T-Shirts 101

A SwagChimp Buying Guide For T-Shirts

There can be a lot to consider when purchasing custom t-shirts, but don’t worry – SwagChimp is here to break things down for you.

There are 3 variables that come into play when ordering t-shirts:


Style refers to type of t-shirt we’re going to print on. Shirts can be constructed from different fabrics (cotton, polyester blends, bamboo, etc.) Shirts are also produced by dozens, if not hundreds, of manufacturers, each offering their own sets of colors, cuts and price points. We know it can be overwhelming, so feel free to give us a call anytime to talk about the world of t-shirt options out there! Give us 5 minutes on the phone and we’ll save you an hour of browsing through shirts you don’t really know much about!

Ask for a good / better / best recommendation
We’ll put together pricing/options on three “levels” of shirts for you to compare.

Wearability is the key
Choose a shirt that someone will *want* to wear again and again.

That’s the secret to maximum brand exposure! Put yourself in someone else’s shoes: would you wear your own company’s shirts?

Get our “Best Picks Priced Better” recommendations for great value-priced options with the same look and feel of higher-priced, name brand shirts.

Think about your audience
Not every design needs to be printed on a fashion-fit, tri-blend T.

It’s perfectly alright to use a more generic shirt for a large giveaway, but definitely consider the options from the “Best Picks Priced Better” category as a way of stepping up your game without breaking the bank.

Get a feel for fabrics
Ask for samples so you can understand the difference between a cotton T, cotton/poly blend, a cotton/poly/rayon tri-blend, and other materials.

Ask for recycled and organic options
An ever-growing category of Ts; from recycled blends, to organic cotton to renewable fibers like bamboo – if you’ve got an audience who can see value in these kinds of choices, and you can make sure everyone knows what kind of Ts they’re wearing, it’s worth the extra expense that goes along with these materials.


Quantity is pretty straightforward. Our standard minimum for screen printing is 36 shirts; with price breaks at 72, 144, 288, 540, 1000 and 3000.

Ask for all the price breaks!
If you need 125 shirts, you may benefit from a better deal at the 144-piece pricing.

Set-up charges are static, no matter what quantity
So, if you think you may need to reprint these Ts six months down the road, it may help you to double the first order and roll the cost of the set-up into the larger batch of Ts.

Mix and match styles
As long as the imprint is the same, we can mix and match different types of Ts in the same order to get you a better price.

Each style would be priced differently, but the you’d get the benefit of the quantity discount based on the total.


An underbase is a layer of white ink that is placed under the whole design to be printed on a dark colored T.

  • Without the underbase, imprint will not be 100% opaque; the color of the shirt will come into play, peeking through the imprint color.
  • Each design color is placed on top of the white layer, ensuring opacity and a great PMS match.
  • Printing without an underbase is great way to achieve a vintage, weather look to your design – but PMS matches cannot be guaranteed.

A screen is a piece of fine mesh, encased in wood or plastic, which gets “burned” with a negative image of your artwork.

  • The screen is laid on top of a pallet, with your t-shirt in between.
  • Ink is mixed and a squeegee-like piece of equipment spreads the ink across the screen, imprinting your design.
  • A separate screen is needed for each color in your design, plus the underbase.
  • Since the quality of the screens degrade over time, they’re not permanent items which we can always have on file. Reprints within a month don’t get charged a second set of screen fees. After that, screen fees are reduced by ½ for reprints.

How important is that second location?
Especially on a small run of Ts, keeping the imprint to the front only can save a ton of money.

Imprint Colors vs Imprint Locations
It’s cheaper, and can be more effective to add a second color to the front design vs. an imprint on the back.

Consider the sleeve!
The sleeve can be a fun place to put a 3-4” logo, and a great opportunity to get sponsors, partners, etc. on the T and have them share some of the costs.

The SwagChimp way!

We’re able to manipulate each variable to show you the best of what’s out there, and maybe even achieve some savings at each step.

2/3 Variables

  • If you know two of out the three variables, we can play around with the third to show you options – eg, if you know you need 150 Ts, blue with a white and yellow imprint, we can show you the costs for the good/better/best options.
  • Or, if you know you need them to blue with a white and yellow imprint, and you know you HAVE to have American Apparel Ts, we can show you the various price breaks so you can make the most cost-effective decision.

SwagChimp labs

  • We’ve put the chimp crew to work, testing/wearing new t-shirts all of the time to bring you the best recommendations possible.
  • Ask for our latest recommendations based on your needs!

Samples, Samples, Samples

  • As we narrow down the selection, ask for samples of the blank Ts you’re considering.
  • You get to check out the look and feel of the shirts, and decide for yourself whether one is worth the extra $2; or whether one manufacturer’s Royal Blue looks better to you than another’s.