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Why is there a minimum quantity for screen printing orders?

You’re calling around getting price quotes for an order of screen printed t-shirts you need for an upcoming event. Everywhere you call tells you there’s a minimum quantity you have to order. Wondering why that is? American Tees is happy to explain how overhead costs play a big factor in setting a minimum order quantity for screen printing.


Pre-production takes precedence. Regardless of how many garments we make, pre-production set up time for screen printing is the same. This is partially the reason for minimum ordering quantities. The screen printing process starts out with talking to our client services staff to place the order.  We then gather your ideas to begin creating the look and feel of your screen printed design. This ensures our team can curate the perfect order for you!


After collecting the details of your order, our purchasing department orders the garments. Then your order is sent to the art department to draw up your design. Most art processes take 30 to 45 minutes. More detailed designs can range from 1-2 hours and up to 3-4+ hours. A really great feature about American Tees is that we don’t charge for art work unless we are recreating a hand drawing. Our art department will send proofs back and forth with you. We’ll continue to make edits as many times as needed to accomplish the desired look of your screen printed design.  Our general turnaround time is a week and a half to two weeks.  We include about 2-3 days for artwork approval in that time frame.  Should you need to extend the time for artwork, we happily oblige, we would just need to move your due date out accordingly. 

Art work for a screen printed apparel order with a minimum quantity requirement.

In the next phase, our film department will pull out color separations, add crop marks, and pull in the design details. Then they print a film for each color of ink to prepare everything for our production staff. 


When your order reaches our production staff, the first step is burning screens. But keep in mind, there is a whole other behind-the-scenes process that goes on to get a screen ready to burn your image on to. This process plays a part in the need for minimum quantity requirements for screen printed apparel orders.

Side Bar on Reclaiming Screens: The process of reclaiming screens is actually done by one person hired specifically to do this job.  Since we re-use screens after each use, we have to put the screens through the process called, reclaiming.  Meaning, our Screen Reclaimer, takes the screens used from the jobs the week prior, (we keep about 200 screens in the shop at all times) and begins to remove all tape, ink and residue.  After that, they will put the screens (usually two at a time) in the wash out bay and begin to pressure wash the last of the ink out of the screen using an ink remover chemical.  They spray the chemical on the screen and use scrub brushes to really scrub the set in ink off the screen and then pressure wash it off.

Removing the emulsion is the next step. The emulsion has a very similar process as the ink when it comes to removing it from the screen.  After removing the emulsion, it is time to degrease the screen. The degreaser will remove any haze and leftover particles from the screen. This allows us to get a much better image when we recoat the screen. After completing this process, we must allow time for the screen to dry. When the screen is dry, it’s time to re-coat the screen with light-sensitive emulsion. We place the screen in a dark room to dry until we are ready to burn the screen.  So as you can see the time and money alone just in reclaiming the screens and preparing them for the job, would require anyone to have a minimum on screen printing orders!  

As we continue…

…Films will be used to burn the screens. Our Screen Burner will create a screen for each print location and each color on your order. After burning screens, we wash out the emulsion that hasn’t been cured from the burning of the screen. The screen(s) are still wet so prior to being used they’ll need time to dry. Screens are like a screen door. That means it’s necessary to tape the edges to prevent the ink from seeping through onto the garment. We then load each screen onto the press. It’s important that we center it and get it straight on the board. 

The set up time takes 5-10 minutes to set up for one color. A 6 color can take up to a couple of hours to set up depending on the detail of the design, how close the registration is, and actual printing of the garments. We run each garment through our dryer when printing is complete. Shirts and inks have different cure times. Once the shirts are dry, the press coordinator will sort each order out and do a quality control check. Then we box the order to send to client services. They will let the customer know the order is ready.

Check out this video of our team applying ink colors to a t-shirt. As you’ll see in the video, we must use different screens for each different color. That’s part of the reason for minimum quantity requirements on screen printing orders. This is just a glimpse into part of the screen printing process!

A Lot of Work, But a Great Reward

As you can see, there’s so much that goes into producing screen printed apparel. Every detail listed above is what American Tees specifically does to create screen printed apparel. You can expect a similar process from other companies, hence the reason for the minimum quantity requirements for screen printed apparel orders everywhere you call. A company taking all of these steps to produce two garments per design needed would be extremely costly. That would mean the company would consistently take a loss. That wouldn’t keep the doors of a business open for very long.

At American Tees, our screen printing minimum order quantity is 12 per design. The shirt colors can be different. However, the design just has to be the same size and have the same ink colors! Unfortunately, that means you wouldn’t be able to screen print your toddler sized shirt with your adult sized shirts. We have solutions to that problem should you find yourself facing it, so don’t hesitate to reach out to our team to find out more!

We hope we’ve given you a better understanding of what all goes into producing screen printed apparel and why screen printing minimum ordering quantities exist. If you still have questions, you are always welcome to contact our team at American Tees!

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