Why Is Screen Printing So Expensive?

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Screen printing is an excellent art technique used to transfer brilliant stencil designs onto various materials. However, this artistic practice is far from cheap and often comes with an expensive price tag. So why is screen printing so expensive?

Screen printing is so expensive due to using multiple colored inks, the cost of materials the design is printed on, and not printing a bulk of items at once. Additionally, it’s a pricey art because you must also pay the artist for their time if you’re not doing the screen printing yourself.

In this article, I’ll go over why screen printing is expensive and include a breakdown of costs for you to consider before you start working on your screen printing technique. So, Why Is Screen Printing So Expensive?

Full Breakdown of Screen Printing Costs

Screen printing expenses include the cost of materials and, if you’re paying someone else to do the work, the time the artist will spend setting up, cleaning the screens, and perfecting the designs. The price will be much higher if you use multiple colors or more intricate details in your art. 


The cost of materials is broken down into two parts

  • The cost of the ink used to print
  • The material on which the design is being printed 

The ink can cost anywhere from $3 to more than $8 per color, depending on your design size. Additionally, if you want more than one color to be used, you will be charged for each added color. If you’re screen printing the design, a jar of colored ink typically costs a little over $10, depending on the brand. 

While the most popular colors like white, black, gray, and even blue are common and inexpensive, other ink colors not used often, like bright yellows or reds, may set you back even more, depending on availability. 

Also, the cost of the materials you’re printing on will increase the overall cost of screen printing. You can use multiple materials, including paper, canvas, and fabrics. Some materials, like paper, will be less expensive, especially since you can purchase them in bulk. 

If you’re curious whether you can use screen printing ink on harder materials, check out my article discussing whether or not screen printing ink can be used for block printmakingOpens in a new tab..

However, if you choose to print on fabric, one of the most common uses of screen printing, the overall cost will depend on what materials you choose and their size. 

The most common material choice is cotton (specifically for t-shirt printing), costing around $10 per piece. This total does not include the added price of all the inks you will use. The price will be higher if you use more expensive materials like polyester or nylon. 


Whether you’re doing the screen printing yourself or hiring someone else, you will have to factor in the charge for the equipment. Because screen printing is a timely process that requires colors to be washed from the screen each time you introduce a new color, you will also have to consider the cost of the time needed to maintain the equipment.

If you’re screen printing yourself, you must purchase more than just ink. You also have to invest in the following:

  • Quality screen printing screens with frames
  • A squeegee or scraper to spread the ink
  • Stencil materials
  • Sponges or cloth to clean the edges
  • Thick tape. 

Not all screen printing screens cost the same. Aluminum screens are cheaper and more accessible, yet you may need to replace them quickly due to their lack of durability. Wooden frames are more expensive, but you won’t need to replace them as often if they are correctly stored. 

You need materials like the squeegee, tape, and cleaning materials to complete the process. While these are usually items typically found in the home, you’ll likely need to purchase ones that will not cause harm to your printing project or scrape more ink away from the design in the ink-spreading process. 

In addition, some screen printing pieces are made using some kind of emulsion, which is a paste that uses a specialized techniqueOpens in a new tab. to transfer designs onto the screen before adding ink. The emulsion is spread and then placed into equipment that embeds the design into the screen’s mesh.

While this process is excellent, it is much more costly. One jar or cup of emulsion is triple the price of one jar of ink. While one jar can last a decent amount of time, it is still a cost that you must account for. 

Hiring Another Artist To Screen Print for You

If you’re hiring an artist to complete the screen printing art for you, you will still need to pay a decent fee to cover the time it will take the artist to change, clean, and set up the screens and other equipment. Every print has to be done individually by hand, and the process gets more timely the more design elements there are. The more time it costs for your artists to complete the job, the higher the price overall.

Multiple Ink Colors

Another reason screen printing is expensive is that, unlike other forms of printing, multiple colors are used in layers. These layers each have an independent cost because they require a new color and screen to be used in the process.

For screen printing, a design is created by using layering patterns. If multiple colors are used, all items are printed with one color first. After, the screen is cleaned or replaced with another color on all items once more. This switching continues until all requested colors have been incorporated into the design. 

This approach is more expensive because the colors are different, and it takes more time to change through the materials. It also leaves more opportunity for inconsistency or errors when layering different colors that don’t take to the material or line up with the previous printed design. It means making more alterations or, in extreme cases, starting over with more materials through trial and error. 

Not Buying Materials in Bulk 

Not only does the type of material you buy affect the overall price of your screen printing budget, but the amount also does. 

If you don’t purchase your screen printing ink or the items you wish to print your design in bulk, your cost will increase significantly. While many believe buying more items in bulk results in spending more inefficiently, this is not the case. Yes, you will be spending more on a bigger order, but it saves money by reducing the cost of the average amount spent on each item.

This spending frequently occurs when buying printed shirts or other wearable items from artists. On average, buying a dozen or fewer specific printed pieces costs $5 or more. Yet, buying more than that reduces the price per piece to anywhere from $2 to $3. 

Extra Costs for Hiring an Artist To Create Your Print Design Template

If you already have a design you want to be printed, then the artist can adapt it based on the available ink and requirements. But, if you need someone to draw out the design for you before printing it, you are looking at a lot of extra fees. 

Every price depends on the individual artist, but each may include charges for tasks such as consultation, the design creation itself, and a fee if it was requested in a short amount of time. 

This additional cost is not a requirement for screen printing any art. However, if you consult with an artist to design your idea, you will need to factor in a much higher cost. And it will of course, depend on the material in which you want to do the screen printing onto.


Final Words

Screen printing is a very expensive art process because of all the materials and steps involved in making the prints. Not only do the different colors of ink cost a lot, but the materials they are used on also factor into the budget. 

You also have to consider the additional cost if you’re purchasing your screenprint art through another artist who may have a set of established service fees on top of the individual materials.

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Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

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