Since the dawn of man (or at least the dawn of shirts), one question has plagued humankind, keeping wise men and wise guys alike (and some wise women, too!) awake at night.
And that burning question is... how much does a custom shirt cost?
Unlike a lot of other products, custom t-shirts have a justifiable reason to vary in price. Unfortunately, this tends to obscure the expense, which makes it harder to budget your custom t-shirt purchase.
It's particularly hard because depending on the design, the quantity, the type of t-shirt used, and so on, custom tees can cost anywhere from under $5 to over $50. However, because that answer isn't terribly helpful, here's what you can expect to pay under different circumstances.
How much does it to cost to customize one shirt?
Many custom t-shirt printing companies offer no-minimum custom t-shirts, but the prices can vary dramatically. INCLUDING ANY SHIPPING COSTS, you can expect to pay anywhere from $25 to $40 dollars for a single custom t-shirt (or even more if you go with an extremely high-end shirt style), although some printers may try to charge as much as $100.
In many cases, this cost might include a set-up fee that, when spread across larger quantities, wouldn't be as noticeable. In other cases, a t-shirt printer might have a set-up fee that only applies to small quantities.
Whatever the case, a single custom t-shirt would be either digitally printed (ie, direct-to-garment, aka DTG) or done as a heat transfer vinyl (which is a lot cheaper, but doesn't last long).
How much do multiple custom t-shirts cost?
Once you move from a single custom t-shirt to a larger order, your prices often start going down pretty quickly.
Your overall custom shirt cost will depend on a number of factors including your design, your chosen customization method, how many places your design appears, and your order quality.
However, to just give you a ballpark figure, if you wanted 12 custom printed t-shirts with a single-location, one-color design on good quality shirt like the Gildan Heavy Cotton™ T-Shirt (aka the Gildan 5000), you'd be paying anywhere from around $11 to $20 per shirt. If you instead ordered 96, you might pay anywhere from about $6 to $10.
While there are shirts that are a little cheaper than the Gildan 5000 (like our super-affordable BD54), you'll still pay at least $10 per shirt on a 12 order and at least $5 on a 96. If a company appears to offering custom tees for something far less than that, they might be playing games with their pricing. (For a list of price tricks to watch out for, be sure to read our "Why are custom shirts so expensive?" blog -- that information can save you a LOT of money and headaches!)
Generally speaking, the cheapest option will be screen printing a single-color design on a white shirt (with a single location). However, with a very low quantity, the number of colors doesn't matter as much because you'll need to go with digital printing (since screen printing has a lot of set-up involved, it doesn't make sense at low quantities). As such, let's start by talking about the DTG printing.
How much does DTG printing cost?
Direct-to-garment printing (or DTG) is a printing method where a machine applies a specialized ink directly to a blank shirt's fabric.
The benefits of DTG include the fact it doesn't require much set-up, the operator doesn't need much training, and it can print multi-color designs at a moderately low cost (and is usually the best option for a color photograph on custom tees).
The downsides are that the ink is VERY expensive and the machines are slow, meaning that the price doesn't really scale down much in bulk -- in fact, the price doesn't really move after a certain point.
For those reasons, digitally printed shirts tend to be a lot more expensive than screen-printed shirts when buying bulk quantities.
As for the cost, expect to pay $15-40 per shirt (including shipping) when buying just a few digitally printed shirts. If you were buying 100 digitally printed shirts, that cost might get close to $10 per shirt. (In Bolt Printing's case, our big price break comes at 72.)
How much does it cost to screen print a shirt?
Screen printing costs will vary depending on the number of ink colors in a design, your order quantity, and the number of print locations (ie, where your design appears).
If you're ordering a large number of shirts (around a hundred) with a single-color, single-placement design on an entry-level t-shirt (like the Gildan 5000), you can expect to pay around $5 to $8 per shirt. And yes, that price can go down even further on larger quantities.
Here's a brief explanation of two of the biggest factors, colors and shirt order quantity.
Why the colors in a custom design affect price
Screen printing (or silk screen printing, sometimes called silk screening) involves pressing ink through a screen with an image burned into it. Each color in a design requires a separate screen, which adds to the amount of labor required for both the set-up and physically printing the shirt.
As a result, more colors in design will always add to a screen printed shirt's cost (on the shirt printing company's part, which is passed onto customers). So, if you want to save money, an easy method would be to simplify your design to feature fewer colors.
How much are bulk custom t shirts?
When you bulk order custom tees, your price goes way, way down. That's because you gain a massive amount of efficiency with screen printing -- although it takes time to set everything up, the actual printing afterward is pretty fast. In fact, an automatic press can run off over a thousand shirts in an hour!
As a result, bigger orders tend to be more budget-friendly on a per-shirt basis. In fact, custom t-shirts can be around $5 apiece when ordering 150+.
What's the cost of screen printing per shirt?
To give you some idea what you might pay at various order quantities for a single-color, single-placement screen-printed t-shirt, here are some common price ranges you'll see custom t-shirt makers charge:
Some companies will charge even more than that (SO AVOID THEM!), but very few companies will charge less. Bolt Printing tends to sit at the lowest cost in those ranges, occasionally coming right under them.
How much does it cost to embroider a shirt?
Custom embroidery is usually more expensive than custom printing. On top of that, the price of embroidery is calculated by looking at the stitch count -- meaning the size of your design will impact your cost, but not the number of colors.
Most companies will price their custom embroidery based on a certain-size stitch count (ie, if your embroidered logo requires a stitch count that size or smaller, it's just the displayed price; however, anything outside that amount will cost more), although that count will vary company-to-company. (Bolt Printing, for example, has a default 8k stitch count.)
The average pricing for custom embroidered t-shirts ranges from $15 to $25 per shirt when buying 12, which can drop to about $8.50 to $15 on 96.
While people are less likely to embroider t-shirts, it's still a good choice, particularly when the embroidered tees are being used for certain service jobs.
What other custom t-shirt costs are there?
Outside of the customization costs, your biggest expense will be the garment itself (ie, the blank shirt). While there are entry-level options like the Gildan 5000 and Bolt Printing's ultra low price BD54, you also have shirts with a higher price point.
A customizable shirt might be more expensive for any number of reasons. First, there's the brand -- is it made by some big brand-name company? Brands like Nike tend to charge a premium for their goods. Second, you have the material. Tri-blend tees, for example, will usually be more expensive than their standard counterparts. Even with a 100% cotton shirt, you'll also have ringspun versions (which are softer, but more expensive).
Shirt size can also be a factor. While standard sizes (ie, small, medium, large, and extra-large) tend to cost the same, most companies will have upcharges for sizes 2XL and larger.
Does the company offer all-inclusive t-shirt pricing?
The price you see isn't always the price you get. There are some t-shirt printing companies who'll list one price then try to nickel-and-dime you with hidden (and not-so-hidden) fees until you hit a much, much higher cost at the end of checkout.
That's why you usually want to make sure that the custom t-shirt printer believes in all-inclusive pricing and clearly labels what's included in any given price. While costs will vary depending on what you want, it should never be hard to figure out what you're going to pay upfront -- whether it's on-page pricing, a quote calculator, or anything else.
And all pricing can be pretty inclusive. Keep in mind that a lot of reputable t-shirt printers offer free shipping on standard orders, so the only variable at times might be the tax (assuming the printer collects tax for your state, which not all of them have to do).
Is it profitable to make custom shirts?
Depending on your business or organization, it can be VERY profitable to make custom shirts.
In many cases, custom t-shirts are an easy added revenue stream.
Who can benefit from selling custom tees?
- Food/hospitality businesses like bars, restaurants, pizza places, and breweries.
- Recreation businesses like theme parks, kids amusement centers, water parks, and gyms.
- Entertainers like bands, comedians, influencers, and independent pro wrestlers.
- Non-profits including charities, fundraisers, PTO groups, and more, where the proceeds would be used to help with funding.
Your profit margin will depend on your custom t-shirt pricing vs what you pay for those shirts. For example, if you ordered a single-color design on a white BD54, right now (ie, November 2023) you'd pay $10.60 each if you were ordering 12 t-shirts or $5.05 each if you were ordering 96. Even if you were only charging $15/shirt (which is pretty low), you'd make anywhere $4.40 to $9.95 per shirt. However, people often charge closer to $20 for shirts, which would be $9.40 to $14.95.
In short, you can make a LOT of money by selling custom t-shirts, particularly if you're running a fundraiser (where people want to support your organization) or are already selling branded merchandise. On top of that, there's also the allure of starting your own clothing brand.
Is it cheaper to print shirts yourself?
When trying to maximize that bottom line, you might be wondering whether it's cheaper to just print t-shirts yourself. And if you're looking to make just a few shirts to start, the answer is a resounding "NO!"
There are a lot of upfront costs when it comes to t-shirt printing where it only makes sense to print t-shirts if you're consistently hitting a certain volume. The rest of the time it makes more sense to pay a professional designer to do it. Especially since, even if you can justify the upfront costs, there are often a lot of manufacturing efficiencies that enable screen printing and embroidery companies to produce custom shirts cheaper.
We'll break down the challenges of starting a t-shirt line in a future blog, but generally until you hit a certain profit level, there are a range of feasibility issues at every level (whether you're flying solo or hiring people to help).
And, because there are so many costs, there's a practical benefit to outsourcing your labor to t-shirt printing companies.
We offer custom t-shirts at affordable prices
When you're looking for a great price on custom tees, you don't need to look any further than Bolt Printing!
Our prices are often significantly lower than big-name competitors like Custom Ink, Rush Order Tees, and 4imprint. In fact, you might be shocked by how inexpensive our Best Deals Custom Tee (the BD54) is -- especially it costs even less than a Gildan 5000 (which itself is among the most affordable customizable tees).
So, if you want a bargain, you want Bolt Printing. Interested yet? Start designing today.