Have you ever wondered how to start a screen printing business on the side? If so, you may have a lot of questions running through your mind. We teamed up with one of our own BELLA+CANVAS employees, Rene Perez, who just recently started his very own screen printing business on the side to create custom t-shirts and other garments.
Starting a Screen Printing Business
At BELLA+CANVAS, Rene works to advance our current manufacturing technologies by developing highly efficient processes for all key components of our operations, from cutting to sewing and fabric warehousing. All while he’s creating a world class facility for us, he’s also screen printing tees in his new shop We Print LA in Highland Park, Calif. We were really impressed with his story, so we sat down to chat about what it takes to actually get up and running with this side job, and frankly, how to start making some extra money! Read on for our Q&A with Rene.
Q: What was it like starting a screen printing business on the side?
A: Like a lot of printers, I started early on. In high school, I was in bands and had gas and equipment to pay for, so I needed some extra money. The best way for me to generate revenue was through screen printing. That’s what sparked my interest in clothing. I first worked at American Apparel, which was a great springboard to BELLA+CANVAS. Especially because I was coming from a foundation in screen printing, I was really impressed with the quality of products that BELLA+CANVAS offered. The garments were more than just great tees, I noticed right away how awesome they are for printing on. After seven years at BELLA+CANVAS, I realized my access to these great T-shirts combined with my skill and passion for screen printing would make for a great gig on the side. So I decided to embark on the journey and see where it leads!
Q: How do you balance a screen printing business on the side with having a full time job?
A: Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour principle holds that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field. And I think there’s a misconception that those hours have to happen all at the same time. I don’t believe it needs to be one long commitment. I think it can be an accumulation of minutes and seconds over time. Fifteen minutes here, a half an hour there and maybe just a few sleepless nights. Maybe you skip binging on that Netflix show, and invest a little more time on printing and trial and error. The key is really time management.
Q: What was your time commitment for starting a screen printing business?
A: I would say you only really need an extra hour or two a day. Start by researching, learning the craft and going from there. It’s really not a huge time commitment, it’s more about deciding that you’re actually going to do it and getting started. The biggest challenge is just making that commitment. Once you jump down that rabbit hole, you’re going to find something that draws your attention. Whether it be a technique or a fabric, you’re going to discover things that you want to spend time doing and learning about.
Q: What are some of the educational resources you use to get more information about screen printing?
A: First and foremost, the BELLA+CANVAS blog. And I’m not just saying that! It’s really a helpful and informative platform to really learn a lot about the fabrics. There’s been such an emphasis on techniques and inks in the screen printing industry these days, which is great, but if you’re not printing on the right kind of fabric, all of those techniques will fall flat. I also watch a lot of Ryonet and Catspit Productions YouTube videos. Ryonet has so much content, from basics for the beginners to showing veteran printmakers new techniques and new technologies that will help further advance their craft. BELLA+CANVAS’ YouTube channel is also now becoming one of my favorite places.
Q: What would you say is the cost for starting a screen printing business?
A: Honestly, it’s only about $500. That’s all it takes, and that’s probably on the higher end. There are so many options for simple tabletop presses. You can get one or two inks, a squeegee and just a few shirts. That’s all you really need to get the ball rolling. There are places that burn your screens, like Screen Depot in downtown Los Angeles, which will help save money. And the rest will come as you start to print. As you start to take on jobs and build out your client-base, you’ll acquire more materials over time. You definitely don’t need to stock your shop to get going, you can slowly build up as you go.
Q: How do you determine what to charge customers?
A: A big part of that is finding out the value to the customer. I like to use the example of a water bottle. It costs only a couple of bucks. But if you’re stranded in the desert, that water bottle becomes an asset and of high value to you. So you have to recognize that when you’re working with your client. For example, a band would sell their shirts for maybe $15 or $20, depending on the band. So in that case, I would recommend that they use 100% cotton with either white or black ink, something basic that I know would still be high value to them. It’s all about reading the customer and understanding the kind of value they will attain from the garment you’re printing. It’s also about knowing their budget and analyzing your own time-commitment, weighing the amount of time you’re going to spend printing for them.
Q: Do you have minimums?
A: In theory, I do. I’m comfortable with 12 – 24, anything smaller than that might be a bit much. But, again, it’s all about the value to the customer. At times, I’ve printed two or three shirts for a client, but it was for artists. To a client who is an artist, they can market that for a lot higher retail price.
Q: How much money do you make?
A: That was something I was really curious about when I first got started. When I focus the right amount of time and effort on it, I’ll make $3,000 – $5,000 a month. Overall, it varies month to month, depending on the types of jobs I take, but it’s definitely a few thousand each month. And I’m just getting started!
Q: How do you find customers?
A: It really comes down to being your own biggest cheerleader. Networking plays a really big part in it. I can’t stress enough how important it is to let people know you’re offering these services. That’s how you’ll get jobs. A lot of people associate screen printing with a heavy, cardboard-feeling shirt, so when I let people know that I’m printing only on BELLA+CANVAS tees and providing this service, the opportunities just keep coming. Again, it’s about networking. Talking to friends and coworkers, attending local events, checking in with bands.
Q: What are the first steps people should do to get their business up and running?
A: I would say to first get a seller’s permit and start buying wholesale. I don’t think a lot of people realize that it’s free. In California, at least, you simply reach out to the Board of Equalization. All you need is a form of identification. They just want to make sure they have a way to track any taxes that you need to pay moving forward. Also, LegalZoom offers a great service where you subscribe for just a few bucks a month, and they’ll put you in touch with an accountant and a lawyer. You can setup your LLC. They make it super easy!
Q: What advice would you give to those who want to get started but just don’t know how to?
A: Just get started! Invest in a simple tabletop press, buy a shirt or two, couple of inks from McLogan’s in downtown Los Angeles and get started! There are so many resources out there, like I said before, where you can learn a lot in a short amount of time. If you decide you want to commit and turn it into a business, don’t be afraid to just go for it!
Hear more from Rene in our video [link to video] below. We know this interview may have sparked more questions for you, so please ask them in the comment section of our video, so we’ll be sure to answer them in another video soon!