There are many different options for printing a t-shirt, which all have their advantages and disadvantages. The best method for you will often depend on the complexity of the design, your budget, and how many t-shirts you'd like to print. These are the main methods of printing t-shirts and their applications, so you can choose the best way for your needs.
Screenprinting is the most widely used method for printing t-shirts and is known for creating vibrant designs on large scales. The technique uses screens to apply ink to the fabric. This is then treated to retain the design for an extended period. A design is applied to a fine mesh screen at a basic level, pressed up against the t-shirt, and ink is pushed through to create the final design. The main advantage of screenprinting is that it's inexpensive when you have a design with only a few colors, although the expense can increase as you add more colors and complexity to the design. The process can also take some time to learn if you intend to do it yourself, so it will often be worth finding a professional screenprinter to take care of the project for you. To get a quote to see if screenprinting is the best method for you, check out https://thrivescreenprinting.com/wholesale-screen-printing/.
Inkjet and laser iron-on printing
The second most popular method for printing designs onto t-shirts is using heat transfer. If you have an overly complicated design for screenprinting with multiple colors and intricate details, this may be the best option for you. Heat transfers are also very good at printing a digital photograph onto fabrics.
The design is printed directly onto special heat transfer paper using a laser or inkjet printer to print using this method. The paper's design is then used to transfer the design onto the t-shirt using a hot iron, with the heat and pressure causing the design to bond with the fabric. The design printed onto the t-shirt will be durable, but won't withstand long-term wear and washing. Also, this technique is best used on lighter fabrics and won't work on darker materials.
Direct to garment printing (DTG)
If you're printing a colorful design in a small batch of, say, five t-shirts, then this is likely one of the best methods to choose. This method uses a direct to garment printing machine which can print hundreds of colors, meaning that almost any design can be printed directly from your computer from home. The final look of a DTG print is very vivid and has a softer touch than screenprinting, but will generally not last as long and may fade after many washes.
This method takes cut-outs of vinyl, which are then applied to a t-shirt with heat. The designs you can print onto your material need to be relatively simple and only use single solid colors. If you're printing at home, this is one of the most efficient and cost-effective techniques you can use as you don't need a lot of specialized equipment. Although vinyl sheets are usually single colors, there's a wide variety of patterns and variations. While you'll be somewhat limited, there are still many designs you can apply to t-shirts with some creativity. The process is very manual, so it can take some time, but the result will be very durable.
Plastisol transfers vary the heat pressing technique and give a quality result with a soft feel. The method is also known as indirect screenprinting and involves taking heat transfer paper, screenprinting the design onto it, and then transferred onto the t-shirt using a hot iron. Plastisol transfers are great if you want to print a small batch or one-off orders for a low cost, and the result is like screenprinting, but with less setup needed. A heat press is required for this technique, which can be an expensive one-off cost, though, so depending on if you want a few t-shirts printing or intending to print many t-shits, you may want to find a partner to print your design for you.
Printing through dye-sublimation is unique in that it works best on human-made fabrics like polyester, but can also work on 50% polyester blends. When printing with this technique, the dye is vaporized, which then absorbs into the material. The print's final feel is similar to DTG, but with a soft feel and is very durable. Dye-sublimation printing is ideal for designs covering the whole t-shirt and can easily print in large and small lots.
Unlike the other printing methods that take ink and print it onto the fabric of a t-shirt, discharge printing takes the opposite approach, with the dye removing the fabric's color to create the design. A piece of natural fabric like cotton is used, and the technique creates a vintage and unique look, although it can be a more complicated printing process that's more expensive than other methods.
Cut and sew
This is another unique approach to adding designs onto a t-shirt that doesn't use ink. Instead, it takes fabric that has already been dyed or printed on, and cuts and sews them together to create a unique look.
A small-scale printing technique not used at a commercial scale, stencil printing is a relatively time-intensive approach that uses stencils to apply a design to a t-shirt manually.
Tie-dyed and batik-died t-shirts both fall into this category, and rather than printing a design to the fabric, ink is manipulated to create a unique look. For tie and dye, the shirt is wrapped with threads around the areas that you don't want to color, and then pigment is applied, which creates the unique look associated with the technique. Batik-dyeing is another technique where wax is applied to the fabric in the areas you don't want to be dyed, resulting in unique and beautiful patterns.