It doesn’t matter whether you’re starting a printing business, planning on selling custom shirts, or ordering custom shirts for your next trade show or event — you need to first understand the different t-shirt printing methods.
There are many different t-shirt printing methods. Each of these have corresponding pros and cons. Knowing the differences of each t-shirt printing technique can help you maximize your budget and potential benefits.
You need to determine the right printing method for your design, quantity, and fabric before looking for the best printing service to work with. Here are the ups and downs of different t-shirt printing techniques.
T-Shirt Printing 101
As the name suggests, t-shirt printing is the process of printing artwork on a shirt. The artwork or design may be illustrations, photographs, or text.
In the business industry, t-shirt printing has become a popular marketing tool. Additionally, many people have turned to selling custom shirts as a source of income.
The custom t-shirt printing market has shown tremendous growth all over the world. Experts predict that custom t-shirt printing’s market value in 2025 will be almost triple its market value in 2015.
How Much Does T-Shirt Printing Cost?
Ordering and selling custom t-shirts has become popular partly due to the affordability of printing those ordering buy in bulk.
A single custom-printed t-shirt may cost you around $15 to $30. However, if you order custom t-shirt printing in bulk, the shirt price can go down to just $5 to $10 per piece.
Do take note, though, that t-shirt printing costs also largely depend on the simplicity of your design, preferred t-shirt printing method, and the type of fabric.
Business Benefits of T-Shirt Printing
For business owners and individual entrepreneurs, custom t-shirt printing provides several benefits that may help improve their business, particularly in the sales and marketing side.
Here are a few marketing benefits of t-shirt printing:
- Cost-effective: As mentioned earlier, bulk t-shirt printing is generally inexpensive. You can order a large quantity of shirts at a relatively affordable price.
- Long life span: Even if you order a large amount of shirts at once, you don’t have to worry about their life span. You can expect your custom shirts to be long-lasting, provided you use quality materials and partnered with a premium printing service like PLC Print.
- Recognizable branding: Printing custom shirts make for great uniforms and helps your business create a stronger, professional brand image. Branded custom shirts can also strengthen employees’ sense of community.
- Passive business promotion: Custom branded shirts allow you to promote your business whenever your employees go out for work. Recognizable branding on your custom business shirts are ideal for promoting brand awareness.
- Prizes or promotional giveaways: Any extra t-shirt uniform stock can be used as raffle prizes, event promotional giveaways, and more. This way, you can still use the custom shirts to benefit your marketing strategy.
Different T-shirt Printing Techniques
There are several t-shirt printing methods that are widely used today. These methods include dye sublimation, vinyl cutting, plastisol transfer, and computer-aided design (CAD) cut printing.
However, there are three main t-shirt printing methods. These three methods are the ones business printers often use for bulk orders.
Let’s take a look at these three techniques:
T-Shirt Screen Printing
T-shirt screen printing, also occasionally referred to as silkscreen printing, is one of the oldest shirt (or fabric) printing methods. Early screen printing techniques in ancient China used silkscreens, though modern techniques can now be done using machines.
Screen printing is still widely considered as the gold standard for t-shirt printing. T-shirt screen printing allows for exact design reproductions. Thus, it is widely used by professional printers, especially for bulk or mass orders.
For this method, the printers make original screens of your design. The screens are made using a mesh, often made of nylon, and a stencil. Ink is then applied on to the screen’s negative space.
There are different variations of the original t-shirt screen printing process, such as gel printing, puff printing technique, and crackle printing finish.
- Cost-effective and cost-efficient for high-volume orders
- Versatile and may be printed on almost any fabric
- Prints withstand frequent wear and tear
- Reusable screens
- Not ideal for small or limited order quantity
- Most suited for only one color for screen
- Multiple color screen prints may be expensive
- Requires large surface and work area
- Messy ink flooding method
- Intricate designs with small details may not translate well on the shirts
- Produces water waste from cleaning up the screens
Heat Transfer/Vinyl Transfer
Heat transfer or heat press printing uses a heat press machine to basically melt your design onto the shirt. Designs are printed on vinyl transfer papers.
Once your design is printed on the vinyl transfer paper, you can place it on top of the shirt.
This printing method is popular among younger entrepreneurs since the materials and equipment are more cost-effective than other popular techniques.
Casual print enthusiasts and beginners who want to try out heat transfer printing at home can use a household iron and vinyl transfer paper to produce similar results.
- Comparable print quality to t-shirt screen printing
- Simple transfer technique
- Works well with complex designs
- Generally cost-effective, even with low-quantity orders
- Prints are less durable than screen printing
- Designs may crack and fade due to incorrect method and frequent washing
- Slower than other shirt printing methods
- Can damage heat-sensitive fabrics
- May not work well with dark garments
Direct-to-Garment, or DTG, is another highly popular printing method. DTG is also one of the newer printing techniques.
If you want to print highly intricate designs, particularly those with small and thin details, then Direct-to-Garment is your best option. Using DTG, you print almost any kind of design you can think of!
The method allows you to inject the dye or ink directly onto the fabric. This allows the ink to fully penetrate your fabric. In comparison, the ink when screen printing simply sits on top.
DTG works almost the same way as your household printer. However, instead of regular ink and regular printing paper, you use special textile inks and cotton shirts.
- Ideal for printing complex, multi-color designs
- Print workflow is smooth and largely automated
- Fast printing turnaround time
- Suitable for both large and small orders
- Short set-up time, compared to t-shirt screen printing
- Ink is directly injected or printed on the fabric, leaving a smooth print
- Space-saving and compact equipment
- Minimum quantity of ink is used
- Limited fabric options. DTG printing is not suitable for non-cotton and dark fabrics.
- Expensive equipment costs
- Colors may fade over time
- Machines require proper handling and regular maintenance
Printing Shirts with PLC Print
When looking for a commercial printer with superior print quality and customer service, PLC Print is what you need. PLC Print ensures that your chosen printing method will match well with your shirts’ intended use, target audience, and ideal turnaround time. Call us today and see how we can help you elevate your organization or business with our custom t-shirt printing.
Now that you have a better idea of how the three main t-shirt printing methods work, you can make more well-informed decisions. We make it easy for you to create custom-printed shirts for any occasion or event. Most importantly, PLC Print offers premium quality printing and other branded marketing tools to help you grow your businesses.