Different Types Of T Shirt Printing

Printed T Shirts are cool, but if you've ever wondered how they're made, or more to the point of this article, how they're printed, we'll explain each process, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each.

First of all you need to know that there's pros and cons of all the different types of T-shirt printing. There isn't really a best way to do it, it all depends on what your aim is, what your budget it, and if you want to try it yourself at home, or have it done by a professional.

Transfer Paper Printing aka Iron On Transfers

The easiest form of printing, and possibly the most unprofessional are transfer paper prints also known as Iron On Transfers. This is a very easy and simple process and involves using only home equipment which you probably already have. You'll need a computer, a printer, transfer paper and a design. Then it's as simple as printing out a design on to the paper, and ironing it on.

Advantages of Transfer Paper

  • It's quick and easy
  • It's cheap
  • You can do short and moderate runs of less than 50 T-shirts, or just a one off and it's not too time consuming
  • You don't need special equipment
  • You can do it at home

Disadvantages of Transfer Paper

  • It looks unprofessional - You may have to hand cut the design, or have a white block of the transfer paper
  • The quality of finish is not as good as other methods
  • You'll need different transfer paper for light and dark garments
  • It's not as long lasting or as durable as other printing methods
  • DIY means things can go wrong, you'll have to pay for the mistakes
  • Cheap to get started, but the paper and inks can get costly if you decide to print a lot of garments this way.

How To Screen Print T Shirts

Screen Printing

One of the best forms of printing, in terms of quality, is screen printing. If you've ever bought a T-shirt which has a printed graphic on it and it's always stayed vibrant, smooth and soft, it's likely to have been screen printed. Screen printing is therefore a really good way of printing, however it's not the best at everything.

It involves creating a stencil or template, which is then held in place by a screen, usually called silk screen although they aren't made of silk any more, and usually made from a nylon mesh. The ink is then flooded onto the screen, a squeegee is used to press down and make sure the ink gets into all parts of the screen, with the excess being wiped off and finally the screen is taken off with the design being printed. It's then cured/dried and it's done.

Screen printing is a great method for doing mass production, however it's not really a viable solution if you want to do one-offs, or small runs. An example would be stag or hen T Shirts, which may need some one-off touches like nicknames on the back, this is not cost effective for screen printing, and would take a huge amount of time, as a screen would need to be created for each individual shirt.

Screen Printing At Home

You can screen print at home, and there's plenty of DIY kits available. It's got a learning curve, so unless you are doing this as a hobby and just want to practice, it's best to leave it for a professional printer if you have a design or idea you really want to put on to a shirt.

Advantages Of Screen Printing

  • Low Cost Per Shirt - Mass producing could save you money
  • Supreme Quality
  • Soft finish
  • Ability to print multiple colours
  • Much faster to print 1 design multiple times

Disadvantages Of Screen Printing

  • You need to print around 50+ of the same design to make it viable
  • Small runs or one-offs will not be possible, or incredibly expensive and time consuming
  • It's got a bigger learning curve then iron on transfers
  • If you do it by hand it can become messy and you need lots of space for drying
  • A screen printing machine costs a fair bit depending on if you buy a manual or automatic type
  • To get the quality you'd want from screen printing, you need a lot of space, and facilities for washing and drying screens and shirts

DTG - Direct To Garment Printing

DTG is a fairly new idea in terms of printing on shirts. It's also fairly self-explanatory. It's printing, directly on to the garment, i.e. the T-shirt. If you've never seen this before, imagine a huge flat bed printer where you're T-shirt is fed into it on a conveyor belt and then printed on. That's pretty much it.

The biggest drawback of DTG printing is the initial cost. You'll need a DTG printer, which can cost more than £10,000, which means doing this at home is not going to be an option. It is however, an investment if you're printing a lot of T-shirts, and want to be able to do one-offs, which you won't be able to do with screen printing.

The quality of DTG is pretty good, but it's not as good as screen printing, and has been known to fade over time. You get a soft print, which you can do in a vast array of colours, and works best on white. It's possible to print on to darker garments, but this is a difficult process and will need a degree of learning.

Advantages Of DTG Printing

  • Full colour printing available
  • Soft professional finish
  • Low cost per shirt for printing
  • One off designs possible

Disadvantages Of DTG Printing

  • High initial cost
  • Not as fast as screen printing for large runs
  • Requires lots of space

Sublimation Printing

If you've ever seen a T shirt which has an all over print on it, chances are that it's sublimation printing. Sublimation is great for oversize and all over printing, and can transform an entire T-shirt into a piece of art. If you've seen things like a galaxy print, or repeat pattern, this is easy to do with sublimation dye processes. For this you need to use special shirts, they should be 100% polyester rather than cotton, which of course has a different feel and different properties.

Advantages Of Sublimation Printing

  • Create unique, all over printing designs
  • Unlimited uses of colours, graphics and styles

Disadvantages Of Sublimation Printing

  • All over prints usually need a minimum of 50+ garments to make it financially viable
  • White patches and parts of the shirt with no coverage will show through the design, such as under the arms
  • Shirts must be 100% polyester

T Shirt Vinyl And Heat Press Printing

Vinyl Printing & Heat Press

Vinyl printing uses special soft garment vinyl, which is professionally cut using a CAD cutter and special software, when is then printed on to the shirt with a heat press. You're able to print one off designs, as well as printing longer runs, which makes this a great method for printing different types of garments. You can layer vinyl which makes printing in different colours possible, creating vibrant designs.

Vinyl is soft and works well for slogans, words, and small graphics, but is not great for large printed areas as the garment may loose a bit of it's flexibility. There are specialised vinyl which can set a design apart, these include fluorescent colours, glow in the dark and animal print, which can be printed on the shirts easily.

Advantages Of Vinyl Printing

  • Vibrant prints which last the life of the garment
  • No fading or cracking of the prints
  • Suitable for short, medium and longer runs of prints
  • Can work in small space

Disadvantages Of Vinyl Printing

  • Specialised CAD Cutters, software and heat press is required
  • There's a learning curve for the hardware and software you've never used before
  • Vinyl is not as flexible as screen printing inks

Verdict

There's a large number of different processes when it comes to T-shirt printing, with each of them having their own advantages and disadvantages. Whatever you're goal is, there's a method for you, from a cheap transfer at home to a more professional solution.

Custom T Shirt Printing From Us

If you're looking for professional printing, then we are here to help. Whether you're looking for some cheap promotional T-shirts, or custom tops for your business we're here to help with your printing needs. We can do small runs for stag or hen parties, lads holidays or just a one-off if you have a really good idea for a slogan or design.

Shop For Your Custom Printed T Shirts

Our Stag T Shirts here

Our Hen T Shirts here

Shop for Lads Holiday T Shirts

Shop for Girls Holiday T Shirts

Further Reading

What's the best material for T-shirts? Check out our guide here, for tips and advice on the different types of fabrics and materials available for T-shirts, and what the best options are.