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What Methods are Used to Print Designs onto T-Shirts?

Customized tee shirts have been a popular business for some time now, and the industry is only growing. Accompanying that growth is a surge in new printing technologies, which allows printing companies to deliver a truly unique experience for their customers. In this article, we will discuss 5 of the most widely used t-shirt printing methods. Some of them are more commonly used by large, bulk vendors while others are more popular among hobbyists.

The 5 Ways to Customize a T-Shirt

Custom prints on tees is a fun and easy way to convey a message. You can use them to advertise your business, a local event, or even your own creative artwork! Whatever your reason for choosing to have a custom tee or two (or one hundred) printed, it helps to know the methods used to bring one’s artistic vision into reality.

The 5 printing techniques we will detail below are:

  1. Heat Press Printing
  2. Screen Printing
  3. Direct-to-Garment Printing
  4. Dye Sublimation
  5. Vinyl Cutting

What is Heat Press Printing?

Heat press printing is used most often when the retailer is making small batches of customized shirts. Fewer resources and less time are required to get the desired results with this method. It is surprisingly simple, especially considering how durable the outcome will be!

To heat press-print a design onto a shirt, one must have access to a press that applies heat and pressure onto a surface. They must also have transfer vinyl, which will be decorated with the intended design. The vinyl, with the design, will be laid onto the tee shirt. After that, heat and pressure are used to essentially “fuse” the image onto the fabric. When the glossy vinyl is pulled off, a beautiful design remains – and will remain – on the shirt.

What is Screen Printing?

Easily one of the most recognized methods of tee shirt printing, screen printing is used most often by professionals who service large custom tee shirt orders. You may have also heard of this method being referred to as “silkscreen printing.”

This technique involves the use of a nylon mesh and stencil. The stencil, which bares the design, is held in place by the nylon mesh before the surface is flooded with the ink of the intended color(s). The outcome of screen printing is the highest quality print possible.

While screen printing certainly makes for the best results, it is not practical for small-time hobbyists. For those who are not looking to mass-produce tee shirts, heat press printing is a better solution.

What is Direct-to-Garment Printing?

If you have a computer, a textile printer, and the right ink, you can direct-to-garment print your own custom tee shirts. It is a relatively simple method of production, as the tee shirts are printed much like you would print documents in your home or office printer.

The most outstanding benefit of printing with this method is the softness of the final result. There are no extra layers of ink that can make a design feel stiff or sticky. However, if you have a lower-quality textile printer, you may be stuck with lower-resolution design quality in the end.

What is Dye Sublimation?

Dye sublimation works best on lightly colored shirts, especially ones of a polyester or polyester-blend material. Cotton is especially tricky when using this method of tee shirt printing. A specially formulated liquid dye is applied to the fabric and left to sit until dry. Once dry, heat and pressure are applied to the surface of the shirt to imprint the design onto the fabric.

Solid fabrics break down into a gas, which then absorbs the ink for a super soft and high-quality print as a finished result.

What is Vinyl Cutting?

Vinyl cutting is a popular technique for small designs and athletic wear. It involves cutting a single design out of a specialized fabric, which can be used again and again in the mass production of custom tee shirts.

Through the use of a vinyl cutting machine, tee-shirt printers can apply multiple layers to get multiple colors onto the fabric.