5 Best T-Shirt Printing Methods with their Merits and Demerits

Attiq Muzaffar

As the fashion world expands, so does the desire for people to wear custom apparel. People have developed a love for personalized clothes that will match their businesses of the day. Whether they need sports apparel or looking for customized office wear, printing their clothes with their favorite designs is becoming the new norm.

For that reason, we explore different, and of course, the best T-shirt printing methods that you can use to create beautiful designs on your T-shirts. Whether you are starting a t-shirts business or customizing your casual wear, you need to identify these techniques and learn their differences.

Best T-Shirts Printing Methods

Numerous t-shirts printing methods are tailored to fulfill different demands and tastes. While some techniques are best for large orders, others are only suitable for minor demands like home-based printing. Therefore, here are the five best t-shirts printing techniques to try:

  1. Screen Printing

Of all the techniques, screen printing stands out as the most popular, well-established, and widely used by t-shirt experts. It is best for extensive orders; hence can serve you better when coming up with an apparel startup.

Screen printing, also known as silkscreen printing, involves using a screen to apply ink to the t-shirts. It is a versatile and effective method that produces high-quality and tactile-feeling T-shirts. Besides, it is easier to achieve vivid, bright colors, and durable results since the inks are deeply absorbed into the fabric.

Custom screen printing is also among the traditional printing methods that are believed to have its root back in ancient China. However, its popularity grew in the 20th century when Andy Warhol created his iconic Marilyn Monroe portrait. Moreover, the method comes with different variations that help to produce bold, creative, and unique finishes and effects. They include:

  • Puff printing: This technique uses the same procedure as the standard screen printing method but can be used to produce stunning 3D results. It uses Plastisol-based ink but with a forming agent that reacts to heat.
  • Gel printing: This method adds an extra layer of high-density gel on top of the screen-printed t-shirt to create a 3D coating that gives a unique image.
  • Crackle finish: This variation involves the ink breaking up once it dries out to create a beautiful, cracked effect.

Screen Printing Merits

  • The methods give high-quality and durable designs.
  • It is cost-efficient for bulk orders.
  • It is compatible with most fabrics.
  • The variety of screen printing inks allow you to create a variety of effects and textures.

Screen Printing Demerits

  • Using different inks can make the whole process messy.
  • It requires a large working space that is free of dust to conserve the screens.
  • It is ideal for experts as lots of practice is required.
  • The technique may not work for complex, multi-color designs.
  1. Direct To Garment Printing (DTG)

Direct To Garment (DTG) is the newest, most accessible, and simplest t-shirts printing method so far. It works just like office printing, but this time, the ink is directly injected onto the fabric and not on paper. Although it is easier to print t-shirts using this method, it requires some skills to avoid messing with the fabric.

DTG printing, also known as digital apparel printing or digital garment printing, can mix colors perfectly and recreate gradients, colors, and small details that other methods cannot. It also requires low setup costs, can print complex designs, and is suitable for print-on-demand t-shirts business. This is because you only need the digital file from your customer and you can print small batches or fully customized t-shirts.

DTG printing involves 6 main steps that are straightforward for a hobbyist. But for newbies, the process may sound critical as you will need to sturdy and try them before making your final result. These steps are creating the design, pre-treating the t-shirt, preparing the artwork, loading the T-shirt onto the DTG printer, printing, and curating the T-shirt.

DTG Printing Merits

  • The technique offers unlimited color options.
  • It can be used to create photo-realistic prints and complex artworks.
  • It gives a soft texture since the design is printed directly into the fabric.
  • It requires minimal setup; hence favors those aspiring for apparel startup.

DTG Printing Demerits

  • DTG prints take longer to produce than other methods.
  • You risk having low resolution and dot patterns if you use a low-quality textile printer.
  • The design placement on the T-shirts is limited.
  1. Vinyl Heat Press

If you are just getting started with custom hoodies and printing T-shirts in small orders, a Vinyl heat press is the best technique for you. The method uses few resources and saves on your printing time. Besides, the method uses a special type of paper called transfer paper where you create your designs before transferring them to the T-shirt using heat and pressure.

To begin, you press the T-shirt on the heat transfer vinyl then apply heat ad pressure. You can repeat the process until the heat softens the dye on the paper and gets it beneath the apparel. Once the dye sinks deeply into the cloth, take the glossy paper transfer and strip off the dye which leaves you with the intended design on the T-shirt.

Heat and press technique would be best if you need super complex designs. However, it will not be suitable for dark fabric due to its translucent dye. 

Vinyl Heat Press Merits

  • The technique is fairly simple and economical.
  • It is ideal for full-color prints with excellent quality.
  • It is suitable for complex designs.
Vinyl Heat Press Demerits
  • The method is slower than other techniques.
  • Not appropriate for dark fabric.
  • Not suitable for heat-sensitive fabrics.
  1. Plastisol Transfers

Plastisol transfer is similar to screen printing, only that this method uses plastisol paper and not screens. It is a suitable method for those looking for cheaper methods to make custom t-shirts since it gets the job done faster with soft results. You only need to inkjet the design on the plastisol paper and use it to transfer the print on the T-shirt with a heat press.

Plastisol paper can also be used to hold multiple designs so you can produce multiple apparel with a single paper. As a result, you can produce cleaner t-shirts than screen printing where you need to use different screens. Besides, you can outsource the first phase from other t-shirt businesses to improve efficiency and minimize costs.

Plastisol Transfer Merits

  • The method is clean, fast, and cost-effective for both small and bulk orders.
  • It gives soft-textured designs.
  • A single plastisol paper can be used multiple times.

Plastisol Transfer Demerits

  • T-shirts need to be handled carefully after printing to prevent the color from fading or cracking.
  • Plastisol papers need to be ordered in bulk if you want to meet bulk orders.
  1. Dye Sublimation Printing

Dye-sublimation printing uses the same technique as the heat press method, though it is suitable for large designs or light-colored T-shirts. The method is also ideal for man-made fabrics, so it is better to choose a white T-shirt with at least 50% polyester.

To print a design on your T-shirt using dye-sublimation, turn it to the side where you want the artwork to be and spread it on the platen. Press it for a few seconds until the surface is free of wrinkles. Use a special liquid dye that reacts with the polyester and dries up immediately. Once the dye solidifies, use heat to secure the design on your T-shirt.

The dye sublimation printing method is only suitable for bright colorful images or patterns on white apparel. You should never try this method with cotton T-shirts because it will give horrible results. Other fabrics will not also give durable prints.

Dye Sublimation Merits

  • The technique gives large designs at high resolution.
  • The designs are soft for comfortable wear.
  • It is suitable for polyester fabrics.
  • The final designs are durable, high-quality, and won’t crack in any way.

Dye Sublimation Demerits

  • The technique is hard to use increases and folds, like armpit areas.
  • It is relatively expensive than other methods.
  • It is not suitable for other fabrics like cotton.

The Bottom Line

Is it time to try custom T-shirts? Whether you want to set up your t-shirt business or customize your sports apparel, learning how to print T-shirts is the first step to succeed in this fashion field. As such the above-mentioned methods will give you high-quality outcomes, no matter the working space you choose. However, remember that each method is tailored to meet the specific needs of your clients.