T Shirt Printing Methods

Transfer Paper (Inkjet)

In the transfer paper method, an inkjet printer prints a sheet of special transfer paper with the proper ink. Then, the paper is laid on the shirt (or other surface) and a heated press is applied for a few seconds. The exact time depends on the type of printing and material.

For light-colored garments, the mirror of the original desired image is printed on the paper, then the transfer process puts the mirror of the mirror (the original) on the garment. However, on dark garments the design is printed on without mirroring. This is partly because the inkjet printers cannot print white. Therefore, on white garments all that’s necessary is not print white areas of the design and let the original color show though, while dark garments need certain transfer papers that are covered with transferable white ink.

Advantagtes:

  • Easy to do: make your design on a computer, print it out and press it on
  • No minimums: you can print 10 shirts with completely different designs or easily switch names and numbers on sports jersey customizations almost as easily as doing one design
  • Can print the same or similar design on garments made with completely different fabrics: nylon, cotton, and polyester.
  • Can duplicate embroidery
  • Works great on polyester open mesh jerseys

Disadvantages:

  • Inkjet transfer paper designs for clothes have poor washability compared to screen printed ones
  • Might not be best option for large orders, since each shirt needs its own paper printed individually

Plastisol Transfer

Plastisol transfers are similar to transfer papers in that the decoration applied to special paper first, then transferred to the product from the paper. The difference is that in the transfer paper method the paper is printed on by an inkjet printer and plastisol transfers are printed the paper on by screen printing.

The plastisol transfer paper is put underneath the screen on a screen printing machine. Then, the same process of printing a shirt (described below) is done, but instead of the plastisol ink being printed directly on the shirt it is printed on the paper. Then, a sand-like grain is spread on top of the plastisol so that the design doesn’t blur. This also makes it easy to store the plastisol transfer in a folder for future use.

After the paper is printed, a heat press machine applies the paper to the garment. The advantage of plastisol transfers is that it makes otherwise tough-to-print locations easy since aligning a shirt on a heat press machine is far easier and quicker than on a screen printing platform.

Advantages:

  • More durable than transfer printing
  • Easier print alignment than screen printing
  • No minimums: you can print 10 shirts with completely different designs or easily switch names and numbers on sports jersey customizations
  • Can print the same or similar design on garments made with completely different fabrics: nylon, cotton, and polyester.

Disadvantages:

  • Can not do half tones or print photos
  • Might not be best option for large orders, since each shirt needs its own paper printed individually

Screen Printing

Now that we’ve discussed heat transfer, let’s talk about screen printing. The Chinese invented screen printing thousands of years ago. At first, they used silk screens for the process which is why another name for screen printing is silk screening. The reason the process has lasted, in one form or other, for thousands of years is its efficiency. To way oversimplify, screen printing is the process of applying ink, through screens, on many objects–not just shirts. Pens, bottles, hats, business cards, flyers, and more have all been screen printed.

Screen printing is complex and requires much more equipment–and chemicals–than heat transfer. For example, emulsion is needed to create a screen and then three products – ink thinner, emulsion remover, and dehaze are needed to clean the screen after just one use. In addition, equipment like a washout booth is needed to both clean screens and create them. On top of all that, it requires a dark room to store the screens, a light machine to burn the screens, a flash dryer and conveyor belt dryer to dry the screens, and a screen printing machine to actually print something. Then, of course, there’s all the little stuff like squeegees, scrubbers, tape, films, a printer to burn the film, at least 20 screens in various mesh sizes, and plastisol inks in various colors.

Screen printing usually requires a minimum order to be efficient. There is more setup time involved than heat transfer printing, but the setup time is exactly the same whether the order is for one shirt or one thousand shirts. Once the screens are aligned and the ink is put on them, all that’s left is to put on and take off the shirts from the machine (and possibly change ink on large orders). Therefore, only one design can be printed at a time, although ink colors can be changed and different garments can be printed with the design so long as it’s made from the same type of fabric.

Two common inks used are plastisol ink (the most popular) and water-based inks.

Screen printing is a great printing process that’s been around for thousands of years and will be around for thousands of years more. It’s an efficient way to print both full color and single color designs on shirts and it’s so versatile the customer’s imagination is the limit!

Advantages:

  • Best for large orders
  • Multiple printing options
  • Can print very fine details
  • Very versatile: most garments can be screen printed with no problem

Disadvantages:

  • Needs a minimum order amount to be cost-effective
  • Must print one design at a time

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