T shirt printing- why is it expensive to do low volumes when using a screen print process?


Remember your GCSE ( or even O Levels! ) economics class? Remember that old chestnut that wore thin by repeated use? That phrase that you could utter under pressure, to get you out of the teachers’ spotlight.


The more you can produce in one go, the cheaper the unit price becomes.

This is never a truer statement than in screen printing, but why?

The reason this is so pertinent is that there are hidden costs in the production of personalised t shirts that are mostly unknown to the customer.

Those ‘unknowns’ are all connected to the amount of time and number of people that are required to process and prepare the order before the job even goes to press, before a single t-shirt is even printed.

This ‘time’, is often the same whether you are printing 1 x t shirt or you are printing 10,000, and in the case of a screen print order, it involves the same amount of people in the processing chain to get the order to the press.

The first person a customer usually speaks to is the sales person. There is often a conversation leading up to the order being placed and there are often adjustments and re-quotes before the customer is ready to commit. ‘Time’ happens to be quite expensive in business if you are employing good people and are a Living Wage company. This first stage can take 15 minutes of a sales person’s time.

Once the order is placed, the garments need to be ordered. The procurement team source the garment and sort out stock shortages. This can take 7 minutes average for the procurement team.

While the garments are being ordered, the artwork department are producing a detailed mockup which is a digital render of the garment and artwork which is emailed to the customer for them to sign off for approval. It often takes the same amount of time to produce a mock-up for 1 garment as it does for 10,000 and this can be 10 mins average depending on complexity.

Once the order is approved, the artwork department need to colour separate the design and print out the acetates, this usually takes 8 minutes average depending on number of colours.

The order can then be passed to the screen maker.

If a single colour design is being printed is usually takes about 5 minutes to prepare the screen. Add 5 minutes per colour and you get the idea, a 5 colour design takes 25 minutes to prepare the screens for.

While all of this is going on, the goods in guys, receive the garments, check them, count them and move them to the correct bay for the print department. 7 minutes average.

Screens are then tapped up, 3 minutes per screen.

Screens are then setup on the press. Depending on the setup/equipment in the workshop, this is about 7 mins per screen.

Final adjustments, test prints and sign-offs by sales person and production manager add another 10-20 mins to the final processes before production can begin.

All of this time and all of these people are involved before a single shirt is printed.

5 people and approx 67 minutes of time before a single shirt can be run off of production.

This is why the unit price for 10 t shirts can be 400% that of a t-shirt in an order for 100 t shirts.

These hidden costs need to be factored into the unit price of each garment.

If the customer is looking for cheap t shirt printing process, then ‘digital’ can sometimes be the more sensible option. This process removes the requirement and costs associated with having to produce screens to be able to print the artwork.

The amount of admin time is still the same but for multicolour work, there is a reduction on the time spent preparing artwork and a total elimination of screen room time.

This means an order of 10 garments is going to be significantly cheaper for the buyer WHERE THE ARTWORK IS MULTICOLOURED. This last statement is key and is best illustrated in a previous blog.

As always, your Shirtworks sales advisor is on hand to guide you through the complexities.

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