Even the humble t-shirt can make a statement with the right print. If you want to start a business selling and customizing t-shirts, you can be successful if you are flexible when it comes to printing methods.
The method you choose will affect the design preferences your customers have.
That’s because different printing methods have different efficiencies – one process may be suitable for multiple shirts, but not very efficient if you want to print hundreds at a time.
Plus, while one method may accommodate different fabrics, another might be unsuitable for certain ones.
In addition, you also have to keep the colors that have to go with each design in mind before deciding which printing technique will work on them. That’s because not all methods can support multi-color designs.
The printing technique you choose will also depend on the investment you are willing to put in it. Depending on the machinery, some are more expensive than others.
Here are different types of t-shirt printing methods that you should consider for your business:
1. Heat Press Printing
Heat press printing is ideal for novice t-shirt printers who need to get out large orders.
As is apparent from the name, the process involves the application of heat to transfer a design onto a shirt using a heat transfer machine.
First, you will need to use transfer paper to make your designs and then transfer it to the shirt using heat and pressure via the machine.
Most transfer paper is made of vinyl which has an adhesive on one side and a tape that can be stripped off on the opposite side. Once the design is pressed onto the shirt, you have to strip off the tape to leave the design behind only.
Like its inkjet counterpart, heat press printing works well on a range of materials besides fabric such as coffee mugs. Plus, the images are more heat resistant, durable and also water proof.
2. Plastisol Heat Transfers
Also known as indirect screen printing, plastisol transfers uses a heat press machine and high quality heat transfer paper on which the design is screen printed.
These are made pretty much like you would make any screen print but with some differences. The main one is that you will be working a print backward since the top part of the heat transfer will be the bottom layer when it is being pressed onto the shirt.
The ink on the paper is cured and it is placed face down on the substrate or material and heated to about 400 degrees. The paper is them removed leaving the plastisol image behind on the shirt.
Unlike a typical substrate though, you will have to ensure a heavier ink deposit on the plastisol.
These can either go hot or cold with the plastisol transfer. If you are using the former, you will place the shirt into a heat transfer press and then place the plastisol heat transfer in the right place.
Then, you have to press the heat transfer on the material for about 12 seconds.
If you are using hot-split transfer paper, you have to make sure that you peel it off immediately so that the ink can split. Some will land on the substrate while the rest will leave the paper.
When using a cold transfer, you have to allow the paper and the material to cool down for about 40 to 50 seconds before peeling the paper away.
Even though this process is not as efficient as traditional screen printing, it does come with its own benefits.
For one thing, it is ideal for you if you want to acquire a thick and crisp print on materials that are difficult to print on such as baseball caps and jerseys.
This printing process is also ideal for small batches especially if a customer is not sure how many he/she needs (like for an event).
Additionally, if you are making shirts to sell yourself, you can make lot of plastisol heat transfers and then just print them as you need them.
In other words, this process is ideal for you if you want to meet large orders without overprinting shirts that will just gather dust at the back of the store.
3. Dye Sublimation
Dye sublimation is a printing process in which sublimation ink is used - a special type of ink that can turn from a solid to a gas without turning into a liquid in between.
The conversion is triggered via heat treatment that is controlled with pressure and time. A heat transfer press is used to open up the pore of the polymer and allow the gas to penetrate.
These close up when the temperature reduces and the gas turns back to a solid state in the form of the printed design.
Using this method, the ink becomes a permanent part of the polymer in the form of the design. This is what makes this printing process ideal for t-shirts that have a large, encompassing design and especially for light fabrics.
The process may be a bit pricier than others, but the high resolution of the printed designs it offers is worth it.
The dye sublmiation printing process is ideal for polyester t-shirts but not cotton ones since the design will look terrible on that material.
Besides fabric, dye sublimation also works on rigid substrates such as glass, brass, aluminum and even plastic.
4. Screen Printing
Also known as silkscreen printing, screen printing is one of the most common printing techniques out there and is preferred by professionals.
To make it work, you will need a stencil that is held up by a nylon mesh.
You will need to put down waterproof material on areas or negative space where you don’t want the design. That is the only part that the dye can permeate through.
Ink is then flooded onto the screen and a blade is moved across it to fill the apertures of the mesh with ink. The blade is brought down again to make the screen come in contact with the underlying layer (or substrate).
This method is perfect if you want to print high quality designs on shirts. That’s because it offers the best replication quality of the design you want to imprint on of the fabric – a fact that customers look for if they are paying top dollar for a print.
Screen printing is ideal for mass production of high-quality designs, for example businesses and sports teams, but not so great for a single one.
Keep in mind that for the best results, it should only be used for a single color per screen and not for overly complex multi-color designs. That’s because only one color can be printed at a time.
MAKE SURE TO READ: Heat Press Transfers and Screen Printing are two of the most popular methods so we outlined their key differences for you in the following article such as screen print vs heat transfer quality...
5. Direct to Garment (DTG)
Direct to Garment or more commonly referred to as DTG printing, is quite popular and not just with those in the t-shirt business.
It is a favorite among hobbyists since it requires very little experience and is easy to do without professional aid. All you need is ink and a textile printer to make it work.
It pretty much works like the paper printer that you can find in any office. The only difference is that in this case the ink is pressed onto fabric, not paper.
The first thing you need to do to use this technique is to upload the design or picture you want to imprint on a computer.
Just make sure that the file is in PNG format – these are better than JPEG for maintaining the transparency of the image. For best results, the resolution of the image has to be at least 300 PPI (pixels per inch) at the size you wish to print.
You need a special DTG printer that can print on t-shirts such as the Epson F2100. Just like a paper printer, the DTG printer lays down a water-based ink with chemical binders on the garment you lay out in it.
Make sure that the shirts are treated with a pre-treatment liquid. This is a solution that is used by DTG printers to enable the printing and washability of white ink or full color images on colored shirts.
This ensures that the ink adheres to the fabric. Once the design is printed on the shirt, it is heat cured to secure the ink.
Shirts that are 100% cotton are ideal for this printing method and for good reason. This material is washable and is more durable than other types of garment.
While you can use blended shirts, the quality of the print and washability will not be a guarantee.
If you absolutely have to use blends, use cotton over polyester since it will not get scorched during the curing process.
Wrapping It Up...
T-shirt printing is not rocket science but it does require some training especially if you are using heat presses.
If you plan on starting a t-shirt design business, you should start small by practicing with an inkjet textile printer and then move on up to screen printing and heat press printing methods as you get more customers and larger orders.