What to Look for in a Screen Printer

Jesse MacKenzie
December 8th, 2017

Finding a screen printer for your custom shirts is easy, but finding the right printer can be very difficult. Before I started working in the screen printing industry I was involved in several t-shirt projects and had no idea what to look for or what to expect. I was left relying on the first google result and accepting any difficulties that came with it. Now, with five years in the industry under my belt, I’ve seen and heard enough stories to understand what separates the great printers and what an incredible difference they can make in a custom garment experience. We’ve created a list of what to look for in a screen printer to hopefully spare you some heartache and save you some hard earned money (these qualities can also apply to any type of vendor you are looking for, I think they are mostly signs of a healthy and strong business partner).

What to look for in a screen printer


Hitting deadlines. Matching quantities. Responding quickly.

This is the base level of care and customer service, but it’s a place where the screen printing industry has a fairly bad reputation. Print shops are frequently small, chaotic operations. This can be a beautiful thing, there’s a special creative energy when a handful of friends are working crazy hours to get jobs out the door, but a lot of times reliability can be left behind in the chaos.

Some people may be drawn to the small print shop, if your deadlines and details are flexible you might find awesome innovation and creativity there. But if your operation is a little tighter, reliability issues can quickly turn into a huge headache. We recently talked to a business owner who had spent several months trying to get a design and printing finalized, if that sounds like a deal breaker to you, then reliability should be at the top of your screen printing priority list.


Beautiful, wearable prints that match your art.

Quality is a bit of a vague term, it means something slightly different to everyone. To me, quality in screen printing means a wearable print that matches your art. By “wearable” I mean a print that isn’t super thick and heavy (I remember a specific shirt that left a large sweat ring on my back) and feels nice to the touch. I design my fair share of t-shirts, and the biggest joy in it is seeing my designs come to life and be worn and enjoyed by other people. That joy is diminished when the print doesn’t match what I designed and envisioned. If you’ve ever printed something out on a home printer and said “well that looked a lot better on my computer”, you know the pain of a poorly recreated screen print.


Great prints order after order.

The third value to look for in a printer is consistency. This goes hand in hand with the first two, a consistent printer is a shop that will match their quality and reliability order after order. Is it important to you that your fifth order of a design matches the first order? Will they be sitting next to each other on a shelf at some point? If so, consistency should be a big concern. Screen printing is a complicated and touchy process with a ton of variables. Only shops with the most dedicated, focused team, a great process, and top of the line equipment are going to be able to match quality and detail over and over again no matter the size of the order. (Even something as simple as a climate controlled production environment can make a huge difference in consistency).


Helpful, knowledgeable people taking orders & a happy, skilled team members in production.

Care is really the vehicle that gets you to the previous three qualities. I think it’s vital to find a print shop that is full of people that care about their work and about your product. Helpful, knowledgeable people setting up your order and a happy, skilled team in production will almost always leave you with a successful experience.


Work environment & the overall difference they are making in the world.

Beyond those product-based qualities, look for a print shop that is having a positive impact on their employees and in their community. Sadly there are print shops that don’t love their employees very well, treating their printers like machine operators instead of empowering them to become experts. Don’t be afraid to ask the companies you work with what they value (or look for shops that are already telling you).

As a member of the screen printing community, I want to see it grow and prosper. I want to see the right things valued by printers and by the people that are hiring printers. Let’s raise the bar together, let’s ask more of our printers. Shirts are an awesome marketing tool when made & utilized correctly. If you treat shirts like an investment instead of an expense, and if you treat your printer like a partner in business you can get more people wearing your shirts and spreading your message.


Jesse is our Creative Director. He splits his time between the Art Department and Creative duties, looking to innovate and push the company in both areas (unless he overslept.)

Filed under: Educate, Tutorials