What Does a Custom T-Shirt Cost?

If you are building a brand or you want to spread a message, a custom printed t-shirt can be one of the most powerful tools you can use.  People are very passionate about their t-shirts…and with good reason.  They are, quite literally, putting your brand message on their body.  It’s a powerful endorsement.  In addition, T-shirts often become a favorite piece of apparel for many people.  So if you are considering a promotional piece, t-shirts are a great option.

But what does a custom t-shirt cost?

It’s an important question for you to ask…but a hard one to answer.  I cringe when I am asked it.  Why?.  Because it’s a bit like being asked, “How much does a car cost?” There are so many factors.  So rather than avoid it, we thought we would spend some time discussing a few of the factors that change the cost of a custom t-shirt, so you decide the kind of shirt you need for your next promotion.  (I talk about this a bit in this video too).  

What Kind of Material?

The kind of t-shirt you want can play a huge role in the cost.  It’s an important question for you to understand because it will ultimately play a big role in whether or not your recipients actually want to wear (or even keep) the shirt.

Cotton Based T-Shirts

For many years, I focused on selling the lowest cost style of shirt.    These were the 50/50 or 100% Cotton style of shirts.  There are plenty of quality options in this style that can help you keep the cost of your promotion down and they still play an important place in t-shirts.  This kind of shirt is the least expensive and can be perfect when you are in a situation where budget is a big concern.  If you are going to hand out thousands of shirts at an event, this style of shirt might be right for you.  Or may you and your team are going to wear these while working hard, and they will be taking a beating.  This style of custom t-shirt can tell your brand story while lasting.  We have sold this style of shirt from everything to a huge event, to a small family gathering…and they can work perfectly.

Tri-Blend T-Shirts

On the other hand, as T-shirts become a more accepted form of normal corporate apparel, a higher end, more fashion friendly, softer shirt has become much more popular.  Think of your favorite t-shirt.  Often, these are the shirts that are super soft and comfortable.  I like to say that they are the shirts that never make it back to the closet.  When they are clean, you put them on.  These shirts are often Tri-blend t-shirts and they have become in high demand.  A tri-blend is a fabric made up of three different materials: cotton, polyester, and rayon.  Your customers are asking for them…and they notice when you hand them out.  These are wonderful shirts to tell your story, but as you might expect, they do cost more than your traditional 100% cotton t-shirt.

Performance T-Shirts

The third style of t-shirt that is popular is the performance style shirt.  This is the kind of shirt that you see at local 5K road races and worn (and sold) by sports teams.  This performance style fabric is designed and specifically engineered  to be cool and wick away sweat from an athlete’s body for peak performance.  Many of these performance style shirts even have a UV protection built in as well.

Each of these style of shirts can be perfect depending on the style of promotion or event that you have in mind.  But each of these has a different price point and can play a huge role in what your overall shirt cost will be.

How is it being Decorated?

Believe it or not, there are lots of ways to decorate a t-shirt.  And depending on what way you go, it can have a huge impact in the cost of your project.  I will go over a few of them here.

Traditional Screen-printing

The vast majority of t-shirts sold in the United States will be decorated with screen-printing.  This is an efficient and cost effective way to decorate a t-shirt, and can have a great look.  This is what we would recommend on 95% of t-shirts we sell.  There are (generally) minimums with screen-printing, but those have come down in the past 10 years, so usually you can do as few as 12 or 24 pieces affordably.  That being said, screen-printing is done one color and one location at a time.  So each time you add a color, you add some cost.  Each time you add another location, you do it again.  This is not to say you should not add those imprints.  Not at all.  It’s just a place a lot of confusion is created.  This is where a $6 shirt can become a $16 shirt.

Embroidery

I love embroidery on many apparel pieces, but not on t-shirts.  For the most part, I don’t think it looks great.  People will sometimes use embroidery if that is the only decoration option they have at their disposal..  But it punctures the already thin fabric and often bunches up your logo.  For those most part, I would avoid this method on t-shirts.  Oh…and it’s more expensive than screen-printing.

Heat Transfer

While I am not a huge fan of heat transfer imprinting on t-shirts, it most definitely has a place.  For those most part, this is for a very low quantity run.  If you want to do a special t-shirt for your loved one, doing a heat transfer might be a good way to get it done.  Local decorators can help in this case, or the proliferation of the Cricut has created a system of local creators that can help you get this done.  The challenge here is wear and tear.  If not done properly, heat transfers can come off over time.  They have come along way though, and might be right for certain projects.  The cost on doing a heat transfer can be good for low quantity jobs, but become more expensive for larger orders.

Direct To Garment

Direct To Garment printing (or DTG) can be a great way to print t-shirts…in the right situation.  Direct-to-garment printing (DTG) is a process of printing on textiles using specialized aqueous ink jet technology.  In other words, it’s like using a home ink jet printer on a t-shirt.  The upside is that you can print a full color imprint directly on a shirt without the up-charge and limitations of traditional screen-printing.  Done right, it can create amazing imaging.  The downside is you are generally limited on the material you can print on.  DTG generally works much better on Cotton shirts.  In addition, the cost of DTG is still higher than traditional screen-printing.  But if you have a logo that has a lot of colors and gradients, this might be a good option for you!

Sublimation

The final kind of decoration you might consider with custom t-shirts is sublimation.  Sublimation is a type of printing process that utilizes heat to transfer dye into fabric. Colors and images are dye-sublimated onto transfer paper.  It is different from screen printing in that you are dying the fabric of the shirt, rather than printing on top of it.  Sublimation can be a beautiful way to decorate t-shirts for specific projects.  The downside is you are limited by the material of the shirt you can imprint on.   In addition, the cost and quantity are generally higher.  So while sublimation can be a great way to create amazing graphics on t-shirts, it’s not for every project.

How Many Do You Need?

This is pretty straight forward.  The number of shirts you need will have a big impact into the cost of the actual shirt.  Most people understand this…but it’s worth mentioning here.  The more shirts you order, the less per shirt you have to pay.  Got it?  Cool.

What Sizes?

This is an often overlooked piece of information when pricing t-shirts.  The fact is, despite the many variations of t-shirts, this can be a commodity game.  So many t-shirt sellers will price S-XL t-shirts very aggressively.  They know that most of the shirts they sell will be that size AND that most people will only price those sizes.  So when you get to larger sizes, most t-shirts cost more.  If you only have a few people on your team that need a 2XL, then you are probably not going to notice it.  But the more people you have and the larger sizes they require, the more it will affect your overall pricing.  You might not like it…but it’s a standard practice…and you should be ready for it.

As a rule of thumb (and that’s all it is) we tell our customers to plan on $2 extra for 2XL, $3 extra for 3XL and so on.  This is not a perfect formula, but it gives you an idea for budgeting.

How Fast Do You Need Them?

The final factor I will address here is speed.  How fast do you need your t-shirts?  One of my favorite rules of thumb in our industry is simple.  You can get your branded items fast, cheap and right…but you only get to pick 2!  You will save yourself a lot of money if you plan just a bit.  If you can give yourself 2 to 3 weeks for production of your t-shirts, it can save you anywhere between 25% and 50% on the project…and that does not include shipping.  So when you can…plan ahead.

So those are just a few factors to consider when looking for a branded custom t-shirt for your next promotion.  It can be a lot to consider (which is why I have never written a blog post like this before!).  And if it all just seems too overwhelming, no problem.  That is what we are here for.  If you need help selecting a custom t-shirt, please let us know.  We are happy to help.

But How Much Do They Cost?

Yes.  I realize that after all of that I have still not given you an answer.  I think you may now know why!  But because I want to give you an idea, I will define the parameters and give you an idea of what you should be paying…regardless of who you buy custom t-shirts from.  I will base this on ordering 144 shirts, with a one color screen-print on the front and back of a t-shirt.  Any variation to these specifics will change the price of the shirt…but it should give you an idea.

100% Cotton T-shirt:  Based on the PC61 100% Cotton T-shirt you should be somewhere between $6.25 and $10.

Performance T-shirt:  If you want to dazzle the runners at your next 5k, you should probably land between $8.85 and $12.50 for this shirt.

Tri-Blend T-shirt:  While there are many different tri-blend options, you should be somewhere between $8.25 and $12.25 for this style of custom t-shirt.

As you can see, there is a lot to consider.  My hope is, this arms you with information on how to get the right shirt for the right budget for your brand.  Good luck!

If you need help with your next promotion, please reach out to us.  You can learn more about how we help with branded merchandise here.

Written by: Kirby Hasseman

Kirby Hasseman is the CEO of Hasseman Marketing & Communications. Kirby hosts a weekly Web show called Delivering Marketing Joy where he interviews business leaders from around the country. Kirby has published four books. His most recent is “Fan of Happy.” His book, called "Delivering Marketing Joy" is about doing “promo right” and is perfect for people in the industry and customers. He also wrote “Think Big For Small Business” and “Give Your Way to Success. All are available on Amazon.