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A Four Part Series on the Process of Getting T-Shirts Screen Printed: It Takes Two to Make a Thing Go Right

3779 Views 4 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  Dan K
It Takes Two to Make a Thing Go Right: A Four Part Series on the Process of Getting T-Shirts Screen Printed

Estimate and Sales

It is extremely important for an apparel decorating shop and their customers to develop an internal structure for processing orders. This is crucial to sellers and buyers alike. Customers should understand the process and how you work within your business. If the customer is as well informed as the seller on the order process, many questions are answered, problems averted, and the job will flow better for both parties.

This is the first of a four part series, beginning with "estimate and sales," then we will move on to "quote and pre production," then to "workorder and production," and finally "invoice and follow up."

The first step of our order process is the estimate phase. The estimate is also a sales pitch. Estimates are typically valid for 30 days until it expires, then a new estimate should be created. This helps the shop account for unannounced increases in garment prices from our vendors and other situations that occur that may change the way a job is priced as time passes. A customer should not expect the price of an estimate created a year prior to be the same, it could happen, but chances are something will have changed in that time.

[media]http://www.t-shirtforums.com/images/forwardestimate.gif[/media]We have a dedicated sales team that handles everything during the estimate. The estimate is when we collect and review the customers art, identify what kind of garments and quantity the customer wants to purchase, and negotiate or justify price.

Customers contact us in a variety of ways; drop-ins, phone calls, emails, or online estimate requests. The online estimate request is a great tool for us because it encourages our customers to identify what they want as they enter all the information we need in order to provide an accurate estimate. Conversely, drop in customers tend to be the least prepared and require the most administrative time. An online estimate request is a more promising lead because the customer has (hopefully) already read a bunch of information on the website and has decided they are interested in contacting us for the estimate. We try to encourage customers to read the applicable pages on our website whether it be about water base inks, plastisol inks, terms and conditions, prices, processes, turn time, maximum print size, and so on.


The first three items that are crucial to an accurate estimate are quantities, art, and garment selection.


Pricing in screen printing is volume driven, meaning the more printed garments that are purchased, the lower the prices will become. As an example, our volume discounts occur at 36, 48, 72, 144, 288, 500 pieces, and on up from there. Volume discounts are per design, so for instance, 4 designs priced at 36 pieces each will cost significantly more than 1 design priced at the 144 piece volume discount. After a couple thousand pieces we move away from a structured price list and move towards a time/cost analysis for pricing to ensure we are offering the most competitive price to the customer, and staying profitable ourselves. Other shops may choose different volumes where to apply their volume discounts. Some shops have additional volume discounts such as 108 and 216, some shops offer no minimums, but the common theme is that prices go down as volume goes up. When providing estimates, especially for lower volumes, it is very valuable to both parties for us to provide more than one estimate, whether the customer asks for it or not. In many situations the customer will quickly recognize that adding a few pieces and getting into the next volume discount will be much more cost effective for them.


Art is also imperative for an accurate estimate. A customer can call out or describe a "3 color chest print" without knowing everything that goes into printing 3 colors on the chest. The design may require an under base, a gradient may call for an extra color, there may be a second print location somewhere else on the garment, or the design is placed on the chest with a bleed over and off of the collar and sleeves. All of these examples would result in an increase in price from the standard 3 color charge. The only way to guarantee an accurate estimate as far as art is concerned is to be able to view the final art and preferably a mock up from the customer for placement, so it is always helpful to have this ahead of time or at the least have discussed it. We have also found that many customers don't realize that it will cost more to print a second or third location as well and these are the types of questions and issues that can be resolved if you can view the final art to print or a mock up. Many printers websites have an art page, or an art specifications page that quickly and specifically describes the best way to submit art and the preferred files. Customers who are not art savvy can simply forward this information to their graphic designer who will be able to get them the best files to submit to the print shop.


Garments play a major role in determining price as well (for custom jobs, contract customers know this because they purchase the garments themselves) so it is also very important to identify what manufacturer, style number, and color garment the customer wants. Nearly all garments are priced differently. One can find blank garments as low as $1 wholesale and on up from there, the median for t shirts probably being $2-5 each. Shop labor, shop supplies, rent, ink and power costs are pretty much fixed, or at least stable, so it is very easy to calculate those costs, the largest factor determining the final cost of a printed garment is the cost of the garment itself. Contract or wholesale print jobs (printing on garments supplied by the customer) are much simpler for a print shop to process because knowing these prices, helping choose a garment, discussing the options and prices, and administrating the purchasing of them are time consuming tasks. Therefore, custom print jobs (a shop sells the customer the final printed garment, the cost of the garment and the printing are one end cost) are usually more costly to the customer.

These three factors are the main items in pricing an order accurately. There are other minor charges that may be added, for instance most companies charge for screen set ups, many companies charge to custom mix pantone colors, shipping costs, etc. These things should be disclosed to the customer and understood by the customer prior to confirmation of the order. It is always best to disclose all potential charges prior to confirmation to avoid misperceptions and "surprise" additional charges.

Once you have these details worked out, you can then provide an accurate estimate. In our shop, print charges are set and they have not changed in many years, so there are no variables on that side of things. The variables are the volume, art, and garments chosen. This makes it very easy to price orders when the customer wants to supply the blank garments, all you have to do is remove the cost of the garment from the equation.

Once an estimate is confirmed, it is then converted to a quote, which begins our in house production process which will be outlined in a following article.

In most cases, estimate confirmation consists of one, more, or all of the following.

  1. Estimate approval: We require the customer to approve their estimate via email using very specific terminology and requiring them to read all applicable information provided. An estimate approval is the customer telling us they agree to the prices, the turn time, the garments and quantities selected, and that they have read and agree to our terms and conditions and other information.
  2. Deposit: We require a 50% deposit to confirm an order. This ensures us that the customer is serious about placing an order with us and will not leave the invoice unpaid. The balance, typically the other 50% less any misprints, shorted garments, or plus additional garments or shipping, is due before the order can be released to the customer.
  3. Art: Receipt of final art to the specifications on our website (we are able to create accurate estimates from art that is not print ready in some cases so sometimes it is still necessary to acquire the final art to size and specs at this time).

The seller and the buyer are more legally bound to the prices on a quote than on an estimate, therefore it is very important to work out these details prior to confirmation. The seller has committed to providing the buyer with the product they've sold them, and the buyer has committed to paying the seller for the product, it is a contract and a sale.

Thanks for reading, and watch for the next T-Shirt Forums newsletter in which we will discuss and explain the quote phase of an order, or pre production, in which we mock up the order for the customer and prepare the job to be released to the production department.

Dan Holzer is the founder and CFO of Forward Printing, Inc, located in Oakland, California. Forward Printing began screen printing in 2004 with very little industry experience, and has quickly excelled to be one of the leading screen printing shops in ability, quality and customer service. Forward Printing services contract and custom clients around the United States with a focus on water based inks and specialty decorations. Dan Holzer oversees business development, marketing, sales, customer relations, industry relations, and the books. He has been published, along with co owner, Dan Corcoran, in many industry publications and online journals. Forward Printing won first place awards for their promotional prints annually since 2006.
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good read, thanks! look forward to the other articles
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Great post ... one thing I would recommend is, when possible, get the artwork prior to the quote or even the estimate. Sometimes people think they have a one color design when they have a three color design. Sometimes artwork requires significant touching up or even re-creation. It is much easier to talk about this and charge for this prior to giving an estimate.
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Thank you! Just saw this series for the first time! Going to read number 2 now!:)
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Great post ... one thing I would recommend is, when possible, get the artwork prior to the quote or even the estimate. Sometimes people think they have a one color design when they have a three color design. Sometimes artwork requires significant touching up or even re-creation. It is much easier to talk about this and charge for this prior to giving an estimate.
This is very true, sorry if I missed that. We do offer estimates to customers who don't yet have art, or don't want to send it until they see prices, but always with the disclaimer that estimates are subject to change until final art is received. Prices tend to change in the estimate phase quite frequently, which is why it is so important to split up the estimate and quote phases... The estimate is very pliable, it's totally legitimate to change the estimate as the customers needs or expectations change. The important thing is to work all that stuff out before you accept the order, accept any money, and convert to quote. Just a little reading into the legality of it reveals that the we are more bound to the prices in a quote. For us, that is an ethical issue as well as a legal issue.
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