Whether you are new to the screen printing industry or a seasoned professional, chances are you have thought about offering contract screen printing services. Adding contract print work can be a fantastic way to increase revenue and bring in more business. However, it can come with pitfalls if you do not understand how contract printing differs from directly selling your screen print services.

This article outlines the basics of contract printing, the primary reasons printers offer it, and concludes with practical tips for offering contract printing.

Understanding the Basics of Contract Printing

Contract screen printing, or simply contract printing, is when another print shop or seller employs a print shop to do the actual printing. Essentially contract printers print for a middleman between the print shop and the recipient of the garments. This differs from “retail” or direct printing where the screen print shop that is printing the garments also sold the goods to the recipient.

Contract Printing Shop → Contractor or Seller → Customer
Retail Printing Shop → Customer

Contract work either comes from a seller (broker) of the goods or another shop. In the first instance, the salesperson brings the order to you because they do not do any screen printing themselves. The seller is solely focused on selling the job knowing they will have it printed by a contract printer once they receive the order.

The other way contract work comes about is from another shop. They might contract with another printer either because of the job type or it is not a service they offer. For example, a company might offer screen printing and embroidery but only do embroidery in-house, with the understanding that screen print orders will be jobbed out.

If a job is contracted out from one screen print shop to another, it is usually because of the job itself. It either calls for a specialization (like water-based or foil printing) or the job is too small/large for that shop to handle. The contracting shop might be so busy they need to hire a contractor to help them keep up.

Why Become a Contract Printer?

Revenue. Done right, the revenue can cover operating costs and daily expenses. The key is producing high-quality prints, at a low cost, with a quick turnaround. Speed and efficiency are the most integral parts of becoming a successful contract printer as the industry is full of complaints about contract printers, typically centered around quality or delivery. Offering all three qualities will not only bring in business but help you keep it.

Established retail print shops looking to get into contract printing may benefit from minimal risk with maximum profit of contract printing. Despite lower margins than direct printing, contract printing can pay for your basic daily expenses so you can do your own goods at a higher margin and more profitably.

Advice for Offering Contract Printing

Do your homework. There is overlap when it comes to equipment needs of contract and retail printers. Dependability is key with equipment. To keep up as a contract printer, you must have dependable automatics and dryer. Look for options that you can service yourself, so you do not have to wait for a service tech to come out. As a contract printer, you cannot afford to be down.

Find and develop relationships. You want to work with clients that are sustainable, with quality orders, and who pay on time. You might be able to pick up the odd contract job here or there but being able to find a dependable source of work is key. Reach out to companies that are larger or smaller than you. Larger companies may want to contract out smaller orders and vice versa for smaller companies looking for someone to print the larger jobs. Connect with companies that specialize in areas that you don’t. Making these contacts will also help you get a feel for your local market.

You must be on the internet. Having an internet presence will help you do your research about the market, your competitors, and will help you attract potential customers. Make sure your company is easy to find online. Google yourself from the mindset of a potential client to see how your website compares to others.

Talk to all the industry suppliers and be able to plan. There are often quantity discounts available for supplies, especially when less packaging needs to occur. This is especially true for ink, emulsion, and chemicals. When talking to your supplier, be prepared to provide projections. The best supply deals are negotiated with information, so be able to tell your ink supplier how many gallons of ink over a certain time period (typically one year) you are going to buy, rather than your usage, which is generally going to increase. Understanding your needs and keeping inventory on hand is key. Building in a 2- to 3-day shipping time for supplies to arrive opens up your supply options.

Find dependable employees. Nothing slows production down like a team you can’t count on. Employees are the foundation. Finding and retaining reliable employees makes a vast difference in your company’s production. Retaining employees is important as turnover rate can be expensive as there is a cost to training new employees. Identify and invest in high performers. One sign of a successful transition from a small retail print shop to contract printing is an increase in workload. Orders should be coming in at a higher rate. which means more income-based work for your employees.

From a contract printing perspective, having dependable artists and machine operators means that you will be able to keep up with high demand and a heavy workload. Dedicated employees who are present, on task, and have a willingness to learn can make a difference throughout. Positivity amongst the people on your team will harbor motivation and a work environment centered on teamwork.

Do what makes sense for you. For example, not everyone needs a huge facility. Nonetheless, finding adequate space and organizational methods that work for you and your team is influential in what you produce. For most people starting out in contract printing, that means local, regional, state — not national. One-day shipping or pick up are ideal as getting jobs out the door is critical for your contract printing operation’s success.


Making the move from retail to contract printing takes a focus on dependability. From your equipment, suppliers, clients, and employees, each part hinges on the other. The details are different for everyone but here is a rundown of essentials:

  1. Get equipment that will work best for you in your market.
  2. Find the right consumable supplier.
  3. Find sustainable clients that pay on time.
  4. Develop connections in your community.
  5. Employee reliability and retention.

Remember, your goal is efficiency. Does contract printing make sense for you? Hopefully, this article will help you make the decision and give you guidance on your road from retail to contract printing.