Best T-Shirt Printing Methods
T-shirts are extremely trendy today: according to industry data, this market is expected to grow at an average rate of 9.7% from 2021 to 2028. If you want to launch your summer clothing line and attract an audience, you need to select the best quality method of printing on T-shirts. The quality of the finished product and its value to the buyer will depend on the technique of applying the image. In this article, we will talk about T-shirt printing process types and discuss the key pros and cons.
Table of contents
Guide to different types of T-shirt printing methods
Our first type refers to T-shirt printing methods. A mesh stencil is used to apply the image. It is a form through which the paint penetrates the surface in necessary places. This technique greatly expands the artistic possibilities. It allows you to get bright and saturated pictures even with large print runs.
- Fabric: many materials (cotton, nylon, polyester, silk, organdy, etc.).
- Design: you can work with texts, inscriptions, images, but it is not recommended for complex multi-color drawings.
- Colors: The CMYK system of 4 basic colors is common in printing houses.
- Quality: rich and detailed convex image, durable (almost eternal), does not fade over time.
- Circulation: may be unprofitable for one-time works and small circulations. The optimal number is 25+ copies.
- Profitability: beneficial for bulk orders.
- compatibility with many types of fabrics;
- bright saturated colors and high quality due to thick ink;
- speed (4500+ items per hour) for one design;
- wide choice of color schemes for different effects;
- profitable if you deal with large bulk orders.
- lengthy design preparation and customization process;
- inefficiency for complex drawings and realistic photos;
- problems with applying multi-color drawings;
- low profitability for small runs;
- limitation in the placement of pictures on the surface.
Direct to garment printing
If you’re interested in modern T-shirt printing techniques, we advise you to take a closer look at DTG. The image is placed on the surface without intermediates. It means that the ink penetrates the fabric without the paper layer. DTG differs from other technologies since it allows you to mix different colors, get unique gradients, and draw details.
Important features of DTG:
- Fabric: Works well for cotton T-shirts. Dark fabric requires white ink.
- Design: suitable for creating complex multi-color, photo-realistic, detailed drawings.
- Colors: has many color options. 4-6-8-color systems are standard.
- Quality: Bright results, but less durable than those created on a stencil.
- Circulation: for small orders. As a rule, starting from 20 copies.
- Profitability: requires a large initial investment to purchase printing machines. Low cost for small runs.
- The ability to create unique effects (gloss, smooth gradients);
- wear resistance: the pattern can withstand more than 60 washes;
- the flexibility to change the layout for different copies;
- maximum detail, higher than that of silk screen printing;
- eco-friendly ink with water.
- large investments due to the high price of a textile printer;
- a decent result only for cotton products;
- risk of fading over time;
- restrictions on posting pictures.
Heat Press Printing
This is the best T-shirt printing technique for those who have just taken their first step into the POD business. It is based on two basic principles: using an intermediate (carbon paper); or transferring the pattern to the fabric under the impact of temperature and pressure (heat press should be used). Types of heat press: sublimation printing, silkscreen heat transfer, and flex film method.
Important features of heat printing:
- Fabric: suitable for clothes made of both cotton and synthetics (sublimation) but not allowed for heat-sensitive materials.
- Design: a suitable option for all kinds of designs, elements (logos, inscriptions, or photos), and full-color solutions.
- Colors: any color scheme may be used. It is recommended to avoid gradients and shadows.
- Quality: the results are durable. With delicate washing, images retain their original appearance for a long time.
- Circulation: the best choice for small batches (up to 50 pieces) and single copies.
- Profitability: profitability when working with small volumes, low costs.
- the photographic quality and clear image;
- the possibility of fulfilling individual orders;
- various materials: velvet (flock), vinyl (flex) films, glitter (sparkles, silver, gilding);
- low cost of drawing in small print runs;
- resistance to fading and abrasion.
- low efficiency for bulk orders;
- poor effect for dark garments;
- unsafe for heat-sensitive materials.
Heat Transfer Vinyl
This print transfer method also needs a heat press. To create a pattern, soft fabric is used, previously cut into small parts (patterns or letters). Cutting vinyl requires special equipment. Next, the drawings are placed on the clothes and act on them using heat pressing. So you can replace the stencil mold for the mass production of T-shirts.
Important features of vinyl cutting:
- Fabric: for all kinds of fabrics, except those sensitive to high temperatures.
- Design: ideal for simple graphic elements (shapes, letters, patterns, lettering).
- Colors: optimal for drawing a pattern of 1-3 colors.
- Quality: the result is preserved for years. With delicate use, the products last up to 5 years.
- Circulation: for small volumes.
- Profitability: It’s a time-consuming and uneconomical method for large orders since each T-shirt requires a separate adjustment.
- longevity with good care;
- high profitability for small orders;
- easy way to apply anywhere;
- compatibility with different materials.
- spending on the purchase of special equipment (CAD cutter);
- results are decent only for small elements;
- decreased fabric flexibility after the pattern is applied.
This method is one of the best types of printing for T-shirts. It belongs to the category of digital technologies and is often used to decorate clothes. First, use transfer paper (liquid gel ink is used in this method). The second step is placement on the substrate. The sublimation T-shirt printing technique works if you are a master in this narrow area. Compared to inkjet printing, this option is more reliable.
- Fabric: recommended for light materials like polyester; be aware that cotton material will have a poor result.
- Design: a good choice for large, all-over products.
- Colors: suitable for multi-color solutions.
- Quality: drawings are bright, durable, and resistant to wear.
- Circulation: Expensive to use for small quantities.
- Profitability: regular printer use is advantageous (to avoid "downtime" of the equipment and drying out of expensive ink). A relatively costly method.
- Durable designs that won't flake or fade;
- the optimal choice for continuous solutions;
- unlimited colors, as using the screen and HTV methods.
- incomplete dyeing (folds, side seams);
- ineffective for dark materials;
- good results only for polyester.
It belongs to the traditional and original T-shirt printing methods with several pros and cons. The paint penetrates some areas of the fabric and does not fall into others. With the mechanical technique (tie-dye), the folded, twisted, or bandaged fabric is lowered into the dye solution. The material can be processed with wax or paste (e.g., batik). The chemical technique with dyes of two different classes belongs to new T-shirt printing techniques.
- Fabric: many types, for tie-dye, choose good quality white cotton items; Batik is suitable for cotton, silk, wool, synthetics.
- Design: when the reserve is washed off after staining and removed, unpainted places appear, which, in combination with the painted ones, create a unique ornament or pattern.
- Colors: different, depending on the dyeing technique, unique color options.
- Quality: the pattern remains bright for a long time with proper care (for example, tie-dye clothes are washed at 30-40 degrees).
- Circulation: hand-made T-shirts are especially valuable. Try single items and small runs.
- Profitability: high potential for profit growth in the execution of individual orders.
- unique design with exciting ornaments;
- many techniques of painting on fabric;
- a variety of bright color combinations;
- compatibility with natural and artificial fabrics.
- lengthy manual individual production;
- additional materials and tools are necessary;
- you need to prepare for dyeing carefully.
The last kind of T-shirt printing method with some pros and cons. We can compare it with drawing using a stencil form. It differs in that the image is prepared on special paper or film and stored until needed. The resulting heat transfer can be stored for up to 6 months. The pattern is created not on clothes but on silicone paper sent to the dryer so that the paint dries slightly. If everything is done correctly, the result is almost the same as direct printing.
- Fabric: different options.
- Design: choose images without small details and large backgrounds.
- Colors: both simple one-color and complex multi-color designs.
- Quality: If made properly, the effect is almost indistinguishable from screen printing.
- Circulation: Repetitive images in small quantities. For large runs, you should take additional measures.
- Profitability: it’s profitable to create several designs on one paper, store them, and print on blank T-shirts as orders come in.
- increased productivity and print quality on a semi-automatic machine;
- the ability to test designs and switch to stencil forms;
- The method is cost-effective if you order prints from a third-party company and then place them on branded T-shirts.
- the need for additional materials, equipment, and time;
- risk of damage to the print due to improper placement;
- the need to order minimum images in cooperation with third-party companies.
Today we observed different T-shirt printing techniques and explained their key advantages and disadvantages. Make a decision based on the actual needs and financial capabilities of your business. We do not recommend saving on the quality because it may affect your business. You can cut costs in other ways, such as installing a comprehensive print-on-demand app to automate customer interactions.
What is the best T-shirt printing method?
It depends on the design, material, costs, and other parameters. For example, DTG, HPP, and sublimation are suitable for creating complex designs. When working with polyester, it is better to use sublimation. For other materials, you can choose the silkscreen or screen printing technique. Logically, manual production is cheaper, and industrial production requires significant investments.
What is the best printing method for small businesses?
You can fulfill the dream of owning a POD store with heat transfer printing. It is cost-effective and doesn’t require stocks and good skills.
Which method of T-shirt printing is the cheapest?
Perhaps the heat transfer method is the cheapest. In general, you can create clothes cheaply by any means if you prepare the necessary equipment in advance.