How to Choose a Screen Printer

How to Choose a Screen Printer

There are hundreds of screen printing companies across Canada, dozens in Winnipeg, and countless more worldwide. So how do you choose the best shop to handle your orders? Before starting Floodway in 2014, we struggled through many different screen printers for our personal projects, eventually getting so frustrated that we bought equipment and started building our own company to solve the problem ourselves. 

That experience is long behind us, so we wanted to share the knowledge by putting together a short list of the most important factors that a reliable screen printing shop should have dialled in so you can skip the headache of changing shops every order!

A reliable shop will help achieve your goals with less headaches and less cost. Every aspect of the process should leave you feeling confident that your order is in great hands. Quality printing and a smooth process is one thing, but it needs to be done way before your deadline, too.

At Floodway, we strive for every experience to be outstanding and we’ll always make a recommendation when we don’t feel we’re the best shop for a particular job. Choosing the right printer can make or break a project, so we hope that this list of considerations helps with your due diligence.

Communication

Your shop should always be reachable, and have resources available to answer questions outside of shop hours. We’re still a small team, so at Floodway we focus on email. In today’s age of on-demand services it’s critical to get a timely response, so be careful if the return contact takes more than a business day. The more communication about the status of your order, the better. Following up yourself to learn about a delay is super frustrating!

The more communication about the status of your order, the better.

When you have a question or need more information you should always be able to receive that information in a timely manner, and in a format that helps you easily sort through the info. There can be a ton of variables in the print process, so it’s important to be able to review the info you’ve received as well. At Floodway, most email responses come within an hour or two, and our Frequently Asked Questions page is constantly updated with answers and information about every part of the process. 

We prefer email over the phone because the phone requires an immediate response, which isn’t always the best response. Email lets our team take a moment to gather the necessary information and consider all of your detail before drafting a response. We’re a small team too, so it can often be tough to get on the phone when the press is spinnin’. 

You can’t review a call, either. Each order has its own unique set of variables between the garment, sizes, colours, designs, and print process. It saves a ton of time (and potential headaches!) to have a written reference.

Examples of Past Work

You’ve gotta know what the printer is capable of producing. Every print shop will tell you they are the best in the business, and that their process is the best available for your project. It’s critical to do your own research in this area, like understanding the differences between screen printing and other processes like digital Direct-to-Garment printing. 

A print shop should be proud of their work. Proud enough to display it in their shop and use it to sell their services.  Do they have samples available in-house? Do they have quality photos posted on their social media? Be very cautious around shops that don’t make it easy to see the quality of their work.

Expert Insight

The best shops aren’t running a side gig, they do this day in, day out. So they should definitely be making suggestions, spotting issues, and identifying opportunities for improvement. If a shop is not making suggestions to improve your design, ink colour choices, or garment pick then you may as well just order from a form. If you’re talking to a human, they should be able to apply their human intuition to your order. The worst thing as a customer is when your order doesn’t meet expectations and the shop makes a suggestion for ‘next time’. Why didn’t y’all do it this time?

Wether you are price shopping or ready to order, your chosen shop should be able to nail down your exact cost and break down the best options to make sure your design, garment, and print process all sing together as a final product.

In-House vs. Outsourcing

Is your print shop actually doing the work? This may come as a surprise, but many shops in our industry do their own screen printing in-house, but outsource the rest. For example, if you’re ordering t-shirts, hats and pens, it’s very likely that the embroidery for the caps and pens are being sent out. In our opinion, outsourcing is a distraction.

Floodway was founded after frustrations as customers in regards to both quality, and customer service. Both screen printing and automated sewing are individual crafts and our industry has a tendency to split its focus between both print and embroidery. 

Instead of tacking on our own markup and making you play telephone between us and another company. Or worse, asking the outsource for a ‘industry pricing’ deal instead of marking it up, which could mean that your order is valued less than other jobs.

We can’t speak for everyone, but at Floodway we’d much rather recommend a local shop that actually specializes in the process.

Focussing on our own process allows us to always dedicate our extra time and resources to improving the print process, testing new inks or garments, and mastering techniques. And lends itself to a higher level of accountability, reliability, and efficiency. This allows a focussed shop to offer screen printing confidently, to truly understand costs, and to package it into a trusted service for a wide range of clients. 

In our opinion, many compromises must be made when part of the process is being outsourced, or when a team’s focus is split between two distinct production lines. It’s simply not possible to have the same level of accountability when your order is being brokered down the line to other shops. The added layer of communication between the shops adds a hidden cost to your order, as well!

Community 

Your ideal print shop is a business, just like yours – but are they a positive presence in the community like yours is? A shop that aims to be a great neighbour, create jobs, and contribute to local events is a shop that is laying down its roots. Contributions to the community show a commitment to building a lasting company. Not only so that you can rely on the company for screen printing, but so that the company’s community and team can rely on it as well. 

Like sustainability, an ideal print shop can show that they are involved in more than just offering their services. At Floodway, our opinion has always been that when the community does well, and when businesses in our community do well, we do well! So it only makes sense to find ways to contribute to our music, art, and other scenes. 

Remember, people do business with people, not businesses. So make sure the people working for your business in any capacity share some of the same principles, values, and ethics.

Modern, Safe, Reliable Equipment

A reliable print shop starts with the people, but even the best team is limited by their tools and processes. Being reliable means making long term investments in the equipment, the space, and the team. The state of a shop and its equipment can be a huge indicator of overall quality. A dirty floor and old equipment may not seem like a big deal on the surface, but your ideal shop should be able to show that they take care of every detail, not just the print jobs. 

Your ideal shop should be able to show that they take care of every detail, not just the print jobs. 

Besides inconsistent quality or bad communication, the last thing anybody wants is to waste time. If you had to chop down 100 trees, you would surely use a chainsaw rather than an axe – so your ideal shop should have the right tools for the job. 

Start-up printing presses can get the job done, but keep in mind that any shop’s pricing will be based around the time they need to do the job. Automated equipment is a great way to gauge how serious a shop is, and while manual printing is great – it cannot achieve the same accuracy, consistency, and higher print quality that automated presses can, and definitely not in the same amount of time.

Sustainability 

Last but not least; waste! Waste is everywhere around us, and fashion is one of the biggest contributors of waste on our planet. Unfortunately, the laws surrounding sustainability are loosely regulated at best, so if sustainability is a factor for your project then it is critical to do some of your own research, and ask questions. The products used in our industry are marketed just like any other product, so buzzwords ‘green’ or ‘eco friendly’ will be tossed around a lot.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sustainable choices, so your ideal shop should be able to show some examples of things they are doing to reduce waste, put less in the landfill, and put cleaner water back down the drain. At Floodway, we are proud to be industry leaders in sustainability through small, conscious choices that we feature regularly on our Instagram Story.

If you value the planet, vote with your dollars and choose a shop that is making efforts that align with your values. 

So it’s not just a product, or equipment choice. And sustainability doesn’t have to be expensive, either. If you value the planet, vote with your dollars and choose a shop that is making efforts that align with your values.