Screen Printing Pricing Guide - 5 Ways To Price Smarter

Business Lessons

Last updated: July 2019
Added downloadable price matrix generator
Estimated reading time: 16 minutes

The number one question that garment decoration business owners have is a big one:

How do I set my prices?

There are infinite ways to price a job, but the most basic calculation is this:

(Garment Price * Garment Markup) + (Printing Fee - Quantity Discount) = Price Per Garment

You can get extremely detailed with pricing. Some owners leave nothing for granted and account for things like their shop's overhead, time on press, capacity, impressions, ink colors, garment costs and so on – you absolutely should account for those nitty-gritty details. But that's not all there is to pricing.

Instead of trying to develop an all-encompassing formula, it's best to follow some general strategies for smarter pricing. The reality is that you'll need to price every unique job differently.

Here's what successful shop owners do to price their jobs:

  1. Calculate a reasonable garment markup
  2. Understand the job before pricing it
  3. Price for complexity & difficulty
  4. Give discounts when appropriate
  5. Price for their business, not against their competitors

1. Calculate A Reasonable Garment Markup

You're paying to procure garments for your customers – this takes time and money on your end – so your garment markup is the first place that you should be making money.

Industry standard markup is 150 to 200%, though most people explain the same markup as a "fifty percent markup."

This means if a garment from a wholesaler costs $5, you should be charging between $7.50 and $10.

It's crucial that you cover the costs of procuring unprinted goods.

Your standard garment markup can be easily broken down into three categories: basic items, mid-tier items and premium items. 

Basic Item Markups

It seems counter-intuitive, but basic goods should have the highest markup (200% or more).

The reason your basic item markup should be your highest markup is simple: you can easily justify the prices to a customer. It's not unreasonable to ask for $7 to $10 for a basic Gildan T-shirt.

These garments cost you anywhere from $1 to $4  – think basic T-shirts or common used goods from catalogs. But – your labor cost for procuring and processing the shirts in your shop stays the same per garment no matter what you paid!

The net total you make on each garment gets lower as the garment's price goes up.

The less the garment costs, the more you need to mark it up.

Middle-Tier Item Markups

As garments become more expensive, your markup should actually become lower. You'll offset the lower markup with a higher printing cost.

Garments that cost $4 to $10 are typically marked up by about 150%: before printing, a $10 sweater becomes $15 for the customer. Some examples of items with less aggressive markups:

  • Hoodies
  • Zip-ups
  • Premium athletic wear
  • High-quality T-shirts
  • Long-sleeve shirts

You are making marginally more every time you mark up more expensive items. Put another way: you're making a larger dollar amount, even if the markup percentage is lower!

Don't sell yourself short with mid-tier items. You may have to pay to replace spoiled garments, so it's vital to cover your costs with a higher printing fee.

Premium Item Markups

If you're paying between $10 and $25 (or more) for an item, it's a premium item. This includes pricier items like:

  • Jackets
  • Coats
  • Reflective work wear
  • Outerwear
  • Backpacks

The same rule that applies to mid-tier items applies to premium items: your markup should go lower, and your printing fee higher, as the price of the goods gets higher. 

It's not unreasonable to keep a 150% markup for some of these items, but be sensitive to how customers perceive the price.

It's often easier to calculate a desired dollar markup amount per garment to price jobs appropriately.

For example: a $20 wholesale price translates to a $30 customer price with a 150% markup. That's before you've even applied the cost to print the garment!

If we're targeting our markup for a $4.50 per garment markup, a 122.5% markup is more appropriate at the premium price level – now that plush hoodie costs $24.50 before printing.

Charge more for printing on expensive garments – instead of a higher garment markup percentage.

To recap: setting one single garment markup price isn't wise. What you really want to do is appropriately price your garments for the customer. Lowest cost goods need the highest markup, while high-cost premium items deserve a lower markup (but are generally more profitable in terms of actual dollar amounts).


Further reading: Margin versus markup

It's crucial to understand the difference between your markup and your margins. They are not the same!

For example, a $1 garment sold to the customer at $1.50 has a 50% markup – but only a 33% margin.

A chart comparing margin to markup
How margin and markup are related – it's not a 1:1 relationship!

Luckily, Mike Chong has created a brief guide to help you understand these two very different (and super important) ways to quantify your profits. Learn more about markup versus margin here.


2. Understand The Job Before You Price It

This (and the next) section cover what is broadly considered your printing cost. You should never offer a customer a quote for a job that you don't understand. You'll need a full accounting of the job's details to make an accurate and meaningful estimate of how much it will cost to print.

There are several big factors related to your print process that go into anticipating your printing cost and pricing jobs appropriately:

  • Print Locations (where the prints are on the garment, and how many there are)
  • Number of Ink Colors (how many colors you'll use in the design)
  • Flashing (whether you're using a flash curing unit to cure your underbase)
  • Automatic Vs. Manual Printing (whether your shop can print quickly or requires more time to print)

Before you ever issue a quote to the customer, evaluate the job's requirements and create a plan for how you'll make their idea a reality.

You need to understand the job before you price it. Here's what I typically consider.

Print Locations

Every time you have to remove a garment and place it on another press, it's like you're printing 2 shirts.

Because of this simple fact, printing a 2-color design on the front of a shirt takes less time than printing two 1-color front & 1-color back designs.

You should price print locations according to quantity and complexity.

Price multiple locations like you're printing a different garment each time. This doesn't mean charging your print fee two times, instead it can be per location – perhaps the back print is 50% of the original print fee.

For complex locations such as sleeves, pockets and custom tags, consider an additional fee per garment or a charge for the entire order.

The goal is not to discourage multiple print locations, but to correctly price the additional labor, supplies and complexity that multiple print locations introduce.

Number of Ink Colors

Printing one ink color on every job would make the world a more boring place – for your screen printers and for your customers. But you have to charge more money for the increased complexity that high-color jobs introduce.

It's inarguably harder to register, set up, print and pay for a 6-color job than it is for a 2-color job.

However, you can't just price your ink colors linearly. A 6-color job doesn't mean you should merely charge 6x the price of a 1-color impression!

It will become prohibitively expensive for your customers to get colorful products if you price those jobs out of your model – and no one likes to see their products turn boring because it's too costly. However, each added color means another screen that needs to be burned and reclaimed – as well as set up on the press. This adds time and risk!

Yes, there are more variables and more risk involved with printing more colors. So more color does mean a higher cost.

That said, it's recommended you have a "plateau" in your pricing model: the price difference from 3 to 4 colors might not be significant, while the jump from 4 to 11 colors should be profound.

The "sweet spot" of ink color pricing should be determined by your shop's abilities – and, essentially, what you're comfortable printing!

Perhaps the per-garment price goes up ~5% per color up to 4 colors, but then goes up ~10% per color past that to discourage overly complex jobs.

This way, customers can still get colorful prints – and you can still accurately price your jobs based on their difficulty.

Flashing

Flashing requires more time – and it's important you are compensated for it.

A 2-color print job with a 60 second flash is much different than a 2-color job with no flashing. Flashing will take more time, introduce more risk, and present more possible production problems.

At Campus Ink, we've even allowed customers to add more colors at a lower price if there's no flashing involved.

If your shop prints manually, you must account for flashing in your pricing – your workers are the ones that have to pull that squeegee and wait while the shirt cures!

So how do you price for flashing?

A good rule of thumb: add 1 to 2 colors to your standard pricing when you have to flash a job. I've created a separate price matrix for flashing jobs. To get an even more accurate picture, try timing two jobs with similar prints – one with flashing and one without. How large of a difference is there?

Automatic Vs. Manual

You really want to incentivize your customers to order as many goods as you can.

But if you're a small shop (or just starting out) doing a 4-color flash job on 75 pieces will take a ridiculously long time to print manually.

Therefore, you need to adjust your pricing based on whether you use an automatic press or a manual pressEven if you were using an automatic press, you'd still need to account for flashing costs.

Once you cross the threshold into automatic printing, you can begin to distribute price breaks a bit more generously. Until then, be sure to account for the added labor & time constraints that manual printing adds to the process.

In a nutshell: if you understand exactly what goes into the job before you give the customer a quote, you'll have an easier time creating a profitable and enjoyable experience for your workers and customers.

3. Price For Art Complexity & Difficulty

While we addressed some common process challenges above, there's another layer to reckon with: art complexity & difficulty.

I don't mean a challenging print job or design – I mean a challenging customer!

This is what I call "the forgotten cost." It's administrative and customer service work – but with the added challenge of the art being custom to each customer, like a haircut. Remember: customer service is a marketing opportunity, and print shops are uniquely situated to create a truly memorable custom experience.

Let's say a customer calls in and wants 100 shirts printed.

They tell you it's a 3-color front. Great! Easy-peasy, you think.

You mock up the job and send over a quote after you've thought through everything. They approve the quote, then send over the artwork.

You sink into your chair when you get the email. It's a terrible JPEG. They want a crazy simulated process print. The art needs to be created from scratch. You realize you'll need to print through 300 mesh just to capture the details and pay extra to outsource the separations. You're in panic mode.

When a job's art sends you into crisis mode, you need to price for it.

That's the forgotten cost!

There are three tiers of complexity & difficulty that I've priced into my shop:

1. The "Simple" Artwork & Pre-Press Process

I give a 5% discount on the price when artwork is easy to deal with. These are the dream customers that seem to not only know what they want – their job is easy to print. Seriously!

Here's what I look for to apply this pricing break:

  • Print-ready artwork directly from the customer with minimal artist involvement
  • Simple screen requirements (like 110 mesh)
  • Clear garment requirements from the get-go
  • Easy planning and set-up in your shop
  • Great communication from the customer with little back-and-forth about artwork
  • If it's a reprint of their existing art or logo

My life is easier. My shop's workers are happy with the easy job. The customer is happy because I gave them a discount. Everyone wins.

2. The "Normal" Artwork & Pre-Press Process

Most of the time, life won't be as easy as the simple jobs. There may be a few hiccups and roadblocks, but the job is mostly smooth sailing.

This is the standard experience with customers at my shop. My basic pricing model accounts for the following:

  • Basic artwork manipulation, with one or two revisions from the artists before approval
  • Some back-and-forth with the customer about garment requirements
  • No need to solicit help from other screen printing experts to accomplish the job
  • Decent communication & follow-up from the customer – no hounding them for approval
  • Easy-to-moderate planning, setup and labor requirements to do the job
  • A reprint, but with some slight changes or tweaks

These types of jobs are your day-to-day bread-and-butter.

They're not super exciting, but they're not boring either – maybe there's a challenge or two, but it's something you've tackled before.

3. The "Nightmare" Art & Pre-Press Process

It's worth charging – at minimum – a 10% premium for these nightmare jobs.

I have a love-hate relationship with jobs like this.

On the one hand: they really push our shop's limits, challenge our skill set and bring out the inner artisan. They're rewarding when they work out! More importantly, these customers can be converted into lifelong customers and educated about how to make the process easier.

On the other hand: they can be costly, they're risky, they might lose you money and they can easily ruin customer relationships if they don't turn out well. Bad reviews are a huge risk with this kind of job, so carefully consider whether you can realistically handle the extra workload for a needy customer or a really challenging print job.

You can't tell a customer that you'll just experiment until you get it right – and you can't afford to do that, either!

Here's what's involved with my highest priced jobs:

  • Many artwork revisions, or serious challenges for your artists
  • Significant back-and-forth with the customer about garments
  • Unrealistic customer expectations (or an unreasonably irate customer)
  • Require serious homework, like asking your expert friend how to get it done
  • Long wait for approval or poor communication
  • Rush order requests turn into rush order demands
  • A reprint, but with totally new requirements or significant revisions (particularly on a tight deadline)

Yes, you are an artisan. Yes, this is your craft. But you are a for-profit business. Don't give away your hard work.

4. Give Discounts – When Appropriate

There are two common discounts you should keep in mind: quantity discounts and relationship discounts.

The painful reality is that some customers are more valuable than others. If you really want to make more money screen printing, you've got to focus on the highest-value customers that bring you the most profitable jobs.

Quantity Breaks & Discounts

Perhaps it's a no-brainer, but it's crucial to offer discounts for large quantity orders.

The easiest way to do this is to separate orders into tiers by quantity. You (hopefully) already do this!

The discount can be a percentage per garment, a percentage off the total order or even a different cost per garment as you climb the ladder toward large orders.

A customer that orders 100 shirts is more valuable than a customer that orders 15 – and a customer that orders 10,000 garments is making you orders of magnitude more money than either of those. It simply makes financial sense to offer a discount to your largest customers.

The pricing matrix generator below allows you to implement breakless pricing, which is really just a fancy way to say you calculate your prices for every quantity individually. Instead of having one price for 24 to 48 garments, for instance, you'd price out every quantity between 24 and 48 individually. This prevents Mark Coudray's "print shop pricing trap" where your quantity breaks actually work against you (see the video for a further explanation of how this works).

Relationship Discounts

Maybe you call it the "friends & family discount," but the best way to think about it is that a discount can act as a gesture to keep a great relationship with a customer.

It's worth keeping a good rapport with a customer that's going to return again and again to your shop, even if it means keeping a lower margin on their orders.

It's also worth keeping a great relationship with a customer who's got influence in your town or community.

You don't want to upset your local government, university, doctor's office or Little League organization!

Be sure you point out any discounts on your invoices. Something small like a 3% discount can be meaningful if you present it as a gesture of kindness & appreciation.

Here's a tip from Jon Ladd at Terminus Tees: "Always point out what you're giving away, even if the price of the shirt actually accounts for it. We show a line item for 'FREE' screen output and set-ups at $20 per color and side." The discount is psychological – setup fees are already baked-in to my pricing! – but if I present it to a customer as a discount, they'll be very grateful.

Even if a discount is largely symbolic, you can curry favor & make customers come back if you point out that you cut them a break on pricing.

5. Price For Your Business. Not Your Competitors.

Pricing has to be unique to your business. There is no magic equation or spreadsheet to perfectly price every screen printing job.

Cover your costs: pay your workers, yourself, your bills and everything else – don't starve your business because you're worried about competitors offering a slightly lower price.

You're probably not going to be able to compete with Custom Ink. You may not even be able to compete with your rival shop, much less a local contract printer.

If you're trying to compete with Custom Ink, you're going to go out of business.

Don't price your jobs according to the standards of your competitors. You'll hurt your business in the long run.

Keep your work high in quality and keep your relationships with customers in great standing – it's easier to say no today than to explain why that big & challenging order didn't turn out well to an irate person that's highly respected in your city.

I'd love to tell you exactly how to price every one of your jobs – but the truth is you have to price for your unique business situation!

Getting Specific: Creating Your Own Price Matrices (With Downloadable Spreadsheet)

A print shop with many pricing matrices for screen printing, embroidery, and more.
This shop has 30+ different pricing matrices.

If you’ve read this far, you already know that it’s impossible for me to tell you exactly how to price your screen printing jobs.

However, my friends at Printavo have created a super simple way to start building your own custom pricing matrices.

They crafted this downloadable screen printing pricing spreadsheet after several months of research and testing. If pricing is horribly confusing, this is a great place to start!

It uses six fairly simple steps to start generating pricing matrices:

  1. Select a profitability goal.
  2. Input your monthly costs.
  3. Input an estimate of your shop’s production capacity.
  4. Input garment pricing.
  5. Estimate your set-up and breakdown costs.
  6. Estimate your set-up and breakdown time.

Here’s an example matrix that their spreadsheet generated:

A screen printing pricing matrix generated by Printavo's screen printing pricing generator.
The costs for low quantity orders are so high because setup fees are included in the price calculation.

If you’re struggling with your pricing you should download this spreadsheet, carefully read the instructions, and get started on developing sustainable and profitable pricing.

Don’t stop with this pricing spreadsheet. There’s a lot more to do!

Good Pricing Takes Time, Testing & Patience To Get Right

With thousands of SKUs, products, decoration methods and variables to control, it's no wonder that pricing is the single most common question in the garment decoration industry.

Want to start pricing your jobs correctly? Develop one pricing calculator based on your best guesses, then compare it to jobs you've already done. Are you close to your target, or way off base?

Once you've implemented a price matrix, keep checking up on it. Are you still profitable? Are your customers still happy? Revise your prices quarterly!

Creating a clear system for pricing your jobs makes running your shop simpler and more profitable.

Conclusion: Ask Us Questions

Printavo & myself love to talk shop. So ask us questions about pricing! It's easier to get specific when we know the details – this is a general guide for what to consider before making your price matrices, not a plug-and-chug equation you can jot down and use later. It's just not that simple!

We're always tweaking and updating our price matrices at Campus Ink – and Printavo has our back.

So to sum up what we've covered about screen printing pricing:

  1. Calculate the right markup for your garments
  2. Know exactly what the job requires before you send the quote
  3. Price in difficulty & complexity
  4. Give discounts when appropriate – they're worth it
  5. Price for your business situation, not your competition's
  6. Experiment, test, refine & continuously improve your pricing

You've got this!

Image: Morningstar Screen Printing


About the author: Steven Farag is co-owner of Campus Ink in Champaign, IL. He regularly writes for Printavo and works closely with us to offer feedback, advice, and guidance for how to make Printavo even better. Steven's focus on improving processes and workflow – as well as a relentless pursuit of new productivity-boosting tools and automations – has made Steven a leader among the newest generation of print shop owners.
Steven Farag, Campus Ink co-owner

Next Post: How To: Make a Screen Printing Pricing Matrix (Free Download)

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