Brought To You By

Cost of Direct to Garment Printing | Dark vs Light Shirts

Comparing Actual Printing Costs on White and Black T-Shirts

We talk about printing on white shirts versus black shirts quite a bit in this marketplace.

It seems like it might be a good time to do some numbers and get the skinny on how to make money by printing both (and maybe a colored shirt in there too!).

First, let’s look at costs that are common to any shirt you print – the fixed times and costs.

Standard Cost of Printing with Direct to Garment Printers

Both white and dark shirts get pretreated, using roughly the same amount of pretreatment. And the cost of light garment and dark garment pretreatment is typically the same.

Using the G4 direct to garment printing machine and Kokak Kodacholor Inks as an example, the pretreatment needs to be set by the heat press for 45 seconds. That time is the same on both light and dark garments.

Lastly, the cure time for both light and dark garments after printing is also 45 seconds.

These times will probably vary if you’re using a different ink set or DTG printer, but the principal is the same.

You can expect pretreating to cost you between $.35 and $.40 per print, depending on the brand of pretreat and the size of the print area.

Direct to Garment Printing VARIABLE Costs

The differences comes in when you compare printing on a dark garment, which requires a white ink under base to make the colors look great, and a light garment, which does not.

When we start to look at print times and ink costs (and, potentially costs of the garment itself).

In the example we are using of the parrot print here are the breakdowns of those times and costs.

Remember, the ink cost difference is in the white ink layer!

Printing a White Shirt –
No White Ink

Ink Cost:

Print time 57 seconds

(from time load button is pressed until platen is fully ejected and shirt can be removed)

<Hover to see print time>

Printing a Black Shirt –
With White Ink

Ink Cost:

Print time 2:49

(from time load button is pressed until platen is fully ejected and shirt can be removed)

<Hover to see print time>

As you can see from these numbers – it takes almost three times as long to produce a black shirt as a white shirt and ink costs (in this case) are almost 6 times as much.

But let’s point out that there’s still a LOT of profit to be made on the dark shirts. Here are some quick numbers:

Labor cost $20/hr = $1 for labor on the dark shirt + $1.62 in ink + Pretreatment = maybe $3.00 COGS + the blank shirt.

Most DTG shirts sell for $20-$30 each.

Selling Dark and Light Custom TShirts

So what do we do with this information?

#1: Offer your customers a discount for white or light shirts that do not require a white ink underbase.

Simply put your pricing structure is based on black shirts, not white/light shirts. Everybody likes a discount. Nobody likes an upcharge!

#2: Be creative!

You can print a lot of designs that do not require an underbase onto light colored shirts – light yellows, pinks, blues, greens, etc. as well as natural and ash.

It may take a little increase in artwork saturation to “overcome” the non-white base, but it will offer your customers the sense of a non-white shirt while also greatly decreasing your costs – both in materials and labor.

Speaking of costs of goods and labor. Which is really more important?

Cost of Direct to Garment Printing | A Production Run Example

Again, let’s look at the scenario above and assume an order of 2 dozen shirts (24).

It is going to take 20-30 seconds to cycle one shirt off the printer and on to the press and another on (regardless of black or light/white) – yes, I timed this!

Our adjusted times would be as such:

White Custom T-Shirt Production

57 seconds to print

30 seconds to unload/reload

1:27 total cycle per shirt

However, it is going to take 45 seconds to set your pretreatment and 45 seconds to cure your print + heat press load/unload times.

The pretreatment can be done while another shirt is on the press so that doesn’t impact our time, but, load/unload of the heat press and 2 x 45 second press times to impact our time. 

So, 45 x 2 = 90 and allow 15 seconds to load/unload the heat press = 1:45 adjusted cycle time.

This comes to 42-45 minutes of labor to produce 24 shirts. We will assume $20 per hour for labor, taxes, etc.

Your costs into labor and ink costs for 24 white shirts in this scenario.

28¢ x 24 = $6.72 ink cost

42-45 minutes labor @$200/hr = $14-15

Total approx. – $21-22 – or slightly less than $1 per shirt

Black Custom T-Shirt Production

Now, with the black shirts, because of the increased print time we do not need to worry about our heat press becoming the limiting factor, so no time addition is needed for pretreatment setting with the press.

Your costs into labor and ink costs for 24 black shirts in this scenario.

$1.68 x 24 = $38.88 ink cost

1:12-1:15 labor @$20/hr = $24-25

Total approx. – $63-64 – or about $2.65 per shirt

Your net added cost for black shirts versus white shirts is about $1.75 per shirt, plus the opportunity expense of having the equipment tied up for an additional half an hour.

If you quoted your customer a set price for black shirts but offered a $3 discount for light or white shirts you would gross $72 less.

But your labor and ink costs would go down by $42.  

So it’s a reduction of profit,  BUT you also freed you printer up an additional 30 minutes by doing the white/light colored shirts.

Now, it is up to you to decide if having that additional time on the machine is worth the $30 in profit you are losing.

Time to sharpen your pencil and start to look at where you need to be to make the money you need, while remaining competitive.


Want to know more?

For more information about the DTG direct-to-garment printers contact us or call (877) 458-0444 toll-free.

Lets Connect!