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12 Major t-shirt printing Methods Used By Professionals

Style & Design Tips

12 Major t-shirt printing Methods Used By Professionals

Print-on-demand (POD) t-shirt printing has made a massive hit on the clothing market in recent years. Customers absolutely love a shirt print that has a touch of their own personality. Behind the journey from a plain mock-up to an individually remarkable shirt print, there are 12 major printing methods used by professionals:

1. Screen t-shirt printing

Equipment needed: Screens, Press, Exposure unit, dryer

Screen t-shirt printing is undoubtedly the most popular and widely used printing process. Screen printing is loved by manufacturers for massive shirt print in bulk.  The process can be simply described as using mesh screens to apply directly ink to the t-shirts. The shirt print is of super high quality and long-lasting.  When used effectively, the screen printing method is very cost-effective.

Let’s look further into the detailed Screening Printing Process: A so-called ‘mesh’ screen, which is made of a quality woven fabric, is stretched over a wooden or aluminum frame. The system then presses Mesh Screen up against cloth to paint shirt prints one by one, each color is only placed by one screen.

Regarding the cost-effective aspect of the screen printing method, it can turn out relatively expensive if your design contains too many colors, as it needs to use up numerous separate screens. For screen printing to be comparatively inexpensive, your shirt print needs to recycle the same design a lot for multiple t-shirts at once. You have to keep the number of ink colors and locations of the design to a minimum.

Drawbacks: As mentioned above, the process can turn from affordable to costly in a swift manner. Besides shirt print’s colors, Screen printing also has a learning curve and the equipment may be costly. Screen printing is viable for massive manufacture in bulk at same shirt print design with less number of colors.

2. Inkjet /Laser Iron-on Transfer

Equipment needed: Inkjet/Laser Printer, Transfer Paper & Heat Press.

Just a little bit less popular than screen t-shirt printing, Heat transfers are specialized for designs with multi colors and complex details. It is great for printing digital photographs.

Laser Iron-on Transfer uses a special heat transfer material (made of specialized transferable vinyl) with an inkjet printer or a laser printer to make the chosen shirt print. Heat transfer is used to directly apply the design onto the t-shirt and make a beautiful shirt print.

To start the process, you will need a shirt print design. You can choose your design for the shirt print with your own customizations, then use this image to print using an inkjet printer or laser printer on your specialized heat transfer paper dedicated to the use of this printing method. Apply heat with a hot iron on the side down placed paper containing the shirt print design and print it by the pressure and heat from the printer.

This method prefers white and light-colored t-shirts or on dark shirt print. And finally, the shirt print by this method is not quite long-lasting as the prints may crack or fade away when you wash them.

3. DTG (Direct to garment t-shirt printing)

Equipment needed: DTG Printer, Heat Press

DTG t-shirt printing is less popular but actually the best method for colorful designs in a small quantity, ideally less than 5. For one-off t-shirts or small lots POD, DTG print is the best option, especially with direct shirt print design from computers, offering a great degree of precision and accuracy of colors. This method is majorly used for cotton blend t-shirts with the help of DTG machines.

The colors used for DTG t-shirt printing are limitless, even 100+ colors to POD your personal prints and patterns. For instance, customers are likely to customize their shirt print with their name or photographs on it. In comparison with screen printing, DTG shirt prints have more vivid colors, with a softer hand.

Like heat printing, DTG shirt print is not as durable as screen printing and may fade away with washing by machines.

4. CAD cut Vinyls

Equipment needed: Cutter/Plotter, Film/Vinyl, Heat Press

Vinyls shirt print have 2 outcome options - matt and gloss finish

For this method, the system will use heat to apply vinyl cutouts, either matt or gloss finish, on the shirt print. First, they cut the design out of solid colored vinyl sheets by a specialized machine. If we set aside the cost of special-made Cutters, Vinyl printing is quite cost-effective as it is normally a one-color process.

Vinyl t-shirt printing has one drawback is that the machine will cut the design slowly one by one. The good news is that the finished products are relatively durable and cost-effective.

There is also a variation of the CAD cut vinyl printing, Flock printing, which 3D textured vinyl called flock vinyl, with the help of an industrial heat press, is applied to shirt prints. The finished shirt prints will have beautifully bold and textured designs.

5. Plastisol Transfers

Equipment needed: Heat press, transfer sheets

Another favorite option for t-shirt printing is Plastisol heat transfers, which give out products with a soft touch feeling.

This printing is also called indirect screen printing. Plastisol heat transfer is also called indirect screen printing, normally used by professionals who have their own high-quality heat transfer paper which give you 2 options to paint: if they want a soft matty finish, hot split transfers will be chosen, and vice versa, Cold Peel transfers for glossy finishes.

The advantage of this method is that you can print one-off orders without incurring much cost. The results are comparable to a high-quality screen printed design. The time required is also very less compared to screen printing. Many t-shirt businesses use this method.

Compared to screen printing, plastisol heat transfers take far less time. Its drawback is that the process requires an expensive heat press machine.

Additionally, there is less popular method for POD t-shirt printing, such as:

1. Dye Sublimation t-shirt printing

Equipment needed: Sublimation Printer, Inks, Release Paper, Heat Press. 

Turn dye into vapor and absorb it into the polyester fabric of the shirt print. 

2. Discharge t-shirt printing

In this process, the shirt’s dye is removed with bleaching discharge inks, leaving the imprint on the surface.

3. Variations of Screen printing including

  • Puff Print technique.
  • Gel printing
  • Crackle finish
  • Glow in the dark finish
  • UV glow finish
  • Suede finish
  • Glitter finish

4. Belt printing

This method can print the entire front of the t-shirt or the back or even together in a single shot using a very expensive belt screen shirt print equipment.

5. Cut & sew

In this process, custom printed fabric is used to make a one-of-a-kind shirt print by cut and sew.

6. Stencil Printing

This is not a noncommercial shirt print method using stencils to print on the fabric is labor intensive. Stencil Printing is the best option for DIY shirt print.

7. Resist Dyeing

Simply dyeing a t-shirt does not make any prints on the surface of your t-shirt. 

Most of these processes of t-shirt printing have their own pros and cons, allowing them to be used in certain situations, depending on the quality of the supplies, equipment, and even manufacturers. Understanding several different methods of shirt print can give you a lot of range and flexibility to start your own business.


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