Before you start a T-Shirt business, you have to understand the way printing works. There is a big difference between T-shirt printing methods and techniques. Some methods are good for certain fabrics, others are for other fabrics. And depending on the job you need, you could use a different printing method.
So, today, we will talk about graphic T-shirts, and the methods of printing. There are so many variables making it difficult to choose a printing technique. But worry not. We want to help you decide which method works best for you.
Digital technology completely transformed the world of graphic tees men and T-shirt printing. Traditional printing methods still work, but we also have new and more efficient methods. Here are some of the most popular ways of printing and making graphic tees.
This is the most common way of printing shirts among professionals. Some people refer to this method as “silkscreen printing”.
For this method, you need stencil and nylon mesh. Once you set up the stencil, you hold it with the nylon mesh, and the waterproof material blocks the negative space you want to design.
This method works best for high-quality T-shirt designs. It is the best when for guaranteeing the ultimate replication of the design. The end result is a unique, cute, and impressive look.
Companies usually use this method for mass production of shirt designs. And if you want a single or unique design for yourself, it is not efficient.
Screen Printing works for one color per screen. If you have complex multi-color designs, screen printing might not work.
Humans have used screen printing long before. Now, machines do it. One reason why the method survived in this modern era is the ink. For this method, we use thicker inks that allow the design to last longer and produce true-to-life vibrant colors.
With this method, companies can print between 200 and 500 shirts with one gallon of screen-printing ink. That makes it super cost-efficient.
Direct to Garment
This printing method is very popular among hobbyists. It is easy to do. But, it requires knowledge and skills. You cannot do direct to garment printing without professional help. Yet, you only need a textile printer and ink.
Think of this method like the paper printer in your office. The only difference is the ink goes to the fabric, not to the paper. You upload the design to your computer, and it then creates the same design on the shirt.
The method works best for super-complex designs. The end result is a soft feel on your hands when you touch the tee.
But there are downsides as well. DTG doesn’t provide a durable design. The fabric will fade in one year or earlier. And sometimes, you might end up with a low-resolution design with dot patterns.
DTG printing machines come with huge color mixing potential. This option works perfectly for a few shirts. Let’s say you need between 5 and 10 shirts. DTG works perfectly here, you can just load a blank shirt into the printing machine and print directly onto it.
Unlike screen printing, you do not have to go through a multi-step process to get the end product. And you can print as many colors as you like. There is no “print” feel on the fabric since the method injects ink directly into the fabric.
Sadly, that means you can only use it on 100% cotton T-shirts. Or, fabrics with high amounts of cotton on them.
Heat Transfer Printing
Heat Transfer Printing is a wide group of printing techniques. There are many sub-categories, and we will get into them later on. Simply put, Heat Transfer Printing involves laying sheets of transfer material on top of garments. You then heat press them in order to apply custom graphics. Let’s take a look at the different heat printing methods.
This is the most popular version of heat transfer printing. It works by digitally printing graphics and then heating them to transfer onto the tee.
You can use this method for light shirts and fabrics. It will cost you a bit more to produce a dye-sub, but you end with a professional shirt.
The downside of the process is you need a lot of knowledge. You have to understand dye sublimation. Without knowledge of it, you cannot produce a high-quality shirt.
Dye sublimation works best for printing fabrics like polyester and other cream fabrics. You cannot use it on cotton shirts.
This process provides much better results than DTG printing and screen printing. It allows designers to fully express themselves.
With this process, the ink becomes part of the shirt’s fabric. This allows it to last longer and feel soft on the hand. But on the flip side, the process works only with polyblend fabrics. And we have to mention, dye sublimation printing costs a lot of money.
Plastisol Transfer Printing
This is a heat printing method similar to screen printing. The difference is that we ink-jet print the artwork on plastisol transfer paper, and then we use the same paper to heat press the design on the shirt.
This type of heat press printing is great for small orders. It saves resources and time. But for large orders of tees, you should think about something different.
This method also doesn’t work with dark fabrics because of its translucent dye. Why people chose it? Well, because it is similar to screen printing and you can fit several designs on a single transfer paper. You can then cut the designs and print them separately. Usually, companies use this method to test designs. Once the tee starts selling, they switch to screen printing or other methods.
CAD (Computer-Aided Design) Cut Printing
CAD is another popular form of heat press method. We take special soft clothing, cut it into shapes or designs, and then transfer it to a shirt. We then use the heat press method to transfer the designs onto the T-shirt.
You can use CAD printing for one-off designs and sometimes, even large numbers. Vinyl cutting machines provide options for different layers and different colors. Usually, companies use this method for sportswear, slogans, and small graphics.
There are some crucial benefits to CAD-Cut heat transfer vinyl printing. For starters, the method provides a decent lifespan for the shirt and works great for small job orders. You can also apply the vinyl anywhere on the shirt.
But on the downside, you need to spend a lot of time cutting the vinyl and then weeding it. And it only works for simple graphics, for example, texts and basic shapes.
What to consider before choosing the best printing method?
You can choose one of the most popular printing methods. But that will get you only halfway. You have to consider other factors as well. Here are some things to keep in mind.
- You have to use inks for T-shirt printing
- Make sure to use calibrated printers
- Remember, the design will look different on the shirt than on your monitor
- Dye-based inks work for inkjet prints
- Pigmented inks consist of a fine powder of solid colorant particles suspended in a liquid carrier
At the end of the day, before choosing your printing method, understand your customers. Conduct a survey and see what they want. Just the number of orders will help you decide which printing method to use.