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a person using a heat press

DTG vs Heat Press

Looking to open a new t-shirt business but aren’t sure what printing method to choose? Picking the right printing method is a critical decision not only because it will determine how profitable you will be but also because it will determine how fast your business grows, and whether or not you will be happy at what you do.

This guide compares direct to garment printing and heat transfer, and gives you tips on choosing the right one for your business.

Heat Transfer/Vinyl

Heat transfer is arguably the least expensive method you could use which makes it a great option if you have a tight budget or if you’re looking to produce custom apparel on a small scale.

A beginner level cutter for commercial purposes goes for around $1300 (we recommend staying away from the cheap $200 cutters). A perfect beginner level is the Graphtec CE6000 cutter, which lets you cut 15” broad vinyl, making it great for t-shirts.

Here’s how heat transfer works:

  • Create a design – some machines come with software but you can just use an external graphics design software to come up with a design.
  • Cut the vinyl – the cutter has blades that cut the shape you design out of the vinyl. Remember, the vinyl’s color is the design’s color.
  • Weed the vinyl – utilize ‘pick tools’ to peel off the unaligned sections of the vinyl to ensure your design is perfect.
  • Put your design on the shirt you’re looking to print and heat press to transfer the image to the shirt’s fabric.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of using heat transfer to print apparel.

  • Relatively cheap
  • It’s quite time consuming – it takes lots of time to cut out the vinyl and weed it out. That’s why you can’t use this method to work on large orders
  • The vinyl can be applied to all kinds of fabric – cotton, polyester, nylon, etc
  • You can do multiple colors simultaneously

Direct to Garment (DTG) Printing

Direct to Garment (DTG) is an Inkjet innovation that prints directly onto garments. When this technology was first invented, there were lots of problems with printing onto dark-colored fabrics using lighter-colored inks particularly white.

Then again, the printers needed lots of maintenance and were not very user-friendly. The present models have climbed to a whole new level – they can print on darker-colored garments using lighter-colored inks without any issues and they are a lot more user-friendly.

Here’s how DTG works:

  • Pre-treat the shirt if it is dark-colored. You don’t have to go through this step if the garment is light-colored.
  • Load the shirt into the DTG printer. Some printers will allow you to load up to 4 garments.
  • Open your design in the Inkjet RIP software and then print it.
  • Heat press the garment for 2 or 3 minutes to cure it

Apart from the awesome quality of the printing, you can print 1 to 50 shirts using this method very cost-effectively. Also, the design produced has a softer feel than those produced by other printing methods.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of DTG:

  • The printing is of very high quality – the printer produces full color images
  • The printer requires maintenance – you need to run about 20-minute cleaning routines daily. With some printers, the process is easy and cheap but with others, such as the Espon F2000, the process is costly as lots of ink is wasted
  • Cost-effective even for small orders
  • Only designed to print on cotton – no nylon or polyester allowed. Most other materials are also not suitable for the DTG printer

Additional tips for using the DTG method:

  • If you’re to use this method, you’ll need to find enough, well-ventilated storage space for the ink bottles. The ink can be quite costly (usually $150 to $300 per liter), so ensure there’s no spilling.
  • Good DTG printers go for around $10000 going up. Go for anything less than that and you’ll probably be trading features like the ability to print on dark-colored garments.
  • If you’re looking to print high-quality, full color graphics, this is the method to use. Remember, it’s profitable even when printing just one shirt.


There’s no entirely perfect method for printing garments. When it comes to heat transfer, the method is fast and cost-effective for printing small orders but then, it’s inefficient for large orders. DTG gives you the highest quality of graphics but then again, it won’t print on materials other than cotton.

Choosing the best printing method for your new custom shirt business is just a matter of assessing your situation. If you’re not sure if this business is for you or you’re working on a budget, just start out slowly by getting a vinyl cutter.

James M. Rai has been screen printing T-shirts and other textiles professionally and as a hobby for more than 15 years. During that time, he owned and operated a small screen printing shop in northern California for more than 7 years. More recently, James has gotten involved with Cricut and other cutting machines.