The most popular question I receive from customers is "How do you determine what to charge for DTG printing?" Direct to garment printing is the cutting-edge of garment decoration and can easily justify a successful business with a single printer. DTG is fun, exciting, creative and just cool—but to run a successful business it’s all about the money.
There are any numbers of printers on the market. As a production specialist and small business owner, my top priority is having reliable and profitable equipment. At the top of the list, and clearly the industry’s best and most reliable printer is the Epson Sure Color F2000. Because this printer is by far the most dominant printer in the industry, I will be using the F2000, Garment Creator (Free Epson Rip), and the cost estimator tool as a reference.
Pricing DTG jobs is simple because there is very little, if any, set up and breakdown time. Printing a single color, or the full CMYK spectrum can be as easy as pushing a button. Unlike screen printing, with DTG we don’t charge by the number of colors. That’s a selling point people often overlook. The cost of printing a full color image is reduced to the same amount it costs to print a one-color design. Reduced production costs combined with the ability to offer full-color prints equals increased profit margins!
With DTG, we charge by size of print, which is directly related to ink consumption. Since we are using a digital printer, ink cartridges need to be replaced periodically, and that’s the bulk of our cost. The larger the print, the more ink is consumed and more ink means more cost.
Measure Ink Consumption:
To measure ink consumption, it’s best to have a cost estimator built into your print imaging software or driver. In the old days, we used to weigh shirts and manually track consumption, which made it extremely difficult to accurately charge.
The software that comes with the Epson F2000 has a built-in cost estimator. You can download Garment Creator and the Cost Estimator here for free even if you don’t have the printer. Watch this video to get an understanding of how to use the cost estimator tool.
Here is a screen shot of the Cost Estimator Tool in Garment Creator. In the green box, we see that a 600ml ink cartridge is $207.00 which equals $.35/ml. This tool measures volume — the larger the print the more millilitres of ink used. Notice the section in yellow, “Other Costs”.
I suggest creating a reference guide for measuring ink consumption. To do this, I like to create a series of solid shapes of varying sizes.
From here, I can take each grid into Garment Creator, select my print preferences, and run the Cost Estimator. Print preferences are essentially your choice for color ink only, white ink only, or color + white, and how much you want to lay down. Here is a cost breakdown of a 6x8 print on a black shirt with color + white ink.
Not all of your customers’ art will fit into these sizes and you shouldn’t have to make a guide for each job’s specific dimensions. Use strategic size templates as a reference for your pricing.
The better you understand your operations cost the more informed decisions you can make to understand maintenance cost that includes maintenance and other consumables.
Ink is the bulk of the cost when printing DTG but just as important is calculating for your maintenance and other consumables.
Maintenance on a printer like the Epson F2000 is pretty easy to calculate; your cost is essentially broken down into two procedures: the replacement parts for the print head cleaning kit and the cost of ink waste when doing a white ink tube flush. The print head cleaning kit is fixed, $100 every 1,000 prints or $.10 per shirt. The white ink tube flush is variable and completely dependent on time. If you were to print about 100 shirts per week for 6 weeks your cost would be about $.20 per shirt.
Other consumables are mainly pretreating solution but you can also include electricity, rent, labor, t-shirt cost or anything you want to calculate to achieve a more accurate understanding of overhead. I like to leave t-shirt costs out until I have the cost of my machine and main consumables accounted for. T-shirts are variable and I often mark up around 30% above wholesale.
I should note that your DTG printer will print exactly what you see on screen. So, in this case, using these solid color shapes on a dark shirt, our printer will print a solid 6x8 white rectangle and solid 6x8 blue over top. This type of design will estimate the full cost of a 6x8 print area. Your customers’ art will not likely cover every square inch of a 6x8 print area but I always argue it’s better to over-estimate than under.
Mark Up Accordingly:
Now that we have a solid understanding of our cost, you must mark up accordingly. The 6x8 guide with other costs factored equals $2.41. From here, I would factor shirt, markup and any other costs. Let’s say a shirt is $3.00, total $5.41. How would you mark this up? I suggest following my no less than 100% rule. Basically, I will never take less than 100% mark up on a job. In this case we’re looking at $10.82. For one shirt, $10.82 is an insane deal and we both know we should be charging more.
Pricing Guideline Theory:
DTG is significantly less labor intensive than screen printing and we have the ability to produce one-off garments quickly plus the margins can be very high. That being said, we want to charge a fair price but our time and efforts should be considered when setting a price chart.
I argue it’s best to charge a fair value for your time, expenses and discount, if needed, after the full price is quoted. By this I mean don’t give away your services when quoting a job; SELL your services. Remember, we have a massively distinct advantage over other printed shirt techniques; we can print one full color, full size image on a light or dark shirt within minutes.
Some people think this should be cheap, but consider the alternative. If a customer wants a picture of Little Jimmy printed on a shirt for his birthday, what are their options? Screen printing, of course, but that will cost art separations, films, screens, set-up, and print cost. For one shirt my old shop would charge $350 minimum. The customer could do a transfer, but those are thick, plastic, vinyl stickers, not ideal, and not necessarily cheap. DTG really is the best option and I think it’s fare to charge accordingly.
It’s better to factor all your charges up-front and discount later. Using the Little Jimmy shirt as an example, if the customer needs me to do art I might have a $20 per 1/2hour art charge. I might also include a one time set up fee of $10 that would cover testing and adjustments. I would then reference my chart depending on the print size and ink consumption to print Little Jimmy. Let’s say the print is 6x8 with a $3 shirt then we know 100% markup is $10.82 but for one shirt I might charge 200 or 300% markup ($16.23 or $21.64) then factor in the additional costs. A one off shirt for Jimmy might look like this:
Art: $20 / 1/2hour = $20
Set Up: $10
1 black youth large 6x8 print: $16.23
This may appear high but I think it’s fair. You should sell your customer on why this is a good price, but if you want to mark down to get the business you can. Your customer will appreciate the favor AND you know how far you can comfortably move. Try a 10% or 20% discount that way everybody wins and everybody’s happy.
Moral: do your best to understand costs and don’t sell yourself or your services short. DTG is fun — so enjoy it but ensure you’re making money.