the size (and price) of any desktop inkjet or laser printer. This is why Printable HTV comes in rolls of actual vinyl varying between 15 inches and 60 inches in width because it’s designed to fit in larger printers! –

Value Proposition / Market Need

People like to wear unique t-shirts, decorate t-shirts with their brand or club, commemorate a special date or honour someone’s memory. Screen-printing the most widely-used technology used to print t-shirts is not suited to single or low quantities due to the setup required: a positive has to be made, a screen has to be coated with emulsion and dried, the positive is then “burnt” onto the screen using a light source. Every single colour requires it’s own positive and screen and will require a setup cost, that is before even a single t-shirt has been printed and paid for. To print a process colour image such as a photograph onto a dark t-shirt using screen printing will require five positives (C, M, Y, K and a white base) and each colour will be printed individually. While there are “direct to garment” or “DTG” technology on the market to print full-colour images directly onto a t-shirt those machines are cost-prohibitive for the small business. This business caters to people looking for quick-turnaround low quantity (even single unit) printing onto t-shirts, it is considered a differential strategy within the t-shirt printing industry and people looking for low quantity short-notice t-shirt printing are willing to pay this premium.

Business Model / Your Solution

This business offers essentially two services: vinyl heat transfer printing and laser heat transfer printing (print and press).

Vinyl heat transfer printing
In this technology, the text or shape is cut using a vinyl cutter, no different that it would cut sign vinyl, except you use heat transfer vinyl, which is popularly known by one of its trade names “VideoFlex”. The text or shape is designed on a computer using a vector graphics editor such as CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator and is sent to the vinyl cutter using the vector or line format. As this technology can only cut lines and not “bitmap graphics” such as JPEG or PNG, there may be people looking to have images printed onto their t-shirts as well, because you already have a vinyl cutter, you only need to add a laser printer to be able to offer a complimentary service, a concept in business known as economies of scope.

Heat transfer vinyl is usually sold by a running meter and 500mm (50cm) wide. They are sold in a variety of colours including such exotic varieties such as glitter, flock, hologram, foil, foam, glow in the dark, reflective etc. For simplicity sake, we will focus on just basic colours. 1mx500mm will give you roughly 6x A4 sheets or 12x A5 sheets. And this is how you should price your service. The width of an A4 sheet is sufficient to run across the chest in landscape orientation. If they need bigger sizes they can pay for the A4 + A5 price or A4 + A4 if they want A3 size, but remember you are limited to the size of your press at a time (but you can press a large image separately.

I got a quote for around R80 ex vat per 1mx500mm, but let’s make it R100 as there will be some heat tape used as well. Your cost will be R16.67 for A4 and R8.33 for A5.

You have to remember that to print A4 and A5 involves more or less the same amount of work, with the exception of the amount of heat transfer vinyl used. There are usually two (different) trains of thought here: 1. should we even bother having A5 on the menu, and 2. should we perhaps not have a cheaper option for say A6 (A4 divided by 4). Here are my thoughts on 1. yes, you can have a flat rate up to A4, with A4 being your minimum but some people might bring two different shapes on different places, charging 2x A4 is excessive. As for 2. I would not personally have a smaller price range, this is a novelty printing technique that is rarely used for “pocket prints” such as logos where screen-printing is often used and as stated above there is roughly the same amount of work for each A4, A5 or A6 print.

Now the question goes is how much should you charge, in my opinion, you should be making at least R40 – R50 profit for every A4 page printed. Let’s round your cost up to R20 per And R10 per A5, factoring in the electricity you are going to use as well. This brings us to a retail price R60 to R70 to “print” a t-shirt using transfer vinyl, excluding the garment. This is not an unreasonable amount of money for a unique, custom t-shirt, especially if it is used for a special purpose. As for A5 because the amount of work involved, you have to charge a slight premium and not just 50% of R60 – R70. I would look at R40 – R50. Giving you a “profit” of R30 – R40 per A5 garment. These are work from home profits, obviously, if you are renting expensive space such as a mall kiosk or market stand you should add an appropriate premium.

Your vinyl heat transfer pricelist for services will look as following:
A5 (and everything smaller than A5) = R40 – R50
A4 (and everything larger than A5) = R60 – R70

Laser heat transfer printing
In laser heat transfer printing, the image will be printed (in reverse) onto a sheet of laser transfer paper (I am referring to the basic print and press variety here). For textiles, you get two main types of basic paper: for white or light garments or for dark garments. The light paper has no background so the colour of the t-shirt will show through in areas where there is no colour (which obviously works best with white garments). With the dark papers, there is an opaque white background that gets printed onto that paper costs four times the price of the light garment. These papers are usually sold in packs of 10 A4 size. I got a quote for R57 / 10 (R5.70 each) for light garments, and R205 / 10 (R20.50 each) for dark garments I think that was VAT included. We also need to factor in the price of toner for each page. So let’s charge R9 and a few cents per page in toner. So the cost will be R15 per A4 for light garments and R30 per page for dark garments. So it costs twice the price to print on a white shirt than a dark t-shirt.

The work involved to laser heat transfer print, is fairly straight forward, the image is laid out on the software and printed out, it is then trimmed for excess white space and applied to the garment using the heat press. Overall there is an identical amount of work involved as in vinyl heat transfer printing depending on how finicky the client is with artwork or how incomplete the artwork is they provide. I would look for identical profits: R40 – R50 per A4 and R30 – R40 per A5.

Your laser heat transfer pricelist for services will look as following:
White and light coloured garments
A5 (and everything smaller than A5) = R37.5 – R47.5
A4 (and everything smaller than A5) = R55 – R65
Dark coloured garments
A5 (and everything smaller than A5) = R45 – R55
A4 (and everything smaller than A5) = R70 – R80
(Some businesses don’t do dark garments but I’m leaving it here nonetheless)

T-shirts – Should you supply or should clients bring their own
This is something that you can decide on. Offering t-shirts means you have to hold stock or go and order when an order comes in, some might not think it worth the hassle. Just make sure the t-shirts that people bring is compatible with your vinyl or papers. If you only printing on 100% cotton then say so.

Heat transfer printing should you even bother or could you outsource
I have already mentioned why I added the laser heat transfer printing – to cater to people looking to print more complex images. There is an option to not have a laser printer, but also use transfer vinyl, in this case, printable transfer vinyl and find a business with a solvent printer that you can outsource to. I’m personally not a big fan of outsourcing in these situations as it can be a hassle, but if you have someone with a solvent printer close by it may be worth your while.

Value Chain
Equipment: Flat heat-press, vinyl cutter, laser printer and computer with vector graphics software such as CorelDRAW or Inkscape and bitmap graphics software such as Photoshop or the GIMP.
Materials: You will following consumables in your day to day business: heat transfer vinyl, transfer paper, laser toner and heat tape.
Skills: You will need basic graphic design skills and know how to use the software, printer and heat press. Also, know how to position the transfer vinyl and paper onto the garment being printed.

Still to come target market and breaking even…