Thinking of starting an apparel company? You’re in good company. The global custom apparel printing market was valued at $3.4 billion in 2019 and is only expected to increase from there. As you build out your designs, it’s important to consider how you’ll get those designs onto the shirts – in other words, which printing method you want to use. Below, we share the four types of apparel printing methods and what to consider, so you can make the best printing decision for your business.
1. Screen Printing
If you have ever placed a bulk order for printed t-shirts, you have likely heard of screen printing. Screen printing uses thick screen printing inks and technology to transfer designs onto fabrics. It works only with natural fabrics, such as linen, hemp, and cotton. The resulting designs are durable – they won’t fade after multiple washes – and likely only include a few colors at most. That’s because screen printing is best for designs with minimal color variety. If you’re looking for a printing method for a bulk order of t-shirts, screen printing may be right for you. If you’re using print-on-demand, you should explore other options.
2. Plastisol Transfers
If you remember iron-on t-shirt kits, you’ll find plastisol transfers easy to understand. Plastisol transfers involve transferring designs to apparel using a specialized transfer paper and heat transfer press. Because of the high heat involved, this method only works with fabrics that can withstand high temperatures, such as cotton and polyester. Plastisol transfers also take a longer time, making them best only for extremely small scale businesses or experimental designs.
3. Direct to Garment (DTG)
Also known as digital textile printing, DTG is one of the newest technologies in apparel printing. DTG literally uses a specialty inkjet printer to print designs onto pre-treated apparel in one single pass. It’s like printing a design on paper, but instead it’s on clothing. It works with various fabrics such as cotton, polyester, and silk, and designs have a soft, flexible finish. While direct-to-garment doesn’t work well with bulk orders, it is an ideal option for print-on-demand businesses for high-quality results.
4. Dye-Sublimation Printing
Dye-sublimation prints onto fabrics through a process that converts dye-based inks into gas and then a solid. With dye-sublimation printing, a design becomes part of the fabric instead of a layer on top. The process works best on polyester and poly-blend fabrics, and should not be used on cotton. It’s ideal for all-over designs, with no color limits. Dye-sublimation is one of the more expensive printing methods, which is why it should only be used with print on demand.
5. Hybrid Printing
Hybrid printing combines two of the most popular printing methods: screen printing and DTG. A hybrid printing line includes an automatic screen printing press with a CMYK (cyan magenta yellow black) digital printer that has the ability to combine screen and inkjet printed graphics on a piece of fabric. This unique combination of printing styles allows for faster production times with a countless number of customizations, which is ideal for short-to-medium production runs. Because hybrid printing works well with custom text, graphic, and image designs, it is an ideal method for on-demand apparel companies and entertainment merchandise brands.
What to Consider When Choosing a Printing Method
Now that you understand the five types of textile printing, you may still be wondering which option is best for you. Below are some things to consider as you choose a printing method.
- Fabric: The type of fabric you’re using greatly impacts your choice of printing. For example, if you want to print onto a cotton t-shirt, you shouldn’t use dye-sublimation printing. If you want to print onto silk pants, you shouldn’t use plastisol transfers.
- Colors: The number of colors you tend to use in your designs will help you determine which type of printing process to use. For example, if you use multiple colors, you may be better off using direct-to-garment printing.
- Order size: If you want to have plenty of backstock, you would want to choose a different printing method, such as screen printing, then if you wanted to print on demand.
- Cost-effectiveness: Depending on your business processes, you’ll want to select a printing method that is the most effective for your budget.
- Eco-friendliness: If going green is important to you, it’s important to understand the environmental impacts of printing options. Screen printing is one of the least eco-friendly printing methods as it requires bulk orders, large amounts of water, and non-biodegradable inks. On the other hand, DTG printing only prints shirts on-demand, and DTG printers tend to be more sustainable.
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