T-shirt Printing Methods

Different Types of T-shirt Printing Methods: In Depth Discussion By An Experts

Looking to start customizing and selling t-shirts?

You will obviously need to print them with different designs according to the taste and preferences of your customers. As such, you’ll need to decide on which t-shirt printing technique to use.

For starters, different methods of printing t-shirts have different efficiencies, so one method might be suitable for ten t-shirts but almost useless when it comes to printing a hundred t-shirts. Again, each method may be suited for certain fabrics but totally unsuitable for others.

You’ll need to consider how many colors will be going into each design before settling on a printing technique because not all methods support the creation of multi-color designs at once.

Another reason why choosing a printing method is vital is the fact that different methods have varying investment requirements. While you may start doing vinyl transfers with close to no capital, starting a screen printing or a DTG business will require a good amount of cash.

As you can see, there are many essential reasons why choosing a printing method is important.

Without further ado, we will delve into the common t-shirt printing methods. 

1. Screen Printing

Also known as silkscreen printing or screen printing happens to be the method that the pros prefer, possibly because of the awesome results in regards to quality.

To pull off a screen-print, you need a nylon mesh and a stencil/template. In the set-up, the nylon mesh holds the stencil in place, and a water-proof material blocks the negative space you’re looking to design.

You then spread the ink all over the screen often using a squeegee and the ink permeable negative space allows your design to be printed.

Finally, you take the screen off then allow the design to dry and cure.

Though silkscreen printing is one of the oldest methods of printing t-shirts, it has remained one of the most preferred methods as it creates vibrant and long-lasting designs.

To print multi-colored designs, you have to make different screens as each screen supports just one color.

This might seem time-consuming, but unlike other methods, where a template is used for just one design, each screen can be used multiple times, and that’s what makes screen printing efficient and suitable for large orders.

Nonetheless, we wouldn’t recommend it where you’re preparing different complex, multi-colored designs.

If you’re looking to do mass printing where you’ll be mostly dealing with similar designs, say printing for sports teams or organizations, then screen printing would be an excellent choice.

Pros

  • Relatively cost-efficient for bulk orders.
  • The ink is absorbed deep into the garment, creating impressive, brilliant designs.
  • Screens can be reused, making the method time-efficient for similar designs.
  • Compatible with most fabrics.
  • The designs are durable.

Cons

  • The inks make the method a bit messy.
  • Requires relatively huge space that’s free of dust to ensure the screens are well conserved.
  • Needs lots of practice to master.
  • Unsuitable for complex, multi-color designs as a different screen has to be created for each color.

2. Direct to Garments (DTG)

This is yet another method that is popular among the pros. It works like paper printing in the office, and to use the method, you will need to get inks and a textile printer.

As with paper printing, you load (or create) your designs to the computer then feed them to the printer, which sets these designs on the t-shirt. The only difference with paper printing is that rather than using paper, you’re using fabrics.

Looking to print out designs that are very complicated? This method is your best shot. With computer programs like the Adobe Photoshop, you will be able to define the tiniest details and transfer them to the t-shirt with a high degree of accuracy using the printer.

As the ink used here is only thin, extra-thick layers will not be created.

If you decide to use DTG, you had better ensure that the printer is of great quality. That’s because if you use a poor-quality printer, you are likely to come up with a low-resolution print with unsightly dotted patterns.

Pros

  • Can print the most complicated multi-color designs.
  • Super-fast and thus suitable for very large orders
  • Saves space as the DTG printers are typically compact
  • As opposed to screen printing, where the inks spill and create a mess, there’s minimal to no spilling and thus no mess
  • Soft and smooth prints

Cons

  • Only suitable for cotton t-shirts. When used on other fabrics, the design comes out a bit dull..
  • DTG machines are quite costly, making the method unaffordable for people with only a small budget..
  • The printer will require proper handling and maintenance. Check the user manual for the specific details on this.

3. Dye Sublimation

If you’ve ever seen a t-shirt with a huge design that was spread all over it, the t-shirt was likely printed using the dye sublimation method.

This method is suited for light fabrics especially where you want to print a large design.

Although it costs a lot to produce a dye sublimation, the resulting design looks very clear with a high resolution, and it leaves the customers happy.

When you need to create awesome designs on polyester t-shirts, dye sub is the best method. But, don’t make the mistake of bringing cotton t-shirts to the scene; the design will likely be horrible.

When using this technique, you’re basically using a special liquid dye that dries up and solidifies when it comes into contact with the materials like polyester. For sublimation to take place properly, you have to apply some heat and pressure.

The best thing about this approach is that it brings out designs that are not only cute but also long-lasting. In fact, it’s as though the ink becomes a part of the fabric – so appropriate where quality, professional results are needed.

Pros

  • Super soft and smooth designs.
  • Breathable prints.
  • Quality prints that won't fade, peel, crack or deteriorate in other ways.

Cons

  • Creases and folds, like armpit areas, are hard to dye.
  • Works on polyester fabrics but unsuitable for other fabrics. The less the polyester content, the less the effectiveness.
  • Relatively expensive.

4. Heat Press Printing

If you’re just getting started with t-shirt printing and don’t have many or large orders, heat printing would be a very appropriate technique. It will save you not only resources but also time.

With heat printing, you use a special kind of paper, known as a transfer paper to make your designs and then you transfer the designs to the t-shirt using heat and pressure.

In most cases, vinyl is used as the transfer paper, and it has an adhesive material on one side and a strippable tape on the opposite side. Once you have printed out your design and pressed it on to the t-shirt, you hold the tape and strip it, leaving only the design.

The tape is typically the glossy side, and that’s what you have to strip.

Note: You need to know details about heat pressing time and temperature guide before start printing with heat press.

Pros

  • Fairly simple.
  • Produces excellent quality – appropriate for full-color prints.
  • Suitable for complex designs.

Cons

  • Slower than virtually all the other methods,
  • Unfit for heat-sensitive fabrics,
  • Quite inappropriate for dark garments.

5. Heat Transfer Vinyl 

This technique uses a special soft cloth that you have to cut into various shapes before transferring them to the fabric using a heat press. The heat press can be either a machine or an iron box.

To cut out the shapes, you need a Cricut machine.

Here, you’re basically taking one image and transferring it to a different surface.

If your business is (or will be) about printing small graphics or slogans, then heat transfer vinyl is suitable.

Pros

  • Long lasting results
  • Easy to do

Cons

  • Not suitable for huge orders.
  • Inappropriate for fabrics that are sensitive to high heat levels.

6. Plastisol transfer 

This method is quite similar to screen printing, with the exception that rather than transferring the dye to screens, you transfer it to plastisol and finally to the t-shirt.

Many t-shirt printing entrepreneurs use outsourcing here for the sake of efficiency. In that regard, they come up with designs, send these designs to a printing company that prints them on high-grade plastisol, and then these companies ship the plastisol back to the t-shirt entrepreneurs.

You could use the same method, and once you receive the plastisol, you can stick it on to your t-shirts using a heat press.

Pros

  • Great quality just like that produced via screen printing.
  • Economical as several designs can be printed on a single plastisol paper.
  • No mess (unlike with screen printing).
  • Good for testing the waters. You can test different designs, and once you stumble upon one that sells a lot, you can change to screen printing which is more efficient.

Cons

  • Transfers crack and wash out if they’re not placed properly
  • The supplier might require a minimum order
  • Huge runs can be time-consuming.

7. Computer-aided Design (CAD) Cut Printing 

This is yet another method that involves transferring designs on to the fabric using heat.

In a majority of the cases, the technique is used where numbers, logos, and names are being printed.

Designs are created on colored vinyl using the CAD-Cut system, and these designs are transferred onto the t-shirt using a heat press.

In the event that you’re printing similar designs of one to three colors, then the CAD-Cut method is perfect.

Pros

  • Durable designs
  • Efficient for small runs
  • The designs can be applied with ease to any part of the t-shirt.
  • Applicable to all sorts of fabric

Cons

  • Cutting and weeding the vinyl is a time-consuming process.
  • Unsuitable for complex designs – only suited for basic shapes

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What paper is used to transfer designs to the t shirts?

It is known as a heat transfer paper. You normally print an image on the heat transfer paper either using an inkjet printer or ordinary ink then transfer that design to the t shirt using a heat press.

2. How is vinyl printing done?

Vinyl printing is a simple t shirt printing method where you cut out your designs on colored vinyl, then use heat and pressure to stick the cut outs to the t shirt. A Cricut machine comes in handy for cutting out designs.

3. How much should I charge for my custom t shirts?

Normally, t shirt entrepreneurs charge an average of 5 to 9 dollars per color-printed t-shirt. But there are various aspects to consider before settling on a price. For instance, the more the complexity of the design, the higher the price. Again, you might reduce the price a bit for clients who order t-shirts in bulk.

4. What are the most popular t shirt printing methods?

Screen printing, direct to garment, dye sublimation, vinyl heat transfer, and heat pressing are some of the most common t shirt printing methods.

5. Which is better – screen printing or DTG printing?

With its roots in the ancient times, screen printing is the oldest method of printing garments but there’s a reason why it has stood the test of time even with the invention of new methods like DTG printing. Screen printing ink is thicker than the ink used in DTG, and hence, screen-printed designs look brighter than DTG-printed designs.

Nonetheless, when it comes to speed and space, DTG is better, not to mention that it doesn’t create the mess that comes with screen printing where you have the ink spilling all over.

Final Thoughts

The best method for printing t-shirts depends on your specific needs and those of your clients, though we believe the latter should come first. Thus, take a survey and see what sort of designs your customers prefer.

If your target market is made of sports teams, that means you’re looking to handle huge runs with similar designs, and in that case, we’d advise you to go for screen printing. But, if you’re only testing the market, and you’re not sure if they will like screen-printed designs, use the plastisol method, coming up with designs and outsourcing printed plastisol. If it works, you can then shift to screen printing.

For those of you who will be working on small runs, methods like heat pressing or heat transfer vinyl pressing would be excellent. They’re also ideal for someone who doesn’t have much capital to start a t-shirt business.

If you have a big budget and are looking for high efficiency and the best results, why not purchase DTG printers?

We can’t wait to know what you think in the comments. Feel free to add any other methods you might know of.

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