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