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Cost Breakdown of Screen-printing a Shirt

Cost Breakdown of Screen-Printing of a Shirt

Although every screen-printing business has its way of breaking down its pricing, there are various factors that all screen printers consider when pricing an order. Here are a few of the costs that need to be considered when making a shirt.


There are two main aspects about color to look at.

The color of the shirt to be printed on

If you’re looking for the cheapest option with regard to the shirt color, then you might want to go for white. The darker the fabric gets, the costlier it gets. Consequently, a black shirt will obviously be at the top of the pricing scale.

The cost of printing on other shirt colors will usually fall in between the black and white colors. However, you will find that some screen printers charge the same price for darker colors like navy blue and red.

Number of colors in your design

The higher the number of colors in the design to be printed on your shirt, the more expensive the job. To print a design onto your shirt, a printer usually has to separate each color in the design.

Though we don’t intend to bore you with the details of the color separation process, we’d like you to understand that all the colors on a screen-printed design are independent of each other and they’re printed onto your shirt separately. That translates into more materials and labor, thus elevating the price.

The Type and Quality of the Garment

Garments are not created equal, and it’s the screen printer’s job to comprehend what you’d like to achieve with your garment and offer you the best services. In that regard, the heavier the garment, the higher the cost.

You might be looking to use your apparel as promotional tools and decide to work with light-weight shirts (5 or 6 oz maybe). By going for a lightweight shirt, your job will not cost much and you’ll still have a great product to help you promote your business. After all, you won’t be using them for a long time because promotion is a seasonal affair.

Your shirt’s style is also an aspect to take into consideration when estimating your costs. Typical t-shirts are normally the most economical choice. On the other hand, styles like scoop neck, V-neck, and tank tops will usually require you to pay more.

Quantity of Your Order

Most screen printers have a policy that makes the price per shirt lower as the number of shirts you’re looking to print increases. Most companies have their own “minimum number” when giving bulk discounts to their clients.

However, there are a few screen printers out there that don’t require any minimum number, and they automatically reduce the price per shirt as the number of your orders increases.

Apparel Sizes

Contrary to what most people might think, the cost of screen-printing youth garments is usually higher than that of adult apparel. You might argue that youth garments have less fabric than adult ones, but the truth is, the size factor matters too. Youth sports teams normally wear large shirts, making it more expensive to print on them.

Sizes like 2x-large and above are usually known as extended sizes. Depending on the type of garment you’re considering, extended sizes will usually cost you more than ordinary sizes.

The Fabric

When considering the cost of printing your garment based on its fabric, your cheapest option would be cotton. Whether we’re talking about pure cotton or cotton blended with other materials, cotton is always the cheapest material to print on.

Other types of fabric, especially nylon and moisture-wicking, will cost you more.

Design Placement

Typically, the print zones for shirts include the center part of the back, the center part of the front and the pocket zone on the left side of the chest area of the shirt.

Some firms will print on the sleeve of the shirt as a special placement. Other screen printers consider such a print as a standard placement with no additional costs, and thus it’d be good to check with your printer to find out about their policies if you’re looking to save some cash.

You may also want to have your shirts printed on other areas, for instance, just under the neckline, at the rib area, and more. Most printers will charge you a little more per piece to print on such locations, as it takes a bit more time and effort to print.

Again, there are some companies that don’t charge extra for special placements. Keep in mind that they might not charge you extra for special placements but might recover the price in other ways.

Type of Inks Used

Specialty inks like shimmers will usually increase the cost of your order. Likewise, items like rhinestones or sparkling elements will elevate the cost of your order.


This is one of the factors that most people forget to take into consideration. Often, people will have an excellent idea of what they’d want their printing to be like and they even have a design they got from the web or one they had done by an artist.

Nevertheless, there are lots of myths surrounding artwork, and in a moment, we’re going to debunk the most common ones right here.

Myth One – I will just use the design I found on the internet and put it on my shirts

Okay, it’s great to improvise especially when you don’t have the time or skills to create a great design. However, there’s a slogan that printers follow, known as Garbage In Garbage Out (or simply GIGO).

If you’ve managed to freely pull something cool from the web and intend to use it as it is, you’re most likely going to end up with a low-resolution design.

A low-resolution design is going to be too difficult for your printer to print on your shirt effectively. If they try enlarging the image to make it big enough to put on that shirt, the resulting design will most certainly be grainy.

Some people might decide to enhance it using software but it that won’t make it as clear and crisp as you’d want. The graphic might appear vague and there is a good chance you will not be pleased with the results.

What you can do is find someone with screen printing design skills to replicate a high-definition copy of the image. Alternatively, you can talk to your printer and ask them if there is something they can do to ensure that the low-quality design comes out as a great graphic on the shirt. A good printer will know what to do, at the same price or at an extra charge.

Myth Two – My Graphic Designer Is an Expert at Designing Screen-Printing Artwork

While graphic designers are great at a whole lot of things, they may not be the best people to produce the design for your shirt unless they know how screen printing works.

Note, printing on apparel is not the same printing on brochures, flyers, and business cards, and thus the designs to be placed on these two lines of printing will be varied.

We thought we should point that out because customers are often surprised that they need to have extra artwork performed on their files, thereby increasing the total cost.

Of course, the more you can give your printer, the less time they have to spend getting your files print-ready, and the less the associated charges.

On the other hand, if your files aren’t print-ready for apparel printing, then you’ve got to realize that your printer will more time preparing them, and that will add to the total cost.

Screen Printing Set Up Fees

The fundamental principle of screen printing is to push ink through screens onto the shirt. When your printer talks about the “screen printing set up fees”, they’re normally referring to the procedures involved in getting the screens ready to print your apparel.

We don’t want to get into too much detail regarding this issue but basically, here’s what the printer needs to do:

  • Prepare the screens so your designs can be exposed to them
  • Expose your designs onto the screens
  • Clean the screen after the printing process is complete


As you may have noted from the information above, screen printing requires the separation of each color such that if your design is to contain seven colors, then the printer will need to prep 7 screens. That is one screen per color.

The whole process needs time, labor, and materials to complete, and the company has to cover for all these factors in the total cost.

You will find that some screen printing firms advertise their services saying “No screen printing set up fees.”

That’s excellent but you need to realize that in most cases, such firms cover those fees in some other ways.

The only way of avoiding such fees is to place large orders (bulk orders). Many companies genuinely eliminate the screen printing set up fees completely when you place bulk orders.

That is it, folks. It’s our hope that this guide has helped elaborate the factors printers will use when determining the cost of your order.

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James M. Rai has been screen printing T-shirts and other textiles professionally and as a hobby for more than 15 years. During that time, he owned and operated a small screen printing shop in northern California for more than 7 years. More recently, James has gotten involved with Cricut and other cutting machines.