what you need to know before ordering screen printing for the first time

Confused about getting custom screen printing for the first time?

Worried you’re going to spend a lot and then not like the end results?

Getting custom t-shirts, custom hoodies, or custom tote bags doesn’t need to be intimidating or confusing, and we work hard at Vacord Screen Printing to help first time customers understand how to get the process started and how to make it as easy as possible.

Here are a few things you should know about screen printing before you place your first order:

A stack of recently printed shirts

It’s good for BULK orders

If you just need one custom printed shirt, or just a few, screen printing is NOT the right choice.

Due to the involved nature of screen printing, it is efficient only for printing in bulk. Because…

⦿ You have to print out the design on a film (or a bunch of films if it’s multiple colors)

⦿ Then you have to make a screen (or multiple screens!) for each color and location to print, and then prep/tape the screens

⦿ Then you have to set up your screens on a press, and align them to each other if it’s multiple colors

⦿ Oh, do you need a custom ink color? That ink will be custom made by hand for your order!

⦿ Then the shirts/hoodies/tote bags are loaded manually onto a press, either printed automatically by a machine that pulls the squeegee or by a human that pulls a squeegee, then pulled off the press and passed through a conveyor belt oven

⦿ Ah, shirts are done and look beautiful. Time to clean up! After printing, all the ink is cleaned up and screens are “reclaimed” meaning that the designs that were created with emulsion in the screen are removed so that the screens can be used for other jobs

It’s an involved process, and that’s why shops have different minimum order size.

For Vacord, our minimum orders are 48 pieces for 1 color designs, and 100 pieces for multiple color designs. (Or if you want hoodies, we can do just 24 pieces with 1 color designs if you want).

If you just need one or a few shirts, screen printing is not for you. But if you need 48 or more, it's perfect and much more affordable per shirt than the one-off printing methods.

These weren't difficult! Note that we blended two colors to make the color fade in the logo. This print was done with just three screens even though it looks full color in a way.

Some things are surprisingly difficult

Like changing the ink color. You would think that doing 24 white shirts with red ink and then 24 white shirts with black ink would be super simple if it’s the same design, but it’s not. With traditional ink, you can stop and clean up the ink out of the screen, then add new ink, but with waterbased or discharge ink, you really need to stop and clean everything up and start over. And since an “ink change” (the fancy industry term!) is time consuming, shops charge extra for it.

Printing over seams. The screens need to lay super flat to print without issue, so we can’t print onto t-shirt pockets or hoodie pouch pockets, nor can we print easily on the side of shirts if there is a seam there.

Surprise costs and set up fees

We will never give you a true “surprise cost”, as we give specific pricing for everything when you get a quote, but I mean some people are surprised by the cost of certain things.

Like when someone wants a shirt that has a print on both the front and the back, and both sleeves, and the cost is pretty high per shirt.

That cost is high because it’s a ton of work! Every print location is a different print run, so printing both sleeves and the front and back of 100 shirts with 1 color is basically the same labor as printing 400 shirts with just the front.

Remember, pricing for screen printing is basically a result of 1) Complexity of design VS 2) Number of printed items VS 3) Type of printed item.

So 500 cheap Gildan shirts with a 1 color print on the front only could be just $5 or $6 each, while 100 very nice Alternative Apparel shirts with a multiple color design could be $15 each.

So keep in mind that complexity increases the cost per shirt, while the amount you order can bring it down!

And then for set up fees, at Vacord we pride ourselves on not having a ton of set up fees and nickel and diming customers to death like some print shops.

We will quote you per shirt. And that’s usually it. Some shops will quote you for the shirts, and then the printing separately, but also quote a set up fee, a screen fee, a clean up fee, an art fee, an ink mixing fee, and so on.

To get an awesome result like this, the artwork that we start with needs to be clean and crisp and well set up. If you don't know how to prep your artwork, we can help!

We need pretty good artwork to work from

The screens we print shirts from can hold a lot of detail, and in order to do high quality detailed work, we need to start off with good quality artwork!
Ideally we work from Illustrator files or other vector art formats like PDF.

Otherwise, high quality and large Photoshop files or PNG or JPEG files work well.

What doesn’t work great are GIFs or Word Documents, things like that. Just because something looks good on your laptop screen doesn’t mean it can be turned into a quality screen print directly.


We can clean up your artwork or even have it recreated in high quality for you, affordably, if it’s not ready to go.

Just get in touch with us if you have any questions about your artwork by using our contact form below or just emailing your artwork to info@vacord.com

New terms you might hear

Screen printing is a technical craft and like any good technical craft it has a ton of terms that come along with it. I’ll quickly explain ones that are relevant to your first screen printing order…

Screen - The stencil that creates your design. Your design is created in a mesh screen.

Discharge versus waterbased versus traditional ink - Discharge ink removes the shirt color and replaces it, and is good on dark fabrics. Waterbased ink is soft and great on lighter color fabrics. Traditional ink is “plastisol” ink and works on any type of fabric, but it ideal for darker fabrics, blends, and athletic wear.

Silk screening - This is just an older term for screen printing that some people still use.

Print colors - The amount of actual inks we will use in your design. Note that this is sometimes different than the amount of colors in your design! For example, we often can do a full color photograph type print with 5 colors, or otherwise blend inks together to give the appearance of more colors.

Quantity - How many items will be printed in your order1/0 or 3/4 etc - You may not see this ever, but the short hand for the amount of colors and where will be represented by number / number. So “1/0” means 1 color on the front and nothing on the back. Or “3/4” means that we will print a 3 color design on the front and 4 color design on the back.

Style - There are hundreds of different brands / styles of shirts and hoodies and tote bags that are available to be printed on, and we refer to them as the “style” and will mention their unique style code for clarity. Like Gildan’s standard boxy 100% cotton shirt is the “g200” while their ring-spun shirt with a more modern cut is the “g640.”

Blend - When we talk about blend, we mean the composition of whatever fabric we are printing on. Like a 100% cotton shirt, or a 50/50 poly/cotton hoodie, or a canvas cotton tote bag.

The Staff at Vacord will help your first order of custom screen printing (and future orders) go smoothly!

Does all that make sense?

Hopefully everything here makes sense!

If you want to start your first order, or have any questions, use the contact form below or email us at info@vacord.com and we’d be happy to help!

Have questions about your first order?

Send in information about your project to get a quote or answers back by email

Start a conversation. Let us know what questions you may have, or what your project would be like.

Not sure of all your details? That’s fine. We can figure things out together and give you advice on how to get the best results for your specific needs.

Use this contact form or email us at info@vacord.com.

We look forward to working with you.

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What happens after you submit your info?

We'll review your info and figure out prices and best approaches for your specific needs

We'll email you back within a business day with answers or pricing

We work with you to discuss the best approach for your order

When you're ready to go, we'll invoice you and start the printing! (two week turnaround is standard)