How to Start a Digital Printing Business

by Andra Picincu - Updated October 22, 2018
Large format printing

The digital printing market has an annual growth rate of approximately 4.4 percent. If you have an eye for design, you might consider starting a business in this niche. Depending on your preferences, you can work with magazines, brochures, advertisements, labels, business cards or even T-shirts. This market is huge and the possibilities are endless.

What Is Digital Printing?

Digital printing services are popular among students, individuals and businesses worldwide. This is largely due to the growing demand for sustainable printing as well as the decline of traditional offset printing. Photos, PDFs, Microsoft Office Word documents and illustrations can now be printed on fabric, cardstock, canvas, photo paper and other materials.

The digital printing process uses liquid ink or toner and has variable data capabilities. This makes it ideal for customers who need personalized products, such as custom promo materials. With a digital printer, it's possible to print unique names, addresses and coupon codes on the materials with which you're working.

Furthermore, this technique is ideal for customers who only need a small number of postcards, brochures and other printed products. Plus, it's fast and cost efficient. Once the files are ready, you can simply press "Print." There is no need to use printing plates or spend hours processing each order. The quick turnaround time is an obvious advantage.

Why Start a Printing Business?

Starting a printing business requires minimal investment. All you need is a small-scale printing press, a laptop or desktop computer, a cutter, design software and ink. Unless you hire an accountant, consider using accounting software to track your profits and expenses, create invoices and manage your inventory. If you're working with a small budget, you can work from home. However, opening a print shop will make it easier to grow your business and reach out to customers.

This printing method eliminates the need for photo chemicals, film plates and other messy equipment. Compared to other offset and flexographic printing, it allows for greater flexibility and personalization. On top of that, the colors are vivid and consistent. You can even use special custom inks and various paper types based on the customer's needs. Dry inks, for example, yield white, metallic or clear effects.

The fast execution as well as the low costs and high quality of printing are all advantages you should consider. With this technique, you can create custom content that appeals to new markets and applications. Some of the most popular digital printing products include:

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  • Advertisements
  • Legal and financial documents
  • Catalogs and booklets
  • Labels
  • Magazines
  • Business cards
  • Wedding invitations
  • Restaurant menus
  • Flyers and brochures
  • CD covers
  • Postcards
  • Custom envelopes

You can even print unique designs on T-shirts, backpacks, tote bags and promotional products. This will allow you to reach a wider audience, from students to business professionals. Plus, you can tweak your unique selling proposition based on the target customer group.

Consider the needs of business professionals. According to a report by Canon, marketing campaigns combining print, mobile messaging, email and personalized URLs had a conversion rate of 19 percent and a response rate of 8.7 percent. Reach Out, an educational organization, experienced a 200 percent increase in return on investment after sending personalized letters to its donors. Personalized mailing pieces have been found to increase sales, lead generation and website traffic.

If you have your own printing business, you can incorporate these facts into your unique selling proposition. This will allow you to reach your target market more effectively and maximize your advertising efforts. For example, you can tell business clients that custom wallpaper printing and other similar services help increase brand awareness and customer loyalty.

Make a Business Plan

The first step in starting a printing business is to make a plan. Decide whether you'll work from home or open a print shop and then choose your specialty. Are you going to offer T-shirt printing, mug printing or custom wallpaper printing? Perhaps you prefer more traditional services, such as flyer and leaflet printing or greeting card printing? You can provide one or more services depending on your target audience.

Next, estimate your potential revenue and expenses. Startup costs range from $2,000 to $10,000 or more and depend largely on the type of printing equipment you're going to use. A small-scale printing press, for example, will cost less than a professional-grade 3D printer. Also, consider the costs of opening a print shop. This option is going to be more expensive compared to a home office.

Identify your market niche based on the age and needs of your customers. For example, you can sell printed T-shirts to teenagers and young adults or you can target business professionals. Determine whether you'll purchase premade designs or create your own designs. Define your mission and goals for at least the first year or two.

Research the market trends and tailor your business plan accordingly. Label and digital packaging printing, for instance, is expected to grow at an annual rate of 13.6 percent by 2020. This industry was worth $10.5 billion in 2015, and it has only increased ever since. The custom T-shirt printing market is expected to reach $10 billion by 2025 and has an annual growth rate of 6.3 percent.

Your business plan should also include the steps needed to promote your services. Factor in the costs of website design and maintenance, flyers, brochures and other marketing materials. If you consider opening a print shop, you may want to use street signs and banners to advertise your business.

Remember to make a list of suppliers as well. Search for companies that sell wholesale ink and toner, high-quality printer paper, business card paper, plain T-shirts, envelopes and so on. Some good options are Desktop Publishing Supplies, Bulk Office Supply, Ali Express, Alibaba, Amazon and eBay. Most vendors offer discounts on bulk orders, so make sure you get several quotes from different sources.

Obtain Permits and Licenses

Register your printing business and choose a legal structure, such as an LLC, a partnership or a sole proprietorship. After you complete these steps, try to find out what business licenses and permits are required in your state. Failure to acquire these documents can result in hefty fines.

If you're going to open a print shop, you'll need a Certificate of Occupancy, or CO. This document confirms that the building complies with the specifications approved by the local authorities. In case you plan to lease the space, your landlord will be the one responsible for obtaining a CO. However, if you're going to build or purchase a location, you must handle this aspect yourself. A CO is not required for those who run a printing business online.

Either way, you will need a retail sales license and a tax registration certificate. Go to your state's tax or comptroller’s office to obtain these documents. Additionally, it's necessary to apply for a federal tax ID number before launching your business. This can be done online.

Once your business is up and running, you may expand your services to attract more customers and increase your revenue. For example, you could offer shredding services, sell office supplies or create custom designs. Another option is to partner with a shipping company and provide packaging services. You can also sell printed merchandise on Etsy, CafePress, Printify and other print-on-demand websites.

About the Author

Andra Picincu is a digital marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience. She works closely with small businesses and large organizations alike to help them grow and increase brand awareness. She holds a BA in Marketing and International Business and a BA in Psychology. Over the past decade, she has turned her passion for marketing and writing into a successful business with an international audience. Current and former clients include The HOTH, Bisnode Sverige, Nutracelle, CLICK - The Coffee Lover's Protein Drink, InstaCuppa, Marketgoo, GoHarvey, Internet Brands, and more. In her daily life, Ms. Picincu provides digital marketing consulting and copywriting services. Her goal is to help businesses understand and reach their target audience in new, creative ways.

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