Why Is It So Expensive?

Why is it so expensive?

“Why is it so expensive?”

You’ve probably have viewed a version of the following post somewhere in the past year or so. My Shirt Lab partner, Tom Rauen, sent me this earlier this week with the suggestion that I alter it for our industry.

What a great suggestion. Here goes!

Why Is It So Expensive?

A customer asked me to quote a t-shirt job for them.

I quickly sent over the quote for $1,500.

Their reply? “Why is it so expensive?”

So I asked, “Well, how much do you think it would cost you?”

Their answer? “$800 bucks total. It’s a really easy job…right?”

So I countered, “For $800, I invite you to do it yourself.”

Their answer? “But I don’t know how to print shirts.”

So I said, “Well, for $800 I’ll teach you how. So besides saving $700 you will be armed with the knowledge for the next time you need some shirts printed.”

It seemed like a fair deal, so an agreement was made.

Getting Started

That’s when I said, to get started we’ll need to do a few things first.

Do you have the shirts, I asked?

“Uh, no. Where do you get them?”

“That’s easy. You just need to set up a professional account with an apparel distributor. They are going to want to do a credit check and also verify that you are in the industry.”


I interjected, And while we are at it, we’ll need the creative files for your art so we can use them in the process. You have your art files, right?”

“Uh, no. I can’t even draw a stick figure. What do I need to do?”

I replied, “Well, if you aren’t creating the files you could probably outsource your creative needs to a freelancer or graphic design agency. Some aren’t too expensive, they can probably design you something for under $100, as you just want some simple art. They can build out what we need. I’ll give you the specs.”


“Yep, we’ll need everything in a vector file, fonts converted to outlines, all Pantone colors labeled. Here is a spec sheet you can give them.”

“Oh, I see. This sounds very confusing. When do you teach me how to print?”


I said, “Hold on, that’s coming up. The reason we need to get the art squared away, is that we need to do the separations for the screens.”


“Yep. Each of the three colors that you wanted on your design you told me about earlier will be an individual screen. These will be registered to one another on the press to form the design. Do you have your own screens that you can use?”

“Come on. You know I don’t. Can I use yours?”

I chuckled a little. “I’ll tell you what…after you get your artwork handled by a professional so it can be separated for the screens, you can come in a few days earlier than when we are going to print the job and burn your screens. You can use ours. I’ll charge you our normal fee of $20 each. In the meantime, come with me and you can coat the screens so they will be ready for imaging.”

“Coat the screens? What are you talking about?”

I said, “Oh, sorry. Yes, each screen must be coated with a photo-sensitive emulsion at a designated thickness on the screen. After you have done this, you’ll need to come in the next day so we can image the screens.”

“I have to come back another day? Can’t you do this all at once?”

“Oh no. There are many steps to this process and all of them have to be performed to a standard and in a particular order. You can’t image a wet screen. It has to be completely dry. So that’s why you need to come back.”

“This is starting to sound a little complicated.”

I smiled and said, “Oh you don’t know the half of it, we’re not even really getting started yet.”



“Yep. So do you have your own screen printing press equipment?”

“You know I don’t. I was thinking we were going to use yours.”

I said, “Ok, I suppose I could rent you the use of the equipment. How does $300 an hour sound?”

“That sounds like a lot. What does one of those presses cost anyway?”

I said, “Well, the automatic press we probably will be using cost about $80,000 and the dryer that is needed to cure the shirts was another $40,000. In fact, the imaging system we use to get the screens imaged is about $55,000, but since you are paying $20 a screen already we’ll let that slide.”

“Geez. That equipment is expensive. I guess $300 an hour doesn’t sound so bad when you put it that way.”


“Great! Let’s schedule your job then. Our normal day print shift starts here at 6:30 am, so I guess I could teach you how to print before everyone comes in. Let’s make it Tuesday of next week at 5:00 am then.”

“Wait. 5:00 in the morning? I can’t be here then. That’s too early. What about later in the day?”

I said, “I can’t do it later in the day as that’s when I’m printing all my regular customer’s jobs. The only way for me to do this special favor for you is before the shift starts.”

“That seems really early. What is involved with the printing? Can you let me know what I’m going to be learning?”

I said, “Sure. Don’t forget that you are going to have to come in on those earlier days to coat and image your screens! But for Tuesday, we’ll have everything ready. I show you how to mix the Pantone colors for the inks…”

“Wait. What? You mix the inks?”

“Sure. It’s easy. We use a scale and measure in the pigments to a neutral base, mix it up, and it forms the correct Pantone color that we can use for the job.”

“Oh. Ok.”

On Press

I said, “We’ll then get the shirts, the screens, and the inks to the press. Each screen will have to be registered perfectly so the design prints correctly. You’ll add the mixed ink to each of the screens, and lock in the squeegees and floodbars in the screens…”

“Squeegees and floodbars?”

“Yep. The squeegee shears the ink through the screen and onto the shirt. The floodbar moves in tandem with the squeegee to coat the next layer of ink for the squeegee to print for the next shirt. The trick is to have just enough pressure on the squeegee to clear the ink from the screen so the ink rests on top of the garment fabric. Too much pressure and that can affect opacity or introduce other issues.”

“I didn’t realize how complicated and technical this was. It’s just t-shirts.”

I said, “Well, it may seem simple, but it really is a mix of art, science, and craftsmanship. So, are we agreed on Tuesday for you to come in?”

A Change of Heart on What Is Expensive

“Hold on. To save me some money, you knocked the $1,500 price down to $800. But, you are charging me $20 each for three screens for the job, plus $300 an hour to rent your equipment. That’s $1,120 right there. Plus, I have to get the art created for under $100. Purchase the shirts after I set up an account somewhere. Then, I have to come in three separate times to do some prep work to get everything ready just to be able to print next Tuesday? It sure seems like I should just let you do it. After all, you are the expert.”

“That’s right. Can I get you to pay for your $1,500 order now in full?”

“Sure. Here’s my credit card. That is a heckuva lot easier and not nearly as expensive.”

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” – Jeff Rich

“If you think it is expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.” – Red Adair

“Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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