So, you want to start a t-shirt business and don’t know which printing method is the best?
In this article I’ll show you the main printing methods, and advantages and disadvantages.
There are 5 main printing methods to print the design you want, on the t-shirt (or sweat-shirt, or whatever):
- direct screen print
- digital transfers
- vinyl cut transfers
- screen printed heat transfers
Direct screen print
This is the most used printing method. Almost every t-shirt you find at stores are printed using direct screen print. It’s commonly called “screen print”. But I like to call it direct, because screen print can be used to print directly on the t-shirt, or indirectly printed, using a heat transfer.
- Reliable – this is the oldest printing method used to print t-shirts, and still used today.
- Price – if you print a lot of t-shirts with the same design, this is the cheapest option.
- Quality – screen printed t-shirts can be washed many times, before the design fades.
- Flexibility – You can use a wide variety of inks and effects (water based, plastisol, metallic, 3D, puff, etc)
- Quantities – screen printers want minimum orders (usually between 50 and 100 per design)
- Time – screen printing is a complex process, so you’ll have to wait days for delivery.
- Inventory – as you have to order dozens of t-shirts per design, you need to stock them.
DTG – Direct to garment
Direct to garment is the most recent technology for printing t-shirts. It’s a printer that prints directly on the t-shirts
- Quantities – you can make small quantities per design. You can even print one t-shirt.
- Inventory – because you can print each t-shirt in minutes, you don’t need a big inventory.
- Photos – you can print photos
- Investment – DTG printers are very expensive (thousands of dollars), so you need to sell a lot of t-shirts just to pay the initial investment.
- Cost – cost per print is very high. Inks are expensive
- Not flexible – there’s only one type of inks (waterbased). You can’t print with effects, like 3D, mettalic, suede, etc
- Time consuming – maintenance is complex.
Digital transfers are printed in a regular printer, and then, using a heat press, it’s transferred to the t-shirt. It’s the worst printing method of all.
- Low investment – all you need is a regular printer (inkjet or laser) and a heat press.
- Photos – you can print photos.
- Quality – digital transfers have very low quality. After one or two washes, the print starts to crack.
- Flexibility – images and text have a background (except for white t-shirts)
- Consistency – digital transfers are difficult to use, so it’s difficult to have 2 prints that look the same.
Vinyl cut transfers
Using a cutting plotter and a heat press, you can print t-shirts with letters and simple designs
- Quantities – you can print small quantities (even one t-shirt)
- Quality – quality is medium, better than digital transfers, but worse than screen printed heat transfers.
- Time – It takes time to cut, prepare and press. Some designs may take 30 minutes to print a single t-shirt.
- Flexibility – not suitable for complex designs and small letters.
Screen printed heat transfers
You should not mistake screen printed heat transfers by digital transfers. The process is completely different. Screen printed transfers are made like a screen printed t-shirt, except that you don’t print directly the t-shirt. First you print a special paper, and then (when you need) you transfer to the t-shirt using a heat press.
- Very low investment – all you need is transfers and a heat press (starting at $200)
- Quality – screen printed heat transfers have the same quality as the t-shirts you find in the stores.
- Inventory – As you can print t-shirts only when you sell, you don’t need a big inventory.
- Price – If you buy stock heat transfers, they are cheap (cheaper then the other alternatives)
- Time – It takes less than 1 minute to print a t-shit using screen printed transfers.
- Photos – It’s difficult to print photo realistic designs
It all depends on your budget, sales, and time. But for us, we tried all of these printing methods, and we chose screen printed heat transfers. So, if you want, you can buy the same designs we have on our t-shirt store. 600,000 t-shirts and 12 years in business, can’t be wrong.
Check our designs: Heat transfers