6 Best T-shirt Printing Methods – Complete Guide 2021

Screen printing is best for bulk orders. DTG is best for complicated designs. Moreover, Heat press is cost-efficient. Dye sublimation is good for light colours. Vinyl printing is good for one-off designs. Finally, CAD is one of the best t-shirt printing methods for all sorts of fabrics.

If you are interested in printing your shirt with a customized design, the very first thing you need to understand is the type of printer and printing method that you are going to choose for your project. The two most common methods used for t-shirt printing are heat press and screen printing. But, you can have a variety of options to pick from. Printing your garments with various designs according to your taste needs different t-shirt printing techniques to be followed for professional results. 

You can choose any technique depending on the fabric you are using, the design you want, the infusion of colors (single or multi-color design), or the size of the surface you need be print. Besides, the addition of digital technology has completely revolutionized the printing world. Having this wide variety of techniques available makes selection more challenging and equally confusing. Moreover, you should also keep in mind basic designs as well as complicated designs.

Best t-shirt printing methods Screen Printing

1) Screen Printing

Screen printing is usually called silkscreen printing, and the reason for its popularity and preference is the top-quality, premium, and professional printing results it offers. If you need ultimate replication of your desired design, making your t-shirt fresh, attractive, and unique, look no further!

All you need is a template/stencil of a design that needs to be held at its place by a nylon mesh. The only additional thing is a water-proof material. It will help you keep the negative space entirely blocked. The negative space is defined as a part that seems permeable to the dye only. Finally, the ink of the required color is flooded all over the screen. For spreading the ink during the screen printing process, you can use a squeegee. Considering how big the design you have chosen and the quality of the ink, you need to see how much pressure you need to apply on the squeegee and how many times you have to press. Take off the screen and let the design get dry.

screen printing machine
Screen printing machine

Needs to print multi-colored patterns? You need to work harder because each screen-printer supports a single color. Considering it the oldest technique, it never compromises on quality. The ink tends to be absorbed excessively deeply, ensuring a long-lasting design. Typically, in the screen printing process,  inks are made thicker. Remember, you need a lot of practice to master this skill.

Pros
  • Feel free to use every screen multiple time
  • Efficient for bulk t-shirt printing business 
  • Long-lasting results
  • Cost-saving method
  • Time-efficient for analogous designs
  • Deeper ink absorption for vivid colors
  • Suitable for most fabric materials
Cons
  • Needs comparatively larger physical space to make sure that the screens are well conserved
  • Time-consuming process
  • The area must be dust-free and dark
  • Using inks can get messy (spillage)
  • Suitable for one color per screen, only
  • Steep learning curve
  • Fails to create super complex designs using multi-color

Heat press vs. Screen printing

2) Direct To Garments (DTG)

What makes DTG unique among all the printing techniques? Its ability to create high-quality prints. It can handle super-complex printing designs. But, it comes with multiple cons. For instance, it will make the fabric fade in a span of months or a year. For any hobbyist, it will be the easiest method to choose for printing shirts, but any amateur cannot carry it out. You need to be adequately skilled to use a DTG printer.

The two most essential tools you need are a textile printer and high-quality ink. It functions somewhat similarly to the paper printer. First, upload your design to the PC, shift it to the printer, and let it be printed out on the chosen fabric. Undoubtedly, it gives a splash of unmatchable uniqueness and creativity to your shirt. Comparatively, the print feels soft to touch. Why? Because the ink used is thin.

Direct to Garments DTG machine
Direct to Garments DTG machine

Never use the low-quality textile printer or low-quality ink. Otherwise, you will get a sketchy, unreliable, and bad-quality print with dot patterns. Besides, DTG printers are made compact for easy functionality. Its inkjet printer tech provides huge color mixing potential. However, DTG is an expensive printing method.

Pros
  • Best for complicated and multi-color designs
  • Soft and smooth prints
  • No rigid, extra-thick layers created by the ink
  • Super-fast 
  • Suitable for mass printing
  • Space-saving
  • Minimal to no spilling
Cons
  • You might get a low-resolution design
  • Only compatible with 100% cotton fabric
  • Not suitable for dark fabric due to thinner ink
  • DTG machines are expensive
  • Least durable as Colors fade over time
  • Printers require extensive care, handling, and timely maintenance.

Read a detailed comparison of DTG and Heat Press

3) Heat Press Printing

Heat Press is the best printing method for a printing business. The best thing about using heat press printing for t-shirt design is that it helps you keep your money saved as well as time and effort. Although you should only use it for small batches. It is considered a highly economical option in the t-shirt printing industry.

A unique property is the use of special paper called heat transfer paper, on which you have your design printed beforehand. Don’t worry about the complexity of the design. Top-quality heat press supports super complex design printing.

Best heat press machines for printing startups

Heat press machine
Heat press machine

Start with making your design on the transfer paper, then transfer it to the t-shirt by applying adequate heat and pressure. Keep the process continued until the heat has sufficiently softened the dye on the paper to let it be transferred to the cloth beneath on the heat press machine. Typically, vinyl is used as a special paper. It comes with an adhesive on one side and removable tape on the other. Once the print has been transferred, hold the tape and strip the paper away. The translucent dye is used for printing.

Heat press machine buying guide

Pros
  • Suitable for small orders
  • Durable prints
  • Time-saving and cost-efficient method for the beginners
  • Fairly simple
  • No messy procedure
  • Needs minimum maintenance
  • Helps create super complex designs
  • Excellent quality, full-color print
Cons
  • Incompatible with mass printing
  • Don’t go well with dark fabrics
  • Virtually slower than all the other printing techniques
  • Excessive knowledge for heat pressing time and temperature is required
  • Not workable for heat-sensitive fabric material

4) Dye-Sublimation printing

Are you going to print your shirt having a lighter shade fabric? Dye sublimation is one of the best t-shirt printing methods for light shade fabrics. It ensures a professional-quality result. The consumer must possess deep knowledge of sublimation printing for a smoother operation. Be careful and never use it for a cotton t-shirt, or your shirt and print will be ruined. Its major difference is the use of dye-based ink.

dye sublimation machine
Dye sublimation machine

For dye-sublimation, you need a liquid dye that is left to dry on the chosen polyester fabric. Once the ink solidifies, the heat and pressure are applied up to a safe limit. They initiate the sublimation. The heat and pressure will change the solid fabric into gas. It is followed by the expansion of the fabric molecules letting the gas sip between the fabric gaps. Finally, the molecules start contracting upon removing the heat.

Pros
  • Suitable for light shades
  • Ideal option for printing polyester like cream fabrics
  • Works best with minimal enduring designs
  • Durable, soft, and long-lasting printing
  • Helps you print a large design
  • Breathable prints
  • Won’t fade, peel, or crack
Cons
  • Not workable methods of printing for cotton
  • Expensive method of printing on fabric
  • Creases and folds are hard to dye

5) Vinyl printing

It would not be wrong to say that vinyl printing is definitely one creative way of printing. In this printing method, you use special, unique soft clothing that is purposely cut into multiple shapes and designs first. And, then these designs are directly transferred to a shirt. Once the designs are placed onto the shirt, the heat and pressure are applied by the heat press machine for transferring the desired print.

Consider it the best substitute when it comes to printing numerous garment types.

Vinyl printing machine
Vinyl printing machine

Typically, you will find this technique in designing sportswear, slogans, or small graphics. You can also use an iron box instead of a heat press. You need to buy a Cricut machine for cutting vinyl sharply and keenly.

Why do we need a heated bed for 3d printer?

Pros
  • Can print one-off designs
  • Useful in producing a large number of prints
  • Strong printing
  • Gives you free will to use different layers for printing different colors
  • Easy procedure
Cons
  • There are letter-type portions that you cannot use with it
  • Not compatible for mass orders
  • Not suitable for heat-sensitive fabrics

6) Computer-Aided Design (CAD) cut

It is also one of the preferred methods used for printing. It incorporates the use of heat for transferring the desired print to the shirt. Typically, it is used when you are going to print numbers, logos, and names.

The first step in the process is to create your designs on colored vinyl. The designs are created by utilizing the CAD-Cut system. Once you are done making your designs, they are shifted to the t-shirt with the help of a quality heat press.

Computer aided design Machine
Computer-aided design Machine

It is an ideal option if you are intended to print the same designs of a single or maximum of three colors. While printing, you will feel the ease of design application. No matter what type of t-shirt fabric you are using, it will work on all.

Pros
  • Durable design and printing
  • Vibrant colors
  • Applicable to all sorts of fabric
  • Quality guaranteed procedure
  • Suitable for smaller batches and projects
  • Easy to carry
Cons
  • Time-consuming process
  • Inappropriate for complex designs
  • Best suited for basic shapes

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most popular t-shirt printing methods?

  • Screen or silkscreen printing
  • Direct to garment (DTG)
  • Dye-sublimation
  • Inkjet and laser iron-on printing
  • Vinyl heat transfer
  • Discharge printing
  • Heat pressing

How much does it cost to print a T-shirt with direct to garment printing?

The typical cost for printing a basic, small logo on the chest part on a light-colored fabric is $0.25. On the contrary,  printing as big as 16″ x 20″ design images on a dark shirt with heavy saturation will cost as much as $1.50. The cost varies depending on the print’s size. Text-based designs are usually cost less.

How long does it take to print a T-shirt with direct to garment printing?

In DTG, the usual time required for printing a shirt is not more than three minutes. The time can go as low as 1 minute or as high as 5 minutes depending on the size of the design and shirt as well as the color of the fabric.

Which fabric is best for direct to garment printing?

Typically, only 100% cotton seems like a perfect fabric to be used for DTG printing. But, it will also work on 50% cotton. For excellent results, always choose combed and ringspun cotton. The reason is the ability of DTG to work best with natural fabrics. Organic Cotton, Linen, light-colored polyester, and blends are also suitable picks.

Why is DTG a good printing method for Print On Demand Businesses?

  1. Convenient to print one-offs as it comes with zero setup time
  2. Demands no big upfront investments
  3. You can meet bulk orders (massive printing) as well as small batches
  4. Affordable operating costs
  5. Expand Product Offerings
  6. Gives Multicolor, photo-quality designs
  7. Environmentally Friendly
  8. Regardless of the size order, the profit margin stays the same
  9. A simple procedure consisting of a total of 5 steps

What is the right file format for t-shirt printing?

Vector-based art files are considered best and most suitable for printing. It includes AI, CDR, EPS, PDF, and SVG. The reason for their preference is that they are easy to scale up or down, alter, edit, and save once you are done with the desired changes without affecting the quality.

Moreover, PNG and JPEG design files are widely accepted printing formats due to their high resolutions. For embroidery designs, EPS is recommended.

Which fabric is best for screen printing?

For screen printing, the best choice has always been the natural fabrics that include cotton and cotton blends. Cotton tends to be super soft and absorbent, letting the ink absorb better and deeper.  Wood, metal, glass, and Perspex are also options but not the preferable ones.

Who Should Use Heat Transfer Printing?

If you are printing the pre-painted graphics on a wax sheet or creating an image by layering wax dye over the desired object, you can use heat transfer printing.

Best Heat Press Machine For Beginners

Best Heat Press Machines For T-Shirts

Best Heat Press Machine For Vinyl 

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