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6 Best Types of T-shirt Printing Methods Compared [Pros & Cons]

Do you want your clothes to be unique? Perhaps there is a specific design that you like, but can’t find in regular stores?

Maybe it’s time for you to consider designing and printing your own shirts. It might be a bit complicated if you plan on doing just one shirt. However, if this is something that you want to pursue for a longer period of time, or to start a business, you should check out some of the main types of t-shirt printing methods.

Criteria for Choosing

We are lucky to have a big variety of printing options nowadays. Depending on your needs, you can choose a method that will meet your requirements and ensure the best quality possible.

Here are some of the factors you should take into account.

1. Compatibility with Different Fabrics

Not all methods are good for all fabrics. If you have a thick cotton shirt, the last thing you want to use is dye sublimation, because it will ruin it. Each method has a preferred type of fabric and it is good to check them in advance.

types of fabrics for t shirt printing

2. Speed of Production

If you need thousands of shirts printed as soon as possible, you don’t want to choose a slow method. Usually, it is very clearly specified whether one option is good for single or mass production, so make sure to check it out.

3. Cost

The cost of printing can vary greatly. There are more economic options for those with a tight budget. Also, if you want to start using some of the methods at home, you should factor in the price of additional equipment and supplies. Once you have your costs outlined use our profit margin calculator to figure out your revenue.

1. Screen Printing

If you’ve had a printed shirt for years and it still looks amazing, it was probably made with screen printing. This method, known also as silkscreen printing, guarantees very good design replication. Many professionals rely on this method as it gives good results.

How It Works

First of all, you need some kind of a stencil (or template) that you want to use. Second, you need a mesh that will hold your stencil.

The mesh is usually made of synthetic materials, such as nylon. Before the printing starts, the mesh has to go through a pre-process. The goal here is to get a clean area in the mesh that is identical to the design.

Afterwards, you need to spill the ink all over the mesh and press it with a squeegee to make sure that the entire area is equally covered. This is the process that ensures that your design is replicated on the t-shirt. Don’t worry if there is some excess ink – you can wipe that away.

Finally, once you remove the screen and let it dry, you can enjoy your design.

Who It’s For

Although this method gives high quality results, it is not suitable for all types of printing. It’s great if you want to produce a large amount of the same shirts, because the stencil can be used over and over again. Big companies usually rely on this method for mass production of shirts.

The method is best used for one color per screen. It can also print in multicolor, but if you are looking for more complex designs, this might not be the best option.

Pros

  • Guarantees high quality
  • Very durable
  • Great for large quantities
  • Fast results if a single design is used

Cons

  • Too complicated for small quantities
  • Not the best for complex designs
  • Not good for manual usage
  • Can be more costly

2. Dye Sublimation

This method is great for big and complex designs. If you see a shirt that is covered in print, it was most likely produced using this method.

There is one important thing to note regarding the shirt material. Dye sublimation can only be used for light fabrics. It gives best results on polyester fabrics, for example. However, if you try to use it on a cotton shirt, the results will be terrible.

T-shirt Printing Methods

Although this is also a printing method that ensures high quality, you must be very knowledgeable to use it.

How It Works

To begin with, you will need a special liquid type of dye. You should apply the dye on the transfer paper first. Once it dries completely, you can use heat and pressure for the sublimation.

This is different from screen printing because you’re dying the fabric directly, not just printing on top of it. As a result, you can very clearly see the colors and the design, but you can’t feel it under your hand.

Who It’s For

Again, if you want to print an entire shirt, this is one the best types of tshirt printing. Remember that you need very light fabric for this process. This is also good if you have a very unique multicolor design. The design is very durable.

Pros

  • Good for large designs
  • Suitable for unlimited colors and patterns
  • Lasts for a long time

Cons

  • Works only on light fabrics
  • It can be pricey if used for small quantities
  • It doesn’t fully cover all parts of t-shirt such as arm pits or side seams

3. Direct to Garment (DTG) Technique

Here is another great method for those of you who are creative and want to experiment with your shirts. This method is somewhat new in the printing industry.

It gives very good results, especially with complex designs. There are no thick layers on the t-shirt and you can enjoy its soft touch.

DTG can be used at home, but you need to have the basic skills and necessary equipment.

How It Works

It is very similar to the way paper printers work. You insert a paper and the printer then applies the ink on it and outputs the final result. It’s the same with shirts.

In order to use this method, you will need a DTG printer and the ink. This type of printer can be expensive if you only want to use it at home for a few shirts.

Also, make sure that you get a high quality printer, because otherwise you can end up with low design resolutions.

types of t shirt printing

Additionally, if you plan on designing dark fabrics, have in mind that it won’t look too good. The ink is thin and it won’t look good on darker shirts.

Who It’s For

If you decide to start designing your own clothes and want to do it for a while, then a DTG printer is a very good investment.

It can be used for different designs and the results will be very good. Also, it’s not too difficult to use if you are new at this.

Pros

  • Simple to use (although it requires some skill)
  • Good for complex designs
  • Soft finish
  • Easy to switch designs

Cons

  • Higher initial investment
  • Takes more time to produce in big quantities
  • Less durable designs

4. Heat Press Printing

Heat press printing works similarly as dye sublimation, with minor differences. It is suitable for smaller quantities of t-shirts. If you want to experiment with your own designs, this is a rather easy way to do it.

One of its main benefits is that you can replicate very complex designs. The final result after using this method is a nice, soft shirt with a vivid and durable design. It gives you the option to use the full spectrum of colors for the desired outcome.

How It Works

The essential component for this type of shirt printing is transfer paper. Once the design is printed on this paper, you can apply heat and pressure to replicate it on the shirt.

When this is done, you just have to remove the transfer paper and strip off the excess dye. It is a fairly simple process to perform. It’s interesting that this type of replication is also used for decorating ceramic. We have more detailed instructions on how to heat press here.

Who It’s For

Since this printing method is rather economical, it can be useful for home production. It’s not limited in design and the quality remains high for all sorts of designs.

As with similar methods, this one also works best on lighter fabrics. It is also not suitable for fabrics that have low heat sensitivity.

Always make sure that you pre-check the care and specifications of your shirt before you start decorating it.

Pros

  • An economical method for small quantities
  • Fairly simple to use
  • Good for home production or starting a t-shirt business
  • High-quality reproductions

Cons

  • Doesn’t work well on darker materials
  • Can’t be used on shirts that are sensitive to high heat
  • Takes longer to print

5. Vinyl Cutting

As the name suggests, the main focus here is on the cutting process. Unlike previous methods, this one includes very precise cutting of material. The pattern is applied afterward to the fabric.

This particular type of t-shirt printing is good for both small and big quantities. However, it is mainly used for small designs such as brands and logos. You may often find shirts made with this method in the sports industry.

How It Works

You start by using a professional CAD cutter to tailor the design that you want. In order to transfer it to the shirt, you need to use the heat press method.

Since you will be using the vinyl cutting machine, you can play with different colors. They will look very vibrant on your shirt.

The reason why this is mainly used for small designs is that the shirt loses its flexibility once the design is applied.

Who It’s For

This might be the best alternative to screen printing for producing in mass quantities. The process is pretty fast and simple.

As with most of the previously mentioned methods, you do need special equipment for printing. In this case, it’s the professional CAD cutter which is used to make all of the patterns.

Pros

  • Works well with small and large quantities
  • Wide spectrum of available colors and designs
  • Very durable shirts
  • No cracking of the design

Cons

  • Requires special CAD cutter
  • Suitable for only small designs
  • Reduces the flexibility of the shirt

6. Hand and Spray Painting, Airbrushing

In the era of technology, we mainly use machines to print on fabric. However, we shouldn’t forget the old-school t-shirt printing methods.

This is a method that hobbyists prefer since it gives them a lot of freedom to experiment and express their creativity. However, note that the final outcome depends largely on your skills.

How It Works

This might be the very basic method of printing. You can either use a spray or fabric paint to color your shirts. There are different techniques for you to explore.

It’s important to stress that you have to check the quality of your shirt in advance and whether it’s compatible with certain colors. Make sure that you get some of the high quality paints if you choose this option.

The process is pretty much straightforward – you directly apply the color or the spray on the shirt. Once you finish, you need to wait for a while for it to dry completely.

The issue with this is the durability of the colors, since many of them might fade away after a while.

Who It’s For

This might be a perfect option for artists or those of you who want to have unique clothing. Be patient because the results sometimes might not be as you imagined, but that’s also a part of the charm.

Many people find this type of artwork very relaxing, so you might consider trying it out if this is what you need.

Pros

  • Unlimited design options
  • The experience of making your shirt manually
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Lower design quality
  • Less durable results
  • Not suitable for large quantities

Summary

Modern technology has brought us a variety of t-shirt printing options. Most of the methods ensure very high quality reproduction of the design. You can also let loose your creativity and use different colors and patterns to get what you want.

Make sure to check whether the color and the fabric of your t-shirt are compatible with a certain printing method. These might be the most important factors that greatly affect the outcome.

When you’re done with the preparation, all you have to do is apply one of the previously mentioned methods and enjoy the result.