T Shirt Printing Methods

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Are you interested in the different methods that are used to decorate T Shirts? then read on.

We often get requests from clients who have their own designs and want to produce them onto t shirts, often they are unaware of the different decoration methods available to then and in particular the pro and cons of these and the costs involved.

I hope that this post can serve to shed some light on the different t shirt printing/decoration methods available, and whilst it doesn’t serve as an  exhaustive list it includes the most popular methods of t shirt decoration currently used.

Screen Printed T Shirts

Screen printing is the most popular way of decorating T Shirts, screen printing is a process that involves separating each colour within the design and then laying these down separately onto the T-shirts by forcing the ink through a mesh screen. A screen is produced  for each colour in the design, with an additional screen required if the design is to be produced onto a black or dark coloured t-shirt.

Due to the set up costs involved in making the screens, this method is not really feasibly for low quantities, but on larger volumes it is the cheapest most cost-effective decoration method available.

Pro’s

  • Low cost method to produce large quantities of t-shirts
  • Any colour of shirt can be screen printed

Con’s

  • Initial set up cost involved to produce each screen (individual screen needed for each colour in design)
  • Difficult to achieve gradients and tones in designs
  • Not suitable for one offs or low volume
Mesh screen for screen printing

A mesh screen used for screen printing

A large part of the cost in screen printing is the cost to make the screens,  these can be re-used for repeat orders though, providing the design remains the same. The cost for screen printing t-shirts will also be attributed to the number of colours in the overall design, as each different colour has to be laid down separately, therefore the less the colours in the design the cheaper the cost.

Producing T Shirts using Garment Film (vinyl).

Garment film is a very popular method of producing t-shirts and especially suitable for low quantities, and designs with just a few colours or one offs.

Printed T Shirts Staffordshire

A T Shirt produced using garment film

In its most basic form it consists of cutting out a digitised design or text from a roll of single colour garment film using a cutting machine. Once the design has been cut the unwanted vinyl is removed, (weeded out) leaving only the design which is held in place by a carrier sheet. The garment film is then fused to the t shirt using a heat press at the correct temperature, time and pressure. Multiple colour designs are made by layering different colours of garment film and pressing these separately onto the shirts, overlapping the previous colour where required.

Garment film is available in many different colours, and finishes including specialty optionsl like metallic, fluorescent and textured finishes.

 

Pro’s

  • Perfect for low volumes including one offs
  • Low (if any) set up costs
  • Can be applied to almost any part of the t shirt
  • Metallic and special textured finishes available

Con’s

  • Not suitable for highly colored complex designs
  • Some types of garment film may not feel as nice to touch as screen printing especially on large designs
  • Gradients and shading cannot be produced using standard garment film

The costs involved in decorating t shirts using garment film is ralative to the amount of prep work (weeding out) and number of presses per shirt. A one colour simple design can be applied in a single pressing, however complex multi coloured design may need lots of time-consuming weeding out, and several heat presses to produce.

Garment film is available in many different grades of quality we only use the finest available from the leading suppliers

Printing T shirts using Dye Sublimation

The complexity and colour reproduction that can be produced using dye sublimation is nothing short of stunning, and as dye sublimation as it’s name suggests actually dyes the fabric of the shirt, there is no difference to feel of the shirt after decoration.

Dye sublimation involves using specialised dyes and intense heat to permanently dye the fabric of the t shirt, resulting in a highly vivid full colour decoration. Using dye sublimation photographic quality images can be produced as well as extremely complex designs, featuring gradients and tones that aren’t possible using other methods.

Dye sublimation printed shirt

A Dye sublimated t shirt

There are however two major drawbacks with dye sublimation, one is that it can only be used on white or very light pastel coloured t shirts, and the other is that the t shirt must be made from 100% polyester or a very high percentage of polyester.

Pro’s

  • Stunning photographic colour reproduction
  • Full colour decoration (same price regardless of number of colours in design)
  • Perfect for one offs and low volumes

Con’s

  • Limited to white or very light coloured t shirts
  • T Shirts must be 100% polyester (more expensive than regular cotton t shirts)

Most football shirts are produced using dye sublimation.

Transfer T Shirt Printing

With some T shirt designs by far the best option is to produce them using a plastisol transfer. Transfers are applied in the same way as garment film, but they can be printed in full colour allowing complex designs to be produced and applied easily.

printed t shirts using transfers

A full colour transfer

One of the biggest advantages to using transfers is where lots of the same design shirts are required but not needed all at once, in this case the transfers can be produced and stocked and then applied to the shirts as and when they are required.

Pro’s

  • Multi colour complex designs can be reproduced.
  • Can be used on any colour T shirts.
  • Transfers can stocked and T shirts produced in smaller batches or made to order.

Con’s

  • Larger transfers can feel a bit rubbery

Printing T Shirt using Direct to Garment Printers

Direct to garment printing (DTG) is a relatively new process used for t shirt decoration, and as the name suggests it involves printing the design directly onto the T Shirt.

The T Shirts are placed over a platen ensuring the area to be printed is flat and then printed in a similar fashion to the way a desktop printer prints. In addition to the print there is a fusing agent applied to the t shirts, this adheres the print to the shirt after heat pressing the completed printed design. Where a black or dark-colored t shirt is required the direct to garment printer first lays down a white ink base colour, and then the colours are printed onto this.

Direct to Garment printing is still a new evolving technology, and many of the early machines suffered from teething problems, especially with the white ink clogging and causing blockage issues. Many of these issues have now been resolved and some of the recent direct to garment t shirts we have seen are very impressive, with full colour designs possible, low volumes and at a very attractive price point.

Direct to garment printing is a new and exciting technology and we anticipate it will have a big impact on the low volume, custom apparel decoration industry moving forward.

Pro’s

  • Impressive results ( although quality does vary from machine to machine)
  • Low volume complex full colour designs can be produced
  • Suitable for light and dark colour T Shirts

Con’s

  • Relatively new technology still some issues
  • Quality varies from machine to machine
  • Not widely adopted or available in the industry so prices remain inconsistent.

At Business Promotional Products we can advise you on any of these t shirt decorating processes as well as others, and we either offer them in-house, or have trusted trade only partners, who are the leading experts within the custom apparel industry.

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