Common T-shirt Printing Methods Explained
Do you know the difference between the various t-shirt printing methods/techniques? Some printing process is best suited for particular fabrics and depends on the volume of the work. Additionally, the t-shirt printing process that you end up using would also get affected by the number of colors you wish to print. With so many variables, it gets challenging to choose a printing technique!
We documented a piece of excellent information to help you choose the perfect T-shirt printing process to fit your requirements, eliminating the stress that often goes with it. Each method has advantages and disadvantages:
Screen Printing also refers to as silkscreen printing. It produces designs by depositing ink on the surface of the fabric through a synthetic fabric screen. The result’s a logo that you can feel on top of the cloth material & that over time will crack and peel as the garment wears out. The method has a practical limit to the number of colors to be reproduced in the logo. It’s an ideal t-shirt printing method for mass production.
Pros of Screen-Printing:
✓ Relatively cost-efficient for high volume orders.
✓ The screen printing ink is absorbed deep into the garment and gives vivid and bright colors with maximum durability.
✓ You can reuse screens, making the t-shirt printing process time-efficient for similar designs.
✓ Compatible with most fabrics if you use the right combination of inks and screens for the material.
✓ The printed artworks are durable.
Cons of Screen-Printing:
✗ The inks make the process a bit messy due to spillage.
✗ You need a considerable space to set-up a proper screen-printing work area.
✗ The space you should be dust-free and dark to help preserve screens and ink.
✗ Steep learning curve.
✗ Unsuitable for intricate, multi-color designs as a separate screen required for each color.
DTG Printing, aka “direct to garment printing” or “digital printing,” is an inkjet technology that can print very high-quality, full-color, photographic prints directly onto a t-shirt. It is best suited for designs or artwork considered too complicated for other printing techniques, like screen printing, for instance, which is best suited for artwork with few colors.
If you’re looking to print just a few (1-5) tees, DTG Printing is the best option. It’s as easy as loading a blank tee into the DTG Printing machine and printing directly onto it, whereas screen printing requires you to go through a multi-step, back-breaking process to print your t-shirt.
Pros of DTG Printing:
✓ Print the most complicated multi-color designs. No restrictions on colors, woo-hoo!
✓ Super-fast and thus suitable for substantial orders.
✓ DTG printing machines are not that big, allows more mobility for your business.
✓ Compared to screen printing inks, there’s minimal to no spilling and thus no mess.
✓ Soft and smooth prints.
Cons of DTG Printing:
✗ DTG Printers are good to print on 100% cotton tees.
✗ Machines are quite costly and requires maintenance.
✗ Colors tend to wash out over time.
✗ Limited artwork placement.
✗ More of a challenge to the DTG printers or operator to print complex designs on dark fabric to come out correctly.
Iron-on Heat Transfers, aka heat press printing, involves laying sheets of transfer material on top of garments. Then it gets heat pressed to apply custom graphics to garments permanently.
The artwork is first digitally printed on special heat transfer paper using a solvent ink. This type of ink allows the artwork to be transferred from the paper to the tee when pressed with a heat press machine.
The benefit of heat transfer printing is that it works on various materials & fabrics.
Pros of Heat transfer Printing:
✓ Fairly simple.
✓ It produces excellent quality – appropriate for full-color prints.
✓ Suitable for complex designs.
Cons of Heat transfer Printing:
✗ Slower than virtually all the other methods.
✗ Not suitable for heat-sensitive fabrics.
✗ Entirely inappropriate for dark garments.
Dye-Sublimation Printing is one of the most common transfer printing. The way it works is to print artwork digitally and then to heat them to transfer the dye onto tees. It is a standard method for all-over printing. Neither screenprinting nor Direct to Garment printing can create the all-over print effect that dye-sublimation printing does. You can create awesome designs on polyester t-shirts using dye sublimation printing. But, don’t make the mistake of taking cotton t-shirts to the scene; the artwork will likely be horrible.
Pros of Dye-Sublimation Printing:
✓ Super soft and smooth designs.
✓ It feels soft on the hand & is breathable.
✓ Quality prints that won’t fade, peel, crack, or deteriorate in other ways.
Cons of Dye-Sublimation Printing:
✗ Creases and folds, like armpit areas, are hard to dye.
✗ Only works with polyester fabric or polyblend based t-shirts. The more polyester in the t-shirts, the more vibrant colors you get.
✗ Relatively expensive.
Plastisol Transfer Printing is quite similar to screen printing because the artwork is first printed on plastisol transfer paper, and then you use this paper to heat press the design on the t-shirt.
Pros of Printing Plastisol Transfers:
✓ High 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 printing technique for testing t-shirt designs.
✓ Perfect for both full-color jobs & jobs with fewer colors.
Cons of Printing Plastisol Transfers:
✗ Transfers crack and wash out if they’re not appropriately placed.
✗ The supplier might require a minimum order
✗ Large quantity runs are expensive and time-consuming.
CAD-Cut Heat Transfer Vinyl Printing is a heat press method for printing the numbers, names, and logos onto CAD-Cut vinyl material and then heat pressing them on sports t-shirts or jerseys. This method requires the use of a machine to cut out designs & letters on pieces of colored vinyl. Then a heat press is then used to transfer each vinyl to the t-shirt.
CAD-Cut vinyl is suitable for garment printing 1-3 colors of smaller amounts of clothing, for example, ordering a football team.
Pros of CAD-Cut Heat Transfer Vinyl Printing:
✓ Durable designs.
✓ Suitable for small orders.
✓ Vinyl can be easily placed anywhere on the t-shirt.
✓ You can be apply vinyl to all kinds of fabrics.
Cons of CAD-Cut Heat Transfer Vinyl Printing:
✗ Cutting & weeding the vinyl is a time-consuming process.
✗ Pantone colors is not possible with vinyl printing.
✗ Only suited for basic graphics like text-based designs with basic shapes.
Embroidery is an excellent decoration method that gives a great looking finished product. It wears well & looks very professional in comparison with any of the available printing methods. The design options can be limiting as the design must be reproduced with threads rather than ink. Small details like lettering can be challenging to reproduce & you’re limited to between 9 & 15 colors in the design. Even with the limitations, the results are so outstanding most of the customers prefer embroidery to any of the other printing methods.
Pros of Embroidery:
✓ Offers a professional, high-quality finish
✓ Perfect for customizing polo t-shirts and corporate clothing.
✓ Embroidered items get manufacture quickly and in large numbers using advanced machines.
Cons of Embroidery:
✗ It appears to be expensive than other clothing customisation methods.
✗ Recreating complex logos & images in embroidery is difficult & may not achieve the best result (i.e., shading is intricate with embroidery).
There are various types of prints, you can go for your custom t shirts. However, the best method for printing t-shirts depends on your specific needs & those of your customers or clients, though we believe the latter should come first.