How to Start / Open A Printing Business in Kenya

Download A Printing Business Plan (Guide) in Kenya PDF➥

Printing company Business Plan in Kenya

This guide covers the printing business. Printing is wide, so wide that we can’t cover each and everything in a single guide. Here we look at the most common and most relevant types of printing in Kenya. The kind run by small and medium enterprises.

This guide will help you understand in the simplest of form various types of printing, equipment required, margins, trends in the market, operations and possible opportunities.

It’s not a technical guide. However we delve into the technical to the extent that you understand in the plainest of form the different kinds of printing services and equipment. This is crucial in helping you decide what to invest in and in making the right call when purchasing equipment. We marry the technical with the business side of printing.

About this Printing Business Guide

The printing business in Kenya has grown almost geometrically in the last twenty years or so. There are now hundreds of entrepreneurs in the printing business; from the very small to the big ones with turnovers of hundreds of millions. Growth in the industry can be attributed to, one, advances in printing technology which has made equipment cheaper, more efficient and able to work with numerous media not just paper and garments.

Two is the increase in demand for all manner of printed products largely driven by the expansion of the economy since 2002. This means that there are many businesses, institutions and individuals who require trade and promotional materials such as receipts, business cards, invoices, signs, caps, diaries and the like.

As would be expected, now that demand has increased more entrepreneurs have invested in the printing business. Competition has become intense especially at the lower levels of the market where a smaller amount of capital is required to start. This has exerted a lot of downward pressure on prices and margins.

Present technology makes the cost of production low, but price strain at times significantly reduces margins. Yet this is not to an extent that the business is not attractive enough.

Success in the printing business is largely tied to marketing skills that draw in customers. This do not just involve advertising, lobbying, networking and printing what customers need, but also trying to look beyond the traditional printing markets. This by innovation that comes up with printing products that draws in consumers who normally won’t directly spend significantly on printed items. Also by being proactive in solving customers’ needs and creating new products the market needs.

Tied to marketing and competition is the presence of many brokers in the business.

‘Entrepreneurs’ who don’t own a single printing equipment but are conversant with the business. Very important they have the skill or networks to win printing jobs from customers which they subcontract to those with printing machines. This is not only a sign of what important role marketing plays but also of the idle capacity present in the printing business.

Certainly we can’t ignore that 2017 is an election year. And it being so there will be increased demand for services to print campaign materials such as posters, leaflets, cards, billboards, t- shirts, caps among others. Anyone would be tempted to invest in the business to fulfill the needs of the politicians. And now, than ever before, there will be more candidates running at all elective levels. Thus demand will be at the peak. But as much as that is the case you have to think of how to win printing jobs from politicians. Do you have the networks to win such business?

You have also to think long term. Will you have broken even by election time? What are your business prospects after elections? This is not to discourage you but a reality check.

Let us now go into some technicalities as we review more of the market information.

Types of Printing

Before venturing into the printing business it’s important to understand the main types of printing technologies. This will help you make the best investment decision. You will realize you don’t necessarily need to invest in all the printing technologies available, then not all are needed.

Decide on the kind of business to start based on gaps in your local market, printing needs of sectors the economy that are expanding and the kind of market you have access to. Are you networked in the advertising industry? Then you could think of machines that can do banners and billboards. You have a foot in the political then at least, for 2017, equipment to print t-shirts or posters .

Also decide on the investment based on market trends, location and the amount of your capital. All this will become clear as you understand what is available in terms of printing technologies.

Printing can be classified in several ways. Here we use two broad divisions:

a)Indoor Printing

b)Outdoor Printing

Indoor Printing

This is printing of materials that will be used in a ‘safe’ in-house environment. This means the materials that for the most part are meant for indoor use rather than outside. Think of items like business cards, books, letterheads, receipts, calendars and the like.

Types of Indoor Printing

There are many types of indoor printing technologies. We look at some of the main ones:

Offset Printing


Very simply offset printing works by transferring an image to a paper. The image is ‘stamped’ on

the paper. For instance if you were to print the word MANGO using an inkjet or laser printer it would involve burning powder ink in the case of laser or spraying ink to form the word using an inkjet. When it comes to offset printing a plate with the word MANGO will be inked and stamped on the paper. Crudely think of it as a rubber stamp of sorts: ink and stamp. In this case the stamp is what technically is referred to as a plate.

The above example makes offset printing look all so easy but let’s find out more by going slightly deeper into the technical .This will help you grasp offset printing equipment, target market, capital, process and operations.

Offset printers have different features depending on the brand and model. Nevertheless they at least have the following main parts:

A Feeder System – This is the system through which papers are fed from the stack of into the printing machine.

Printing Unit – The print unit is where there actual printing happens. It has ink rollers each with a single colour.

Delivery system – This snatches the printed paper and stacks on a board.

Control Station – This is used to monitor and control and monitor functions of the printer.

Steps in Offset Printing

Now let’s go step by step and briefly see what happens when a customer walks into an offset

printing shop.

Step 1: Design – The first step is to have a design of what needs to be printed. This is what is called the artwork. A customer can come with her own design, say made by her graphic designer, or she can pitch you the idea and request that you to turn it to a graphic in which case you will charge her a fee. No worries if you don’t know how to design; many offset printers hire graphic designers. The smaller ones don’t even have in-house designers rather they use a particular designer in the neighbourhood or call a designer of their choice from any location.

Equipment Required: Computer with graphic design software such as Corel Draw or Adobe Photoshop

Step 2: Colour Separation – For purposes of illustration let us assume the customer came to your shop with the artwork ready:

In printing this kind of design, with a multiple of colours is called Full Colour. As you perhaps know there is a set of primary colours which are mixed to get the many other colours. In offset printing this set of colours is what is known as CMYK which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. The primary colours could also be six or eight depending on the complexity of the shades to be printed. Still the four CMYK are the main ones. In digital world, as when working with a computer, the set of colours is called the RGB.

To print the above design the design has to be separated into the consecutive CMYK colours. In a way converting from the RGB to the CMYK scheme. This is what is known as colour separation. While printing each plate will have a single colour, which will be ‘stamped’ to the paper until they all mix and the design is ‘full colour’.

Colour separation can be done using a computer with the appropriate design or separation program and a printer. Of course this requires more than basic computer skills. However as you will see below there are now more advanced and friendlier ways to do colour separation.

Equipment Required: Computer and Printer

Step 3: Plate Making - After the colour separation you will need to make plates. The plates have the image of what will be printed. As noted each plate will ‘ink’ a single colour. Plates used to be made solely by printing from a computer to a film (CTF), then ‘burning’ to a plate using a special equipment called the Plate Burner.

However, nowadays technology has advanced and made the process easier. Plates are often made using Computer to Plate systems (CTP). The systems can design, colour separate and directly print on a plate thus eliminating much of the previous delicate and labour intensive process. Computer to Film (CTF) systems are not totally out, they are still being used but not to a large extent as before. CTP machines not only make the process faster but improve on quality. The flip side is that there are many times more expensive than CTF systems.

The best quality of CTP come from Europe but the market is now flooding with much more cheaper machines from China.

Considering the cost of CTPs you don’t necessarily have to own one to run your offset printing business. You can have the plates made by a printer already with a CTP machines. We will come back to this a little later.

There are various types of plates. A major way to classify them is by the material that is used to make them say rubber, metal, paper or any other. In Kenya the two main types of plates used are paper and metal (aluminum, steel etc).

Paper plates are of a lower quality when compared to metal plates. This is in terms of the quality of the print and the durability of the plates themselves. Often paper plates are used for one off assignments such as funeral eulogies and wedding invitations. On the other hand metal plates are used when a higher quality print is desired and the assignment could be recurring for instance company receipt books, book covers, invoices and similar documentation.

Equipment Required: CTP or CTF

STEP 4: Choose and Buy the Paper – The next step is to decide on what kind of paper the design will be printed. There are tens if not hundreds types of paper. These include:

-Art paper

-Bond paper




-Ivory Board

-Embossed board

-Bond 60


-And more

Each type of paper could have sub types on grammage which is essentially the weight of the paper. Grammage is denoted as GSM; Grams per Square Meter. For instance Artpaper could be GSM 100, 115, 130, 135, 150, 170, 200,250 and so forth.

Ideally the customer should pick the kind of paper they want. Because many of the customers will not have the knowhow to identify by name or grammage, the best thing is to guide them by having samples of different papers. And as much as the customer could opt for certain kind of paper, her budget may not allow, and thus you can offer different options to fit the amount that she has.

Equipment Needed: Samples of Different Papers

Step 5: Cut the Paper Into the Printing Sizes – Often printing paper is sold in big sizes say A1. So if you would like to print documents in A5 you have to buy a bigger size say A1 and cut to smaller pieces. To do this you need a guillotine. A guillotine makes this work easier, professional and uniform. No rough or crooked edges. No sizes bigger than others.

Although it’s an advantage to own a guillotine, if short on capital you can start without one. Instead you can outsource cutting to those with guillotines. Cutting charges are fair, sometimes as low as Kshs. 20 per A1. We will give more details about the guillotine below.

Equipment Needed: Guillotine

Step 6: Prepare the Press – This is by loading the plates, ink and paper. There are various

types of ink but in terms of colour there are CMYK: black, yellow, magenta, cyan.And depending on the desired colour there could be others like Royal Blue.

Whether you load one colour at a time or all colours at the same time will depend on the kind of offset printing machine that you will be using. This will become clear in a short while.

When the plates and ink are ready you feed the paper into the offset printer. There are various ways this happens depending on the features of the machine.

Advanced printers will have many controls which allow them to check for things like double sheets so that the printer does not pick two sheets at the same time. They are also able to ensure that the paper is in the right position so that it does not print on the side.

Step 7: Start Printing – Once you are set you start printing. Of course the specifics of this will depend on the kind of press that you are printing and the artwork. In all cases though it requires close monitoring.

Equipment Needed: Offset Printing Press

Step 8: Finishing - This involves getting the printed documents ready for the customer. For instance do they need stapling? Binding? Perforation? Folding? All these are finishing activities.

Equipment Needed: Binding Machine, Stapler, Stitching Machine, Punch and more.

The above is the general working of an offset printing press. The steps must not be consecutive and definitely there is much more involved.

Specifics will depend on the model of machine that you have, what you are printing and what finished product you seek.

Offset Printing Equipment

Let us now look in more detail at the key equipment you need to start and run an offset printing business:

a) Offset Press

Offset printers can either be single colour, two colours, three colours, four colours, six colours or eight colours. We mentioned above that full colours are made by variously mixing the four CMYK colours. This means if you have a single colour press and you want to print a full colour document then you have to run it four times, one colour at a time. If you have a two colour press then you will need to run it two times; two colours at a time. If you have a four colour press then you will run it once.

Of course the more the colours the more expensive the machine is. There are many offset printers who work with single colour machine. The downside is that it takes longer to print a full colour document because you have to run it several times. When there is no urgency this is not exactly a setback. The price difference between single colour ad four colour presses is significant enough to make you pause and think about which one to go for. This is more so if you are low on capital. Ideally though the dour colour press is the best option.

The market for offset printers is mature such that there are a significant number of second hand equipement available. Hence you have a choice between new and second hand. Second hand machines are often a result of business failure for a variety of reasons from bad management to lack of customers. There are also several cases of presses being auctioned to pay loans.

Like with any equipment there are advantages of going for new. You know the warranties and guarantees that come with new. Nonetheless you could be short of capital and second hand will suffice. In both cases, but more so when buying second hand, test and test. As a novice in the business you may not have the skill to do this on your own so when purchasing get a trusted operator and technician to accompany you. (If you need any help in this let us know)

The biggest number of second hand offset printers are found in Nairobi. This is because in the capital there is a large concentration of offset printers to make a second hand market thrive. Though used printers can be found in other towns, it’s often not a number not big enough to sustain a specialist second hand offset press dealer.

There are various brands of offset presses. The business used to be such that equipment was on extremes ends of technology; on one side machines the very modern and on the other very old models; both served the purpose and still do, but the older models of the machines are gradually getting phased out.

In the market too we have the very advanced, fully automated and feature filled, high capacity machines which cost tens of millions, and then the standard ones, you know the single , two colour four colour printers, without very advanced features and which costs hundreds of thousands to a million or a couple . These are the printers found in hundreds, and some which operate in semi formal ways. If you are in Nairobi and want to get a good idea of this visit Sheikh Karume road. You can access it through River Road, Mfangano Street or Luthuli Avenue.

Among the most common brands of offset presses are:

Ryobi – This is a brand from Japan. One of the biggest advantages of the machine compared to its peers is that it has what is called a Perfector. This means that if you are printing on both sides of a paper, it will do so automatically, so you won’t have to print on

one side then turn the paper to print the other. Its not the only brand with a perfector, but at least this is one of the features that Ryobi is locally well known for.

The challenge with Ryobi, at least among those who own them, is that spare parts are not easily available locally. You have to go to their agent, who orders from Japan on your behalf. Their agent is Spicers East Africa at Nyayo Stadium, Nairobi. Not that a Ryobi breaks down now and then. But when it does and the part is not available locally the you could have to wait for a fortnight or so.

There are various models of Ryobi each with a variety of features and different colours.

Heidelberg - Worldwide this is one of the most recognized and respected brands in printing. They have a range of printers from the low levels ones to very advanced printers. These include Speedmaster, GTO, Quickmasrer, and Printmaster among others. One of their popular models is the Heildberg GTO. Local market sentiments about this are that it’s robust and very versatile though slightly expensive.

Multilith – This is very popular with printers who print exams in black and white. You know the revision papers that are common all over.








Other Equipment

The press machine is of course the main item. However, as we have seen there are other secondary equipment that are needed in the business.

These are used to prepare for printing and then after printing to finish. It’s important to note that you can start comfortably with only a press and when need arises to use other equipment you buy the services from those who already own them. This is if you are in a major town like Nairobi where the offset printing business is established and you are certain to find someone with one of these equipments within a small radius.

The equipment include:

Guillotine – This is like we said before used to cut printing papers in various sizes. A guillotine can either be manual or automatic powered by electricity. If doing large quantities the electrical is the preferred choice. There are many brands of guillotines. One of the relatively cheaper brands is IDEAL, a new one which costs from Kshs. 600,000 with second hand going for an average of Kshs. 350,000 of course depending on the seller. Second hands are either from local

printers quitting the business or upgrading their present guillotines. There are some dealers who also import refurbished guillotines from Europe.

The very basic of guillotines, the small manual ones that can only do up to A3 and which are used in bureaus average cost Kshs.2000.

Computer to Plate Machine – As we mentioned this is the modern machine used to make plates. This, unlike the traditional methods, is faster and easier to use. A CTP designs on the computer and sends directly to the printer, no need for films.

For a small press it won’t make much business sense to acquire a CTP machine, even a second hand one. It will be better to initially use the services of those already with the equipment. New good quality CTP machines from Europe cost at least Kshs.7 million and they are imported on order by the various dealers. Chinese CTP are cheaper starting from Kshs.800,000.

A refurbished machine will cost about Kshs.5 million. This is money better used in marketing or even buying a better press. You can survive comfortably without a CTP. There are enterprenures who have invested in a CTP system and they charge other printers to make plates. This charge is passed on to the customer. Printers operating in towns where there are no CTP equipment usually send designs to contacts or CTP owners. The plates are made and sent by courier.

The other alternative is to use CTF systems which although labour intensive and delicate still work.

Finishing Equipment

Finishing equipment are used to make printed items easy to use and ready for the intended purpose. For instance if you are printing a text book then to make it usable you need to bind or staple the pages

There are tens of finishing processes and equipment. Here we look at a few:

Folding – If you are printing a book or magazine you will need to fold the pages at the center. Other items that need folding could be brochures some forms of leaflets and even labels. For accuracy and because of quantities a folding machine is used . The two main types of folders are the right angle folder ‘knife’ and the buckle folder which is for light papers.

Binding – This is fixing the papers together. There are several types of binding. These include spiral binding common with loose leaf notebooks, perfect binding , often used for

‘ light books’ , stitching, padding like the foolscap note books which you can ‘tear ‘ off a leaf while leaving all the others intact. There are various kinds of binding equipment for each purpose.

Cutting – This is cutting the papers to the required sizes. Cutting is often done using a guillotine. However there are different types of cutters which serve different purposes. For instance to trim the pages of a book you use a three sided cutter.

Decorative – This is the kind of finishing that is aimed at decorating the printed item. For instance using foils, embossing and dembossing. Embossing machines are used for this.

Other Finishing process include “ perforation ; making the small holes that help easily tear a receipt; converting , which is turning a printed carton to a box ; gluing say of envelopes ; laminating and gathering for instance arranging the pages of a magazine in the right sequence then binding them

You don’t need all the finishing equipment. Some will rarely be used. For example is it worth it to invest in the kind of spiral binder that is used to bind calendars? Knowing that it will be used just for a short time in the year ? Isn’t it better to invest in equipment that is used more often?

When starting allocate your resources very carefully . Remember to always have some working capital. Don’t pump all your capital in equipment. As the business grows you will make better decisions on what to buy. By then you will have realized which of the finishing equipment you can’t do without.

In Summary, the equipment you need to run an offset printer are:

Offset Printer

Guillotine or a way to cut papers

CTP or a way to make plates



Finishing equipment

Download A Printing Business Plan (Guide) in Kenya PDF➥

A Business Note

Offset printing is the most mature of all kinds of printing in Kenya. It has grown such that in cities like Nairobi there are economies of scale; areas known for small scale printing businesses. Turnover, in terms of exit and entry, is and has been high. Casualties are a result of competition and other business challenges.

Despite this entrepreneurs are still investing in offset printing presses simply because demand exists. An expanding economy has ensured there is sufficient demand. Whereas digital printing has caught up, and could be seen as a threat to offset printing, digital technology has not advanced to the extent that it can compete with offset printing in terms of costs especially when it comes to volumes.

And while it’s true that digital (and inkjet) technology has snatched some of the offset printing business, the latter still attracts enough consumers to make the business profitable to a significant number of entrepreneurs.

Offset may not be the future, at least not the 30 year old future, but it will remain important in Kenya for a longtime. And as much as digital printing will snatch some of offset printing business there still will be enough demand to make an investment in offset printing sustainable. To be clear that does not mean investing in an offset printing press will automatically mint money; you have to do the necessary like lots of marketing and proper management.

Another positive sign is that manufactures of offset printing equipment continue to invest in new technologies. These technologies have made modern printing presses capable of a wide variety of items and improved quality. More important they are making working with offset machines much easier. And not just easier but more efficient and productive. Despite this we note that there is a lot of idle capacity especially at the lower levels of the offset printing.

The business operates on extremes ; one end are the very big multimillion presses think Ramco ,Kul Graphics and such , and on the other are the small and medium sized presses ranging from investments of a few hundred thousands to a couple of millions.

Survival in the business requires aggressive marketing and the ability to consistently produce quality work. While it’s okay to set up and wait for customers to walk in, that is always a risk strategy. A more proactive approach works best.

Is it a business you should invest in? On the face of it yes because demand exists. In reality if you are not able to attract those consumers looking for offset printing services then as much as demand exists you will not survive.

Laser Printing


A laser printer works by burning ink which is in form of powder on a surface using laser beams. The powder is contained in toners. This technology makes a laser printer very cost effective. The powder ink is consumed in lesser quantities than liquid ink. To help get a better picture of the cost implications cyber cafés with laser printers are able to charge Kshs. 5 per copy of black and white, while others are charging Kshs.10 or more.

Laser printing technology also makes the clarity better and the copy cleaner: there is no danger of ink and smear since the ink is not ‘wet’ and does not leak.

The laser technology make the prints remain in good quality longer and not to fade after a while. Laser printers are also faster, and you can print more copies per minute. The most advanced don’t need to be connected to a computer you just plug in a USB and print.

The disadvantage of laser printers is that there are comparatively more expensive during purchase though they are cheaper to operate. In addition the printer needs to warm up before it

starts printing. As technology advances the warm up time has been going down to the present average of 45 seconds.

The more advanced of laser printers can print up to A3 size on a variety of materials like manila, artpaper and some forms of banner paper. This means that they can print items like posters, business cards, brochures, fliers, wedding cards and other such documents. However they are not suitable for printing large quantities. For instance you want to print 500 posters not only will it be expensive to the customer but take longer. Thus you find laser printers used when one wants to print something like 20 posters, 100 business cards, 70 leaflets and such low numbers.

Presently one of the most popular laser printers brands in the market is the Konica Minolta Biz Hub series.

Features of these laser printers include counters and passwords which help you manage access and monitor performance. When purchasing consider the support in terms of spare parts and service.

Still the Konica Minolta is not the only laser printer. There are others like HP, Kyocera, Ricoh, Xerox, Epson, and Canon to mention a few of the recognized brands.

At least budget Kshs. 130,000 for a good laser printer. The Konica Minolta will range in price between Kshs. 120,000 and Kshs. 140,000. The price difference is because there are now many independent dealers. Toners average Kshs.7, 000 each.

A Business Note

The numbers of entrepreneurs who have invested in laser printer business have rapidly risen in the last six years. Many entrepreneurs can afford the printer. The laser printer business models are simple and take several forms. At the lowest level are those who use the laser printer to run photocopy only businesses since the machines are also very cost effective in copying. Such bureaus are found in colleges and downtown areas of many towns.

The other set up involves having a computer and the laser printer. This kind of business offers printing, photocopy and typing services.

Slightly more advanced set ups have a computer and laser printer and aim to maximize the capability of the printer by offering more services like designing and printing of items like posters, business cards, certificates, stickers and such other documents. But in relatively smaller quantities. This is the kind of setup that is gaining traction very fast.

Although photocopies and simple printing still bring in money, you will earn more by maximizing the abilities of the printer. Why offer photocopy only when you can also design and print business cards? Of course you will need to invest more in terms of a computer and some design skill either personally or hiring someone.

A laser printer is somewhat default equipment among the big printers. They will use these to print smaller quantities of items such as posters or cards.

Inkjet Printing


Inkjets work by ‘spraying’ ink on paper. The ink is liquid ink which is contained in cartridges. (As opposed to powder ink used by laser printers). Compared to laser printers they are cheaper to buy though in the long run they could be considered expensive in that the cost of cartridges is higher than that of toners.

Because inkjets use liquid ink there is always the chance that the ink could smudge creating a mess. Immediately after printing the ink is wet and can inadvertently spreads leading to waste. The printouts are also sensitive to water. The technology used in Inkjet printers also means that their speed is low, slower than laser printers. Inkjet printers are also susceptible to clogging of the jets with inks.

Despite these negatives inkjets produce very clear images. They are especially good for printing images. Compared to laser printers they are smaller and thus consume lesser space.

Modern inkjets have continuous ink systems (CISS); an external cartridge holder from where the ink flows.

Do also note inkjet is not a printer parse but a printing technology. Hence inkjet printers are not only used for indoor printing. As you will see as you many wide format printers use inkjet technology.

The standard inkjet printer is the most common in Kenya and often found in most cyber cafes, bureaus and digital photo ‘studios’. This kind can print up to a maximum of A4 paper .These are also the machines used to print on CDs and DVDS among other items. One of the most widely used inkjet printers in the local market is the Epson L220. It’s 3 in 1, meaning it has a printer, scanner and copier.

At least budget Kshs. 25,000 for a simple inkjet printer. Prices range from Kshs. 19,000 to Kshs.25, 000.

A Business Note

The small scale inkjet cannot run on its own. You have to use it with a computer. One of the common set up is to have a computer, a printer and a camera. And that way you run a ‘photo studio’. Other involves running small typing and printing bureaus. To insist inkjet is not a printer but a technology and there are both large and small printers using the inkjet technology.

Wide Format Printers (Indoor)

The printers we refer as wide format are those that can print wide documents such as A3 but ideally for indoor use. Here wide format does not include printers large enough to print banners. For instance the kind of printers that can do large photos.

In reality there is a thin line in terms of indoors and outdoors. The classifications are not cast in stone. As you continue reading you will realize though printers can be suitable for some particular functions, once you print the customer can decide what to do with the document. Wide format here is more of a linguistic issue; some wide format machines can do banners and other materials that are used for outdoor use. (We cover these under outdoors)

Examples of wide format printers are the Epson Stylus 7600, Epson 1430 the HP 500 which can print on a variety of materials such as for banners, photo papers and the like.

A Note on CAD Plotters

Specifically vector graphic plotters or what area also known as CAD plotters are the printers that are used to draw architectural and engineering drawings, and maps. They make business sense where there is a large pool of professionals who need the services. In a way they are the least widespread of printing machines for commercial use but have been catching up fast. These should not be confused with cutter plots which are used to cut vinyl and other material as you will see in the Outdoor printing section.

There are two sections in CAD plotters. First is the printing of ‘negatives’ which is the printout directly from the design program. Second is the blueprint, which simply is turning the negative to a print in blue colour. The blueprint is what is the format required by county governments when seeking approval for construction.

Outdoor Printing

Outdoor Printing is where the printed product is meant for use outside. This means that the print should be able to stand weather conditions and the harshness of the outdoors. How long an outdoor print lasts will depend on the printer, ink and material.

Common Types of Outdoor Printing

Large Format Printing


Large format printing is done using large format printers sometimes also known as wide format printers. They get the name because they print ‘large’ or ‘wide’ areas. The large prints are often used for advertising purposes. Think of items like banners and billboards. Unlike typical printers which use sheets of papers, large format printers use rolls which are then cut or joined.

Large format printers can also do posters, wallpapers, signs and even stickers. Being able to print on wide areas allows them to render elements like photos very clearly making the end product attractive to the eye.

And although such printers are clear because of size, comparatively the printouts could look dull. This is because large format printers often use pigment ink, which is water based and thus duller. And as a point of note large format printers use the inkjet technology we mentioned above but on at an advanced level.

There are several types and brands of large format printers. These include:





Lots of Chinese brands

Many of the recognized printer brands have large format printers as part of their products.

Factors To Consider When Purchasing Large Format Printers

With such a variety of brands and countless models how then do you decide which kind of large format printer to purchase? Here are some factors to consider:

Initial Cost – Look at what the printer costs relative to the alternatives. For that price what do you get? If the price is a premium is it worth it? Don’t only focus only on the printer, but also on the accessories that come with it. Items like ink, software and even warranties. Are they included in the price? Do you have to pay extra? For the same printer some dealers offer everything as a package while others will require you to pay extra for accessories. There is no right or wrong way, just look for value.

Cost of Operation – Since you are purchasing the machine for commercial use, don’t just look at the cost price in isolation. Think long term. What if the initial cost is low but the cost of operation high? Thus consider efficiency. How much ink does the printer

consume per meter squared or foot squared? How often will you need to change the printer heads? How often do you need to service the printer? If the initial cost is low but the cost of operation high then it does not make business sense to go for such a printer.

Quality – Is it user friendly? Reliable?

Print Quality – What is the DPI? (DPI stands for Dots Per Inch. Thus the higher the DPI the better the quality in terms of detail) How sharp are the images? Is the printing uniform etc? Ask to see the printer at work or an item printed using the printer.

Ink Quality – Inks are particular to different brands of printers. Hence consider the quality of the brand’s ink. How long does it last? Does it fade? Is it too dull? Is it easily available and at what price ?

Productivity – For commercial purposes you want a printer with high productivity. What is the machine’s printing speed? The higher the speed the higher your productivity since you have the ability to print more. What is the Dry Time? This is the duration it takes for a printout to dry after printing. Some printers will require you to put out the print for minutes or hours, sometimes as many as 24 hours, while in others prints come out dry and ready to use in whatever way.

Some printers are multifunctional. For instance they will have an inbuilt cutter. Others will have a cutter as separate equipment. Can the printer print and cut at the same time? Or each has to be done on its own? If its one function at a time does it negatively affect productivity to an extent that it affects your business?

Versatility – On what materials can it print on? Of course you want a printer that can print on as many materials as possible. And not only print but print good quality. So before purchase know on what materials the printer can print on and at what quality.

As an aside large format printing materials are sold in rolls of 50 meters. The width varies. To illustrate below are some type of materials and their width:

Blackback 3.2×50m

Backlit 3.2x50

Reflective banner 3.2x50

Reflective vinyl 1.27x50

Satin 1x50m

Mactac vinyl 1.26x50m

Jutu vinyl 1.26x50m

Poster paper 1.27×50M

One way vision 1.27x50m

Don’t look at all these factors in isolation, rather as a whole. As with such equipment it might be impossible to get an ideal printer. A printer could be versatile but with poor quality of prints and so forth. A key thing to always consider is the cost of operation and print quality. These can make or break your business.

Example of the Features of A Large Format Printer

Just for illustration purposes let’s look at the official features of one of the outdoor printers: The Roland RF Series

This is a series of popular outdoor printing machines. There are many in the series such RF 340, 440,540 with the latest and catching up in Kenya fast being RF640.

The printer has the following features. Note these features are what differentiate one brand of large format printer from another and the ones to help you settle on which printer to buy based on the criteria we mentioned above. But also note that performance to these ideal levels is tied to many other factors as manufactures will always caution.


Printing technology


Piezoelectric inkjet







10.2 to 64 in. (259 to 1625 mm)






Maximum 39 mil (1.0 mm) with liner












Roll diameter

Maximum 8.3 in (210 mm)





Roll weight

Maximum 88 lbs. (40 kg)





Core diameter *1 3 in (76.2 mm) or 2 in (50.8 mm)



Printing Width *2



Max. 63.6 in. (1615 mm)






Roland Eco-Sol MAX 2 INK



Ink cartridges



440 cc







Four Colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black)


Print resolution


Dots per in

Maximum 1,440 dpi



Print Modes







Max Speed (Banner)




521 sqft/hr (49 m2/h)



Billboard (Banner)




289 sqft/hr (27 m2/h)



High Speed (Banner)




194 sqft/hr (18 m2/h)



Standard (Banner)




141 sqft/hr (13 m2/h)



High Quality (Banner)




63 sqft/hr (6 m2/h)



High Speed (Vinyl)




199 sqft/hr (19 m2/h)



Standard (Vinyl)




141 sqft/h (13m2/h)




720 x 720


117 sqft/hr (11m2/h)







High Quality (Vinyl)




47 sqft/hr (4 m2/h)



Distance accuracy *3


Error of less than ±0.3percent of distance traveled, or ±0.3 mm,















whichever is greater



Print heater

Setting range for the preset temperature: 30 to

Media heating system

45¼C (86 to 112¼F)



Setting range for the preset temperature: 30 to


50¼C (86 to 122¼F)




Ethernet (10BASE-T/100BASE-TX, automatic switching)

Power-saving function

Automatic sleep feature

Power requirements

AC 100 to 120 V ±10percent, 8.2A, 50/60 Hz or

AC 220 to 240 V ±10percent, 4.2A, 50/60 Hz


Power consumption

During operation

Approx. 1,070 W

Sleep mode

Approx. 14.5 W


Acoustic noise level

During operation

64 dB (A) or less

During standby

41 dB (A) or less


Dimensions (with

101.4 (W) x 31.3 (D) x 50 (H) in (2,575 (W) x 795 (D) x 1,270 (H) mm)




Weight (with stand)

308.6 lbs. (140 kg)


Included items

Stand, power cord,

media clamps, media holder, replacement sheet

cutting blade, software RIP, user's manual, etc.


The above could be confusing especially the very technical. However, when purchasing most reputable dealers will explain what is meant by each. More so ask about operation costs, availability of ink, quality of print, consumption of ink, frequency of service, availability of technicians and availability of spare parts. Even for the same brand of printer visit different dealers.

The Roland can be used to print banners, signage material, billboards, posters – indoor and outdoor, stickers for vehicle wrapping (branding) or other uses, floor graphics, fine art pieces on canvas and much more.

Locally the price of the Roland ranges between Kshs.1.3 m and Kshs.1.4 m depending on the dealer.

Again we insist Roland is not the only brand, and neither is it a worse or better brand than others. Compare the specs eye to eye.

There are now several independent individuals who import large format printers. Whereas some will offer long-term support, others will sell, give a warranty of sorts but when the rubber meets the tarmac and you need assistance they are or are dodgy if not missing.

Other Equipment Required

The printer is the core equipment but there are other relevant items that are mostly used in finishing, and which could be required. The main ones are:

Cutter – This is used to cut the different materials say banners or signs to the right sizes or shapes. Other kinds of cutters are more advanced and are more like plotters, cutting complex shapes say stickers that have to be in the shape of a bottle. Cutters can either be part of the large format printer or as separate equipment.

Some businesses operate without this cutter, and when there is need for cutting they do it manually. You can’t run this business without a cutter of sorts. Remember printing material comes in rolls rather than individual pieces and for that simple reason you need a cutter.

Welders – Standard printing machines, like the Roland example we have given above, often print 1.2m with the bigger of the machines printing 1.9m. Say a billboard is 12m by 10 m. And most printing materials come in rolls 3.2 m wide.So then how do you print 10 m with 1.2 m printer? You print in strips, or what is known in industry parlance a tiles, which you then join. Look closely at some banners and you will see the joints. From a far they are not easily visible.

Strip 1

Strip 2

Strip 3

Strip 4





Welders are what are used to join the tiles. There are different types of welders. At the bottom are glues and adhesive, but these might not hold for long in harsh environments. Hot air welders are also used, these work by melting the material so as to join them. Other methods include sewing and various heat methods. At the high level are RF welders. These are the most effective. They use Radio Frequency to bond molecules.

Grommet Machine – This is used to punch eyelets on the billboard banner and then fixing dies. Hooks or ropes are then inserted to hold the banner on a billboard. A manual grommet would work just fine. Related to this dies and rings.

Often customers will want you to deliver the finished product. If a banner they want to come with stands, or other hanging systems, poles and such other. These you can buy on need basis.

There are many other small items which you’ll buy as the need arises. The list is almost endless and the items easily available. These are things like adhesives, different kinds of materials, boards, and other such items. In a few months you should have everything you need depending on your set up and the needs of your target market.

A Business Note

What we call a billboard typically is made of the steel structure, the frame, the banner on which is printed the artwork, and in some cases an electrical part to light the board at night. As a printer the primary role is to print the banner with the artwork. However as it may be some printers have diversified and now provide related solutions which include:

Identifying a site for a billboard

Leasing it from the owner

Putting up the steel structure

Looking for a customer to buy the space

Printing the artwork and ‘ flighting ' it which is the industry term for hoisting the banner.

The vice versa has also happened where a company started as an advertising company , identifying spaces, looking for customers to buy the space , helping them come up with an appropriate message and artwork then doing the actual printing of the banner in-house instead of outsourcing it.

There used to be a line where an advertising agency would not do the actual printing and a printer would not go looking for spaces and putting up the structures. The line is increasingly being crossed. Nonetheless there are many advertising agencies that are outsourcing printing work to large scale printing firms.

Advertising firms are still a very important source of customers for large scale printing businesses. You can ‘cross the line’ and start offering ‘advertising ‘services too. Businesses go to advertising agencies so as to get help in interpreting the message they want to communicate into something creative. To get help in pchoosing the right media and more so do away with the hustle of the whole advertising process. Thus if you are going to transit to advertising then you have to think of these basics. At the simplest if you want to go into outdoor advertising you can start with acquiring spaces, then outsourcing to an engineering or fabrication firm to do the structures then looking for businesses to buy the space, helping in design, printing and then flighting.

Still and to increase your chances of succeeding if you decide to go into ‘advertising ‘you need to have a very good graphic designer either in house or outsourced as need be. Graphic designers play a big role in how the end printed product looks. Secondly you should ensure the quality of your prints is the best possible. This is determined by the printer you are using, but even a good printer will be of no use if the operator is unskilled or keen to make suggestions of materials and monitor the printing to make sure the colours and everything else is as it should be. Getting the right colour, say a particular shade of blue, could be a challenge to a poor operator.

Demand for large format printing has been on the rise. Beyond billboards there is demand coming from businesses branding vehicles, street light advertisement signs, bar banners and other such. Many businesses both big and small are finding lots of value in branding and promoting their businesses. This is generating lots of demand for the kind of products that are printed by large format printers. Still even with that kind of demand you have to be aggressive

in marketing. The space is becoming competitive. And buying decisions are made first by networking and then by objective active search for vendors.

A Note on Vehicle Branding

Vehicle branding is done using stickers. A business will come up with the branding concept then approach you the printer who offers ‘branding’ services. The next step is for you to take measurements of the vehicle. These are the measurements that will guide as you print on the special sticker paper. After printing you need to give ‘experts’ in pasting the stickers. Yes there are experts in that. The art is to ‘paste’ the stickers on the vehicle in such a way that it looks like part of the vehicle; smooth, no bubbles and every inch covered appropriately. The sticking experts charge per meter squared with rates starting at Kshs.200. When charging the customer you cost the printing and ‘branding’ which is ‘sticking’ of the stickers.

Key Items Needed for Large Format Printing

Computer and Printer for design

Large Format Printer

Computer to run the large format printer

Finishing items – Grommet, Welders, Banner Stands, Hooks, Dies and Rings

Promotional and Gift Items Printing

Promotional items are usually gifts that are given to promote a brand. These include things like T-shirts, caps, pens, mugs, diaries and the like. The demand for promotional items has grown as the economy expands and businesses try to get their names out there.

Apart from businesses the consumer demand for gift items has been expanding rapidly. Consumers asking for small quantities of custom items like t-shirts, caps, cups and related

There are several technologies nay machines that are used to print promotional items and gift items.

Screen Printing


If you have seen a t-shirt such as this:

then you have seen a garment printed using screen printing. And there is not just one of these but rather hundreds of them with the same text and image.

Screen printing works by transferring ink through a screen with an image on to a material. Thus a screen printer will have a screen, ink, and squeegees which are used to spread the ink over the material.

To illustrate in a simple way say you want to print a t-shirt with the words VOTE SAM. You will have a screen with the word VOTE and another with the word SAM. You will place the t-shirt on a flat surface then the first screen with the image VOTE on top using the squeegee spread black ink, the word VOTE appears on the T-shirt and to the second screen where you spread yellow ink and the word SAM appears.

This example oversimplifies the whole process but at least gives you the basic idea. So now let’s go into a little more detail, step by step;

Steps In Screen Printing

STEP 1: Artwork – This is designing the text and images that will appear on the garment that you want to print. The customer can either come with a ready design or your in-house designer can do it. You should note that as much as any design can be screen printed it’s important that the designing is done with screen printing in mind. This means that the designer should take into consideration the size of the screen, the colour and type of the garment, the customer’s budget among other things. This is important as it affects the quality and the cost of the print.

Equipment Needed: Computer and Graphics Software e.g. Corel Draw, Adobe Photoshop or similar.

STEP 2: Colour Separation – In the example we used above the process looked so simple because we were using a set of primary colours; black and yellow. But that is a very ideal situation. Designs will often involve multiple colours; some simple and others complex.

Let’s take the example of an image which was designed in Adobe Photoshop. The colours in the image will be formed by combining what is known as the RBG mode which is Red, Blue and Green. However this colour scheme is not compatible with screen printing (and other non digital printing like offset). These, as we mentioned in offset, use the CYMK colour mode.

So the image must be separated into constituent CYMK colours. This is what is called colour separation. There are different methods of colour separation and combinations which go beyond the CYMK colours. You don’t need colour separation if the artwork is in one colour.

Equipment Needed: Computer and Printer

STEP 3 Film Positives – Once you have the artwork and done the colour separation then you will need to create what are known as film positives. Basically this is your design but in black and printed on film. Film positives are used to create the screen. If you have more than one colour then you will need a film positive for each colour.

Equipment Required: Computer, Printer (a normal inkjet printer such as Epson will do), and film.

STEP 4: Making the Screens – After making the films the next step is making the screens. Often you buy the frames of the screens ready.

There are two main types of screens; the first is the wooden screen. This is made of wood. And although it serves the purpose continuous use and washing could damage and make it loose. This affects the quality of the printing.

Second is the metal screen. Aluminum is usually the material of choice for this kind of frame. These are hardier and remain in shape longer though they cost more. The size of the frame should correspond to the size of the garments that you will be printing. For instance, if you are printing on material larger than a t-shirt then you will need a frame larger than standard. An example of screen sizes include:

50cm by 60cm 40cm by 50cm 27cm by 30cm 19cm by 25cm 20cm by 24cm

Once you have the frame ready the next thing to think about is the mesh. Mesh is made with different materials from silk to polyester. The key consideration if you want to go fully professional is what is technically referred as the mesh count.

Mesh count is an indicator of the size of the opening of the mesh. For instance if the mesh count is 400 it means that the mesh has smaller openings compared to a mesh count of say 100. The bigger the opening the more ink that passes through. Hence ,when thinking of the mesh consider the colours and the garment too. For instance it’s common to use bigger openings when you are printing one colour and smaller openings when doing multiple colours.

This process could seem intimidating but with time and practice you will learn. Also remember you can purchase pre stretched screens; this means frames which are ready to use; the mesh and fabric already set.

Equipment needed: Frame and Mesh

Stencil - Now you have the screen and mesh ready the next step is to make a stencil. This is transferring the image that you want to print to the screen. The first step in this is coating the screen with emulsion. Emulsion is a thick light sensitive liquid that eventually will ‘hold’ the image that you want to print. Because emulsion is light sensitive you should coat the screens in a ‘dark’ room. This does not imply a totally dark room but where the light is dim, preferably yellow or red.

There are some technicalities involved in this but a rule of the thumb, at least from the experts, is that the thicker the emulsion the deeper the stencil and the better the quality of print. Once you have covered the screen appropriately with the emulsion leave it to dry still in the dark room.

Needed: Emulsion, dark room and a tool to spread the emulsion.

Once dry you place the film with the artwork on the emulsion covered screen. You will place the film on the side of the screen which will come into contact with the t-shirt, technically known as the substrate side. Looking from the other side, the side through which you will apply ink, technically known as ink well, then the artwork should look ‘upright’ and as it should appear on the t-shirt. You will need to tape the film on the frame so that it remains in place.

The next process is “exposing” the screen. This basically means that the emulsion coated screen, with the film with the black image is exposed to light. This is done using a special light and gadget known as the Exposure Unit.

Once you have exposed the screen the parts covered with the black image will not allow in any light; this means they don’t become ‘hard’, while the other part becomes ‘hard’ cured. After exposing you wash with water. The part not exposed to light, the one covered with the black part of the film, the one with the outline of your artwork, washes off while the other remains intact. You are left with an image of your artwork on the screen.

Make sure there are no holes in the emulsion that remains. Any holes however small will let ink pass onto the garment negatively affecting the quality of your printing. You will also need to tape any gaps on the screen, sections without the emulsion so that no ink passes through.

Equipment Needed: Exposure Unit

STEP 5: Printing – The next step will be to mount the ready screens on the screen heads. Make sure the screens are in the right position of the garment. Test and adjust accordingly. Once you have all set then you start the printing process. Printing is done by spreading the ink onto the screen which now has the stencil. The ink passes through the mesh and onto the garment in the shape of the stencil.

Equipment Needed: Screen Printing Machine

STEP 6: Drying – The garments now printed the next step is to dry them. Drying will also depend on the type of ink that you are using. There are inks which won’t dry naturally even if you left them out for a long time. While others will dry but do so poorly. Because of all these

reasons it’s prudent to have a dryer. Basic operations will use a blow dryer, whereas if you are drying many items then you will need a more advanced dryer such as a tunnel dryer. There is a flash dryer that is used to dry one layer of ink so that you can screen another on top.

Equipment Needed Dryer: Blow Dryer, Tunnel Dryer

As its perhaps clear now is that you can print as many colours as you wish. But also remember each colour will require a film and screen of its own, which increases the cost of the t-shirt. Well of course the customer could be willing to pay, but then some don’t understand the process or how you arrive at the cost. Keep that in mind so that you don’t under charge. Often it’s good to limit the colours to 1-3. This does not mean you have to compromise the design, just try to be creative.

While in screen printing flat items like t-shirts are the easiest to work with they are not the only ones that can be printed. Other items include: Aprons, Jackets, Tote bags, Key holders, trousers and other garments. Some innovative printers also use screen printing to do polythene packaging papers the kind used in supermarkets. If you understand the technology then you see that the variety of items that can be printed is wide. That said and to insist flat items are the easiest to work with. Other items will be more labour intensive.

Screen printing is a very cost effective process print a large number of items. Because of the time involved and cost of preparation it’s not exactly profitable to print a small number of items say five t-shirts. To make it worthwhile you have to do large quantities. Not five or ten.

Types of Screen Printing Machines

Screen printing equipment are manual or semi automatic. But even with manual machines there are variations in how user friendly they are in terms of ease of use. For instance how easily can you rotate the screen, how easy it is to press the screens, the quality of the screens and other such factors. There are screen printers where the pallet, the part where you place the item being printed is fixed, but the screens rotate, for others where both the pallet and screens rotate. The latter is more preferred because it gives more working options. Of course the more user friendly a machine is the higher the output and the better the quality of your prints.

Screen printing machines are also differentiated by the number of stations. Basically the stations describe the number of garments you can work on at the same time. If you can work on two garments then those are two stations. For instance this below is a one station machine:

This as you can see you can work on one garment and colour at a time. If you have more than one colour then you have to change screens for each colour.

Or two colour, two station image as the below

It could also be Four Colour – Four Station

At the top of the hierarchy is the six colour six station printer. This is the ideal, not only can you do more colours. Or six stations like below:

If you are purchasing a screen printer which is not six station six colours then it’s good to go for options which can be upgraded to six stations.

A standard six colour is the best choice if you plan to do full colour . Often when you are purchasing a screen printing machines, you get the metallic structure only and then you have to purchase the screens at an extra cost.

There are other variations too: screen printing machines with more stations than pallets: such as two pallets but four screens, meaning you can rotate them to apply up to four colours

There are many suppliers of equipment and hence a wide variety of colours. There are ‘jua kali’ ones made by different artisans locally. Some are very good, while others are of poor quality such that they don’t rotate smoothly or press easily. Then there are the professional factory made often imported or locally made but of high quality. The screen printers could also be new or second hand.

Present price for a six station screen printer range from as low as Kshs. 100,000 to Kshs. 500,000. The price variation depends on the supplier, and to some extent the quality or source of the machine. Can the Ksh.100, 000 screen printer do the work? Yes it can if the quality is great.

The price quoted is exclusive of screens and other accessories that you will need for the business.

Equipment Needed

Six Station Printer: Assume you have a six station printer and you want to start a basic operation at small to medium scale the key items you will need are:

6 Screens

6 Squeegees – Have a mix of both large and small squeegees. Then although a basic squeegee can do the work, they are not all the same. Some are better in the way they spread ink, how comfortable they are to the hand and how long they last.

Blowdry – Once you print you need to dry the ink on the t-shirts to avoid smudging. Although you can dry in the open air it takes time. A blow dry helps make the process faster. However if you are printing hundreds of garments daily then a blow dryer will fall short and a more professional dryer will be the solution. There are a variety based on size and what they can achieve.

Emulsion – To make screen stencils (See above)

Ink – There are various types of ink. The difference being in the quality and what you are screen printing. For instance if you are printing polythene bags then you need a different kind of paint than if you are printing t-shirts.

Flash Dryer – This is used to quickly ‘cure’ paint so that you can apply another layer on top. This is more common in dark garments where for purposes of clarity a layer of white ink is applied before printing other colours. Now when you apply the white ink, you need to dry it as fast as possible so that you can continue applying the rest of the colours.

That’s where a flash dryer comes in.

Exposure Unit – This is the machine that is used to transfer an image from the film positive to the screen in order to create a stencil. Without going into the technical detail: Go for an exposure unit that fits the size of your screen or is slightly bigger

Sink and connection to water – From the process details above its obvious a lot of washing involved from screens to hands. Thus ideally you need a sink and connection to water and wherever possible cold and hot water. You will do a lot of washing of the screens including washing out after exposure and reclaiming after use. If you don’t have a sink or connection to water then you can improvise with buckets.

Glue and Tapes - To cover screens


Emulsions and other chemicals to clean screens

Computer for designing

Printer for printing design and printing films


Scoops and Spatulas

Sample Prices: Inks and Emulsions

To get an idea of raw materials prices of the various items here is a sample of prices from one of the major dealers:

A Note on Screen Printing Premises

The premises should be big enough to carry out the various activities involved in screen printing. This includes screen exposure, drying, mixing inks, washing, packing and all that. You should also have enough space to work. Since inks are toxic the area should be well ventilated.

You should also make sure you have enough power outlets. For some equipment like the bigger dryers you need at least 220v. You should have a dedicated socket for each equipment;

exposure unit, dryer and all that. Also think of the neighbours; the other business surrounding you. Are they comfortable with that kind of business in the building? You can divide the room so that you have a ‘dark room’ for the exposure unit.

Screen Printing Major Costs

Garment - If not provided by customer

Screen mesh








Some Tips

You can reuse the screens for more than one printing job. You do so by ‘reclaiming’ them. This is by washing with the appropriate chemicals until the ink and emulsions are gone.

Screen printing is a process and not an event. So don’t just think of the squeegee and spreading the ink; think of the artwork, preparation of the screen, spreading the ink in the right way, drying and much more. It’s a highly labour intensive exercise: think labour and time. Purchasing equipment is the first step, so much else will be involved.

Although on the face of it screen printing could look easy, some skill is required to print quality and efficiently. And that is one of the major factors that differentiates printers. The skill.

Have a plan and don’t attack the market blindly. Yes you can use screen printing to print a wide variety of items but then it’s good to have a target market. Start building your business with the target mind in focus.

Use quality equipment. Quality does not mean high end but equipment which have are in proper shape. For instance don’t use rickety loose screens they will result in poor quality prints.

A Business Note

The demand for screen printing services has been rising driven by business and social causes. There are many businesses of all sizes who now want to brand themselves using t-shirts and caps. Social causes are pushed by various community groups and non government organizations of various forms. To spread their message they are taking to t-shirts which they distribute to groups they work with.

Screen printing is also being fuelled by an increase in number of private educational institutions and especially nurseries, primary schools and colleges. These often require pupils and students to have t-shirts.

Related to business is the increase in number of mini supermarkets some who are opting to have their polythene packaging branded using screen printing.

Another important observation is that unlike offset printing, screen printing is quickly getting devolved. This means that the screen printing business is moving to the counties. That said screen printing is still concentrated in the major towns. In almost every area you will find brokers who take assignments and take to the printers in the town. Screen printing works best in urban areas, and the larger and more diverse the economy the better. In the counties screen printing is being driven by such businesses as Saccos and schools.

The biggest barrier to entry is lack of knowledge, the skill to start and run the business. As you have seen above there is quite some skill required to print using screens. And as much as the skill can be learned or one can employ a skilled person there are many who are intimidated by the thought of starting a business they are not familiar with.

Another barrier is doubts about getting sufficient business to sustain the business. The question is always “Are there enough people who want to print t-shirts in large numbers to make the business sustainable? The immediate answer is yes. Those print t-shirts in large numbers are mostly organizations, business or otherwise. An individual will rarely have a hundred t-shirts printed unless for campaign purposes. So if there are businesses coming up and growing then it follows the demand should be increasing. But it’s not just about the number of businesses but the state of the economy. If the economy is performing poorly businesses will likely cut back on items, like t-shirts, which are not exactly crucial to their survival.

The real challenge is winning the business of the organizations. Yes there are customers who will walk in to your premises but it’s a big risk to rely on such. You have to go out there network and market yourself. You have also to understand the purchase process of such organizations. They use networks, tenders and so forth. Understanding the purchase process will help you see where to come. For some of the slightly bigger organization the purchase decisions are in the hands of one individual or a few. Identify who is the person and directly proposing to him helps. Some decision makers will request a ‘cut’.

To market proper you must have samples of what you can do. Samples of differ designs and different materials you can print on.

Away from this you have to acknowledge the role of brokers. These don’t necessarily have to be the brokers in the traditional sense but also entrepreneurs running other forms of printing businesses. It happens in many cases someone seeking to print t-shirts and does not know of anyone to do it will consult his present printer, the one who prints other items like documents. The printer will either recommend a screen printer he knows or take the assignment and then look for a printer to do the actual job. Definitely he will look for a printer who offers him a price


lower than he charged the client. This way he remains with some profit. So part of marketing involves selling yourself to other printers; getting into mutually beneficial relationships.

Then there are the traditional brokers. The kind who are able to squeeze business from organizations and individuals then subcontract to other printers. Because they operate informally there is no particular place you can get them. They will likely come to you, and then you have to keep your ears open. Brokers purchase decisions are based on maximizing profits. If you are able to offer a minimum guarantee of quality and the best price then they will give you business. Because brokers are more aggressive in getting business it helps to build good relationships with them.

And of course this is an election year and the candidates are in their thousands. The demand for printed t-shirts will be higher than ever before. Still you can’t sit and wait for the politicians, their agents and brokers to come to you. You will need to be aggressive. Politicians make buying decisions from networks. As much as there will be so high demand this year there are screen printing businesses that will get taste nothing or just a small percentage of the campaign gravy train. Still considering the size of the investment required it’s a worthy risk this year.

Overview and Steps

Simply a heat transfer press prints by applying heat on vinyl or heat transfer paper. The vinyl adheres to the garment or the image on the heat transfer material.

Say you want to print three t-shirts with the words Shaz is Shizzle.

-Start by designing the artwork. This you do on a computer using any appropriate program.

-Say you are using vinyl. There are various colours and types of vinyl. Once you have designed you will print on the vinyl. You will then using a plotter cut out the outline then weed out the excess parts so that you are eventually left with vinyl with the words “Shaz is Shizzle”.

-Once you have the vinyl outline ready you heat the press to the required temperature. There are slight variations depending on the material being used and the type of heat transfer.

-Now place the t-shirt on the bed of the heat press, the vinyl on the t-shirt and press the heat press. The duration will also depend on the material but it’s usually below a minute.

-Once done peel off and the vinyl is left sticking on the t-shirt – the words Shaz is Shizzle on it.

But say you have a more complex image.

You will follow more or less the same process but instead of using vinyl you now print on a special heat transfer paper: Design the artwork, print it, place the paper on the on the t-shirt,, press the heat press, peel and the image is left on the t-shirt.

Sublimation is another form of heat press printing press where a gaseous process is used to transfer the image to the material. The image is not a ‘layer’ on top of the garment; rather it becomes a part of the garment. This means it becomes part of the item. A special sublimation paper and ink is used.

Equipment Required

Looking from the above the equipment you need for heat transfer printing are:


Although you can use a laser printer, an inkjet is the better option for heat transfer. Sure laser printers are the most cost effective. However laser printers sometimes get too hot for heat transfer papers, and thus are not able to print on them effectively. Then some types of heat transfer papers do not work with laser printers. Hence to be on the safe side it’s better to settle for an inkjet like Epson. The extra cost of running the inkjet is worth it.

Computer – You need a computer for design. The computer also connects to the printer so as to print on the heat transfer paper. Or to the plotter .You don’t need a super computer, a standard computer with enough power to run design programs like Corel Draw, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. You can purchase a computer pre loaded with the programs or alternatively you can purchase the programs on the side. There are many dealers.

Heat Transfer Paper – There are various brands and kinds of heat transfer paper. Generally you should know there are papers that are best for white and bright garments and others for dark items. As for brands the market now offers tens of choices. We are reluctant to recommend a particular brand so you have to experiment until you get the paper that works best with your garments and the kind of printer that you are using.

Plotter / Vinyl Cutter – This helps you to cut vinyl after designing. Say you have designed the word Shaz... the plotter will help you cut the word on the vinyl in exactly the same font and shape as you had designed. Plotters or vinyl cutters come with software from which you can design and print easily. Plotters also work with heat transfer papers.

Now there are some factors to consider when buying vinyl cutters. In the market today are what are considered ‘old school’ cutters and then modern ‘digital’ cutters. There are a few things that you can keep in mind as you purchase a vinyl cutter:

-Type of Motor – The motor controls many of the important functions of the cutter including the movement of the vinyl and the blades. Motors can either be mechanical or digital. The biggest challenge with mechanical printers is the precision, well as much as

they are accurate; they don’t attain the highest level of accuracy that can be achieved with such vinyl cutters.

On the other hand digital motors are well digital; they are able to accurately translate the software commands as accurately as possible. More important is that digital cutters are able to accurately interpret more complex designs better. And for ‘simple’ designs they will try as much as possible to follow the ‘line’ as it should be. Precision is key if you want to make high quality designs. Technically you should ask whether the plotter has a stepper or servo motor. Stepper motors are mechanical while servo motors are digital.

-Other Features - Other than the motor you should directly seek to know about the accuracy, speed, and how easy it is for the cutter to do straight lines and curves. You should also look at the maximum cutting length. This means the maximum length that the cutter can do.

You should look at how the blade works. Does the blade holder move in tandem with the blade? This is what is technically called Tangential emulation. This, very basically, means that the blade is able to cut smoothly even around the corners without leaving any marks.

Various plotter manufactures use different terminology to describe these features. Thus you should seek to know if the plotter can achieve smoothness, accuracy and if so at an affordable cost. Never mind the terminologies they use which at times are aimed at confusing you the consumer.

Heat Press – This provides the heat that helps stick the vinyl or transfer the image on the heat paper to the garment. In a way it works like an iron. There are different brands and sizes of heat presses. They also come with different features. For instance it’s now common to see 5 in 1 and 8 in 1 heat transfer which can do t-shirts, cup, plates, tiles, photo frames, mouse pads, phone cases, key holders and other similar items.

Go for a press that is able to print the maximum size of the items that you want to print. Ideally the heat press should be slightly bigger than the item you are printing. Also look for a heat press with features that will make your work easier and more professional. For instance a press with a variety of settings to fit different garments. Or a press which removes a lot of guesswork when it comes to the temperature you should press at and for how long. The same applies to the pressure that you should apply. Remember heat presses can be completely manual, which mean you have to control everything manually, or semi automatic meaning that it has preset settings to guide you.

The key considerations in heat presses are heat, time and pressure.

Heat press either using vinyl or heat transfer paper is suited for small number of items say 10 t- shirts. This as when compared to screen printing. As we noted above there is a lot involved just to get ready for screen printing. This means that it’s not ideal for small quantities. On the other

hand heat transfer is a relatively easier process. Still this is only to some point. The higher the number of t-shirts the more slowly, compared to screen printing, the process becomes.

Vinyl is only suitable for letters, numbers and other simple graphics. Thus you cannot do things like pictures or images that have a lot of detail.

The biggest advantage of heat presses is the ability to do custom designs. For instance you can print a single t-shirt with your name. This is not possible with screen printing where you as you read above there are much involved.

On the other hand vinyl has its disadvantages. For instance after sometime it cracks and fades.

Setting Up

Now that you have, at the very least, a good picture of the various types of printing and the technology available, then the next step is to decide what to invest in. But before we go into that let us look at some of the common printing jobs in Kenya and the method that is the appropriate to use.

Item: Type of Printing


Type of Printing


Offset Printing

Billboard Banners

Large Format Printing


Screen Printing – Large quantities


Heat Press – Small quantities




Vinyl – Simple designs


Laser – Small quantities




Large Format

Roll up Banners

Large Format


Laser – Small quantities


Offset – Large quantities



Mouse Pads


Book covers


Supermarket Polythene bags



Screen printing





Factors To Consider When Deciding The Type of Printing To Invest In

If you would like to become a one stop shop printing business then you need to acquire different equipment to offer all the above services.

However as an entrepreneur more often than not you may not have the capital to purchase all kinds of equipment. And even when the capital is enough at times market considerations should be the basis. At times it might not be a good business decision to offer all kinds of printing services. Hence you need to decide carefully what to invest in, so as to make the best returns possible.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you make the decision:

a)Market Access – First is to consider the market you have easy access to. For instance if, by your networks or marketing skills, have access to politicians in an election year as 2017 is then you could invest in a printer that can do t-shirts, caps and posters in large numbers . This means a screen printer and or offline printer. What if you have access to a business community that requires banners or signage? In that case you can invest in a large format printer.

b)Capital – Sometimes available capital will dictate your investment decision. Now imagine in the case above you have access to a market that requires screen printing and off press services, but your capital does not allow you to invest in both machines. So what to do? Go for what your capital can buy, but also look at the long term prospects of the business. Say after the campaigns will there be enough customers requiring screen printing services to sustain business? If not will you have made a profit big enough to invest in other machines whose services are in demand even after?

If low on capital, and even sometimes when you have sufficient capital, you don’t necessarily have to invest in equipment to provide all services your potential customers require. You could take the jobs and subcontract. There are many who do so.

There are many clients who will not care whether you have all equipment or not as long as they trust that you are able to deliver in the quantity and quality they want and within agreed time periods.

Definitely if you subcontract your margins will be reduced but if you have charged appropriately you will make profits. Another challenge with subcontracting is that you might not be able to control the process the same way you would have done if you owned the equipment. Thus there will always be the risk of delays and poor quality. On the plus side you get time to study the market and win customers without risking investing in equipment of which there will be no sufficient demand.

It’s not a wise move to invest without a particular market in mind. Nevertheless if in doubt you can start investing in the kind of business which is likely to remain constant throughout the year. Think things like business documents in all forms from business cards to signage.

c)Location – Look at services that will be required in your location and which supply is not sufficient or nonexistent. Look at local demographics and trends. Remember absence does not always imply that a service is required. Sometimes absence is because of insufficient demand or purchasing habits.

For instance in some smaller towns located near cities or larger towns, consumers are hesitant to purchase some services locally; they perceive the local to be expensive or lower quality. Thus if you invest in a some types of printing services, and as much as there is need, it will take a while before consumers believe you can offer the same quality and at an equal or lower price than the competition in the bigger town. Some services are more acceptable than others. For instance small scale printing say a couple of business cards will be more acceptable than offset printing books.

d)Market Trends – You can’t ignore what is happening in the market. You want to invest in the kind of printing service where there is present demand, and whose demand will exist long enough for you to make a return on your investment. For instance shops are gradually moving from painting signs to using printed stickers. For some time it was and still is though, to a lower extent, trendy to have mugs printed with your name or photo or t-shirts printed with a footballers name or some other funny message. This attracted many to heat presses and sublimation machines. The results have been mixed.

Trends are always risky because first you never know when they get boring, and when they do demand significantly reduces. Secondly trends tend to attract many entrepreneurs to a particular business making competition intense. Thirdly if you get into the market when the trend has reached its peak and it’s starting to tanker then you will have a hard time attracting customers unless of course you innovate.

In such cases you need to have a proactive plan to either create products that you push to consumers or generate demand. On the positive side if you invest in a trend at the right time then you are assured of customers, and the longer the trend lasts the better for you.

Being aware of market trends will help you invest in technologies which are more efficient and of better quality. Modern machines have ink consumption, speed and quality as key features. If you go for a machine that is becoming obsolete

then you will have higher production costs and become uncompetitive to the extent that the market pushes you out.



The capital you need to start a printing business will depend on how you want to set up your business. As it is clear by now there are many options. For some kind of printing like offset and screen printing most business specialize. At least by the equipment that they have. This means that a printing business could say “we do posters and t-shirts “because in times like this when there is an election those two go hand in hand. In reality though the business could have only the equipment to print one and not the other, and outsource what they don’t have.

To help you understand the capital you might need, we will list the major equipment and the cost of each. Please note that as much as we list the equipment there will be other minor expenses which can’t be predicted. The following should act like a good guide though. From this you can look at the possible combinations and add up to determine the you need.

The figures we have given are prices from various dealers, authorized agents and independents. Price ranges vary with features, brands and dealers. What we note as “Budget at least” is the minimum amount you should have to be on the safe side. This should secure you the very basic of the equipment. But you could end up spending more depending on the brand, size of features you go for.

You also need money to run the business before you break even. This is to pay salaries, rent, transport, buy materials and all that. This is what we classify as working capital.

There will also be expenses say on marketing , simple office equipment like stationery, airtime , renovation, furniture or even some other crucial but unforeseen equipment. This we classify as Miscellaneous.

The figure for rent are estimates but based on a survey of other similar businesses. The exact will depend on the location, size of the premises, landlord and other such factors. Still this should give pretty good idea of what others are paying and expectations.

Licenses fees could also vary with county, size of premises and what extras you have. For instance, if you have a large signboard then you will pay more than those with a smaller one. Again use this as a guideline.

Offset Printing Press








Offset Printing Press

-Can be new or secondhand

Prices for a one colour printer




-Can be one colour to four

range from Kshs. 350,000 to

















Kshs. 2 million. E.g. A second




-Different brands and features

hand one colour Gestetner




- Second hand prices vary

was going for Kshs. 380,000




with the person selling.

in February, 2017. A





Sometimes they are

Heildeberg one colour was




underpriced because of the

going for Kshs. 1.5m. Budget




haste to sell not as a

at least Kshs.1 million if going




statement of condition or

for new.











Depends on size, brand and

Price will range from Kshs.





600,000 to Kshs. 1.5 million





for new ones.




Plate Burner

Going out of fashion. But it’s a

Average Kshs.300,000




(Computer to Film )

cheaper though labour






intensive alternative to CTP






-Can be new or refurbished

New machines from Europe




-Best brands are from Europe

start at Kshs. 7m. Refurbished




- Often dealers request from

machines from Kshs.5m.




suppliers on a confirmed order

Chinese models are available




- There are now Chinese

from Kshs. 1,000,0000





models which are more












A graphics ready machine

Kshs. 40,000 to Kshs.50,000




with the necessary computer












Simple Inkjet Printer

Kshs. 18,000 to Kshs. 25,000



Finishing Equipment

There are countless finishing

Prices range between Kshs.



- Folders

equipment and you don’t have

200,000 to Kshs. 800,000 for



- Binding

to invest in all of them. Refer

standard finishing equipment.



- Stitching

to notes and buy what is of

Budget at least Kshs. 300,000



- More

greatest value to your






business. The rest purchase






as need be. It doesn’t matter






whether you have enough






capital or not






Rent will depend on location

Kshs.150, 000 (Rent plus




and size of the premises. In

deposit. Monthly rent Kshs.




some areas with economies of






location like Sheikh Karume






Road, Nairobi in addition to






rent there is a “Goodwill”






charge which could range






between Kshs. 500,000 and






Kshs.1, 000,000. In any case






budget at least Kshs. 30,000






for a room that is big enough






to fit an offpress printing












County Government, Waste

Kshs. 35,000





management ( county

















government ) , Fire License,



Signboard License. The prices



vary with county.



County Government License –



Kshs. 20,000



Signboard License – Kshs.






Fire License – Kshs. 4500



Waste Management – Kshs.






There are small items that you

Kshs. 200,000


might need as you start and



run your business. Things like



chairs, tables, some



marketing and renovation.



These ‘small’ items



sometimes add up to quite a





Working Capital

Your business is unlikely to

Kshs. 300,000


make money in the first few



months. For this reason you



need money to keep running.











Screen Printing








Screen Press

There are various types of

Budget at least Kshs. 150,000




machines and prices vary.

for this.





(See the screen printing






section). Prices range from






Kshs. 100,000 to Kshs.500,












Prices of screens will depend

Budget at least Kshs. 2500




on the type and where you are

per screen. For 6 screens that




purchasing them. On the

will be Kshs. 15,000. On the




lower side is Kshs. 600

higher side is Kshs.6000 per




second hand wooden screens

screen or Kshs. 36,000 for six




and on the higher side are






screens costing as much as






Kshs. 6000.





Exposure Unit

A vacuum exposing unit starts

Budget at least Kshs. 90,000




from Kshs. 70,000 all the way

for the exposure unit.





to Kshs. 120,000 depending






on the seller and other












Prices range from Kshs.200 to

Have at least six squeegees.





Budget at least Kshs. 1500 for






















Depends on the model and

Budget at least Kshs. 3000 for




supplier. Price range from

the Blow dryer





Kshs.2000 to Kshs. 4000





Flash Dryer

Prices range from Kshs.

Budget at least Kshs. 30,000




20,000 to Kshs. 50,000.





Tunnel Dryer

Small ones cost at least

Budget at least Kshs. 200,000




Kshs.180,000 while the bigger






will start at Kshs 400,000.





Glue and Tapes


Budget at least Kshs. 4000 or









Emulsion & Inks

Prices range. ( See screen

Budget at least Kshs. 40,000




printing )

for the initial batch.



Sinks, Containers, Water and

Price depends on the set up

Budget at least Kshs. 60,000



all washing equipment.

and the premises.






Prices depend on spec and

Budget at least Kshs. 40,000





for a good graphic ready









Printer ( Inkjet ) For printing

Will depend on dealer, brand

Budget at least Kshs. 25,000




and model.

for the printer




Reclaiming Chemicals –


Budget at least Kshs. 5000



Emulsion Remover






Scoops and Spatula


Budget at least






Budget at least Kshs. 3000.





Budget at least Kshs. 120,000





Budget at least Kshs. 35,000





Budget at least Kshs. 50,000



Working Capital


Budget at least Kshs. 100,000






















Large Format





Larger Format Printer

Price depends in brand and

Budget at least Kshs. 1.5




dealer. But new machines

million for the Large format




range from Kshs. 1m to 1.5m





Computer for Design


Budget at least Kshs. 40,000



Computer for Large Format


Budget at least Kshs. 40,000










Some brands will sell the

Budget at least Kshs. 300,000




printer with an inbuilt cutter.






You can also purchase a






cutter on its own.







Budget at least Kshs. 100,000









- Welders






- Banner Stands, Hooks etc








Budget at least Kshs. 150,000





Budget at least Kshs. 35,000





Budget at least Kshs.100,000



Working Capital

This includes the cost of

Budget at least Kshs.300,000




purchasing the initial printing
















materials, rent, salaries and other related expenses.

Heat Press


Heat Press ( 5 in 1, 8 in 1 )


Exact price depends on dealer

Budget at least Kshs.60,000





and features. Prices start







range between Kshs. 50,000







and Kshs. 80,000.







Depends on size , features

Budget at least Kshs.50,000





and dealer





Computer ( Design)



Budget at least Kshs. 40,000



Printer - Inkjet


For heat transfer paper and

Budget at least Kshs. 25,000










Printer – Sublimation


For use with sublimation ink.

Budget at least Kshs. 40,000





Will depend on brand and












Heat Transfer Paper


Papers range from Kshs. 90

Budget at least Kshs. 3000





to Kshs.120 per paper





Sublimation Paper


Depends on the type and







supplier but ranges between







Kshs. 350 and Kshs.500 per







pack of 100








Budget at least Kshs.2000 per













Budget at least Kshs.500






Budget at least Kshs. 90,000






Budget at least Kshs. 35,000






Budget at least Kshs. 30,000



Working capital



Budget at least Kshs. 100,000


















Laser Printing





Laser Printer


Exact depends on the brand

Budget at least Kshs. 140,000





and model. Price will range







from Kshs.90,000 to Kshs.















Budget at least Kshs.40,000





Small size hand held guillotine

Kshs. 2000




Table and Chair



Budget at least Kshs. 8,000






Budget at least Kshs. 90,000






Budget at least Kshs. 35,000






Budget at least Kshs. 50,000



Working Capital



Budget at least Kshs.60,000



















Ink Jet ( Small Scale )





Inkjet Printer



Budget at least Kshs. 21,000






Budget at least Kshs. 40,000















Table & Chair


Budget at least Kshs. 8,000



Budget at least Kshs. 50,000



Budget at least Kshs. 35,000


This could include things like

Budget at least Kshs. 40,000


camera, signage etc











Types of Printing Business Operations

The printing business market in Kenya is largely unregulated. There is no proper code of conduct or way to enforce standards. Each business sets up and operates as it deems fit: the way that will be most profitable to it. That said there are some common set ups based on equipment, business model, size or such other attributes. These include:

Business Model – By business model printing businesses either specialize in one ( or a few) particular type of printing or become a one stop shop for a couple of services. In a big way specialization makes it easier to market: consumers identify you with a particular kind of printing and thus believe, rightly or wrongly, you can do it better than your competition the jack of all trades.

Specialization also makes it easier to market and brand your business. This is more so at the lower and mid levels of the market where competition is intense, and its increasingly becoming difficult to differentiate one printer from another. The flip side of specialization is that you will be ‘losing’ many related businesses. For instance if you specialize in screen printing and a customer comes in who needs large number of posters what will you do? Some customers will ask you for references, some won’t even let you know that they need posters, while others will nonetheless give you the assignment believing you will find a way to do it after all you are in the printing industry.

Many of those who specialize portray themselves as being really good in one service, but then “we can print anything want”. If you decide to specialize never say no to a customer who wants an extra related service. You will find a way of delivering. And if demand for such services becomes significant then you can invest in the necessary equipment.

Being a one stop shop means that you can offer all printing services that a customer requires. There are two ways to do this. One is by having all the equipment to offer the various customer needs. This will obviously need a bigger capital investment not to mention the skill and manpower to deliver.

Secondly is by branding, where you have only a limited number of equipment, but portray yourself as being capable of offering all possible kinds of printing services. You achieve this by having networks with fellow printers so that if you get a job of which you don’t have the equipment to produce then you outsource. The downside of this, like we mentioned earlier, is loss of control in terms of quality and timelines. However with time you are able to build a network of trusted and reliable partners that you can rely on to deliver.

Brokers - Brokers, who we also mentioned earlier, is another business model. In this case the entrepreneur is just a go in between, a broker proper. He does not own a single printing machine but he understands the various dynamics of the business very well. Most important he has the networks and the skills to acquire customers. The customers for whatever reason trust that he will deliver. When he gets a contract he contacts his ‘partner’ printers and gets the job done. There are some big ‘printers’ operating this way.

Equipment – There are those in the business who specialize by having a single equipment. This could be the ‘main’ equipment or support equipment. Thus someone might could have a CTP, guillotine, plotter or any such equipment. Other printers pay to have plates made or papers cut.

Specializing in one equipment works where a printing ecosystem exists. This means that there are enough printers within a reasonable radius who can use your services. A good example is Luthuli Avenue and Sheikh Karume Road, Nairobi. As business strategy supplying the support equipment could work but you have to keep in mind that there will be always the possibility of your customers, fellow printers, buying their own equipment. And where the printing businesses have not purchased an equipment say a CTP because the prices are high there is always a possibility of the prices coming down. The higher the cost of the support equipment the more customers you are likely to get.

Operations – This is by how a business operates either formally or semiformal. Some have registered companies while others are not even registered. Some will advertise their businesses formally but others sit and wait for customers or hustle in a more informal manner. In the present it helps to operate professionally but hustle for customers in any way. At least formally register your business as a company so that to be able to pursue jobs from those who want to deal with registered entities. The reason some remain informal is that they have not seen the need to become formal, I mean why formalize when you can operate casually and make money? This limits you .The future is in more formal businesses.

Key Steps In Starting A Printing Business

Identify the kind of printing that you want to do

Identify the location that you want to set up in the business

Identify the premises

Acquire the equipment that you need

Acquire the necessary licenses

Define the operational modalities

Hire and train the necessary staff based on how you are going to be operating

Market and start operations

Identify the kind of printing that you want to do We have covered that above.

Settle on a Location – Urban areas are the most suitable for printing businesses , this is because there is a big enough pool of potential customers ; businesses and individuals who need printing services.

Most printing services grow on business customers rather than individuals. This is because business customers have recurring needs. For instance they will need constant supplies of the items such as business cards, letterheads, receipt books, posters, promotional items and other such business documents in bulk.

Certainly individuals will make purchases but they are far and wide. For instance things like wedding cards are once in a lifetime, custom printed t-shirts maybe one every two months and so forth. You can’t ignore individual customers but faster growth, and scaling comes from business customers.

Urban centers have significant numbers of both individual and business customers. Urban centers do not necessarily mean big towns like Nairobi or Mombasa. There are growing centers in the devolved units where you can get enough customers. You just have to have the right service.

Identify the premises – The premises that you pick for a printing business will depend on the kind of printing business and the equipment that you will be using. For instance offset printers are bulky and noisy.

So you could need a room large enough to fit the equipment and neighbours who will not complain about the noise. If you are running a screen printing business you need space big enough to fit, prepare the screens, print and dry the t-shirts. In all cases it’s good to have at least 240v of electricity (3 phase). Equipment like heat presses are more like irons and thus you can’t operate from one of those buildings where power ‘trips’ if you use an iron.

Then because in printing there are a lot of ink fumes it helps to have a well ventilated room so that it does not become stuffy and uncomfortable to work in. As much as your workers could bear the fumes, if they are not comfortable their productivity will naturally go down.

Although you can operate a printing business from a non -strategic location in the sense that the premises is not out rightly visible, it helps if it can easily be located and accessed. Again this will depend on the kind of printing business that you are running. Some are not worth paying a premium for space.

Printing services targeting the mass market like small scale printing are best in visible high traffic location. Others like large format printing say of billboards don’t necessarily have to be in very premium locations since such get business not by virtue of their

location but largely by marketing efforts and networks. Whatever the location, it’s a plus to have a well designed sign announcing your business.

Acquire the equipment that you need – We have covered that above.

Acquire the necessary licenses – The are no specialty licenses for printing business. The key licenses are :

-Single Business Permit : Issued by the county government

-Fire Equipment License : Issued by the county government

-Signage License: Issued by the county government

-Waste Management License : Issued by the county government

Define the operational modalities – You need to define the work flow. Allocate roles and know who is responsible for what. This increases efficiencies, prevents conflicts and establishes checks and balances. Operational modalities are not cast in stone and you have to define the work flow based on particulars of your business. (See operations)

Hire and train the necessary staff - This will be based on how you are going to be operating. Hire the necessary staff after defining your method of operation.


Day to day operations of your printing business will depend on the services that you are offering. However there are some common threads irrespective of the kind of printing services:

-Acquiring orders

-Defining the order – Pricing

-Graphic design or artwork

-Sourcing of supplies

-Printing / Fulfilling the orders

-Quality control


-Delivering the order

In the printing business lingo activities in a printing shop are defined as Prepress, Press, Post press. Prepress are the activities that happen in preparation of press, press is the actual printing activity, while post press is the finishing after the printing is done.

To illustrate the activities let us take the example of printing a billboard advertisement.

Prepress involves designing and fine tuning the artwork so that it’s ready for printing. Artwork could originate from the client or designed by the in-house designer. Still the in-house designer has to make sure that it is ready for printing.

Press will be the actual printing using the printing machine. The operator loads the blackback roll (or any other material), and monitors to ensure the quality of color and print. He also ensures there is no blockage of ink.

Post press comes after the printing is done, and will include joining the banners, creating pockets that will be used to tie the billboard, and delivering to the site or client.

Revenue and Margins

A Note About Revenue

Revenue in the printing business is tied to pricing, equipment efficiencies and other related costs.

There is no standard pricing in the printing business still there are what could be called acceptable price ranges within the market. The range for some items, especially the higher end of printing, is wide enough to have a big variation in margins between one business and another for exactly the same kind of job.

Price based competition is very intense across board but more so at the lower level of printing than at the high level. By high level we mean printing of items like billboard banners, annual reports, advertising material for big corporations and such other. By low end we mean items like posters for local churches, a couple of receipt books for small and medium businesses, some business cards, brochures for a church event and the like.

Major variable costs in a printing work will be the cost of material, cost of labour, cost of power, while the fixed cost will be rent and manpower. Cost of material will depend on what exactly you are printing, the equipment that you are using and where you buy the material. There are various suppliers of material like the printing medium and inks which. There are slight price variations between suppliers. If you are purchasing in bulk then the prices differences could be significant.

Cost of labour also varies from one printer to another. Unless for the big printers with unisonable employees small and medium sized printers negotiate salaries and wages case by case. There are also many printers who will have one or two permanent employees and employ others on casual basis depending on the quantity of work. Others have no single permanent employee.

Printing equipment and technologies are not equally efficient. The more efficient the machine the less your costs.

Revenue Figures

To help you understand the margins in the business here are some examples and case studies of the costs and pricing of different printing materials.

Large Format – Example

Let us now take the example of the cost of printing a banner that will be hoisted on a billboard. To print this you use any of the large format equipment: Roland, Challenger, HP or any other one. Efficiencies vary but let us give a standard example. There are various types of materials that can be used to print on a large format for outdoor, but say you are using a Blackback 440gsm.

Materials for large format printers are sold in rolls. From one of the material suppliers a Blackback roll which is 3.2m by 50m goes for Kshs. 17,500. This means 160m2 for Kshs.17500 which comes to 109 /m2

Let’s take a billboard 12m by 10m.

To make 120m squared will be Kshs.109 x120 = Kshs.13125

Cost of ink - a cartridge costs between Kshs.8500 and Kshs.11, 000 depending on the supplier and the exacts of the machine. Working with an average of Kshs.11,000 four cartridges will be Kshs. 44000.

The average ink consumption will be Kshs.80 / meter squared.

So far total cost per meter squared is Kshs.109 + Kshs.80= Kshs.189. Other significant costs will be power which will be a maximum of Kshs 300 and labour which is fixed. The total cost per meter squared will be around Kshs. 220.

The charge per meter squared for a billboard ranges between Kshs.400 and Kshs.600 per meter squared. Note this is just the cost of printing. Thus at the very least margins per meter squared will be Kshs.400 – Kshs.220 = Kshs. 180. For a billboard of 120 m2 the total will be Kshs.180 x120 = Kshs.21600. Please note this at the very least. Margins could be far much higher depending on what is being printed; the costs of ink could go far much lower

A crude rule of the thumb when pricing is to make profits of 30% to 50 % on the cost. This means that say you are printing and you calculate the direct cost of materials, say the Blackback that you will print on, and the ink, and labour to be Kshs. 200, then you add 50%, and you charge Kshs.300. Of course you will price with the competition and client in mind. You should have a very specific and detailed idea of what your prices will be.

To get a better idea here are sample charges for various services by a leading outdoor items printer:

Billboard 12m ×10m - Kshs .48,000

Banners - Kshs 700

Satin - Kshs 1800

Reflective banner - Kshs.2200

Reflective sticker - Kshs.2200

Vinyl stickers (German oracle) - Kshs.1000

Backlit - Kshs. 1400

Oneway vision/window graphic - Kshs.2000

Non glare matt banner – Kshs. 2000

Roll ups-small base – Kshs. 7000

Roll ups-broad base – Kshs. 12000

X-stands – Kshs. 6000

Tear drop/telescopic stands - Kshs.16000 medium

Frost/clear/tint stickers – Kshs.1500

Vehicle Branding

Saloon – Kshs. 35000

Nissan - Kshs. 40000

Bus - Kshs. 80000

Lorry 20 feet - Kshs. 90000

Offset Example

To get an idea of the margins in the offset printing business let us now give an example of printing a document such as the below:

The leaflet is printed on Art Paper 130.

The leaflet is A5 size. Now printing papers are not sold in size A5. In this case you will buy A1 papers and cut to A5 size. A ream of Artpaper GSM 130 costs Kshs. 4800 (115 – Kshs.4400, 100 – Kshs.4000) A ream has 500 papers.

If you cut A1 to A5 you get 16 pieces. Thus a ream will give 16 * 500 = 8000 pieces.

This is full colour, thus you need four plates @ Kshs.200 each, coming to Kshs.800. This is using a CTP. Plate is Kshs.80

For a full colour you need the four basic colours. The cost is as follows:

Black – Kshs. 650 / kg

Yellow – Kshs. 700 / kg

Magenta – Kshs.800 / kg

Cyan – Kshs.800/kg

You are not going to use all the ink. The amount you use will be negligible. The above quantities are enough to do 20 reams of A1.

Total cost:

Design – Kshs.1000

Papers – Ksgs.4800

Cutting/ Guillotine – Kshs. 20

Printing – Kshs.8000

Ink – Kshs. 200

Total – Kshs. 13,000

Charge – Kshs. 16000 – Kshs. 24,000

To give another example of a full colour poster; the low quality ones used for campaigns.

The cost breakdown to make 1000 posters will be:

Design – Kshs. 500

CTP – 4 PLATES – Kshs. 800

Paper A3 size two reams- Ksh.1200 * 2 = Kshs. 2400

Print run – Kshs. 1300

Guillotine – Kshs.50

Operator – Kshs.1000

Total – Kshs.6050

A run is considered any printed items until 1000 pieces.

In this case you charge at least Kshs. 12,000 and on negotiating go below Kshs.10, 000

In 2017 most offset printers are producing campaign posters, leaflets, cards and other campaign material for politicians. In normal periods though items like receipt books, invoices, delivery books, exercise book covers, funeral programmers are the most in demand.

Screen Printing Example

The margins in the screen printing business depend on your prices and what is being printed. That said the margins will range between 30 % and 70 %.

There are very many scenario, but let’s give an example of a full colour t-shirt as the one below.

This is a full colour. This means that you will need six screens. This also means also six films.

Each film is Kshs. 80

6 films - Kshs.60*8 = Kshs. 480 Design and related – Kshs. 1300

Total – Kshs. 1780

We are making the assumption that the customer will come with her own t-shirts. And that you have the screens and mesh ready.

For 500 t-shirts will use about six kilograms of ink, a kilo of each colour. The price of ink will depends on the type of ink. There are many from oil based to water based. A kilogram of a water based ink will average – Kshs. 1200 per liter. Thus six liters will be Kshs. 1200 *6 = Kshs. 7200

This could take 2 days, and labour costs will amount to Kshs. 4000 to Kshs. 6000.

Total cost:

Film and graphics – Kshs. 1780

Ink – Kshs. 7200

Labour – Kshs.6000

Miscellaneous – Kshs.3000

Total – Kshs.17, 000

For 500 t-shirts if you are charging Kshs.100 each then your margins will be

500 * 100 – Kshs.17, 000 = Kshs.33, 000

If you are charging Kshs. 50 = 500*50 – Kshs.17, 000

Kshs.25, 000 – Kshs.17, 000 = Kshs. 8000

As a point of note there are very many brokers in the screen printing business and thus how much you charge a customer will depend on what the broker had charged the original customer. Thus you find wide price ranges for the same kind of job. Sometimes there are several brokers across the chain and this affects the price. When pricing you also have to look at the relationship you have with the customer. If a broker you need to build a good relationship so that he can keep giving you jobs. Some brokers are so well connected and aggressive in their marketing that some printers survive on one broker.

T-shirts are the most common screen printing items. And for a low quality round neck t-shirt with the usual campaign writing the average cost wulll Kshs. 20 per side , that is after taking into consideration the cost of ink, labour and related. Printers charge between Kshs. 50 and Kshs.100 per side, of course with the t-shirt belonging to the customer.

Other Examples

Epson L220 Inkjet Printer – This is for small scale printing activities. You can find this kind of printer mostly in cyber, small bureaus and small printing works. The printer uses a CISS, that means it has four ink tanks Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, Black each 70ml. These should print 4000 colored copies before running out and 6500 black and white. . If charging Kshs.10 per copy then that should be Kshs. 65000.

The CISS system ink will cost an average of Kshs.3000 which comes in four or six inks. Cost of paper ranges between Kshs.0.50 to Kshs.1

Like in every case the margins are good but then how long will it take you to print 6500 copies? A week, month, year? This is what will determine the actual profits. The shorter time it takes to print the more the profits. Please also note the number of printed copies could vary depending on what is exactly being printed.

Competition & Survival

Like we mentioned before competition in the printing business is becoming intense. This is more so for small and medium scale offset presses, screen printing, digital the now almost ubiquitous

heat presses. Even in higher echelons of the business, say billboard banners printing and vehicle branding, of which there were only a few have now attracted significant numbers.

Barriers to entry in the business have been going lower. There are now more equipment suppliers and with that prices have come down. This means that there are now many more entrepreneurs who can afford various equipment to invest in the business. Technology advancement also has made the machines easier to use. The learning curve, especially at the lower level of printing, is not as steep as before.

Demand for various printed materials as we mentioned in above has also gone high and this too has attracted many entrepreneurs to the business. Competition will continue becoming intense. In the present environment there already a lot of exits, often blamed to lack of enough customers and mismanagement.

Keeping everything constant margins in the business are good enough, but then margins mean nothing if you are not selling. And that has been the dearth of most printing businesses. See like now 2017 is an election year, definitely demand for campaign materials such as t-shirts and posters will be high. The temptation to invest in offset presses and screen printing equipment is high, and many will. Some of the entrepreneurs will sit and wait for customers to walk in, after all it’s an election year and with all the candidates then there ought to be some coming their way.

On the other hand others will go out there, trying to network so they can at least get to the politicians themselves or decision makers in campaign teams. They will offer ‘incentives ‘to various key decision makers until they actually get a contract to print. Alternatively they will advertise in the media and on the internet offering sweeteners such as better prices. So at the end, just like with any business, survival and growth is about the actual sales that you make.

In such a business environment how then does a printing business stand out and acquire customers?

Presently competition is based on:






Below is a list of some of the major suppliers. This least is not exhaustive because there are tens of suppliers and more are coming up.










Papers, Inks and

There are quite a

Guaca Stationers







number of suppliers.

020 2226782























In Nairobi the major







ones are located

Bezi Stationeries -






along Ngariama

Stationery Mall






Road, Cross Road

House, Ground






and Kirinyaga Road

Floor, Cross Road,






Nairobi. Others are







along Sheikh







Karume, and off

Eagle Stationers –






Kirinyaga Road. Not

Cross Road,






all dealers are

Nairobi, 0722






honest. Some will







shortchange you,







say in a ream of







paper you find 20 or

Passion Graphics -






so missing.

Cross Road, Nairobi







Uneeco Paper







Products, Kijabe













This one of the

Spicers East Africa

Uhuru Highway, Plessey




oldest and most


House, Nairobi





recognized name in







the offset printing


020 6536100 / 6536101 /




business. They


6537281 / 557193





supply offset







printers, films and


020 6536 102





finishing equipment







for binding, folding,







stitching, perforation







and many more.







They are the official







dealers for Ryobi







and Goss brands.






Offset, Large

A recognized name

Vivid Solutions

Vivid Printing Equipment



Format , Laser ,

in the business.


Solution Ltd.




Plotters, Screen

Sometimes a little


17 Isiolo Road,




Printing and more

bureaucratic over


Off Enterprise Road,




the phone.


Industrial Area,







P O Box 46309, 00100






Nairobi, Kenya.







Tel: +254-20-696 2000






Cel: +254-733-638 666






Cel: +254-722-205 266



Offset, Digital, Large

A monolith dealing

Achelis Kenya

Name: Happy Shah





with many items.


Title: Business Manager –






Print Division














[email protected]









Tel: +254 (0)734 333 222






Tel: +254 (0)774 433 221

















Great customer

Uchumi Quick

5 Busia Road, Industrial


service. They supply

Printing Supplies



a variety of new and


P.O. Box 59095




Nairobi, 00200, Kenya


equipment from




offset presses to


020 6531355/6


CTP. Equipment are


020 2092341


mostly from Europe


020 3505191




[email protected]

Screen Printing

They specialize in a

Texprint Limited

Kirinyaga Road , Opp.


wide variety of


Trans-National Bank


screen printing


[email protected]


equipment. These




include screen


0733 621721, 0722


printers, screens,


737413,0725 862 500


meshes, dryers, inks




and many more



Screen Printing

This is a small scale

Alba Engineering

0728 607 606


supplier but very




good service and




support in terms of




training. They




supply screen




printers and




screens. Very street







Large Format, laser

An established

Graphica Limited

Longonot Place


dealer. Good


Kijabe Street Nairobi


customer service.


020 239 5299





Second Hand Offset

One of the oldest


There are many second


and leading


hand dealers selling


specialist dealers of


independently. Check


second hand offset


newspaper classifieds and


press running a


online classifieds such as


shop located at Bus




Station, Nairobi. Bus




station near the




nyama choma




eateries, you will




see the machines



Download A Printing Business Plan (Guide) in Kenya PDF➥