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Placing An Order

It probably happened like this. You left the room for one minute and came back and found everyone looking at you and smiling, or you picked the short straw or even worse, you volunteered! Ugh!

Now what do you do?

Where do you go?

What do you need to know before you go and talk to these mysterious “Screen Printers”?

Well, fear not gentle customer, help is at hand or in this case in your hands. The tome you now hold will guide you through everything you’ll need to know and need to ask to not only make your job easier but also to make the screen printers job easier. Next thing you know you’ll be an old hand at this and wondering why you had that deep sense of foreboding in the first place.



The Basics.

There are a few things you need to know before you go to the printers to get a quote or to place an order.

  1. How many shirts do you want?

    “How do I know how many I want until I know how much they are?” I hear you ask. Well, we have to start somewhere, take a guess. Most printers have quantity breaks which means that the price for a number of shirts is the same say from 12-23, from 24-48 and so on. So you have a little wiggle room to adjust your numbers when you are finally ready to order. This also helps the sales person start your quote to get your price and stop trying to develop his mental powers in order to read your mind. If you’re lucky enough to not only know how many shirts you want but the sizes as well, good for you, The size of shirt will play a larger role later when you are getting a quote because the size of shirt may dictate the price of the shirt.

  2. What kind of shirt are you looking for?

    So many choices. Long sleeve, short sleeve, golf shirt, etc. Let’s start with something simple, do you want a 50/50 cotton/polyester blend or 100% cotton? What’s the difference? It really ends up being a personal preference. Some people say 100% cotton is cooler to wear, some 50/50 advocates say that their shirts won’t shrink (This is true for the most part, 50/50 doesn’t’t shrink but the companies these days that manufacture 100% cotton shirts will shrink the fabric before they make the shirt, so any shrinkage is so tiny that it shouldn’t matter.) It’s up to you. With most shops the youth sizes (6-8, 10-12, 14-16) are all the same price. The adult sizes (sm-xl) are another price, and anything bigger (xxl and up) cost more. The more “X’s” the shirt has , the more it costs. The style of shirt will also change the price, the most common shirt is the short sleeved T-shirt and is usually what people think of when they think of screen printing.

  3. What color of shirt do you want to have printed?

    Yes, believe it or not the color of the shirt also affects the price. Most printers have them broken down into White, Light, and Dark, and in some cases Premium. The annoying thing is that some shirt manufacturers will lump different colors into different categories so that the pricing may vary from brand to brand. This is where the friendly person behind the counter can help a lot. So pick your color and let them figure it out.

  4. How many colors are on your print and where do you want the print to go?

    Hey, no fair! That’s two questions! Well, yes, but they are very closely related and really start to get to the meat and potatoes of the order. Knowing what your shirt will look like is also helpful in creating an order. You don’t have to know every stroke of the pen or click of the mouse but having an idea what part of the shirt is to be printed is a start.

  5. When do you need the shirts?

    The length of time a shop will need to make your shirts will vary from shop to shop so it is a good idea to find out when you need your shirts. Most shops will have about a two week turn around time but will sometimes be able to put a rush on an order. Be warned, this might cost extra.

Getting a Quote

Before getting a quote make sure you have all the basics mentioned earlier. Whether over the phone or in person, they will be able to give you a pretty accurate idea of what your shirts will cost and perhaps point out some costs you may not have known about.“Hey, what’s this Art charge and Screen charge thing they mentioned?”

The Art Charge

”But what if I’ve already done the art?”

they say holding out a piece of paper. How will what is on that paper get onto the shirt? “Um, I don’t know… Magic?” Close but not quite. The art charge isn’t just the creation of the design, though that can be part of it, it is also for the time it takes to separate the colors of the design and prepare them to be put onto a screen.“Huh?” That’s why there is an art charge.

The Screen Charge

The screen is what the printers use to transfer your art to the shirt, this charge covers the cost to make the screen. You will need one screen per color per location on your shirt.

“Wow! That seems like an awful lot of screens.” Yes, it can be, but most shops will only charge you this as a one time fee for that print. Once you have the quote from the printer that you like you can start getting your order together. Usually a quote is good for about 30 days at most shops after which you may need another quote. One more thing concerning quotes, if you change any of your basics after you get a quote, the price will change! Sad is the customer who gets a quote and then changes the sizes, number of shirts and/or colors on the print and then comes back to the printer and finds that the price has altered dramatically, “But you said it was only this much, why did the price change?” If you change the order, you change the quote.

Placing the Order

This is it, the big moment. Take a deep breath. Now check one last time, you know what you need, when you need them, you’ve found a printer you like with the price you like. Stride confidently through those doors and say in a loud clear voice “Good day, stout yeoman, I wish to place an order.” Strictly speaking the position of the person behind the counter is the Customer Service Representative but they’re not stuck on formality, go with what you feel comfortable with. At this point you should give them the type or types of shirt, your exact numbers and sizes of shirt, the number of colors on your print and the number of print locations on the shirt. Many shops will require that you put 50% of the total down as a deposit to get things started. The shop will usually have you sign the invoice to verify that you have read it and agreed to the quantities and instructions on it.

“But what happens after I place the order?”

“How do shirts get made?”

Ahh, let us delve into the process that is screen printing, shall we? Okay, cool! Bring on the little men with orange faces and white gloves. Actually screen printing is a little thin in the small, comical-copyright-protected-being-department I’m afraid. It is, however, full of people with the wide variety of skills necessary to make your order perfect.

    1. After the order is placed it is given to the Ordering Department, This is the person that contacts our garment distributors to get the shirts for your order. Contrary to popular belief most shops don’t have a “Big Pile of Shirts In Back”. It is much easier to order them when they need them because it takes up less space and most items can be ordered and shipped so that they arrive the following morning.
    2. While the shirts are being ordered the Art Department starts on your design.
      “That’s okay, my shirt just has words on it, that’s not art is it?” Actually yes it is.
      The word ART refers to whatever is going on your shirt, so don’t be confused when the screen printers refer to the Art of your job. “Okay so how long will my ART take?”
      That depends on the design, though a week is usually the average. Keep in mind though that the artists have many different jobs of varying degrees of complexity on their hands so cut them a little slack when it comes to the scheduling of your art. Regardless of what you’ve worked out with the artist, they will have you approve your art before they continue with the order. This is to make sure all of the spelling is right and that the images are the way you want them.
    3. After the art is approved it is separated and sent to the back to be burned onto a screen.

“What? You’re going to burn my art?”

  1. No, no, Burning is a screen printing term which is how the screens are made. Think of your art as a finished puzzle and each of the colors as a piece of the puzzle. The artist takes the puzzle apart into its’ separate pieces, these pieces are then sent to the printers and using each of those pieces, the printers create a stencil on a screen. A Screen is a piece of mesh in a frame that is coated with a light sensitive emulsion sort of like camera film. The image of each piece of your art is placed on a screen and exposed to a bright light just like having a picture taken of it or is “Burned” onto the screen. The areas where your image covers the screens remains soft and flexible while the areas around the image harden into a strong coating. The screen is washed out leaving a hole the exact shape and area where that color is on your art. After the screens are washed and dried they are staged, a term that means they are put with the boxes of shirts for your order.
  2. Meanwhile the shirts are delivered to the screen printers in a timely fashion. They arrive from the shirt distributors with many other shirts for other orders. “How do they know which ones are mine?” Well, that order with all the basics on it that you supplied so long ago makes its’ way to the back where the Production Assistants use it to match up with the shirts that were delivered. Then they are packed into boxes to await printing.
  3. Now the Printer sets up the screens on his press. The press holds all the screens in place and can be spun like a merry-go-round so that the printer can access all the screens. Using different adjustments on the press, the printer puts the puzzle back together and makes sure that it fits just right. Once he has the screens all set the printer puts the ink into the screen. Each screen gets its own color. The printer then puts the shirts onto a second spinning platform under the screens, each shirt is fitted onto its’ own platform, printed with all of the colors in the print and then removed and set onto a dryer belt that goes into a big oven.

The trip takes about two minutes but when that shirt comes out the other end the ink is cured or hardened all the way through and will not smear. The production assistants fold and count the shirts to make sure they are all there and are packed neatly into a box. This is where you come in.

“ME?”
Yep, you. On the day after your shirts are scheduled to print most shops will call you to tell you that your shirts are done. If they haven’t called you or you are getting anxious it is perfectly all right to give them a call and check on the status of your order. In many cases your order may be done earlier than expected so it can’t hurt to call.

However, (“I knew there would be one”), sometimes shops will get behind and your order may not be done on time. The printer will certainly try to get it done but sometimes things happen. Be patient and cut the shop a little slack. Most places will stay open late to make sure you get your shirts or may even deliver them to where you need them. If you are calm and don’t blow your top at the nice people, 9 times out of 10 you will be happily surprised at what they are willing to do to make sure you get your order on time. So there you have it, you now know more about screen printing than most people walking around. If you follow the guidelines ordering shirts can be easy. Now that you’re done, give these guidelines to the next poor sap that leaves the room at your next family gathering, they’ll thank you for it.