Start a Garment Printing Business

Maybe you’re an up-and-coming entrepreneur. Maybe you have your own screen printing or embroidery business. Now you’ve decided that you want to start a direct-to-garment business. It’s easier than you think. Check out this guide.

What do I need to start out?

Hardware: First things first: you need a direct-to-garment printer. Next, you need a computer. You also need a heat press. These components are the basics of any direct-to-garment business.

Software: Adobe Photoshop is more or less an essential tool in the graphic design world today. Not only will it allow you to create your own art, it will allow you to fix your customer’s artwork as well. Don’t worry, you don’t need to spend a lot to get Photoshop CS 4, the latest and greatest version. Version CS 2 offers a great balance of value and features. Plus, it’s much cheaper than CS 4 and compatible with Windows Vista. If you have Windows 7, you need version CS 3 or later.

If you know how to run a business already, the other piece of knowledge you need is how to work with graphics. Remember that old term, photo-ready art? That denotes artwork that’s optimized to the proper size and quality and ready to print. It’s the rare customer that will bring you photo-ready art, so it’s up to you to prepare the customer’s artwork for printing.

Usually, you will need computer graphics knowledge to optimize or fix a customer’s artwork.

If you aren’t proficient with Photoshop or another graphics program already, this might be the time to learn. But the easiest route might be hiring an experienced graphic designer, a local college student, or finding a freelance designer at a website like to help set up your artwork.

Once you have a finished and optimized piece of artwork, printing out a design on a direct-to-garment printer is easy.

Now what do I do?

It’s time to purchase your hardware. Take your time researching who to purchase your machine from and which machine to purchase. How long is the machine under warranty? How easy is it to get support? Remember, this is the company that you’re going to be calling for support in the future and the machine that you’ll be using day in and day out.

How easy is it to use the RIP software that comes with the machine? That’s the essential piece of software that translates between the computer and the printer. The easier the software and the printer are to use, the easier it will be to have employees do the printing in the future.

Getting a machine with one or two timesaving features or a fast print speed can make a big difference over time. You’ll be printing thousands of shirts with this machine, so make sure it’s robust and reliable.

Different direct-to-garment printers have different resolutions. Some can only print 600×600 dpi, providing less detail than other printers which can print up to 2880x2880dpi.

Some direct-to-garment printers can only print on white or light shirts. In some areas, dark shirts are preferred much more than light shirts, in which case you want to purchase a printer that has white ink to print on dark shirts.

Once you’ve purchased your printer, you need to learn how to use and maintain it. If you don’t know how to print, you won’t be able to make a profit. That’s why installation and training may be very valuable things to include with your purchase. It’s essential that you get up and running quickly.

What can I print?

You can print virtually anything you can see on the computer screen. That includes photographs, drawings, vector graphics, and bitmap graphics.

Remember that you may need computer graphics knowledge to tweak the colors or quality of the graphic that you want to print.

What can I print on?

Your most popular item will likely be t-shirts. 100% cotton shirts will work best, though with today’s advanced ink formulations you can print on some polyester and 50/50 garments.

I’ve found that Hanes Tagless shirts print very well. These can be found for a reasonable price, about $2 per shirt. More expensive shirts like American Apparel, geared for upscale markets, generally work well too. You will be able to see a major difference in print quality between a cheap shirt and a quality shirt.

Don’t forget that you can print on many other goods, like sweatshirts, towels, and even painter’s canvas. Mouse pads will print well. You can even make a direct-to-garment print, then embroider on top of it.

What should I print on?

Whatever you can print profitably. While you’re in the business of printing great looking apparel, you’re also in the business of making money. Unless you see an unprofitable job bringing you profitable business in the future, you may need to just say no.

How much should I sell my shirts and other products for?

Putting a selling price on your products can be difficult. Look at what shirts sell for at other local retailers, including department stores. Generally, you’ll want to charge between $12-$30 for light shirts, and $15-$40 for dark shirts. Depending on your geographic area or target demographic, you may charge more or less.

Because you’re direct-to-garment printing and not screen printing or heat pressing, you can charge more than average. That’s because you’re able to print shirts with sharp detail, with thousands of colors, and with personalized designs. That’s something that other processes can’t match.

Charge more for personalizing designs and less for stock art. Charge more for larger designs, because they take more time and use more ink. Charge less for orders in quantity, but only if there is little or no personalization involved.

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