From day one of this Tiny Little Operation we’ve got going here, we have wanted to be a different kind of screen printing business. There are gobs of screen print companies out there that cater to businesses and large organizations that have been ordering screen printed apparel for decades. But we found that there weren’t a lot of options for folks who were ordering t-shirts for the first time ever. So, we set out to be accessible, friendly, transparent, and as helpful as possible. If you’ve never ordered screen printed t-shirts before, you belong here, and we’re here to help!
Naturally, a lot of first-timers have questions: questions about the screen print process, the costs, the timeline, the restrictions, and so much more. We’ve polled our awesome employees to collect a few of the most common questions and misconceptions about screen printing. Presenting: The 6 screen print questions most likely to be burning a hole in your brain, answered!
1. I’m trying to reorder a few shirts from my 100-piece screen print order. Why are they more expensive this time?
We get this question a lot… a lot a lot. And it totally makes sense. You place an order for 100 shirts for your organization, and then when it’s time to pass shirts out, it turns out someone forgot to order, or they picked the wrong size for themselves, or you just had more interest than you thought you would. So why can’t you just call us up and get a couple extras printed?
Well — you can. With an asterisk. We will always work with you to get you extra t-shirts with your printed design, and if you need them for an event, we’ll do our absolute best to help you out. But the costs are going to change a bit. With screen printing, we’re burning your design into physical screens, setting them up on a manual press, and working diligently to adjust angles and make sure everything lines up perfectly. After that, we load your shirts on to a platen (print surface) one by one, and print them up! After your order is printed, everything is disassembled immediately. Those screens with your design have to be reused for the next job, so we strip them and start again.
This means that when you contact us for a couple extras, we’ve got to start from scratch. Burn your screens again, set up the job, you get the idea. If you’re only ordering a few pieces, you might not hit our screen printing minimums. And even if you do, you’ll likely be at a lower quantity this time around, so your cost is higher because we have to set your job up again. We have the digital printer, which doesn’t require a minimum, but the print looks a bit different because the inks are different.
So, how can you avoid this? Lots of our customers choose to throw in an additional shirt in each size, just to be safe. Sometimes this can even help you reach a new price break, which will make your entire order less expensive because the print cost for each shirt goes down. If you don’t want to get extras, just make sure you communicate to your group the ABSOLUTE NECESSITY (all-caps is your friend here) of providing their shirt size in a timely fashion. If all else fails, you just tell those lazy procrastinators that orders placed after the deadline will be more expensive. We will stand with you!
2. I know you have price breaks for screen printing. Why didn’t my price go down when I added more shirts with a different design?
We’ve had a few instances where a customer orders, say, 48 shirts and wonders why they aren’t getting pricing at the 48-piece break. Our price breaks are calculated by the number of pieces getting the SAME DESIGN. If you’re getting 24 shirts that say “Cowabunga!” and 24 shirts that say “Pizza is Life” (Ninja Turtles, anyone?), then those are treated as two 24-piece orders.
We use price breaks to determine pricing because of the setup required for any print job. (Remember that pesky burning, and tweaking and adjusting angles that we talked about? It’s a process.) Once the screens are set up and ready to go, though, it’s easy to keep printing additional apparel very quickly, so your price per shirt drops dramatically when you increase the quantity. Two designs, though, means two separate setups. It’s just like placing two separate orders.
If you want to estimate accurate pricing using our online price quote tool, count up the number of shirts receiving the same design to find your price break. Note: This doesn’t mean that each print has to be the same color! We can do an ink change for a flat $10, which means you can get 25 shirts with a black print and 25 shirts with a white print, and still count all of those toward the same quantity break (50). You can also mix and match apparel color and style: 25 red hoodies and 25 black t-shirts can be counted toward the same quantity break as long as they are getting printed with the same design!
3. Why can’t I get a sample shirt before ordering in bulk?
You can! If you just want a blank sample so you can evaluate the quality, fabric, or fit of a shirt, we can get you one. Then, you can either return that shirt to us as part of a larger order and we’ll print on it, or you can just keep it. If you want a printed sample shirt, that’s when things get a bit tricky.
We have a digital printer, so we can definitely print a single shirt. This is often helpful if you have visually-oriented people in your group who want to see what the design will look like on an actual tee before ordering. Digital printing and screen printing are two different animals, however. DTG inks are water-based and screen printed inks are more opaque, brighter, and more consistent from print to print. While the digitally printed shirt will be a close approximation of what the final screen printed order will look like, it doesn’t work as a perfect prototype.
So, how much is just a single screen printed shirt? To be frank: too much to make it worth it for you. There’s just too much that goes in to a screen printed order for us to tackle prototype prints like this. It takes hours for screens to be burned and cured, and then there’s the setup involved to attach screens to our presses and get everything lined up. Screen print orders require six pieces, and you really get the best price when you reach at least 12.
Don’t forget, we always provide a mockup of your printed shirt before printing. Our designers will take a pic of the shirts you’re ordering and mock them up with an image of your print. It’ll be sized correctly, and it will list out all of the exact ink colors that you’re getting. It works great as an image to use on social media or printed order forms for gathering orders. No, you can’t touch it, smell it, or taste it (why are you tasting shirts?), but it’s a great visual.
4. Why does it cost extra for a back print / sleeve print / hem print?
We work really hard to make our screen print costs as affordable as possible, but there are still times when a customer has a bit of sticker shock after finding out the added cost of getting a second print location. Here’s the thing: if you were to order 24 shirts with a single color front print, our print team would need to load 24 shirts onto a platen, printing them one by one. If you add a back print to your shirt design, then our print team needs to load 48 shirts for printing (24 shirts times 2. And the setup time is doubled, too, as they’re burning, curing, and setting up 2 screens rather than 1). Adding a secondary print location essentially doubles the time it takes to print your shirts!
Now, we don’t just double the print cost when a back print or sleeve print is added. In fact, our second location pricing is about half the cost of a front print, so you are still getting a great deal. Our screen printing cost is all-inclusive, so the price you are paying is covering the design and mockup work, ordering apparel from our distributors, sorting and packing, etc. All of that is taken care of in the front print pricing, so our second location print costs are designed to just cover materials and time to add your back print.
5. Why don’t you have the shirt I want in stock?
We’ve got a TON of samples of our most popular items in our storefront, so if you’re unsure whether you want 100% cotton or a triblend, we can help you out. What we can’t do is stock all of the MANY styles, colors, and sizes that exist out there in the apparel universe. We know you are desperate to try on a large flowy tank in sapphire blue to make sure it will work, but the odds of us having the exact product you’re searching for are slim.
Think of it this way. One of our most popular shirts to print on is the Bella Canvas Fine Jersey tee. That item comes in 54 colors and 9 sizes. If we wanted to keep it all in stock, we’d need to order at least 5 of each size in every color, and even then we’d only be stocked to cover a mid-size order. 54 x 9 x 5 is 2,430 shirts! And that’s just one style — to keep stock of the scores of styles we offer, we’d be swimming in t-shirts, tanks, shorts, hats, and hoodies, and you wouldn’t be able to fit in the front door.
Now if your group or organization is determined to evaluate a shirt in hand before ordering, that’s no problem! We can order you a sample of anything you want, and if you like the product you can give it back to us and we’ll just incorporate that into your order. You’ll pay the wholesale cost for the apparel, and it will just take a couple of days for us to get the samples in. We’ve even ordered a sample of every size for customers in the past, so people in your group can try them on and choose the perfect fit.
Don’t forget though, we do offer a 24-hour turnaround option. To print shirts in 24 hours, we have to have a few shirts on hand. What we did was pick our favorite tee that works great with the DTG printer. Then, we picked a few of the most popular colors (White, Gray, Black, Navy, Red, Royal, etc.) and we keep stock levels of sizes between S and 2XL for that product. We may not be able to get you a neon green tie-dye tee by the next day, but as long as one of our 24-hour stock tees will work, we got you covered.
6. Why is the turnaround so long? I need it now!
Ok antsy pants, we hear ya. Our standard turnaround for screen printing is two weeks, and we know that can be a little surprising, especially if you have a quickly approaching event that you need shirts for. We love screen printing; it’s what we do best. But it’s kind of a bear. Because designs are physically “burned” into a screen, we can’t make adjustments on the fly. (Incidentally, the screens aren’t actually burned. They are filled with a photosensitive goop that cures and hardens when exposed to light. Didn’t want ya to think we were wading through fire hazards over here). All screen printed designs have to be finalized before we can even BEGIN the production process, and that means ink colors, design elements, graphic size, everything. The art approval process takes about 3-5 business days, depending on the complexity of the design.
We also can’t print anything until apparel has been selected, ordered, and delivered, and that can take upwards of 3 days; THEN, if we are ordering specialty items that have to be drop-shipped directly from the manufacturer, there might be an additional day or two of ship time. You can see how the days are adding up!
The production calendar (where the print team schedules jobs for the day) is a giant jigsaw puzzle: only, the pieces are all different sizes and they move around while you’re putting the puzzle together. We try to schedule jobs in a way that is efficient, so we’ll often tackle all single-color prints together, or knock out a bunch of jobs on the automatic press even though they’re due on separate days. Sometimes an order may have art approved, screens burned, and apparel delivered, but all of our print stations are occupied with multi-color jobs that will take several hours to complete. Aren’t you glad you’re not in charge of scheduling?
After years in the biz, we figured out that 2 weeks is the sweet spot to guarantee that we ALMOST NEVER miss a deadline. Sometimes your order may be ready a couple of days before the date we give you, but the 2 week turnaround promise is something we know we can follow through on.
We’ve got options, though, if 2 weeks just won’t cut it. You can opt to pay a rush fee to bump your screen printed order up in the production calendar. (The fee covers the cost of asking a printer to stay late to finish a job, and they’re happy to do it because they are adorable, wonderful, congenial people. Let’s all pause and clap for the printers). If you want to skip the rush fee, our digital Direct-to-Garment (DTG) print process takes only 1 week. We also have a 24-hour turnaround t-shirt option in our Design Studio. Remember, we don’t carry a lot of shirt stock, so the 24-hour tees include only a few basic colors, like white, black, navy, royal, and red. If you pick a shirt in this category and place an order through our design studio, we will have it ready the very next day.
7. What if I still have questions?
Ha! Snuck in a bonus question… and it’s a question about a question, so that’s like double points. Of course if you have questions, we are here to help. We’ve got an awesome staff of customer service pros and designers who really do thrive on assisting newbies in placing an order for printed apparel. We’re passionate about the work we do, and if you’ve ever chatted with a Harry Potter cosplayer at a Potter Convention, you know that passionate people LOVE to talk about the things they are passionate about.