Choosing the right printing method

Deciding on the right look for your printed t-shirts can be a challenge if you’re not sure what each method actually entails. Each method has a unique look that might ultimately make your decision for you, but there are also different costs and lead times involved that could significantly influence your final choice. To help you decide we’re here to explain the good, the bad and not-so-ugly of each printing method.

Know your printing options

When it comes to t-shirt printing there are various options you can go for, but some are more popular than others. At i-Prints, we specialise in screen printing and embroidery simply because we think they have the best results at the right price, but we’re going to cover all the printing methods here to give you an idea of why screen printing and embroidery usually come out on top.

Direct to garment (DTG)

This is one of the newest printing methods and is like a traditional paper printer in terms of method and results. A machine is used to print a design directly onto the t-shirt and the print can’t be felt on top of the t-shirt. While this printing method can achieve unlimited colours and quality, making it ideal for photos and graphics, it is extremely expensive. As this method becomes more widely used the technology may come down in price, but we expect this will always be a pricey printing option especially if you’re looking to print a large number of t-shirts.

Vinyl printing

This method simply requires a vinyl cutter to cut out a design from individual coloured vinyl sheets. This means that only simple logos and shapes can be printed with this method, and it is fairly labour intensive. For this reason, vinyl printing is only really used for numbers on team sports kits or flags where there is no detail or wide colour variation needed.

Vinyl printing is limited and typically only used for sports team kits

Heat transfer printing

A heat transfer printing method uses heat and vinyl paper to stick a design onto a t-shirt. The logo or artwork is printed onto the vinyl paper with a special printer, then heat is applied to the vinyl paper on top of the t-shirt to transfer the design onto the fabric. Because the design is printed onto vinyl this method can also achieve full-colour photo like designs, but the time involved means it is mostly suitable for one-off prints or low volume orders.

The method of using vinyl and heat also means there are limited fabrics it can be used on. Some materials won’t take the transfer or will be ruined by the heating process. If you do go for a heat transfer method, be warned that because the design sits on top of the fabric it can peel off or crack over time with wear and washing, and many people no longer like the poor-quality plastic-like finish that a shiny heat transfer has compared with other print methods.

Screen printing

This is by far the most widely used printing method for t-shirts and other clothes. It may be one of the oldest, but this tried and tested method delivers consistently good results time after time and continues to the be the choice of businesses, printers and people all over the world.

Screen printing pretty much does what it says on the tin. A screen mesh is the primary tool, with the logo or t-shirt design cut into the screen. The screen is then laid over the t-shirt and paint is squeezed through to print onto the t-shirt. This method is both simple and versatile making it perfect for bulk orders and the price is also usually much cheaper than any other printing method. As well as being cost-effective from the outset, screen printing also has the most durable finish out of all the printing methods next to embroidery. This means that your design will last long into the future and retain its quality, making it cost effective in the long term as well.

Screen printed t-shirts from i-Prints are one of our most popular products

The biggest drawback with screen printing is its limited colour mixing. Because each screen prints a single colour, there need to be multiple screens for designs with multiple colours. This method means that is there is no shading and limited colour mixing, and also means creating and setting up a different screen for each different coloured part of a design. Having several screen setups and printing each t-shirt several times could push the costs up.

While you can get significant cost savings by buying screen printed t-shirts in bulk, at i-Prints we always try and keep costs low with affordable trade prices. We don’t enforce a minimum order value, so you can order from just 1 without overpaying.

Embroidery

The embroidery printing method produces a high quality finish that make sit popular for businesses

Completely different from the other printing methods, embroidery uses a machine to stitch the design directly into the fabric. Embroidery has come a long way over the years and today’s advanced machines can stitch incredibly intricate designs, and there is even some limited shading and tone. Because it is stitched directly into the fabric embroidery is extremely durable and long lasting, even more so than screen printing. This method undoubtedly has the most professional look and an extremely high-quality finish, making it popular with businesses and other corporate wear uses.

Embroidery can be limited and small text extremely hard to do, and there is obviously limited resolution with the design. If you’re looking for more of a photo finish, you won’t be able to achieve this with embroidery. The biggest deciding factor between embroidery and screen printing if you have a logo design may be pricing; embroidery is more expensive, but worth it in the long run with its high-quality finish. 

Cheap screen printing and cheap embroidery at i-Prints

Alan Drake

Alan Drake

9 Years printing experience.

Previous 12 years IT Support experience.