Like getting the most bang for your buck? Of course you do, it’s totally natural. I’m the same way.

I started screen printing 9 years ago, and it was because I was cheap. I started a noise band with a friend of mine, and being in a band finally, I wanted shirts. So I asked a friend of a friend to print us some shirts, and, well, long story short, he wanted to charge more than I was willing to pay, and I was interested in screen printing anyway, so I got a little kit from the art store and made our own shirts. I learned then that screen printing isn’t always easy, and I recommend for people to buy shirts rather than try to make them.

But anyway, enough about my dumb old noise duo, let’s talk about how to afford awesome shirts.

The shirt that started it all, the first print that the founder of Vacord made, for his own noise band.

1 – Use discharge ink, not plastisol ink

Band shirt printed with red and white discharge inks

A lot of people don’t know what discharge ink is, but it’s not as disgusting as it sounds. Discharge ink is a special kind of screen printing ink that removes the shirt’s color and replaces it with another. On its own, it looks like a bleach effect. Working only on cotton fibers, pigmented discharge can put a design into the shirt, rather on top of it.

You know those shirts you have that feel like a layer of plastic on the fabric? That is actually a layer of plastic on the shirt. Discharge prints are embedded into the fabric, so they are very soft. With traditional plastisol ink, in order to do red on black, you would lay down one or two layers of white ink, then layer of red on top. With discharge ink, you can just apply a layer of red ink, and when it’s heated, it bleaches the black shirt to be white, and then leaves the red pigment, and boom, you get a super soft red on black print. It’s sick for a band shirt.

Oh yeah and the important thing here for our mission of cheapness is that it’s quicker to print. Time is money in screen printing, just like everywhere else in the world, and doing 100 black shirts with one layer of red discharge ink is way faster and simpler than doing a layer of white ink then a trapped layer of red ink. So it should be cheaper.

Some printers charge more for discharge ink, but they shouldn’t. We sure don’t.

2 – Find out the volume discounts

Because of the complicated nature to set up and break down screen printing runs, people charge for printing based on volume, just like in most print industries.

If you are thinking about getting, for example, 80 shirts, find out where the printer has his or her next price break. 80 shirts with your design might be $7 each, but there could be a price break at 96 or 100 shirts, so at the next level they might be only $6 each. In this scenario, 80 shirts at $7 each would be $540 total, but 96 shirts at $6 each would be $576. So yeah you would spend more for 96 shirts total, but it’s like those extra 16 shirts only cost you $36. Wouldn’t you want 16 shirts for just $2.25 each?

Commonly, price breaks can be found at 24, 48, 100, 200 and 500 pieces. Remember that in order to get those, the amount of shirts needs to be the same exact design / same exact print run.

3 – Avoid being nickel and dimed to death on set up

Some shops have aggressive pricing per shirt, but you have to pay $20 per screen, so that’s sixty extra bucks on your 3 color design. And there’s a $20 press set up fee. And it’s $15 to mix that special blue ink you wanted, the one that doesn’t sound that special really. Oh, and shipping, don’t forget shipping. Ooh and you know what, you need a flash charge on that white, so that’s $0.30 extra per shirt. So your $5 shirts are really $7.91. Find a shop that tells you how much it costs per shirt, with no other nonsense.

4 – Keep It Simple, Stupid

KISS is a common saying in business, as in Keep It Simple, Stupid. That’s a good practice with screen printing, too, in order to keep things lower in cost. Since there is a different screen for every color, it’s more time and effort and cost on the screen printer’s end to print multiple colors.

So keep it simple. One color in one location is obviously cheapest. White discharge ink on black shirts can be very affordable and very attractive. If you want more than one color, you can do a lot design-wise with a second color for accent, but still keep it affordable, because two color screen printing isn’t that much more difficult than just one. But when you get into four colors on the front and three colors on the back, and maybe a sleeve print too, it’s going to start getting expensive. Keep it simple and keep it cheap.

5 – Use more affordable blank shirts

A lot of people love American Apparel and Alternative Apparel shirts. And it makes sense to love them, because they are super nice. But they’re expensive. If you’re shopping for screen printing on a budget, there are a lot of affordable options that are ringspun cotton (that’s the soft kind) in nice cuts.

Some of our favorite affordable shirts are:
-Anvil 980
-Canvas 3001
-Gildan 64000

Note that in some cases a nicer shirt doesn’t cost much more at all than a basic tee, so look into it. They’ll be easier to move at shows, too.

6 – Buy in bulk

Like we talked about with volume pricing, it gets cheaper as it you buy more, so basically getting as many at a time as you can afford makes sense. Getting 48 pieces printed now makes more sense dollar wise than 24 today and 24 in a month. And you’ll definitely see savings if you order 200 now rather than 100 today and 100 in three months.

7 – Find a screen printer sympathetic to your plight as a band

Tons of screen printing shops employ people in bands. Many shops were started by guys who have been in bands (ours included). So there’s a good chance that if you ask nicely, you might find a discount for band shirts. It never hurts to try. Bands are more fun and easier to work with than stuffy businesses anyway.

At Vacord, we love printing for bands. Need anything? Visit our site and get in touch with us about what you would need.