Artist, community organizer, and coolest guy in the neighborhood, Jason Sauer knows how to get stuﬀ done. He’s also learned a thing or two about teaching others along the way after years of training workers in the Learn to Earn Program, an initiative started by Sauer to help ex-detainees from local prisons and juvenile detention centers and work, complete required community service, and become skilled, entrepreneurial workers. So we thought we’d give the man a microphone and share some DIY know-how with our readers.
Hit the paint store and get your squeegee angers ready, we’re starting a screen printing company!
If you’re going to do business, as always we have some simple steps to take to get you square with Uncle Sam. Come up with a name for your business, register it with the PA Department of Revenue at www.Revenue.Pa.Gov. There you’ll also find useful literature like a beginner’s guide to starting a business in Pennsylvania. Once you’re approved you’ll need to open up a bank account for the business. While there, many banks like Citizens Bank will even file for your Tax ID number free of charge.
Sauer’s first step is hopping on the old computer and vegging out on some videos to familiarize yourself with the processes involved in printing. ScreenPrinting.com has a lot of resources, the I Like To Make Stuff Youtube channel has a bunch of good info, as do the videos of NateScreenPrints1 channel, and Chetan Jain’s tutorial videos. Once you have more of a feel for the process of screen printing, it’s time to go to school for real. Sauer and others in the community offer two-hour long tutorial sessions to increase your know-how, and to school you on things like style, repetition, and consistency. After taking classes, you’ll have a much better understanding of the types of paint, the number of colors, and the various surfaces you’re going to be screen printing. Sauer suggests starting with something like holiday cards on paper rather than jumping into something like T-shirts.
“It’s about the level you want to produce. Single color images with water-based paint are much less expensive to produce than more elaborate designs,” Sauer said. Textile ink vs. acrylic ink, four color vs. one color, these things will all make much more sense after taking a class and doing some trial and error on your own time.
The videos and classes will show you how to make your own screens, but if you’d like to save some time, you can buy pre-made screens at Tech Support in Manchester, or Wild Side North in Slippery Rock. A screen and a board with two hinges are going to come in under $20.
During this time, you’re going to be learning the basics such as how much paint to use, proper positioning of the squeegee, what designs work the best. You’re going to want to be as exact with each image as possible. “You want to mimic a machine, churning out the same exact image every time you swipe the paint,” Sauer said.
“The best place to start is with one color flyers. Put a black image onto a piece of paper. You can color it by hand to make it more elaborate,” Sauer said. Simply get a design, go to Kinkos, have it printed onto a transparency, and you’re ready to set up your screen. Even at this rudimentary point in your screen printing career, you can start making cash. With a rig and a one-color printing station, you can go to a church function, or a booth at a mall, or an arts festival, and start cranking out things like Christmas cards, Valentine’s Day cards, things of this nature. Set up shop, start cranking them out. You can sell them for as little as $0.50 a piece and make your money on volume. Consumers can buy them, and people can also buy them in bulk and turn them around for $1.00 a piece. You can even set up a coloring station for kids and parents to color the cards together once printed.
Another reason for starting with paper and cardstock is cost. If you make a mistake on a piece of paper, it’s a lot cheaper to redo than on a $7.00 T-shirt.
In order to expand, you’ll want to start making two-, three-, and four-color designs. Each of these will necessitate another step in the process, while continuing to be concerned with perfect alignment and registration. It takes a lot of practice, and this is where your card printing skills will come in handy. But, what to print?
If you’re an artist, you can start designing your own custom images for retail sale. Another option is working with local companies on their logos. Printing T-shirts and flyers for company picnics, family birthday parties, and local softball teams are all potential revenue sources for your company. Circulating a few flyers you’ve printed and talking to people you know can help dig up some leads and get you into more businesses. Once there, referrals can help carry your incoming workload.
Now that you’re seasoned, instead of selling directly to the public, you can charge $50+ an hour to church groups, corporate gatherings, and other events to set up and print. You provide the materials and the audience gets to keep all of your work.
The next step is expanding your products by offering more colors in prints. You’re going to look at making posters, T-shirts, flyers, anything that you can sell. More colors is a bit more work, but it also means you can sell $20 T-shirts instead of $0.50 holiday cards.
At this point, it’s time to keep your eyes and ears peeled for teams. Corporate picnics at Kennywood, high school athletics, bands, and clubs. these are where you can get your big deals going, and referrals continually rolling in.
Once you have enough money to float a few hundred T-shirts without compromising your bottom line, it’s time to pay it forward. “Get in business with your favorite band or rapper. You might be able to float them some merchandise, and if it sells, make money on the back end. You can help them out, and eventually you’re bringing up a new customer. Always try to take some chances on local artists,” Sauer said.
Throughout the entire process, consistency is your biggest goal. “Make sure it’s really good every single piece, every single time. People are wearing your business card,” Sauer said.