Most established screen printers (who don’t have direct to garment capability) don’t like short run orders and it’s understandable. The materials costs as well as labor costs make it nearly impossible to make a profit on anything less than 12 garments. When you consider just the cost of producing screens it doesn’t make sense for you or the customer. Here’s a basic example:

6 black shirt – printed 2 color on 1 side:
Admin & Artwork: $30
6 Colored Shirts: $2.50 each / $15
Screen & Ink Cost: $30
Printing & Handling Costs: $15
Total Approximate Cost: $90

That’s a cost of $15 per shirt and that assumes everything goes well through the process. We all know how difficult the artwork portion of these orders can be as well. Now you may be a smaller shop and feel some of the costs above don’t apply because you do some of it yourself. Be careful with this as it creates a habit of discounting the value you bring to the customer and your business. But for argument sake, let’s cut it out all labor costs and only look at the screens & ink. Now you’re at $45 cost or $7.50 per shirt and conservatively 3 hours of your time to do everything related to this job. If you charge $10.00 per shirt and a $30 screen charge, (which is the average we got when we called local shops) you are making $45 profit for your 3 hours of work or $15 per hour. Not very good numbers.

You have the option of trying to sell your customer on going with a one color imprint vs. a two color imprint. That could reduce your costs by say another $15 dollars lowering your total to $75 if you actually account for the time or $30 if you don’t. Let’s say you don’t and you sell them for $9 each ($54 for six), plus a $20 screen charge. You’re still looking at a profit of roughly $45 (assuming you are not assigning a cost to any of the labor). We’ll say it takes just 2 hours this time so you’re making $22.50 per hour if everything goes perfect. That’s still not very much.

So is Short Run Profitable?

There is a way to make short run work. Welcome to Direct to Garment (also called DTG). Let’s look at the same basic example outsourcing that job to a company that specializes in DTG.

6 black shirt – printed 2 color on one side:
Get the specs – send them to us via email
We do the artwork: $0
6 Colored Shirts: $2.50 each / $15
Printing: $43.50
Shipping cost: $15
Total Cost: $68.50
Sell the Shirts for: $15 each (the same as you would above with the set up charge)
Profit of $22.50

You may be thinking; $22.50 in profit is less than the $45 profit if I did it myself. This is true, but it only took you 30 minutes compared to 3 hours to generate that amount. You could process six orders this way in the same amount of time and make $135 for your time compared to $45.

The bottom line is short run can be profitable if it’s managed correctly and you understand your options regarding how you process the order.