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Cost Comparison: Heat Transfers

Josh Ellsworth

Josh is the VP of sales, dealer channel for Stahls'. He deals in the sales and implementation of heat-applied, apparel-decorating systems with a focus on customization. He holds skills in the production, sale, and marketing of customized apparel. He presents seminars at trade shows and contributes articles to trade publications, like Printwear magazine.

When an order comes in, what’s the right way to determine how to produce it? I’d venture to say most shops try to fit applications into their output devices, meaning that, if Customer A walks in and wants their logo on something it is either embroidered, screen printed, direct printed or heat pressed according to which technology the shop employs, rather than what technology is best suited for the task.

While I believe having a diverse array of techniques at your disposal is beneficial, it’s definitely cost-prohibitive for most decorators. It’s no surprise, then, that today’s shop features different decorating disciplines as well as important networked relationships for those services they don’t offer. In this scenario, when the customer comes in with a need, we have solutions. We don’t have to turn them away. This is critical to success in today’s economic environment.

Given the multitude of solutions, how can one decide which technique to use for each particular job? How will we advise our customers? Is it durability? Is it print quality? Or is it just whatever the sales person knows best?  I’d say it’s probably all of these as they relate directly to customers’ needs; it’s about what the customer wants.

The fact remains that any one of many methods would produce a satisfactory garment and a satisfied customer. So that’s when we need to decide based off of what’s best for the business. In these instances, profitability is the key determining factor. Making a sound business decision in terms of profitability requires a good understanding of what it costs to produce a customer’s art using each of the technologies you offer.  Let’s take a look at what it would cost to produce a 6" X 10", two-color design with the different methods available.

Simple comparisons

The cost of ink is very minimal when talking screen printing, so for our purposes, we’ll just account for the cost of the burning the screens. Since we would have to burn a screen for each color, we can calculate the cost of a screen at roughly $20 x 2 colors to find out that we have $40 in screen setup charges. Of course there are labor costs involved but for a quick estimate we can take $40/12 pieces in the order to arrive at roughly $3.33 per graphic.

With heat-applied film, the cost is a little different. The number of colors is important, but not as critical to the total cost as the number of square inches in the design. In order to calculate material usage, we need a calculation in square inches for both the red and black portions of the design. 

Simply take the dimensions of the outermost edges and arrive at the following:

Black design = 6" X 10" or 60 square inches

Red design = 3" X 3" or 9 square inches

Total of 69 square inches

In order to figure out a rough cost for heat applied films, multiply the number of total square inches by the film’s cost per square inch, which we’ll estimate to be $0.008. 

$0.008 x 69 = $0.55 per graphic

Again, there are also labor calculations to be considered such as weeding time and heat application time, but a rough estimate of cost is a quick way to arrive at a decision on what technology to use.

Adding to the equation

Now that we know our general costs and rules, let’s add a more colors to the equation and compare these options, plus heat-applied film with another graphic. Our new study will be on a five-color logo, left chest placement at 5" X 6" (or 30 square inches).

Screen Printing

5 (colors) x $20 (per screen) = $100 setup charge

Heat-Transfer Film

5 (colors) x 30 (square inches each) = 150 total square inches

150 square inches x $0.008 = $1.20

Print/Cut Heat Transfer Film

30 (square inches) x $0.0154* per square inch = $0.46

* In last month’s column, we identified the cost of printed heat transfer media to be approximately $0.011 per square inch. With print/cut media, masking material is needed to transfer the graphic to the shirt which adds an additional $0.0044, for a total cost per square inch of $0.0154.

As referenced in the chart below, print/cut film excels on this type of graphic on quantities up through 144 pieces. 

Of course, first we need to deliver on customer’s wants, than we can deliver more profit to the bottom line. Having a better understanding of what decorating method works best for varying types of art and varying applications will help you make more money.