Purchasing and/or building your start-up equipment is probably one of the most exciting steps in starting a new t-shirt printing business. Depending on your budget, there are several options from which to choose.
The space you have available in your home is also something that needs to be considered. Do you have a room in your house to use or an entire basement or garage?
To start your new business, you will need to purchase certain pre-production and printing equipment, inks, and supplies. Please note that this article is limited to apparel screen printing related equipment.
Heat Transfer Press Printing
If you are on the lowest budget possible or have very little space available, you can start out printing t-shirts using custom transfers. All you need is a heat transfer press—and of course some customers.
If your start-up budget for equipment is less than $1000 (this assumes that you already have a computer) for your new t-shirt business, the most inexpensive way to get started in the t- shirt printing business is using a heat transfer press.
Custom transfers are a great way to get started if you have very little money because all you really need is one piece of equipment–a heat transfer press. Thanks to modern ink technology, the quality of today's custom transfers are so good that they equal direct garment printing in quality as an apparel decorating solution. Expect to spend from $450 to $1000 for a heat transfer press.
Below is a short list of heat transfer press manufacturers and screen printing companies that produce heat presses and custom transfers. Visit their web sites for more information.
George Knight Company
Ace Transfer Company
LOW BUDGET SCREEN PRINTING
If you want to get started screen printing t-shirts without investing a bunch of money, here is a bare bones system that will get you started.
You will only be able to print 1 color jobs, but about 60-75% of your orders will most likely be 1 color prints anyway. And although it takes a lot longer to completely cure your shirts using a flash cure unit instead of dryer–it can be done. This is a great set-up if you want to start out small to see if the business is really right for you.
Shown at left: a Single Color Table Top Press (with a optional equipment stand) and Flash Cure unit. (Multi-color table top presses are also available.)
You should be able to get this bare bones system including supplies in operation for under $2000. If you build your own exposure unit and shop around, you might be able to get started for as little as $1500.
For info on building your own screen exposure unit, see our How to Build an Exposure Unit (an ASPA “How-to” tutorial)
ENTRY LEVEL SCREEN PRINTING
Let's move up one more step to an entry level screen printing system that will speed production up considerably by adding one key component, a textile dryer. For this system, we are also going to move up to a floor model manual printing press with multiple print stations that will speed up production and add more versatility. This is a good “all-around” system that is typical for most small screen printing start-ups and home-based printers.
The photo shows a typical “garage shop” with a 6 color press and a small electric textile dryer. Also “shoe-horned” into the garage is a vinyl cutter with many rolls of vinyl (on the wall) for team numbering & creating player names for the back of jerseys.
The photo on the right is a 4 color rotary press which will easily fit into a standard door opening or in a confined space like a basement.
The photo at right shows a small electrical textile dryer that will easily fit into a basement, garage, or other small work area.
Typical entry level shop:
Floor Model (4-6) color Manual Printing Presses
Flash cure unit
Small electric Textile Dryers Expect to spend for this level of equipment around $6000 – $7500 to get started.
Here is a list of basic supplies and equipment you'll need at start-up.
Printing Press (single or multiple colors)
Set of (4) Squeegees
Six (6) Quarts of ink in popular colors (Red, Royal, Black, White, Yellow, and Green)
Production Supplies/Chemicals (Screen Opener, Screen Cleaner, Reclaim Solution, Wiping cloths, Emulsion, Tape)
Six (6) 20” X 22” wooden screens (we recommend 140 mesh count for start-up operations)