A basic guide to garment printing techniques

The guide to garment printing techniques

We’ve mainly talked about general aspects of starting a t-shirt business, so it was about time we got down to some specifics.

As much as this has been discussed, new comers to the t-shirt printing industry still find themselves in a quandary about how to actually print their garments. That’s because there is no simple answer to that. As with all things relative, the answer to the question „What is the best t-shirt printing method?” depends on the type of business or project you are embarking on and its scope. It also depends where you are with your business.

The aim of this article is to pin down the basics about printing on textiles, referring to the most common and popular techniques.

Because the info is simplified to help you get acquainted with the technical specifications, the advantages and disadvantages will be discussed as a guide for start-ups, freelancers, independent sellers, graphic designers.

DTG means direct to garment, and as the name suggests, the ink is printed directly into the textiles. Just as your home printer does for paper, the DTG machine will imprint the illustration onto clothes.

M6-white-shirts

PRO’s:

This method is excellent for small orders, for individual products. You have complete freedom of design, in the sense that as an artist you have no restriction of colors or details and shades, because the printer will recreate them perfectly.

CON’S:

For larger orders it is definitely not cost effective, because the ink is quite expensive. The same goes for the equipment, not to mention replacement parts and cleaning. The overall upkeep is quite difficult and time consuming in order to prolong the life of the machine and maintain a high quality result. And even then, it still not the most long lasting print, because the colors will fade in time. The t-shirts have to be washed on the inside out to protect the colors, at 30 degrees.

In conclusion, this method is preferable when you have already established your business and have a good profit. As a beginner, you will be taking a costly risk.

Screen printing is basically a screen with your design exposed, over which you will drag ink with a squeegee. The ink will go through the exposed part that form your design and onto the t-shirt.

garment printing techniques

PROs:

 This method will get you the best quality print and it the most long lasting from the bunch. The print is light, sharp and professional looking. That is why it is ideal for promotional merchandise for catalogues, samples to retails store, for loookbooks, to see if there’s demand. You will be spending a little more money but you do it to let people know about your product, convince them that this is a product a store can endorse.

This is the best method to use for large orders, because the screen can be used over and over again, for years.

CONs:

Unfortunately, this is not recommended for startups, because the equipment is very expensive and you can’t work from your home. You will be working with ink and materials that can’t be disposed of in your sink. There there’s also the time necessary for ink to dry, so renting is the way to do it. Thus, expenses increase drastically.

Another problem is that screen printing has an enormous learning curve. There’s no shortcut, you get better at it by doing it as often as possible. The worst situation is to have small orders, because all this time and equipment involved is not worth the effort.

In conclusion, it is better to use a screen printing company and can make it more cost is effective if you buy your own t-shirts and have as little colors in the design as possible.

Iron-on transfers

There is a special type of adhesive paper that you can run through your regular, home printer to print the desired design.

garment printing techniques

PROs:

The method is very simple and cheap. It is accessible because you can print the design from the paper by heat transfer, using an iron. It is ideal to personalize small promotional material.

CONs:

The print can wear, flake away and will not be very high quality, because a home printer will give you the sharpest image.

It is definitely not recommended for professional situations. You can use for example to customize tags for your t-shirts, but not for the actual design on garment and not if you are sending products for review or as samples.

Plastisol heat transfer is the next best thing after screen printing. Plastisol ink is added on special release paper, for a one time use. The foil is put on a t-shirt and the transfer is done with a heat press. The transfer paper is peeled off and the ink is imprinted on the garment.

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PROs:

It doesn’t matter what color your t-shirts have; also, you can have as many colors as you want in the design. The print lasts for many years, and it doesn’t crack or fade. The technique is very good for a startup because you order up the foils in the mail and print them with a heat press. The heat press will be the only big investment, and that you can also purchase it second hand, from ebay for example. Plastisol transfers are cleaner and much easier to use than screen printing.

CONs: It is less profitable than screen printing, especially if you don’t do large orders. Some customers will find the print to be too thick or heavy on the textile.

Vinyl transfers are made with a special equipment that cuts the sheet of vinyl following the outline of your design. After you remove the unnecessary parts, you heat transfer the print with a press.

garment printing techniques

PROs:

It is easy to use, good for a startup because there’s no complications with paints, emulsions or chemicals. The best way to use it is for branding promotional materials, for special events for example.

CONs:

With vinyl, the designs you can do are limited, and it gets rather expensive to have the variety of colors needed. It is best for one or two color designs. The designs are not as sharp as screen printed one but they are much better than iron-on transfers.

How to deal with the online promotion of your t-shirt line

Online promotion of your t-shirt line

After dealing with the hardest part of the business, you now have to step outside and offer your everything to the public. In the internet era you know that things can be extremely easy or quite intricate. Do not take online exposure for granted, it’s not a given, even if you ooze talent and are praised by all your friends, family or offline customers. If you don’t tackle the online promotion of your t-shirt brand professionally, you may find yourself in a sea of frustration that could minimize all the previous effort and even end your business venture.

So let’s try to clarify some basics of online t-shirt promotion, taking into account the possibility of cashing out as little as possible.

Generally, online promotion for  a small business means considering the following:

  • creating an identity for your brand, bringing your products under a common principle; catering to a certain niche; becoming a representative for a particular trend/culture/movement/phenomenon

online promotion

  • being consistent about your message, maintaining your stance on all channels: website, social media, blog, partner sites, promo campaigns, ads and so on
  • knowing your audience. Your discourse, products and promo style should resonate with your target public (ideally, as genuinely as possible). Speak their language, be aware of their needs and grievances, listen to their feedback. People are highly sensitive to your conversation as they become more and more educated about brands and products.

Target marketing concept in modern flat design style with graphs, icons and business related elements isolated on colored stylish background

  • focusing on social media. A great opportunity for one on one interaction with your audience, excellent tool of real time marketing (when done right), the fastest promotional channels – social media is obligatory, for both big and small businesses, because of their reach and engagement.

That’s just putting it (very) simply. But let’s be more specific.

For t-shirt brands or t-shirt lines, consider checking the boxes for the following steps:

  • ideally, designing t-shirts could come from a natural desire to express a feeling or opinion, to show preference or to protest. But I think in most cases, it will be about looking to become popular, financially successful, or even famous. In which case, a little if not plenty of research is crucial. Focus on a niche, choose your segment carefully and familiarize yourself with its past and what its present needs are. In order to catch people’s attention your products should be the answer to these needs, and at just the right time.
  • set up a site/shop with a professional. First impressions are crucial and you have very few chances to get people hooked in the first moments they click on your page. This could be expensive for a small business or an independent artist, so consider alternatives such as sites that host pre-designed shops with template themes that you can eventually personalize. Spreadshirt or Shopify, as well as Big Cartel are among the most popular options. Go for the simpler layouts and discreet colors to begin with, in order to keep the focus on your awesome products.
  • which takes us to the products presentation. Don’t just slap the design on the site! Use mock-up templates, with 3D effects, like creases, shadows, rolled sleeves and so on to simulate printed t-shirts. Go a little further and get some (handsome) people to wear and model the t-shirts. Maybe your friends, if you’re lucky enough. Most brands now have a photoshoot for lookbooks, in specific environments, that create a mood in sync with the designs. Don’t worry or overthink it, do what comes naturally. A promotional video will get you even more engagement, one that either creates a story or a behind the scenes video, with fun moments from the photoshoot.

online promotion

  • use influencers to spread the word and gain more followers, more attention, more interest. Contact people from the industry and ask them for a review of a product, collaborate on a guest post, invite them to manage your social media account for a day or ask for a simple shout out on their channels. There are many creative things that the two parties can agree on. Make it fun! Your audience will feel that.

influencer

  • be consistent about your content. The news, the photos, the blog posts, the contests should all be in the same sentiment throughout all media: social media, site, blog, ads. Thus, people will easily identify you, become acquainted with your style and remember your brand.
  • t-shirts are usually favorites among the younger generation, who live and breathe social media, which is what you should also do. It is fast, cheap, direct and flexible. Remember that it can go both ways – social media can lift you with positive, viral content but it can also break you just as fast, if you are not careful with the messages you send. Make sure not to leave too much room for negative interpretations.

online promotion

  • paid advertising is also an option if the financial resources allow. Sponsor or promote your content on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram,  buy ad spaces on other sites/blogs that can relate to your products, or pay for an article on design of t-shirt blogs/sites specializing in t-shirt news that will recommend brand. 

Among all these, no one can tell you what works best for you. But everyone can vouch for one thing: testing and consistency are key. Be active among your followers and try out all of the above, to see what does wonders for your brand.