hat if you could pick the brains of some of the most experienced screen printers around to find out what mistakes you should avoid when opening your first shop? Well, we went ahead and did the work for you by asking four veteran shop owners to talk about the lessons they’ve learned, from the perils of underpricing to not getting the right training from the get-go. Check out these eight insider tips that both newbies and experienced screen printers can benefit from and incorporate into their shops right away.
1. Don’t underprice your shop to beat out your competitors.
“This is one of the biggest mistakes a new printer can make because it sets the stage for destruction,” says La Tonna Roberson, owner of T-Shirt Shop Dallas and Lady Print Boss Consulting. “It's best to price your services based on your overhead and what makes sense for your business.”
Instead of trying to compete by underpricing your services, print shops should focus on promoting what makes them a better vendor choice for the customer. “You can offer a great customer service experience,” Roberson says. “You can also emphasize valuable add-ons such as labeling, dropshipping, or setting up and fulfilling online stores.” Think about what you uniquely bring to the table, and set your prices accordingly.
2. Don’t underestimate your imprint colors.
It’s true: Lots of new screen printers don’t pay enough attention to their design colors. Howard Potter, owner of A&P Master Images, says that for a long time his staff just wrote the basic colors (“green,” “red,” “blue”) to be screen printed on their order forms.
“We didn’t note down the actual ink manufacturer name or color that’s on our supply containers,” Potter says. “That really messed up our designers and screen printers when they were trying to pick the right colors. When you’re working on screen-printed logos, you want to be as exact as possible.”
Now, Potter’s staff uses the exact ink manufacturer and name on all orders. “If it’s a color we need to mix, our designers also add the PMS match code,” he says, “so we make sure the shade’s exact at all times.”
3. Don’t neglect the separation process.
Ever had a separation snafu? When it comes to the screen-printing artwork process, newer printers without separation experience should pause before trying it themselves. Roberson recommends that a newbie reach out to a qualified separation service like Seps.io to handle their artwork at the beginning.
“It's an affordable option and much cheaper than hiring an in-house separator,” she says. “It's like having a virtual art department that provides print-ready separations and job proofs. By outsourcing this part of the process, you’ll save yourself from making costly mistakes. You’ll even have some extra time that you can use to promote your business.”
4. Be ready to pivot fast if you’re outsourcing your decoration.
When Julie Bateman, owner and creative director at Asskicker Activewear, started her apparel brand, she had a third-party company screen print all of her shirts. “When my supplier raised their prices, that meant my already narrow profit margin became almost nonexistent, so I had to quickly reevaluate my entire process,” she says.
That led Bateman to buy a heat press, order her inventory of blanks directly from a wholesale supplier and apply her screen-printed graphics in-house. “That decision created a world of difference in the amount of style options I can supply,” she says. “I also decreased my turnaround times and increased my profit margins.”
The flip side is also true. Sometimes new shops take on more printing methods (or printing certain items) than they can handle. “It's best to master one imprint method, than to fail at many,” Roberson says. “It's OK to just screen print shirts at the beginning. You can outsource mugs, hats and other products, until you have the staff and ability to add on new processes.”
5. Invest in the right training.
Tanya Doyscher, owner and graphic designer at The Visual Identity Vault, says when she started screen printing, she didn’t attend any training sessions to master the decorating technique. “Sometimes that lack of knowledge limits us,” she says. “I’d love to start attending training to learn about the different types of screen printing. The sky’s the limit if you research and hone your craft.”
6. Artwork approvals are really important—and your customers should understand why.
Another issue many print shops experience is customers approving artwork proofs—but their computer screens show a different reality than what the shop’s staff sees on theirs. “This is on you as a shop owner to educate your customers that the actual printed color may appear different than what’s on their screen,” Potter says. “To ensure an exact match, you need a PMS color code so that no matter how the color appears on their computer or phone screen, you’re able to screen print the exact match they want and expect.
“More often than not, a shop owner doesn’t teach their customer-facing staff about the imprint method’s limitations, and they’ll see artwork ideas that won’t turn out well. That will drive customers away fast."
- Howard Potter, owner of A&P Master Images
7. Emphasize how important customer service is to your staff.
Potter says that many new screen printers don’t teach their front-end team members about the ins and out of the screen-printing process. You might be wondering why team members, who don’t operate a press, need to understand how to print a T-shirt.
“They need to know what’s possible in order to sell screen printing,” he says. “More often than not, a shop owner doesn’t teach their customer-facing staff about the imprint method’s limitations, and they’ll see artwork ideas that won’t turn out well. That will drive customers away fast. If you want to prevent more sales losses, you need to get them up to speed on how screen printing actually works.”
8. Give yourself enough time to complete orders.
Many new shops don't allow themselves enough time to complete orders. “Working on your online order management system and shop workflow can reduce the time it takes to get orders out,” says Roberson. He suggests also posting a huge job board that’s visible to all employees and then designating certain parts of the workflow to each of them. “Daily morning meetings are great to establish what needs to be done and address problems in your print business.”
It’s Time to Up Your Screen-Printing Shop Game
Whether you’re a brand-new screen printer or one with a few years under your belt, it’s always a good idea to take a look at your shop’s processes and see where you can make improvements. Everyone’s got that one or two weak link spots, whether it’s in your artwork approvals process or in how long it takes your team to get orders out of the door. Try using some of this wisdom from industry veterans to make your print shop even more competitive and efficient than it’s ever been before.