While fashion constantly changes, t-shirts are a steady constant in the industry. Their versatility, hardy and the perfect blank canvas for someone to express themselves – which is why tees are still so popular today.
If you’re looking to get a one-off design printed onto a t-shirt or need a professional process in place, there are plenty of different printing techniques available. But choosing the proper t-shirt printing process can be a minefield – you need to consider cost, durability, and which works best for your needs.
So, which to choose? We’ve put together a comprehensive guide on the most common t-shirt printing processes and laid out some pros and cons to help you decide. Get ready to enhance your understanding and appreciation of the art and science behind t-shirt printing.
Heat press printing
Heat transfer or heat press printing does what it says on the tin. A design is printed onto special heat transfer paper or vinyl, which uses its heat-bonding magic to apply the chosen design to the t-shirt.
It’s an excellent option for full-color and complex tee designs, such as transferring a family photo or more detailed logo decal. You’ll find this method in multiple areas of the t-shirt printing process including custom printing, one-off designs and personalized tees.
Pros: Heat press printing is brilliant for those needing to make a small order of tees because the method is quick and easy to start. But the main benefit of heat press printing is that it’s so versatile: there’s basically no limit to the complexity of the design or the ink colors. Dream big!
Cons: The main disadvantage is that heat press printing can feel and look a little plastic on the tee. Whereas other methods feel more integrated into the t-shirt fabric, heat press designs can feel like they sit on top of it instead. Heat transfers are also less durable, as they can crack and peel over time with repeated washing.
Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing
DTG printing is relatively new on the t-shirt printing scene, where designs are printed directly onto garments using a special printer. Using water-based inks that are absorbed by the t-shirt, DTG printing gives super detail and a wide color range at the same time.
DTG printing is prominent in a lot of different industries such as customized t-shirts, print-on-demand services and even limited edition tees, as the method works well for creating unique and varied designs.
Pros: DTG is like an upgrade to the traditional screen printing process because it can work with much more detail, making it ideal for complex designs without much setup time. Because it’s using a modern printer, there are nearly unlimited color options in DTG printing at no extra cost. This creates a high-quality t-shirt design with lower setup costs, making it affordable for small orders and customized designs.
Cons: DTG printing sounds like the perfect t-shirt production option, right? Well, it depends. You can be somewhat limited in your fabric choice – DTG printing works best on 100% cotton, and the vibrancy of the design might not work as well in a cotton blend or other material. Also, the more detailed the design is, the longer it takes to print out, which might not be as cost-effective an option for larger orders.
Screen printing, or silk screen printing, is one of the most tried-and-tested methods for t-shirt printing. The method involves creating a stencil for each ink color, applying the ink to tees and layering the design with different inks to achieve the desired look.
You can find screen-printed t-shirts pretty much everywhere, as they’re used for band merch and sports teams all the way through to company uniforms.
Pros: Screen printing is usually used for large orders because it’s quick, durable and cost-effective for businesses to print logos or branding on tees. From the consumer perspective, this also makes the end product cheaper while balancing quality.
Cons: Screen printing isn’t great for complex designs, as each ink color needs its screen, so it might not be the most practical or time-efficient choice for a design with many aspects to it. Screen printing also requires a hefty chunk of setup time, so it’s unsuitable for small orders.
There’s also the environmental impact to consider with the various chemicals used during the process, but eco-conscious processes are coming into the world of screen printing to counter this.
It’s time to get molecular. Dye sublimation printing uses heat and pressure to transfer dyes onto t-shirt fabrics. It differs from DTG printing (which drops dots of ink into the fabric to absorb the ink) by essentially using brute force to convert ink from a solid to a gas and bond with the t-shirt fabric.
This pretty technical process is excellent for polyester t-shirts, as it penetrates the fibres to create a seamless and durable design. You’ll find the dye sublimation process used for sports jerseys and tees, customized designs and t-shirts which need an all-over print design.
Pros: This method is brilliant for creating a high-quality finish with vibrant colors because the dye is so integrated with the t-shirt fabric. That makes dye sublimation tees highly resistant to any fading and wear and tear. Another huge benefit is that you can print complex designs all over the t-shirt, and the dye sublimation process will easily handle it.
Cons: The process only works properly on polyester fabric, so natural fibers like cotton tees are out of the picture for dye sublimation. It’s also somewhat limited in color choice as dye sublimation uses CMYK inks, so specific colors can’t be precisely reproduced. Because the process is quite involved and technical, it can be a more expensive technique.
With a wealth of t-shirt printing options available, getting the exact custom look you want for your tees has never been easier. Even as technology and methods change, choosing the right printing technique for your needs is essential to make your t-shirt printing project successful.
Why opt for off-the-rack when you can express your unique style or brand with a custom tee? Get in touch today to learn more about our range of custom-printed t-shirt options to help express your individuality.