Five Rules to Live By for DTG Printers

Can you do shirts for that?

Industry consultant, Screen Printing columnist, and 2 Regular Guys podcaster Terry Combs ( is an “idea-a- minute” guy when it comes to marketing. Well, not exactly: He never quite reaches the promised number of niche market ideas he intends to share with audiences when he speaks on this subject, as he did at last year’s ASI Show Chicago and in a recent SGIA-sponsored webinar. (He’ll be covering the topic again at the Graphics Central Pavilion at ASI Chicago, at 1:15 p.m. on Thursday, July 17.) But the ones he does cover provide a wealth of ideas for any screen printer on the lookout for new opportunities. We compiled a list of five rules to live by gleaned from this 30-year screen-printing veteran’s stories.









1. Passionate people spend money.
From charter fishers to dance moms to Harley-Davidson owners, Combs advises garment printers to look for niches where passionate parents and hobbyists will jump at the chance to capture the moment with a personalized T-shirt. In one example, two brave entrepreneurs set up mobile screen-printing shops in their trailers and set off around the country in search of forest fires. Volunteers lined up for simple shirts to commemorate their battle against nature; the printers made a quick buck. Perhaps you don’t need to stand quite so close to the heat of the action, but the moral of the story is that putting yourself in the middle of things nearly always pays off.

2. Always think: “I should do shirts.”
A Nova Scotian ice-cream parlor owner watched guest after guest sit in his shop and whale-watch as they enjoyed their sundaes. Rather than let them get away with priceless photos languishing on their phones and laptops, the owner bought a DTG printer and started printing keepsake T-shirts featuring images the visitors had captured moments before. If the ice-cream man is thinking it, then you as a screen printer better be thinking it, too. Imagine that your local high school is about to win a football state championship. What’s your first thought? Now, let’s say your daily commute is interrupted by the annual horror film convention. What’s your first thought? (Hint: It shouldn’t be about the traffic.)

3. You can own a niche market if you find your own angle.
“There are lots and lots and lots of screen printers,” Combs says. “But there aren’t very many good ones.” You know you have a high-quality, unique product; the challenge is finding your way in. Early in his career, Combs worked for a shop that printed exclusively for fraternities and sororities. Their secret? They knew the dates of every Greek election in the country; the day after elections, they would call up the new social chairs to congratulate them, and then point out that their predecessors always used Combs’ company for event shirts. All it takes is a little cleverness and initiative to find that shortcut that will get you past the competition.

4. Duplicate, duplicate, duplicate.
You probably won’t encounter many situations where the shirts you print for a customer are the only shirts he or she will ever need. Chances are, the Ironman race will come back next year, the army officer-in-training also plays for a rec basketball league, and the mom hosting a bar mitzvah knows three other families who are throwing parties later that summer. “When you offer a good service,” says Combs, “business will build upon business will build upon business,” so be sure to deliver on time and to leave behind a business card.

5. Be a self-promoter.
In this business, you don’t have the luxury of being shy. Keep an eye out for opportunities and don’t be afraid to endorse yourself. Combs shares two great ideas: One, approach local vets and offer to produce their marketing materials. T-shirts that say “Dr. Smith loves my dog!” are sure to bring in new business. Another thought is to make a deal with a booking manager at a local music venue. For every band that you produce merchandise for, offer him a five-percent commission. Your business cards are sure to get some traffic. Another tip: Be sure to mark your boxes with your company name and phone number when you make deliveries. It’s not rocket science, but Combs’ simple advice is to “make it super easy for people to buy from you.”

Whether it’s as hot as a forest fire or as cool as a muscle-car show, keep an eye out for those niches that give you the chance to harness people’s passions. Be your own advocate; create opportunities for repeat business; use your savviness to find a back door. And remember your mantra (you’re a screen printer, after all): “I should do shirts for that.”

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