Print Branding – Timelines & Planning

Last Updated: 9/20/2022

Order Timeline Summary

As a general rule, most items will ship within 1-3 weeks after order placement. However, the timeline for any given item/order can vary considerably. Some items can be produced and shipped within 24 hours, whereas others require 4+ weeks.


How far in advance should I plan my orders?

Due to COVID-19 and ongoing supply chain issues, there is more variation with lead times (and product availability) than ever before. Prior to 2020, the general rule of thumb was to place any given order 3-4 weeks ahead of time. During “normal” times, this would normally allow sufficient time for brainstorming, exploring available product options, narrowing it down, placing your order, and waiting for production, shipment, and delivery.

The rule of thumb now, however, is to place your order 4-6 weeks in advance if the timing is important. See the section below titled, “How can I determine the lead time for any given item or order?” for more detailed info on calculating lead times for specific items, as this will ultimately control your timeline.

Planning 4-6 weeks ahead is not an absolute necessity, and there are still plenty of items available much sooner (within 24-48 hours, even!). However, if you are sensitive to getting exactly the item(s) you want and you have a deadline, you really cannot plan far enough in advance. Planning 2-3 months out would be ideal, frankly, but 4-6 weeks will allow sufficient time in most cases.

Notably, if you are flexible when it comes to product substitutions — then even despite current inventory challenges and delays resulting from COVID-19 and supply chain issues — you will often still be OK if you place your orders within “standard” time frames (i.e. place your orders 3-4 weeks in advance vs. 4-6 weeks in advance). This is because stock issues and delays are usually isolated and only apply to specific items and/or suppliers. In turn, if you have flexibility to substitute a similar product if necessary – then you can typically still get what you need within normal lead times.

That being said, if you absolutely must have Item A, and only Item A — and when you also have a strict deadline or event date — then it becomes more critical to plan further in advance.

Please view the The Order Process page to gain a better understanding of what’s involved with any given order, including the associated timelines.


How long will it take to receive my order?

Once you have approved and paid for an order, it normally takes anywhere from 2-4 weeks to receive your items. That being said, the timing for any specific item or order can vary greatly. Some items from certain suppliers are available to ship within 24-48 hours. Other items may require 3-4 weeks for production alone, before your finished items are shipped to you.

The reason timelines vary so much is because there are hundreds of vendors in Steve’s supplier network, and they all do business in their own way. Furthermore, certain types of items and production methods require more time than others. Depending on these factors, your order may be produced very quickly or it could take some time.


How can I determine the lead time for any given item or order?

In light of the above info, you might be wondering how to calculate the lead time for a specific item or order.

Many suppliers publish lead times for their products online, so you can often check the supplier’s online catalog (website) to find this information.

Simply navigate to the product page in question, and you will usually find the current lead time easily enough. For example, Koozie Group currently lists the production time at 9 business days for their Carabiner Badge Holder:

That being said, the best way to determine the timeline for a given order is to ask Steve. Through his private system, he can check and verify lead times, pricing, stock levels, and shipping quotes for any given item and supplier. Steve also calls every supplier to verify this info prior to accepting an order, to make sure everything is in proper order before moving forward.


How does the math work out for “Standard Lead Time: 9 Days” in the example from the previous section?

Great question! When we talk about “lead times” in the industry, it’s important to make sure we are all on the same page to avoid misunderstandings and ensure on-time delivery.

The first thing to know about lead times is they are calculated in business days and not calendar days. What that means is weekends and holidays do not count towards the lead time.

The second thing to know is that supplier lead times only start running after all confirmations and artwork approvals have been provided from S.MICHAEL Creative Branding to the supplier. Specifically, the following steps must be completed for every order before the lead time starts:

  • The suppliers receive an order from S.MICHAEL Creative Branding
  • Payment has been made to the supplier by S.MICHAEL Creative Branding
  • The supplier confirms the order and generates an art mockup for review
  • S.MICHAEL Creative Branding approves this art mockup and sends the order to production

For any given supplier and item, these initial steps often proceed quickly and within the same day, but sometimes these steps take a few business days before the published lead time starts running.

Thirdly, lead times do not factor in shipping time. Depending on where the supplier’s factory is located, where your shipment is going, and what shipping method you select (everything from ground to overnight is typically available), shipping time typically varies from 1-5 business days for most orders placed and delivered within the continental US.

Fourth, every supplier has a “cutoff time” for when orders are processed. Most cutoff times are somewhere between 11am-2pm ET. What this means is simple: If S.MICHAEL Creative Branding submits your order to a supplier after the cutoff time, the clock doesn’t start running until the following business day. Therefore, depending on the time of day when you place your order, you may need to account for one additional business day in your overall timeline.

What all of this means is that an item with a “standard 9 business day lead time” will most likely arrive 12-18 days from the time you place the order w/S.MICHAEL Creative Branding, depending on the supplier and the shipping method.

Last but not least, please keep in mind the clock doesn’t start running until you have approved and paid for your order with S.MICHAEL Creative Branding.


Are there any guidelines about what items can be sourced quickly, versus those that require more time?

Yes and no. With most products, unfortunately, the only way to know the lead time — at least with any reliability and certainty — is to walk through the steps laid out above. That being said, there are a few general guidelines that are helpful to keep in mind:

  • Embroidery requires more time than most production methods.
  • Anything produced entirely custom (e.g. custom-knit socks, die-cast custom keychains, etc.) generally takes longer, because the entire item must be produced vs. simply applying a logo imprint to an off-the-shelf “blank” ready for print.
  • Items from popular brands are often in high demand, and thus often on backorder, making it more important to plan your orders further in advance.
  • Items from certain brands are not available whatsoever, or have special restrictions and limitations imposed upon them by the brand owner.
  • Some suppliers have “24-hour” catalogs with a select list of products that can be decorated and shipped within 24-48 hours. This can be helpful in a pinch, but you are of course restricted to what’s available through the 24-hour program in such cases. Feel free to contact Steve for a list of participating suppliers and products anytime.


Are timelines and delivery dates guaranteed?

Steve cannot provide absolute guarantees for timelines and delivery dates. This is because his suppliers’ production operations are outside of his direct control, as are the operations of the logistics providers who ultimately transport and deliver your orders (i.e. UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc.).

That being said, after 10+ years in the industry and thousands of orders later, Steve has only ever had one (1) order that did not make its deadline — and that’s because UPS delivered his client’s package to an incorrect address.

Bottom line, you can and should feel confident when placing your orders. For critical orders, however, you are encouraged to add a time buffer (and plan/place such orders sufficiently far in advance) to avoid cutting it too close – especially during Fall and around holidays, which are peak periods.


Anything else I should know about timelines for order placement?

Production and shipping times are often extended in the Fall, especially once November hits, due to it being peak season every year. Furthermore, even despite the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, demand reached all-time highs in 2020 and 2021 and shows no signs of letting up anytime soon.

Other key dates and holidays may also see extended production times, and more items out of stock than normal, in the weeks leading up to them. For example:

  • Back to school (early Fall)
  • Winter holidays starting with Thanksgiving and ending with New Years
  • Spring break
  • Memorial day
  • 4th of July

For these reasons, you are always encouraged to add more time when planning around these dates. For example, Thanksgiving orders should generally be placed in early-to-mid October, Christmas orders by early-to-mid November, and 4th of July orders by the start of June.

Many suppliers are completely shut down the last week of every year, too (from around Christmas until New Years), which is helpful to keep in mind because orders placed around then will typically require an extra week, on top of peak season and holiday delays.

Ready to discover what's possible for you?

Get in touch w/Steve to start planning your next order: