Seven Tips to Keep Your Custom-Printed T-shirt Affordable

Knowledge is Power

Way too often, we have customers come to us after spending who-knows-how-many hours working on their tshirt design…only to learn that the cost of screenprinting what they’ve designed is prohibitive. Imagine the frustration; you’ve worked for hours to get your design just the way you want it, you’ve picked out your tshirt, you know just what you want printed—where, which colors, and how big—and you’re ready to have the tshirts printed. Then, we have to tell you that the cost of printing the shirts as you’ve designed them is going to break the bank. This kind of news can totally ruin even a beautiful San Diego day. Here are seven things you need to know to keep this from happening to you. These are the big factors that affect the cost of your custom-printed tshirt.

1. Which Tshirt?

Here in sunny San Diego, we can wear tshirts year round, and many of us are tshirt connoisseurs. However, don’t get your heart set on a premium, fashion brand tshirt unless you have the budget to treat yourself. A premium tshirt can easily cost three times what a basic style does. A basic crewneck tshirt, in 6.1-ounce, 100% cotton is generally a good value that makes most people happy. You can save a little by going with a cotton/poly blend, but be aware that print quality will suffer if your artwork is full color or involves photographs. 100% cotton shirts take ink best. You can shave a few pennies off each shirt by switching to a lighter weight fabric or pay a little bit more to get ringspun (softer) cotton or a more fitted cut. If you like a V-neck, those cost a little more, as does organic cotton. Some basic brands like Gildan, Hanes, and Fruit of the Loom offer tshirts in a ladies fit for the same or only slightly more than than men’s/unisex styles, but if you want a tighter, form-fitting ladies tshirt, be prepared to pay. These styles, and the fashion brands such as American Apparel, Bella, etc., will quickly run up your cost!

2. What Color Tshirt?

White shirts are always the most economical choice for screenprinting. Colored tshirts are more expensive to manufacture than white tshirts, since dyeing adds to the manufacturing cost. Dark shirts are a bit more expensive to screenprint than light-colored tshirts. The shirts themselves cost a little more, but dark tshirts also require an extra layer of ink—think of it like primer—to be placed underneath the design. The primer keeps the dark color of the tshirt from bleeding through your design, and makes it look 100% better.

3. Quantity

Yes, there are price breaks for both the cost of the tshirt and the cost of printing it, but you may not realize the degree to which screenprinting prices are affected by quantity. There is a fair amount of work involved in setting up a screenprinting job. That means the larger your custom tshirt print job, the more shirts you have to absorb that setup cost. Here’s an example: if the setup for your print job is $75, and you order 75 shirts, the setup adds $1 per shirt ($75 setup divided by 75 shirts). However, if you only need 25 shirts, that same setup is going to add $3 per shirt to the cost ($75 setup divided by 25 shirts).

4. Number of Colors & Size of Design

The more colors there are in your artwork, the more expensive it is to screenprint, and the more the quantity will affect your price. A lot of screenprinting involves what’s called “spot colors.” This means individual colors are applied one at a time. The labor involved in switching inks from one color to another is the same whether we are printing one shirt or 100. The most economical screenprinting will always be a one-color design. If you need fewer than 75 custom tshirts printed, keeping your designs to one or two colors will keep the price down.

Because the time (and therefore labor) it takes to load a tshirt on the press and print a design has little to do with the design’s size, you typically don’t save money by printing smaller. Go ahead and print all across the full width of the tshirt if you want. You’ll get better visibility for your design, and typically your cost won’t be any higher than it would have been if your design is smaller. There are a few exceptions to this rule—oversized prints and non-standard locations cost extra, for example—so you might want to check with us before you finalize your design.

5. Number of Designs

It’s sort of common sense, but of course it costs more to print in two locations (front and back) than in one (front only). Typical print locations on custom tshirts are the left chest (pocket size print), full front, full back, the back yoke area (below the neck), and sleeves. Unusual print locations cost extra. Most tshirt designs printed on the front or back of shirts are 7” to 10” wide. Stick to normal print sizes for best pricing. Designs larger than 14”x16” or designs that run off the edge of the tshirt cost extra – and quite a bit extra unless your quantity is quite large, say more than 500 shirts.

6. Printing Methods & Production Time

There are several methods besides screenprinting that may be used to print a tshirt. At EmbroidMe San Diego, we do them all, including Direct Garment Printing (aka Digital Printing), Sublimation Printing, Heat Press (aka Thermal Transfers), and Vinyl. Each of these printing methods has pros and cons, and which one works best and is most economical for your situation depends on tshirt color, job quantity, and how much time you have to get the work done. We’ll help you figure out what printing method makes the most sense for your situation. For best pricing, allow two weeks for production. Expect to pay a premium for same-day printing or other rush jobs!

7. Artwork

If you’re creating your own artwork, be careful with the format. If it’s not appropriate for screenprinting, it can add to the cost of your project. In general, avoid using Photoshop and PowerPoint editing software, and images pulled off the web. These will not produce sufficient quality for custom tshirt printing. The most economical way to submit final art is in vector EPS format, for example, text or a logo you drew yourself using Adobe Illustrator. If you can only provide bitmap (JPG) images, such as a photograph, use the highest resolution graphics possible.