T-shirt printing cost: How much does it cost to print a custom T-shirt?

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Whether you’re a small business owner or DIY craft master, diving into custom T-shirt printing reveals an exciting yet intricate path, particularly in the realm of cost management. Choosing the right printing technique, hunting down top-notch materials and devising eye-catching designs demand thoughtful planning that will all have varying cost implications. But we’re here to offer expert guidance and easily navigate you through the maze of T-shirt printing costs.

What does it cost to print a T-shirt?

The cost of custom T-shirt printing is determined by a mix of factors. Although pricing methods vary among printing companies, the majority of industry-leading print companies consider the seven following variables when calculating the expense of custom T-shirts:

Bulk print production costs 

The number of items you order affects the cost per T-shirt. Most print companies offer discounts for large quantities of shirts, but the specific discount amount and how it’s applied, including the thresholds for price points, can vary among printing companies. Often, printing companies will provide bulk discounts at set quantity levels—10, 50, 100 and 1000.

Print-on-demand services are the exception to the rule, typically dealing with single-piece orders or small quantities. These orders use digital printing to avoid the setup costs of screen printing and are priced similarly to retail. Essentially, you’ll be looking at a price point similar to what you’d expect when ordering a single printed tee from an online store.

A person with a custom T-shirt design for High and Tight business

Source: via VistaPrint

Quality of fabric

Not every T-shirt is cut from the same cloth. T-shirt printing cost is also affected by the type of fabric. Though the fabric options are plentiful, let’s explore the most common choices available:

  • Cotton: A cotton T-shirt is a wallet-friendly choice, especially when ordering in bulk. These shirts typically provide a classic feel and are popular for everyday wear.
  • Polyester: Polyester T-shirts are ideal for active events like marathons or sports teams, thanks to their moisture-absorbing properties. While they offer great functionality, they come at a slightly higher price point than cotton options due to this feature.
  • Cotton/Poly blend: Blending cotton with polyester offers the best of both worlds in terms of comfort and durability. Though they may be priced a bit higher than pure cotton or polyester shirts, many find the blend to be worth the investment.
  • Tri-blend: For those seeking an ultra-soft feel, tri-blend fabric shirts are the way to go. However, they come with a higher price tag compared to other options.

Ultimately, the choice between 100% cotton or a tri-blend tee should consider both budget and wearer preferences. So, take your time to decide and create a custom T-shirt that truly stands out.

T-shirt design for Jah Jah restaurant

Source: via VistaPrint

Sustainability 

Being sustainability-minded is the new normal for most brands these days. So, it’s worthwhile to invest in sustainable efforts at every touch point of your small business. 

One way to tackle this is by buying in bulk. This not only saves money but also benefits the environment—when you purchase larger quantities, you reduce packaging waste compared to buying items individually. This not only minimizes the resources required for production and transportation but also leads to a smaller environmental footprint. 

Another way to be sustainable is to run a short-term campaign for your T-shirt design. This strategy enables you to accurately estimate demand, ensuring you produce just the right amount of shirts and avoid excess garments.

Color

For designers, the temptation to unleash full creativity and utilize every color in the palette can be irresistible. However, using a wide range of colors in your design can significantly increase production costs, as each additional color typically incurs extra charges in the printing process. Therefore, it’s important to strike a balance between creativity and cost-effectiveness to ensure your designs remain financially viable.

This cost is especially relevant with screen printing, where each color in the design necessitates the creation and setup of a separate screen. Consequently, the more colors used, the greater the complexity and cost involved in the printing process.

custom T-shirt design for MUSH brand

Source: via VistaPrint

Turnaround time

It’s important to consider turnaround time when calculating custom T-shirt costs. Many printing companies operate on a standard timeframe and offer expedited services for an additional fee. Some may even have tiered pricing structures based on turnaround times.

Production fees 

It’s not uncommon for smaller printing companies to itemize various charges on their invoices, such as fees for screen setups, inks, special handling, delivery and packaging. These fees might be incorporated into the initial quote provided by the shop, or they could be tacked on later, depending on the shop’s practices and policies. Either way, it’s worth researching this ahead of ordering to make sure you have no sneaky surprises. 

Printing method 

There are two options for T-shirt printing, and their cost-effectiveness depends on the quantity of T-shirts you order:

  • Digital printing: Digital printing is a practical choice for smaller orders and designs featuring multiple colors. Digital printing uses the CMYK 4 color process which allows you to achieve vivid full-color prints. This can be a great option if you’re looking to order just one print or using an on-demand setup with your clients as the process is easy to set up, convenient and versatile. 
  • Screen printing: Screen printing emerges as the go-to method for larger quantities due to its cost efficiency with bulk orders. The process involves initial setup costs, including screens and presses, which are influenced by the number of colors in the design. Consequently, screen printing is seldom chosen for small orders, particularly those with intricate color schemes.
Branded T-shirt for Simon’s folded on a table

Caption: Source: via VistaPrint

Tips for keeping T-shirt printing costs down 

Whether you’re a small business owner or printing a one off T-shirt for fun, cost efficiency is top of mind for most people. To ensure you get high-quality shirts without breaking the bank, here are some handy tips to keep in mind as you explore the realm of custom T-shirt printing.

  • Keep your design simple. Unless you’re a true maximalist, opt for a simpler design with fewer colors, as this reduces printing costs without compromising on visual impact.
  • Order in bulk. Ordering in larger quantities leads to volume discounts, reducing the cost per shirt. 
  • Use cheaper fabric options. Selecting basic T-shirt materials keeps costs down compared to premium options.
  • Avoid last-minute orders! Planning ahead and avoiding rushed orders prevents additional fees for expedited production and shipping.

Print your own T-shirt

Now that you know the cost of T-shirt printing, you’re one step closer to printing your own shirt! Achieve balance between cost-effectiveness and quality by managing variables like:

  • color choices
  • sustainability
  • fabric type
  • turnaround times
  • production fees

Whether you’re a budding small business owner, a creative DIY enthusiast looking to express yourself, or even a best man gearing up for a stag do or bachelor party, the opportunity to design your custom T-shirt is available anytime! Dive into the world of personalized apparel and let your imagination run wild!