When you first get into the custom shirt business, there’s a lot to learn. Unfortunately, accurate information isn’t always at your fingertips. When starting our brand, Chasing Little Feesers, we had no clue what we were doing. We Googled how to print custom T-shirts and went down the slippery slope of learning all the options available and the benefits and pitfalls of each. If you’re like us and just want to print great looking clothing, either for profit or for fun, just follow along with the information in this post and you’ll be printing in no time.
Don’t let the prices of heavy, industrial grade equipment scare you away. You don’t need that, at least not yet. We were able to get our first shirt printing setup for under $200 and you can do the same. The first thing to know is the different printing options. You have direct to garment or DTG, heat press application, and screen printing. The most accessible printing method is probably the heat press. Let’s review each of these in detail.
Heat Press Printing
The heat press is probably the easiest to learn out of the three techniques. This process requires a few items to get set up. You need a Vinyl cutting machine such as the Cricut or Silhouette. We might do a future article on the different vinyl cutting machines, but it’s outside the scope of this post. Just know you can’t go wrong with the Cricut or Silhouette brands. You also need the vinyl. There are many different types of vinyl. Some are shiny or glittery, some matte or flat, and some are vibrant and bright. Some vinyl behaves like stickers that can be applied to a wall or car as a decal and some are applied only when heat is used. Vinyl is a special type of material that usually comes in a roll. You can actually apply the vinyl to many different types of material such as glass or plastic.
The cutting machines usually come with the software you need to create proper outlines from text and images on your computer that then get fed to the machine toc reate the perfect cut. You can use a regular hand iron to apply the vinyl to the shirts, or you can purchase a T-shirt press, which makes this task much easier.
One disadvantage with the heat press is the wasted material. You often only use a small portion of each vinyl roll because the rest is cut out and discarded as waste. you’ll love the way the shirts look after they’ve been pressed. Sometimes the images and text look like they’re popping out a little because of the thickness of the vinyl sheets laying on top of the fibers.
You could consider screen printing a mix between heat press and DTG. This process involves using actual screens to apply ink onto the garment at the location of your choosing. Think of it like a stencil you create, the part you cut out will be that part that gets ink applied. The actual stencil will get ink on it, but not on the shirt. This makes it possible to have very crisp and clear lines and breaking points. This also makes it difficult to have blended or mixed colors.
Screen printing is great for just a few layers. You might be surprised with what kind of images you can achieve with two or three layers, they can get pretty complex if you use the screens correctly. For each layer, you need a new screen. For this reason, screen printing is typically used when you need to produce a lot of the same logos on many different shirts.
Direct to Garment Printing
DTG printing is achieved with specialized equipment made to specifically print straight onto the article of clothing. This is great if you have a colorful logo with lots of colors and gradients or blends. The DTG machines are a little more expensive than the other options, but it has the potential to print some really cool logos and artwork directly to the clothing. You need special ink when printing directly on the material. The ink soaks into the threads and is made to withstand many wash cycles. The ink may seem expensive, but compared to the vinyl in a heat press, the price is negligible. Also, with most modern DTG printers, the ink is used very sparingly when possible in order to cut down on production costs.
At this point, you might be asking yourself why not just cough up the extra cash to get a DTG printer so you can print almost anything quickly and efficiently? Well even DTG printers have their drawbacks. These machines don’t handle dark colors as well as screen and heat printers. There are tricks to get around this, such as printing a white layer under the image first, but this drastically increases costs and printing time.
I think you could make any of the above options work when starting your own printing business, and there’s no single, best solution for everyone. Which will you choose? Let us know in the comments below.