DIY T-shirt Printing vs Artist Shops

When you’re starting your own online business, choosing which marketplace to go with or which print plugin is one thing. But one question we get asked a lot is, “isn’t it cheaper and easier to do it all myself?” Oftentimes with online marketplaces, stores, and plugins, there is a fee that comes out of your profits. Even with Artist Shops, while shops are free and nothing is taken out of pocket, we have something called the ‘base cost’, which covers printing (and a ton more). But what are the out of pocket charges that ramp up your upfront costs when you choose the DIY t-shirt printing route? Let’s take a look at Artist Shops vs DIY t-shirt printing and see what going local with DIY printing might cost you!

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Before we start, what’s this ‘Base Cost’ thing?

I know what you’re thinking: Artist Shops is a free platform, so what’s up with this “base cost“? We promise you’re still not paying anything out of pocket for your shop! The base cost is a certain dollar amount (which varies for each item (check ’em out here). For example, it’s just $10 for the classic tee.) that’s deducted from a sale from your shop, but it covers a lot more than just printing and the product.

When you do DIY t-shirt printing, you’re paying out of pocket for the garment, manufacturing, and folding; that’s usually it. With Artist Shops, the base cost covers manufacturing, order handling, and the garment, shipping for your customers, customer service, any free shipping promos that happen, and credit card processing, just to name a few things. And it’s never a charge out of pocket; you only make money. That being said, here are a few things to take into consideration that you have to do yourself when you go the DIY t-shirt route!

Cost Comparison

There are two types of costs you have to consider when it comes to DIY t-shirt printing vs Artist Shops: money and time. Time really is money. Think about it; freelancers charge for the amount of work put in or by the hour, so it’s important to look at the amount of time and effort you put into running your online shop as a cost factor. Because every hour spent on your shop is an hour not making money (when you maybe could be). So let’s say that an hour of your time costs you $7.25 an hour – the average hourly minimum wage in the U.S.

Now let’s compare time and basic money costs:

DIY Artist Shops
Manufacturing Local average: $12.80/shirt All covered in Base Cost!
Credit Card Processing About 3.5% of each sale
Customer Service Costs time! Let’s say $10/hour spent on customer care, plus you pay for exchanges
Site Hosting Varies between sites: Shopify, for example, is $29/month
Shipping You cover shipping, you pay for shipping materials, plus let’s say it’s $10/hour for your time

Manufacturing Costs 

How much does it cost to actually make some shirts?


There are a few things as far as upfront, out of pocket costs you have to keep in mind:

  • Minimums. Do they have a minimum number of items you have to order? This can limit how many products you can realistically order (and offer) on a budget, especially if you’re just experimenting with different garments. One local place here in Chicago had a minimum of 12 items, whereas another had a minimum of 25, but for most printers and manufacturers, 25 items per order is on the low end.
  • Color limits. When you print DTG (Direct to Garment) like we do with Artist Shops, your design’s colors are unlimited. With screenprinting, you’re usually charged when your design contains 2+ colors because a new screen has to be made for each additional color in your design. So the print cost and setup fee increases as you add colors.
  • Folding. Believe it or not, folding garments is actually something you can be charged for! At one local place, the charge was $0.75/garment.
  • Inventory: This can be a bummer, not just because something didn’t sell, but because that’s money lost. You can give them away for next to nothing on your site, or you’re stuck with them. On the other side of things, you also need to consider that if your shop is doing well, you may run out of certain sizes and will need to re-stock, potentially costing you sales temporarily and costing you money. You also need to consider the possibility of insuring your items in case something happens, which is also a cost factor.
  • Storage. If you’re ordering a bunch of your own garments, you need a place to store it at home or, if you want to actually store it in a facility, that’s another cost to consider.
  • Shipping your items. If you want your items shipped to you from the manufacturers, there will be a cost to think about there as well.

Don’t get us wrong, supporting local printers and businesses is always great; it’s just not always the cheapest choice. As an experiment, we looked up three of the local screenprinters here in Chicago and averaged their prices for the following order: 27 Gildan 5000 men’s black tees (27 after looking at the highest minimum of one of the printers), nine smalls, nine mediums, and nine larges tees, with a five-color design. The average cost across these three places came to $19.49 per shirt. And the average total cost across these three places was $435.36 per order. Considering that this is for a pretty bare bones order – not to mention, excludes some extra large sizes that cost extra and women’s fits – that’s a lot of money for just one type of garment.


Where screenprinting locally or online costs you out of pocket, you pay us nothing to print your items; we only deduct that base cost when a sale is made, and it’s deducted from the profit – not from your wallet. In other words, the money in your bank account never goes down; it only goes up. Not to mention, because we do DTG printing, you can offer unlimited products with no backstock or unsold items that you lose money on. You can have unlimited colors in a design and for garments, and because we print on demand, you can also order samples for yourself (with free shipping!) for photoshoots, giveaways, or to sell IRL at just the base cost of each item.

Credit Card Processing

How much will you be charged for credit card processing? (Yeah, that’s a thing…)


You know how some stores or kiosks have a minimum you need to spend in order to use a credit card? Well, there’s actually a good reason for that. Most people don’t think about credit card processing when it comes to costs you need to take into consideration, but it’s an important one. When someone uses a credit card to purchase something through your shop, you’ll be charged a credit card processing fee by the credit card processor. That’s usually about 3.5% of your profits made from each sale, plus a $0.15 for every transaction…and that’s just for domestic customers. There are extra charges that come into play for international orders.


This is included in the base cost of any item that’s ordered! You pay nothing out of pocket and have nothing to keep track of.


Sending things via snail mail is a pain…


This is more about the hassle factor than the money (think going to the DMV). While it’s nice to be able to customize each order or maybe include a handwritten note or freebie, getting everything sent out also costs you time, money, and is an undeniable pain. And it’s not like you can wait until you’ve compiled enough orders – unless you want some snarky feedback on late deliveries, you’re kind of at the whim of when orders come in. Then, there’s shipping orders internationally. When it comes to shipping outside the country, there are additional costs and customs-related difficulties that can come into play.

Here are a few miscellaneous cost factors to keep in mind when it comes to shipping your own items:

  • Making and printing shipping labels
  • Buying shipping packaging and materials
  • Shipping/freight from the manufacturer to either yourself or your customers (sent to them by you or the manufacturer)
  • International customs fees


We take care of shipping out all the orders for you. You don’t have to worry about getting to the post office, getting orders out on time, making sure you budgeted enough for shipping costs, etc. Additionally, with Artist Shops there’s another surprise perk: we get volume discounts that get passed down to the customer too, and we also offer order tracking (which you would otherwise have to set up for DIY orders). For the service level we provide on every order, our rates are going to be cheaper (and less complicated) than DIY, especially when it comes to shipping internationally.

Returns & Customer Service

How much time do you have for customer service? 


Maybe a customer didn’t receive their product. Maybe they did and they’re not happy with the size or print IRL. Maybe they have questions about orders. Whatever the case, taking the time to 1: provide customer service and answer questions and 2: handling returns and exchanges is a huge time factor, and that’s on top of running your shop and trying to find time to commit to your day job, running your charity, doing your art, etc.!


With Artist Shops, we take care of all customer care and returns for you. We have an awesome team here to help both your customers and you out! But the best part? You have access to your customers’ email information, so if you’d ever like to send out a personalized thank you, newsletter, or free shipping code, you have that information at your disposal!

When it comes to customer service, you also need to consider the inventory aspect. If a customer wants to exchange an item they ordered for a different size and you’re out of that size, you and they are out of luck (unless you want to put in another bulk order).


The complications of limited items.


Having a limited supply of items can add an element of urgency for the customers, which can be great. But consider this: what if a customer who’s already purchased an item wants to exchange it for a size that you’ve run out of? Unless you want to buy a whole new bulk supply of items, you and the customer are both out of luck here, which can be frustrating for you both.


Because we print on demand, you never have to worry about running out of sizes, colors, items, etc. And there are still ways you can limit your products to create urgency without limiting them for yourself! You can artificially create limited time supplies in your Shop by taking down a design or eliminating sizes and styles. So you create the same urgency factor without the limitation or zero flexibility of truly not being able to bring sizes or items back for exchanges.

Site Hosting

Will you be charged for hosting your online shop? 


It depends on what site you use to host your online shop. Let’s look at two of the big ones: Shopify and Squarespace. Shopify costs at least $29/month. An online store on Squarespace is at least $26/month. And sites like Etsy will take a cut of your profits (and with Etsy, unlike the base cost with Artist Shops, that deduction doesn’t include any shipping, customer care, etc. – you’re more on your own). There’s also the factor of purchasing a domain name, which can be a yearly cost to factor into your budget.


Artist Shops have no signup cost and no monthly fees! And your Artist Shop is fully customizable, so you’re not losing the individual nature of a private site by using an Artist Shop. You can make your shop 100% unique to you and your brand.

Marketing & Promotion 

What about promotions and marketing yourself? 


If you offer your customers free shipping, that means you’re covering those shipping charges, which can add up for both domestic and international shipping. And if you drop the price of your items, you already paid out of pocket for manufacturing them, so you’re potentially losing money on sales. When it comes to social media, you’re kind of starting from square one, too.


With Artist Shops, we offer you free shipping codes to give to your customers often, and it costs you nothing. And because you haven’t paid for any of your items to be made, you don’t lose money already spent during sales.

When it comes to social media, while you still have to market your own items, you also have access to the vast, global Threadless audience! Between the #ArtistShops hashtag, the #Threadless hashtag, our Discover feed, and the fact that you might even get featured on our social media and blog, you have tons of outlets to be discovered through! You can also share updates directly to Twitter and Facebook about your shop directly from your Dashboard with shop updates, and you can include all of your social media icons in your About page, making your shop a tool for gaining followers, as well.


Alright, I feel ya; it’s a lot of info to read through. So here’s a quick breakdown of all of the things that you have to pay for individually when you print your items yourself and the one fee that covers all of those things that you have to worry about with Artist Shops: the base cost.

Final food for thought: this post just focuses on tees. If you want to sell anything else – other clothing styles, accessories, home items, art prints, etc. – all of this can get even more complicated when you do DIY printing. But with Artist Shops? We have literally dozens of products for you to choose from, yielding over 2,000 (!!) possibilities of combinations between colors, sizes, etc.! There are no limits!

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Featured illustration by Katie Lukes

Want to start an online business? Try Artist Shops for free!

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