Can I Start a T-shirt Business with Merchmakr?

by Gary Jurman April 23, 2014

Hotswap Girls Screen Printing Instagram- from DIY Screen Printing Supplies on Vimeo.

If you’ve been contemplating starting a small T-shirt business, and you’ve been looking at the Merchmakr system by DIY Screen Printing Supplies, this article is for you.


There are many kinds of T-shirt business you can get involved in, and some of them are more suitable for making money in general than others. In screen printing, you can use the very same screens, merchandise, and equipment to run very different kinds of businesses. That being said, I will also add that some people are more adept at business than others. It is often said, in business, you “pays your money, and you takes your chances…” My intention in this article is to help you make an informed decision.

Let me begin by saying that I am the inventor of the Merchmakr. I have been professionally screen printing for more than 30 years. In that time, I’ve experimented with a variety of different T-shirt business models, and some have been vastly more profitable than others. Also, I have screen printed using quite a few different kinds of manual and automatic screen printing presses. When I created the Merchmakr I brought that knowledge and experience into the project. In addition, I’ve taught quite a few people to screen print over the years, and I am the chief tech support guy you wind up talking to at DIY when the other guys are stumped.

The short answer to the title question is “Yes.” You can start a variety of profitable small T-shirt businesses with the Merchmakr screen printing system. It won’t be the same kind of businesses you can start with a multi-thousand dollar screen printing press, a one thousand dollar plus exposure unit, and all of the other support that a full-scale screen printing operation has, but you could build up to that --if you wanted to. It is important, though, that you understand the differences between the two capabilities and what they bring.

Full-scale screen printing shops have the following properties:

  • They can do a heck of a lot of T-shirts in a very short time.
  • They can do multicolor printing fast because they have a lot of room to work in.
  • They take up a lot of floor space (1,000 plus square feet bare minimum, if they are not automated).
  • They require dedicated areas for the different operations to conduct business.
  • There are a number of different kinds of employees involved.
  • The equipment costs thousands of dollars --even used, and that’s not including moving it and installing it.

A micro T-shirt company more likely has the following properties:

  • Short runs are probably the rule, because production is much more time consuming.
  • They can be run from tiny spaces, like a garage, a spare room, or smaller.
  • Printing operations are set up and broken down as needed.
  • It’s pretty much a one-man-show (but not always)
  • The equipment is significantly cheaper, but not nearly as capable.
  • Most micro screen printing shops don’t take on the difficult or technical print jobs that more established shops take.

If you wanted, you could take a Merchmakr, and start out doing small custom T-shirt  jobs, and build up enough profits to buy more production-oriented equipment to move into a warehouse space and make a go of it. Truth be told, smaller jobs is where the market has been moving for a while, so many of the jobs available would suit what you are trying to do. Just ask any custom screen printer if that’s the trend.

I’m going to suggest you don’t do custom work, though. Why? Because it’s a tough gig, plain and simple, and with Merchmakr you have more and better options open to you. Also, Merchmakr can do graphics that your friends and fans will love, but you should steer your designs towards your capabilities. Merchmakr definitely outranks any single-head press that has come before it, but it does have limits. Custom screen printing jobs, on the other hand, often require very difficult or tricky prints that seem more simple than they really are.

What can Merchmakr do?

Merchmakr, even though it has a single print head, can in fact do multicolor designs, due to it’s HotSwap feature. It does come with an exposure unit so you can expose your own screens. It can be used with any kind of ink that can be used with higher-end screen printing presses. In other words, while the starter supplies include waterbased ink, the machine is just fine using plastisol inks as well. Also, the HotSwap clamp allows the head to land in the same place when lifted and lowered multiple times, so you can do the on-press flash drying needed for double-printing your white ink on dark garments. (In case you’re wondering, the double printing on dark garments makes the white ink brighter and pop more.)

What is a HotSwap, anyway?

HotSwap is a special screen clamp and registration technology developed by DIY Screen Printing Supplies (patent pending). The clamp part is designed to quickly grab the screen with a downward pressure without slipping on the surface of the screen, unlike all other manual screen printing clamps on the market. Most screen printing presses don’t bite the screen in an even fashion, and as a result, the registration between colors is often spoiled immediately. In addition, the HotSwap clamp is designed to be a quick clamping and quick releasing system to encourage speed when loading and unloading screens.

HotSwap registration is achieved through the clamp head and a special tab on the screens. If you get screens without the HotSwap tab, they still will clamp in quickly and easily, but you can’t register multicolor prints that way. The tab allows the screens to align to the press head in the same position every time. There is a caveat, though: the person doing the screen loading has to be sure the screen is loaded correctly each time. If the person using the printer doesn’t take care to load the screen correctly, their registration will be off.

What is the Bare Minimum Needed for a Merchmakr business?

As mentioned earlier, a Merchmakr business can take many forms. There are a few universal variables you’ll need to consider when figuring your budget and plan:

  • How are you going to dry your inks? (Example: heat gun, iron, heat press, conveyor dryer)
  • How will you make your films? (Example: inkjet printer)
  • Where will you wash out your stencils? (Example: laundry sink)
  • How will you reclaim your screens? (Example: pressure washer or car wash)
  • What method will you use to create your art? (Example: computer or by hand)

We’ll be covering the above topics in later posts and in instructional videos in the near future, so if you are not already on our mailing list, please do stay informed by signing up.

Businesses best suited for Merchmakr have one or more the following characteristics:

  • You are both the manufacturer and the retailer, and you sell T-shirts for $15 or more. (for example: bands, clubs, and fashion designers)
  • You are using it for test marketing concepts and only printing what sells (Etsy store, ebay, street merchants, or a T-shirt web store)
  • If you are doing custom work for others, you bundle it with other high margin products and/or services, and you learn the capabilities of yourself and the system. (Promoters, team sports uniforms supplier)
  • You are using it to throw craft parties, having party-goers print their own merch. (like bounce houses and other party businesses)

In summary, like any other venture, screen printing with the Merchmakr can be profitable or not. If you are aware of what your equipment can do and your own capabilities, you can make informed decisions that vastly improve your chances of success! If you’ve found this information valuable, please do subscribe to our mailing list. We’ll be writing and filming lots of other topics like this one in the near future.

Gary Jurman
Gary Jurman

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