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4 Best Types Of T-Shirt Printing Methods Compared [PROS & CONS]

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

Have you ever found yourself with an awesome idea for a shirt? Many of you have. The tricky part is figuring out how to make it come to life. What is the best shirt? What colors work on that shirt? What printing technique will I use? Which method will be the most cost-effective?


CRITERIA FOR CHOOSING

We are lucky to live in times where there is a big variety of printing options. Depending on your needs, you can choose a method that will meet your requirements and ensure the best quality possible. Here are some of the factors you should take into account:


1. COMPATIBILITY WITH DIFFERENT FABRICS

Not all methods are good for all fabrics. If you have a thick cotton shirt, the last thing you want to use is dye sublimation because it won't render the same results as polyester shirt. Each method has a preferred type of fabric and it is imperative to check them in advance.


2. SPEED OF PRODUCTION

If you need thousands of shirts printed as soon as possible, you don’t want to choose a slow method. Usually, it is very clearly specified whether one option is good for single or mass production, so make sure to check it out.


3. COST

The cost of printing can vary. There are definitely economic options for those with a tight budget. Once you have your costs outlined calculate your profit margin to figure out your revenue. Price of additional equipment and supplies should be factored in if at-home printing.



SCREEN PRINTING


Screen printing is the process of transferring a stencilled design onto a flat surface using a mesh screen, ink and a squeegee. This method guarantees very good design replication. Most professionals rely on this method as it gives long-lasting results.


HOW IT WORKS

First, you need some kind of a stencil (or template) that you want to use. Second, you need a mesh that will hold your stencil. The mesh is usually made of synthetic materials, such as nylon. Before the printing starts, the mesh has to go through a setup process. The goal here is to get a clean area in the mesh that is identical to the design.


Afterwards, you need to transfer the ink on the mesh and press it with a squeegee to make sure that the entire area is equally covered. This is the process that ensures that your design is replicated on the t-shirt. Finally, once you remove the screen and let it dry, you can enjoy your design.

WHO IT’S FOR

Although this method gives high-quality results, it is not suitable for all types of printing. It’s great if you want to produce a large amount of the same shirts, because the stencil can be used over and over again. Big companies usually rely on this method for mass production of shirts.

This method can print single-color and multicolor, but if you are looking for more complex designs, this might not be the best option.


PROS

  • Guarantees high quality

  • Very durable

  • Great for large quantities

  • Fast results if a single design is used

CONS

  • Too complicated for small quantities

  • Not the best for complex designs

  • Not good for manual usage

  • Can be more costly


DYE SUBLIMATION


This method is great for big and complex designs. If you see a shirt that is covered in print, it was most likely produced using this method. There is one notable thing regarding the shirt material. Dye sublimation can only be used for light fabrics. It gives best results on polyester fabrics, for example. However, if you try to use it on a cotton shirt, the results will not be so great. Although this is also a printing method that ensures high quality, you must be very knowledgeable to use it.

HOW IT WORKS

To begin, you will need a special liquid type of dye. The dye should be applied on the transfer paper first. Once it dries completely, you can use heat and pressure for the sublimation. This is different from screen printing because you’re dying the fabric directly, instead of just printing on top of it. As a result, you can very clearly see the colors and the design. The design becomes one with the shirt.

WHO IT’S FOR

If you want to print an entire shirt, this is one the best types of tshirt printing. This is also good if you have a very unique multicolor design. Remember that you need very light fabric for this process. The design is extremely durable.


PROS

  • Good for large designs

  • Suitable for unlimited colors and patterns

  • Lasts for a long time

CONS

  • Works only on light fabrics

  • It can be pricey if used for small quantities

  • It doesn’t fully cover all parts of t-shirt such as arm pits or side seams


DIRECT TO GARMENT (DTG) TECHNIQUE


This is a great method for those who are creative and want to experiment with your shirts. This method is somewhat new in the printing industry. It gives great results, especially with complex designs. There are no thick layers on the t-shirt and you can enjoy its soft touch.

DTG can be used at home, but you need to have the basic skills and necessary equipment.

HOW IT WORKS

It is very similar to the way paper printers work - you insert material and the printer then applies the ink on it and outputs the final result. This type of printer can be expensive if you only want to use it at home for a few shirts. It is crucial get a high quality printer, because otherwise you can end up with low design resolutions.

WHO IT’S FOR

If you decide to start designing your own clothes and want to do it for a while, then a DTG printer is a very good investment. It can be used for different designs and it’s not too difficult to use if you are new at this.


PROS

  • Simple to use (although it requires some skill)

  • Good for complex designs

  • Soft finish

  • Easy to switch designs

CONS

  • Higher initial investment

  • Takes more time to produce in big quantities

  • Less durable designs


VINYL HEAT TRANSFER PRINTING


This particular type of t-shirt printing is good for both small and big quantities. However, it is mainly used for small designs such as brands and logos. You may often find shirts made with this method in the sports industry. Unlike previous methods, this one includes very precise cutting of material. The pattern is applied afterward to the fabric.


HOW IT WORKS

You start by using a professional cutter to tailor the design that you want. In order to transfer it to the shirt, you need to use the heat press method. This method allows for a huge range of colors that can look very vibrant on your shirt. The reason why this is mainly used for small designs is that the shirt loses its flexibility once the design is applied.

WHO IT’S FOR

This might be the best alternative to screen printing for producing in mass quantities. The process is pretty fast and simple. As with most of the previously mentioned methods, you do need special equipment for printing.

PROS

  • Works well with small and large quantities

  • Wide spectrum of available colors and designs

  • Very durable shirts

  • No cracking of the design

CONS

  • Requires special CAD cutter

  • Suitable for only small designs

  • Reduces the flexibility of the shirt


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