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Custom Tshirt Printing

Understanding how printers produce custom tshirts is the best and only way to make sure you walk away with a great product without a gaping hole in your wallet. If you can’t tell your screen printing and transfer printing from your vinyl transfers or direct to garment printing then this article is for you!

Pulse Print offers pricing from only £1.50 per tshirt making us the first choice for high quality custom tshirt screen printing for hundreds of business and event managers. For quotes just give us a call on 01865 596 262 or check out our products page for more information.

Just a quick note here from Rich.

Since Arthur wrote this article, we’ve reviewed a lot of our production processes, taking a look at what we could be really strong with, and having an honest think about jobs that we just don’t have the time or resources to do as well as we demand of ourselves. We concentrate on flyers, posters and booklets mostly; with each booklet or comic book being quoted individually so that it’s really tailored to you.

Obviously that kind of focus takes up a lot of our time, but we think it’s really important to do what we do as well as we can. The sad part of that is that it means that we can’t offer every product and process under the sun. What we’ve had to drop is DTG, Vinyl and Transfer printing. Unfortunately the only way to do these right every time is to do them exclusively, and that’s not something that we want to be doing when we could be helping our customers with their catalogues or magazines.

We still offer an awesome screen printing service, and of course we’re more than happy to help you with anything else; just get in touch!. We’re also happy to recommend suppliers if you do want a DTG printing service; people that we’ve worked with and trust to do your job perfectly for you. Again, just get in touch with me and I’ll point you in the right direction.

Now, back to the information!

There are four main processes used by manufacturers who print custom tshirts, these are:

Each of these four custom tshirt printing methods has its own strengths and weaknesses. These make them most suitable for different uses, production volumes and designs. Let’s take a look:

Screen Printing

Typical Use     Resale and Commercial Sale TShirts

Best For     High Volume (100 +), Low Colour Count Designs

Worst For     Low Volume, Full Colour Designs

Screen printed tshirts are what you’ll most commonly pick up from the high street. This is because the production costs for high volumes of screen printed tshirts is very low. Designs are printed on to the tshirt with plasticol inks (which give a slightly coarse and rubbery texture) and sealed by a process called heat tunnel curing. The catch with screen printing is that each of the colours needs to be printed on to the tshirt separately, using its own unique screen. What’s more, each of these screens costs about £25 to set up. This means that whilst the cost of printing each tshirt can be measured in pennies (rather than the pounds associated with digital printing methods) this is often offset by the cost of setting up the plates. Consequently, set up costs are high and full colour printing nearly impossible.

In conclusion, if you’re looking to print a large number (50+) of high quality simple tshirts then screen-printing is your method of choice. For smaller or more complex custom tshirt printing runs, read on.

Transfer Printing

Typical Use     Hen Party Tshirt / Stag Do Tshirt

Best For     Small Volumes, Rectangular Designs, Smaller Budgets

Worst For     High Volumes, Irregular Shapes, Large Blocks of Solid Colour

Remember those transfer tattoos you used to get in cereal packets? The cheap and cheerful option, high quality and professionally produced transfers are generally printed on a laser printer to prevent banding and applied to a tshirt using a high quality heat press (which basically amounts to a high tech iron) to ensure perfect adhesion. Whilst the final quality of a custom transfer printed tshirt usually far exceeds the often-promotional nature of products produced using transfer printing (i.e. Hen Nights, Stag Dos, Lads / Ladies on Tour, Promotional Events etc.) the quality produced would not normally be up to the standards expected by retail customers who are used to the finish and feel of screen printing.

Vinyl Transfers

Typical Use     Uniforms and Workwear

Best For     Work Wear, Simple Designs, Two or One Colour Designs

Worst For     Complicated Designs, Full Colour Printing

Vinyl transfers produce perhaps the most durable custom printed tshirts of all the four main custom tshirt printing processes. Consequently, vinyl transfers are well suited to the production of custom work wear. A digitally-controlled cutter is used to cut a custom tshirt design from a vinyl sheet. This vinyl is then removed from its backing sheet and applied to the garment using a heat press. Vinyl is produced in a wide array of colours and is fantastic for simple solid colour designs. Placement is done by hand so vinyl transfer custom tshirt printing is not particularly well suited to designs with multiple colours or fiddly designs with small pieces such as logos or small writing.

Direct to Garment (DTG)

Typical Use     Anything!

Best For     Low-Medium Volume, Complex Designs, Full Colour Tshirt

Worst For     Small Volume esp. on dark Tshirt

Direct to Garment (DTG) custom tshirt printing is the most recently developed method for creating custom tshirts. Tshirt are loaded onto a plate in a similar manner to screen-printing. Textile inks are physically printed onto the shirt using a dedicated inkjet printer.

DTG tshirt printing onto white garments is consistent, fairly rapid and inexpensive thanks to the fact that the designs have none of the physical set up costs of screen printing. Dark shirts do cause more of a problem as a white underbase needs to be created for the design to be printed on. As the printer prints the underbase only where needed, however, complex custom designs can still be printed with relative ease. The underbase does need a very tight weave of shirt to appear solid and so isn’t suitable for use on most polo tops and some shirts. In addition to this the application of the underbase slows down and increases the cost of the print process significantly. For most designs onto dark shirts screen-printing becomes the most economical print method at about 100 shirts. DTG t-shirt printers also struggle to print large blocks of solid colour, especially lighter colours, and also tend to over saturate the colours to some degree. DTG printing is a great new option for small run and complex designs but due to the problems it can encounter on some shirts and with some designs we’d advise having a test print before ordering a large run for resale.

The Last Word(s)

In conclusion I hope the above article has given you a good idea of the main processes which underlie the production of custom tshirts (as well as almost all other items of custom clothing). If I’ve missed anything out or you think I could have explained anything better you can give us a call on 01865 596 262 or leave a comment!

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October 30

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