My buddy David Murray over at SEIBEI wrote this great article about doing screen printing vs hiring it out.
I get e-mails all the time from people who want to learn screen printing and start their own t-shirt line. It’s always a very tricky issue for me to tackle, because the way I came into this business is a bit atypical and, while in retrospect things worked out nicely, it was very seat-of-my-pants, and I owe more to kindness and luck than shrewdness.
A brief introduction to how I started: I started learning from books and worked on a home made press. I screwed up a lot. I borrowed some money to get a starter set of home equipment, and screwed up a lot. Tired of screwing up, I started working in a screen printing shop, where I learned more in a week than I had in months of “teaching myself”. I kept printing on home equipment out of my basement. Eventually, my boss offered to let me use their equipment after hours. I did this for a while, then moved to NY, where I started at another shop, and worked out a similar deal with them (don’t think this is the norm – I was very lucky to find such trusting bosses TWICE). Now, I no longer work in a shop, and have hired out my printing to the last shop I worked for, because I know they do great work, and they’re nearby.
Screen printing is a rewarding craft, and I do miss not being behind a squeegee anymore (I think one day, I’ll have to set up a small studio for poster printing), but learning screen printing in order to start a clothing line is putting a bit too much on your plate at once. When I first started, I told my Uncle Phil my plans on having a well-stocked screen printing studio, and how it would save me money in the long run as I wouldn’t have to hire out printing work, and he told me basically what I tell people now: there are plenty of people out there who know how to screen print. Focus on being a good designer. Of course, I didn’t listen to the man who has a MBA and years of business experience. After all, I have a BA in Japanese Lit, so I’m pretty good at everything (right?).
As an entrepreneur, there’s a lot on your plate: marketing, designing, keeping the books, day to day operations…you want to take the time to learn to print, too? In this business, there’s no room for people who aren’t awesome at something. Focus on becoming an awesome marketer, an awesome salesman, an awesome creative director, or an awesome designer – THERE ARE PLENTY OF AWESOME PRINTERS OUT THERE WHO WILL GLADLY WORK FOR YOU.
Becoming a good screen printer takes a lot of time and practice, not to mention money for supplies and equipment. Furthermore, you can only teach yourself so much through books and practice. For those of you that have a shirt from my early days, and one from, say, any time in the past year, just compare the two. The differences may not be apparent – after years in the screen printing industry, my eye for a good print is sharper than most – but they are very different beasts. It took me YEARS to be a really good screen printer, and this was after years of working in two extremely professional screen printing shops.
read the rest of his article on here his blog