What Are the Types of Printing on T-Shirts? Update 06/2022

Choosing a printing method for custom-ordered t-shirts for your bridal party or a family event is an important consideration. Each printing method has a distinct style and level of difficulty. What are your options for t-shirt printing when there are so many options?

Direct to garment, sublimation, and screen printing are the most common methods of printing on t-shirts. Small-scale printing can benefit from techniques like vinyl cutouts, heat transfers, and stenciling. It’s also possible to use a discharge printer, or even an airbrush.

Find out how these ten most often used methods of shirt printing operate by checking out this article. The most durable and least expensive t-shirt printing methods will be revealed. Tips for printing your own t-shirt at home are included in this section.

What Are the Types of Printing on T-Shirts?

With a variety of printing methods, you can print on t-shirts, from applying ink directly to the fabric to putting ink to a paper or transfer that then attaches to the cloth.

Some specialized equipment and supplies are required for every procedure. All it takes is a little bit of patience and a little bit of creativity. Because of this, some methods of printing may require substantial start-up expenditures.

Another consideration is that certain techniques are more effective on specific types of cloth, such as polyester over cotton.

It’s important to keep in mind that some methods of printing work well for one or two shirts, while others need so many setup steps that you’ll get the best value for your money by printing huge batches of garments at once.

See how all the primary t-shirt printing methods operate in this comprehensive guide!

1. DTG

Direct to fabric printing

Direct-to-garment printing is known as DTG. Direct to fabric printing, or DTF, is another name for this technique. A unique printer uses a thin ink to print directly into the t-fabric, shirt’s as the name implies.

Thus, any design that is possible to be reproduced on paper can be simply created. Colors, complexity, and even images are all options. As a result, the ink is absorbed into the fabric of the shirt, rather than forming a hard layer on top of the fabric. With this strategy, you can simply spin off one design after another without having to set up anything complicated.

DTG has a few drawbacks, but what are they? You should expect to pay anything from $10,000 to $500,000 for a high-quality DTG printer. It’s certainly worth it if you’re going to create an apparel company, but it’s not the ideal option for a home artist!

While setting up and operating a DTG printer is rather simple once you grasp the fundamentals, you’ll need some background in graphic design to create the designs for printing.

Finally, despite the fact that DTG designs are extremely eye-catching, they are not as durable as other types of designs.

2. Indirect Screen Printing/Plastisol

Plastisol Printing

T-shirt designers are increasingly turning to plastisol or indirect screen printing for producing their garments. Plastisol inks, like those used in screen printing, are employed in this technique, which incorporates some of the fundamentals of that process. Instead of directly applying ink onto the fabric, ink is applied on a plastisol transfer sheet.

It is then heat pressed onto the fabric, creating an extremely durable and elevated design.

In order to save money, some designers create a digital design and send it to a third-party printing company that can mass-produce the design on plastisol sheets. Once the plastisol sheet has been applied to a shirt, the artist utilizes heat to adhere it to the garment.

High-quality, long-lasting designs are among the advantages of this technology. Compared to traditional screen printing, there will be a lot less mess and setup time. You simply need a computer graphic designer and a heat press to create the shirt if you outsource the plastisol transfer sheet printing.

Plastisol transfers can be difficult to apply, which is one of the method’s drawbacks. The designs will peel and crack if they are done poorly. Small orders work well with this strategy, but bulk orders are a different story.

3. Vinyl

Heat transfer vinyl

One of the most popular ways to decorate a shirt is by using heat transfer vinyl. One side of HTV vinyl has a decorative coating, while the other has a heat-activated adhesive coating. The vinyl may be used to carve out text, logos, and even complicated pictures that can be sealed onto cloth using heat.

While not technically a “printing” method, many artists use vinyl basically in place of ink to create raised, durable designs on t-shirts. Vinyl designs for large-scale professional operations will most likely be created using gigantic commercial cutting equipment. For those who like to work in their own studios, there is the option of using a simple electronic cutting machine like a Cricut to create their vinyl cutouts.

You can also use glitter vinyl, flocked or velvety vinyl, and metallic vinyl in addition to the basic plasticky vinyl.

If you’re working on a smaller scale or even just for personal usage, Heat Transfer Vinyl gives you a lot of options. Cutting machines and irons are all you need to get started making t-shirts for your child’s basketball team! A Cricut and a heat press are all you need to get a small business off the ground if you want to do it yourself.

Making an HTV design takes less time and effort than many other approaches, in addition to the minimal initial investment. The HTV designs, on the other hand, are more durable than practically any other printed designs.

As a drawback, because each garment must have the HTV cut out by hand, bulk orders cannot be fulfilled effectively utilizing HTV. Because a heat press is required to activate the vinyl’s adhesive, you can’t use HTV on a heat-sensitive cloth.

4. Heat Press Printing

Heat Press Printing

The quality of heat press printing isn’t as good as other processes, but it’s a suitable choice for beginning artists or those working from home. Nevertheless, some professionals or small-business owners are effectively selling shirts with thermal press printing.

A computer-generated design is printed using a heat press and an inkjet or laser printer. You’ll need to use iron-on transfer paper to print your design. An iron or a heat press is then used to adhere the design to your shirt.

Because of its simplicity and low initial outlay, this approach is ideal for designers working from their own homes. It’s as simple as drawing on paper to create complicated drawings or images. For creative artwork, you’ll need to learn how to utilize graphic design tools, but you can also use images you find online or photos taken with your cell phone!

But heat press printing may not be as durable as screen printing or HTV designs. It also doesn’t work well on dark-colored shirts because the graphics don’t stand out properly without a light-colored base. In the end, because this procedure requires high heat, it is not suitable for use with heat-sensitive clothing.

5. Sublimation

Sublimation printing

Professionally, printing on polyester using sublimation is the finest option. However, it does not work on all-natural fibers, such as cotton, which are not affected. The cool thing about this technology, which is also the most expensive, is that it employs heat to transform dye into a gas, which then attaches to the fabric.

To generate soft and long-lasting graphics on polyester, sublimation printing uses a process called sublimation transfer printing. Fabric retains its breathability rather than becoming impregnated with a heavy layer due to the dye’s special adhesion properties to the fabric. Sublimation designs will not break or peel as a result of this process.

An issue with this method is its high price. As a result, this technique is more cost-effective for a large organization rather than a home or small business. Cotton t-shirts cannot be dyed using the sublimation method.

6. Heat Transfer Printing/Inkjet

Inkjet Print

It is possible to use heat transfer printing in a variety of ways. If you want to use it in the same way as the heat press approach, you can. Alternatively, you can use a heat press to adhere the vinyl to the shirt.

In either case, printing a design onto a transfer material using an inkjet printer is a simple operation. Just a basic printer and some basic supplies are all you need to get started. Although it takes a long time to set up each transfer and then heat press it to the shirt, it’s worth it in the long run.

Printing heat transfers with an inkjet printer has the advantage of being simple to do at home. You can utilize a photo or other complex image in your design and still achieve good quality results.

It’s worth noting, though, that this procedure does take longer than many other options. Because of this, it’s not normally the method of choice for experts. In addition, a hard layer is formed on top of the fabric, making it uncomfortable to wear, and only white or light-colored shirts will display the designs.

7. Screen Printing

Screen printing is a high-quality method of printing t-shirts that also allows for a great deal of individuality and expression. One of the oldest printing technologies in the world is also a type of letterpress!

You make a negative of the design you wish to print on a screen in order to screen print. After that, you apply plastisol ink on the screen and press it to the t-shirt with a roller. The ink is forced through the design’s negative-space stencil, and an image appears on the shirt as a result!

Special chemicals can be used to generate photo-realistic stencils on screens for intricate screen printing. By utilizing a Cricut, you can also screen print in an extremely simple fashion.

Screen printing is a popular alternative for both professional and amateur t-shirt designers due to its numerous advantages. Aside from that, it produces eye-catching, long-lasting designs. Because of this, the ink soaks into the cloth more thoroughly than an HTV pattern would, making it more long-lasting.

You can save money on large orders of the same shirt by using the same ink screen that you had to put up for the first shirt.

Finally, silk, cotton, and polyester can all be screen printed.

You may, of course, face some drawbacks to this widely used strategy. To align the screen with the shirt, you’ll need a lot of room and some heavy equipment, like as screens and a press. For complicated designs, you’ll need chemicals that aren’t readily available in the market. Finally, because each color must be layered on one screen at a time, designs for screen printing typically work best with one to three colors.

8. Airbrushing

It’s not the finest t-shirt design option for a major commercial operation, but it is incredibly popular among artists and small-scale businesses. T-shirt design using this method can be extremely complicated and beautiful. By airbrushing over stencils one color layer at a time, this process can also be used as a unique substitute for screen printing.

The method’s adaptability is one of its main features. A chef using a food-safe, food-safe airbrush to adorn an edible cake is an example of an airbrush artist’s ability to create intricate designs with this equipment.

There are several advantages to airbrushing, including the fact that it doesn’t cost a lot of money to begin started.

The biggest drawback of airbrushing is the amount of time it takes. One shirt can take hours to produce using this method, but it allows for a wide range of aesthetic expressions. If you want more than one shirt of the same design, it may be difficult to get it exactly right.

9. Discharge Printing

Screen Printing

There isn’t a lot of usage for discharge printing, but the result is a unique t-shirt. By subtracting rather than adding color, this procedure achieves its desired effect. As part of their printing process, screen printers utilize stencils to protect specific areas of the garment, and then use bleach to remove any other dye.

To make beautiful vintage-looking tees, you might want to try this approach out with a group of pals at home. This approach has a huge advantage because of its one-of-a-kind look.

Despite the fact that this method yields distinctive, vintage-inspired tees, it is time-consuming and expensive, making it unpopular among professionals.

10. Stenciling

Stenciling t-shirts at home is the simplest approach. Stencils can either be drawn on by hand or electronically cut out using a Cricut machine. Create a brand or design by applying dye over the stencil!

Stenciling techniques like screen printing are commonly utilized by professionals. If you just want to sew a few shirts for your family, you can do this at home using very basic supplies.

Stenciling has the advantage of allowing you to customize the level of complexity. In addition, you don’t need a lot of high-tech or pricey equipment to get started. However, you don’t even need to use a press to heat set a fabric design, but the results tend to be more permanent.

Although this method is easy to apply, if you plan on selling shirts, you’ll need a more professional design.

 

Different Types of T-Shirt Printing Methods: Comparison

Take a look at this side-by-by-side comparison of the most popular t-shirt printing methods if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

QualityDesign OptionsDurabilityCostComplexityTimeNumber of Prints
DTGHighHighMediumHighlowLowHigh
Indirect Screen Printing/PlastisolHighMediumMediumMediumHighVariesVaries
VinylHighLowHighLowLowVariesLow
Heat Press PrintingMediumHighMediumLowLowLowMedium
SublimationHighHighHighHighHighMediumVaries
Heat Transfer Printing/InkjetMediumHighMediumLowLowLowMedium
Screen PrintingHighMediumHighHighHighHighHigh
AirbrushingHighVery HighLowLowHighVery HighVery Low
Discharge PrintingHighMediumHighHighMediumHighLow
StencilingLowLowLowLowLowVariesLow

Best T-Shirt Printing Method

T-shirt printing methods vary depending on your specific needs, such as how many shirts you need, the type of polyester or cotton that you want to use and how long-lasting you want your design to be.

See which printing process offers the most design flexibility, the best quality, the longest lifespan, and so on in these “best of” categories!

Design Options

DTG, sublimation, and hot press printing are just a few of the printing technologies that allow you to create complicated designs.

Of course, this does not rule out the possibility of creating more complicated designs using different techniques. The DTG procedure, on the other hand, prints the image directly onto the cloth, whereas screen printing requires a lot of expensive equipment to duplicate a photo.

HTV and screen printing, both of which print one color at a time, are examples of printing processes that are restricted to one, two, or three-color designs.

Quality

Screen printing produces the highest-quality designs on cotton shirts, while sublimation produces the greatest results on polyester shirts. The HTV process or discharge printing method usually produces the greatest quality graphics for a retro aesthetic.

The artist’s skill and even the shirt’s fabric quality have an impact on the design’s overall quality. Any of the strategies described in this article could be used to generate a high-quality t-shirt design under the correct circumstances.

Cost

When it comes to printing t-shirts at home, stenciling is the most cost-effective way whereas commercial-grade printing techniques such as discharge printing or DTG are expensive, on average

Choosing a method necessitates weighing the startup costs against the cost per shirt. Several of the techniques outlined in this article need expensive equipment.. Having said that, you can make each shirt for a very inexpensive price provided you have the necessary equipment.

Time

Printing a design on a t-shirt using a printer, such as DTG or heat transfer, takes the shortest period of time. Screen printing and techniques that add colors one at a time are the most time-consuming methods.

A method’s ability to produce more than one garment must also be considered. Screen printing takes a long time to set up, but once you’re done, you can swiftly produce multiples of the same design!

Durability

Several printing technologies, such as sublimation and screen printing, provide long-lasting designs. Screen and sublimation printing are particularly popular among designers due of the way the dye is absorbed into or bonded to the cloth during these procedures.

It is more likely that a raised pattern will break or peel away over time than one that rests on the fabric’s surface. However, high-quality HTV designs are expected to last for many years, so their durability is also outstanding!

Complexity

The intricate procedures of sublimation, screen printing, and airbrushing necessitate a high level of ability. Screen printing and airbrushing can, however, be done at home in a less complex form. DTG, for example, is a simple process that necessitates a great deal of advanced equipment.

Every technique has a distinct amount of difficulty depending on whether or not you intend to work commercially.

Type of Fabric

Sublimation printing, for example, can only be used on polyester when using certain printing processes. Heat press and transfer printing, both of which need a great deal of heat, only work with textiles that can withstand such temperatures, such as cotton.

Finally, there are techniques that can be used to virtually any type of fabric. Screen printing and stenciling are two examples of this type of work.

Supplies

There are a wide range of resources needed for each printing method, from a wide variety of unique dyes and rollers to a pair of scissors and some HTV vinyl for the simplest at-home designs.

Commercial printing methods like DTG and sublimation printing necessitate specialized dyes and sophisticated printing machinery. HTV, a more creative technique, necessitates supplies that can be purchased and used at home, like a Cricut.

Technology

Commercial printing processes like DTG and sublimation printing necessitate the use of high-tech equipment. This means that you may use advanced technology with practically any printing method if you know how to use a graphic design application to produce your own unique designs.

Screen printing and heat transfer vinyl (HTV) can also be used to create more complicated graphics. If you don’t want to utilize a lot of technology, you can keep things simple with only one screen and/or a Cricut at home!

Best Way to Print Cotton T-Shirts at Home

Using an inkjet printer with a heat transfer process, or by cutting out and using an HTV design, is the best way to print cotton shirts at home. Use an iron or a tiny heat press to seal the transfer paper to your shirt if you’re working from home and have an inkjet or laser printer.

The heat-activated adhesive is very easy to apply on cotton clothing at home if you have a Cricut machine or a pair of scissors.

Shirts made of cotton can withstand high heat, thus heat pressing or ironing is a good procedure for them.

If you want to keep things simple, you can paint or dye a cotton shirt at home with a stencil and fabric dye.

Which Type of Printing is Best for Polyester T-Shirts?

Sublimation printing is the best method for professional-quality printing on polyester shirts, but you may also print at home using screen printing or other techniques.

Keep in mind that polyester is extremely heat-sensitive. Using a heat press is possible as long as the temperature and timings are strictly observed, but the problems greatly outweigh those of dealing with cotton.

What is the Most Durable Kind of T-Shirt Printing?

Sublimation and screen printing are the most long-lasting ways of t-shirt printing, but there are several others that work just as well.

When it comes to DTG designs, you can notice that they fade with time. There is a tendency for heat transfer designs to peel or crack. For the most part, HTV designs will last a long time before cracking, although this is not a guarantee.

How to Print on T-Shirts at Home

Heat transfer printing is the simplest approach for novices to get started printing on t-shirts at home. If you don’t have any prior experience, you don’t need any supplies whatsoever!

Screen printing and heat transfer vinyl (HTV) are two options for those who want to start a t-shirt business from their house. You don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to make either of them work in a home studio setting.

Another consideration when printing on t-shirts at home is a modest initial investment. DTG and sublimation printing are out of the question because of this! Do not go for large-scale printing, but instead use vinyl cutouts or even airbrush on tees.

Conclusion

DTG, sublimation, and screen printing are all popular methods for printing on t-shirts. HTV or heat transfer designs may be a good option for DIY shirt printing. Inkjet printing and heat transfer vinyl may both be done easily using simple tools like a heat press.

In order to print t-shirts using DTG or sublimation, you will need to invest in high-end professional equipment. In most cases though, you don’t need pricey equipment to get the job done, such as with HTV designs, heat transfer printing, stenciling or even airbrushing.

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