Ways You Can Print a Great Custom Shirt

Clothing has always been a creative way to express oneself. Style and inspiration can tell you a lot about a person, and you can tell these things just by looking at what someone is wearing. For those who really like to express themselves through clothing, designing a custom shirt or other custom clothing may have crossed your mind once or twice before. It is actually pretty simple if you know the ins and outs of printing and design, so here’s a crash course to give you all the tools you need to make your custom shirts.

Types Of Production

There are three main ways of printing shirts, each with their ups and downs. Some are better for bulk buying while some just make sense if you only want one version of your custom shirt in this world. This is the main decision you must make while buying your custom shirts. Your options are screen printing, DTG, and sublimation. Choose wisely.

1. Screen Printing

Screen printing, or silk printing, has been around for the longest. In this method, a thick paint is used that sits on top of the fabric of the shirt instead of soaking into the material. It takes longer than other types of printing, but it can be cheaper if you’re looking to print shirts in bulk. It also has a really nice finish. The thick layer of paint makes a bold design pop out of the shirt and it has a smooth, flexible finish. This method is also better if you only have one or two colors in your design. This may be the most involved method.

2. DTG

The next method is called DTG, but it is also called digital garment printing, digital apparel printing, and inkjet to garment printing. DTG is just shorter. This type of printing has almost no preparation time because the machine itself is very similar to a printer. The machine “prints” the design onto the shirt or the item of clothing with a modified inkjet, just like a printer does. And just like a printer, it only needs to have a copy of the picture to be able to print.

This method can print in great detail and while it may take longer to print than in screen printing, it overall has a faster turnaround time because it takes so little time to prepare the machine for the print job. This is a more modern method than screen printing, so it’s more efficient in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t have that smooth finish and it’s more expensive to buy or make in bulk. If you’re looking to buy one shirt, this may be the method for you.

3. Sublimation

Sublimation may be the trickiest method to do on your own because it utilizes high heat to “print” the design. It produces great shirts, though, so if you’re ordering in bulk, it may be more expensive, but the product is worth it.

The word sublimation means to go from a solid state to a gas state, bypassing the liquid state, and this is a great synopsis of what goes on during sublimation printing. Dyes are infused onto the sample surface and then high heat is used to transform the solid dyes into gas, and “print” the design on the shirt. A pro of this method is that it really engrains the dye into the fabric.

This method produces perhaps the longest lasting colors and designs. If you don’t want your dye to sit on top of the fabric, this is also a good choice. Unfortunately, this method requires a lot of expensive materials. If you want a career in printing shirts or if you want to buy shirts in bulk, this may be the method for you. Otherwise, the cost of the sublimation printer, the heat press, and the paper can soon outweigh the benefits of this method. Getting just one shirt printed this way is going to be much more expensive.

Where To Buy

When you’re buying your shirts, once you decide how you want them printed, your next questions are going to be where to print them from. This—other than designing the shirt, of course—is the only other real choice you have to make. Of course, there are pros and cons to printing both in large and small businesses. Unfortunately, depending on where you live, you might not have the choice. Be sure to check if there are small printing businesses near you before you get your heart set on supporting a local business.

  • Small Businesses

Small businesses typically have fewer colors and fewer printing options. If your design is basic, it is always a great idea to support a local business. Local businesses are usually more flexible and easier to communicate with than large companies. Although they take more time with orders because they have fewer staff members, if you’re really interested in getting your shirts exactly right, it might be a good idea to try a small business. They stay much more invested in individual customers than large businesses do.

  • Large Companies

Larger companies may be better for bulk orders. They tend to have more staff and more efficient routines so even big orders can get out to you faster. In addition, because they have a bigger budget to work with, they may have more than one method available for you to pick. If you go to a local business to get your shirts made and they don’t have the printing method you had in mind, it might be time to go to a big business at that point. Although they typically don’t have the quality that is required of small businesses and are less inclined to let the designer be a big part of the printing process, your shirts will definitely be done in time and in the method that you want.

Overall, most of your decisions depend on personal preference. Although this is a good guide, if you really like the idea of screen printing, don’t let the fact that you only want one shirt to get in the way. Creating custom t-shirts and apparel is all about being creative. While some rules of thumb may make the process go easier or remain cheaper—like screen printing bulk orders and DTG printing smaller ones—be as creative with this process as you are with the actual design. That’s what clothing is all about, after all—being creative and doing things in your way.