I had a pretty cliché introduction to screen printing. I was 19, and the band I was in at the time couldn't afford to have shirts made. We were a little cash poor. All our capitol was wrapped up in non-liquid assets; mostly second hand guitar center purchases and mind altering substances. One of the other band members, who was cooler and more “in the know”, asked if I had ever heard of screen printing. "Never heard of it", I said. He was the creative, and I had a knack for figuring out the technical stuff. Before long, we had hatched a plan. We were gonna beat the house.
We were gonna print our own merch.
“How hard could it be?”, we said. A quick google search showed we could get blank shirts for just a couple bucks. “What a rip off! Ten extra dollars to slap a simple logo on it? These printers must be making money hand over fist!”
We found a company making YouTube tutorials on how to print shirts. There wasn’t much info on the web at the time, so this felt like the keys to the Ferrari. Some unassuming character, who pronounced measure like “mee-zur”, was eager to share in the fruits of his screen printing success. We watched maybe 8 or 10 videos, and off we went. As luck would have it, these helpful printers also sold supplies on the side. We were all set.
Unleash the $2.50 t-shirt genie.
We ordered some ink, emulsion, squeegees, and roll of mesh, then got to work constructing a 50 hour masterpiece out of scraps in our friend's wood shop. In short order, we had a true paper weight of a wooden press and some screens that would have a tension meter spinning around past zero from hitting the table below. Time for some profit and fun. Lining up the screens was hopeless, and before long everything we owned was covered in large globs of dried emulsion and half-degraded plastisol. This was way before screen printing's shittiest, or I would have been the poster child. We eventually made some shirts, but definitely didn't save any money.
Just press print right?
Screen printing is a tedious and time consuming process. The gods of screen printing are relentlessly unforgiving. Its very nature is anxiety provoking. You are pushing a cart full of clean linens through a room that looks like a paintball course, and if you don’t somehow get the ink within a micrometer of where its supposed to go, you owe me $900. Never mind the whole potentially-setting-your-masterpiece-on-fire aspect. Oh, and my event is Saturday, and I'm still waiting on the art. Can you do, like, one kids' shirt? It's for the owners son. Also, your film printer is going to murder 4 hours of your day, there was a little emulsion that didn't wash out, the screen is breaking down, the phone number is wrong, and it's all your fault. Anyone else ever have that reoccurring dream where you are trying to print the peanut butter onto the bread, but you can't get it, and you feel rushed because of the smell of burnt toast in the background? No matter how good you are, the job can often feel like painting at gunpoint.
Screen printing is one of the hardest ways to make money. Fight me.
Shirts were more than we wanted to pay, so we falsely assumed it was because of the profits. This is what you are constantly up against. The perceived value of a shirt is simply much too low. If you can figure out which of your clients don’t have this bias, and focus on them, and getting more clients like them, you can make good money in screen printing. One of my mentors once said, “there is money in screen printing if you can weed out the loser orders”. How right he was. The answer is not more orders, it’s better orders. How can we identify which orders are eating our lunch and which ones are buying it? The first step towards distancing yourself from the commoditized masses of screen printers, the first step to getting out of the race to zero once and for all, is to make profitability a non-negotiable. In order to do that, you have to know your cost. A few years ago, I distributed a cost calculator spreadsheet I had made for myself, and it has helped many hundreds of screen printers get a lot closer to knowing their true cost. After compiling all the feedback, I went back to the drawing board and gave it the time it really deserves. CloakWork's new, Legendary Cost of Production Calculator is the most powerful and illuminating pricing calculator available to screen printers by a mile. Using it will have a significant impact in how you think about your business. Considering all your costs will make you confident in quoting orders higher than your competition, because you know you are not losing anything but volunteer work. Send all that riff raff to the shop down the street. There are good clients out there, you just have to go out and find them. You'll never do that if you are busy and broke. My grandpa used to tell me "The right price is the one where you can smile the whole time you are working." These days, I smile the whole time I work. I want that for you too. If you use this spreadsheet, and don't run from the truth, it will point you in the right direction. For some, it's a different path all together, for others, it's finding their niche and creating an offer that is truly unique. The beauty is, all the other, smaller problems, you thought were "the problem", you'll finally be able to throw money at. Click here to start the profitability phase of your screen printing journey.