You might not admit it to anyone, but I’ll bet seeing a fan wearing your band’s t-shirt is one of the secret little highlights of your musical life. A striking band logo, a sweet design, quality fabric. Of course you want to print up quality t-shirts to sell to fans at your gigs and on your website. And you want to see your fans wearing those shirts out there in the world, helping to spread the word about your music.
When it comes to ordering t-shirts, most musicians hope to get two-sided silk screen printing with lots of colors on dark color tees,”_ and in small quantities. But here’s the problem: all of those elements are expensive! Set up costs for the order (and screens for each color) are pricey if only amortized over a small quantity of t-shirts. So we asked our friends at Merch.ly if they had any advice for musicians that want to order great looking t-shirts but don’t have tons of cash to drop.
Here’s what they said:
Two-sided printing has double the screen costs of one-sided printing. Dark colored shirts are more expensive to print on than light or white shirts, as an extra base coat needs to be applied on dark fabric to ensure the inks sit and display properly (a cost not required for white and very light color fabric).
So, what can a musician do to help keep their costs in line and still have a great product that fans want to buy?
According to Merch.ly, you should:
1. Consider larger designs.Ê No need to go small with the artwork, as it’s the same price whether the artwork is 3”x5” in size or 12”x15.”
2. Consider printing on just one side. Maximize the imagery and impact of that one side with bold color choices and large design, perhaps coupled with an interesting fabric color. We offer dozens of fabric color options.
3. Use fewer ink colors.Ê Screen set-up costs are expensive, so each color adds a lot of money per unit if the run size is short. Consider fewer, bolder colors in your design. Creative design need not mean lots of colors; indeed, sometimes simpler can be better. And build the design for the t-shirt rather than just trying to apply artwork which was intended for another medium. For example, a photograph used for an album cover would be too complex and not a great choice, economically speaking, for a silk screened t-shirt.
4. Order higher quantities. If you really need multi-color design, help spread the per-unit cost over 100 rather than 50 units, or 200 units rather than 100. That will bring the average cost of the shirts down considerably, as the 2nd 50 units (if going from 50 to 100) are much less expensive than the first 50.
5. Consider upgrading the shirt choice to a fashion brand. This will give the fan something of higher quality, usually softer and/or more stylized and fitted than mass brands. Plus, if you’re going with a high end product, it may allow you to go with just one sided printing or fewer colors – as the quality of the product will help sell – and thus reduce your artwork costs. Indeed, sometimes the increased cost of a better shirt style will be less than the reduction in printing costs of a simpler design -Ê yet the fan may be more interested in that fashion shirt (and pay a premium) due to its better style.
Note: one other option is to use an alternative printing method to silk screening, namely ”direct to garment printing” which is effectively garments decorated with a specialized inkjet printer. There are limitations to this method and it does not have the same pop and quality as silk screening. But it’s less expensive for short runs, particularly on whites and light fabrics. If your t-shirt printer doesn’t offer this print method online (our pricing assumes silk screening), call or write to them and ask about alternate methods. We discuss this option with customers who want small quantities and ”need” lots of colors.