T Shirt Printing – What Method Is Best For Your Needs?

Preparing t-shirt for printing in the silk screen printing machineMan preparing t-shirt for printing in the silk screen printing machine

It’s simple right?  You require some custom T Shirts printed with your team or corporate logo so you jump online to compare prices.  Once you start shopping around you find you have print options such as screen print, heat transfer, process print and full colour direct print.  So what are these T Shirt Printing options, and how do you decide which is best for your job?

Screen Print:  This is the oldest method, but still the most common and in most scenarios the best.  Screen printing offers PMS colour matching and because machines today can be fully automated, also offers the lowest print cost per T Shirt.

The negative with Screen Print is that is requires the setup of physical screens which are expensive, bulky and difficult to store.  The cost of screen setup is around $75 per screen and a new screen has to made for each colour in each print position.

Heat Transfer:  Heat Transfer is a two step process.  Firstly your T Shirt logo or design will be printed onto a transparent film using basically a high quality inkjet computer printer.  The second step is to permanently transfer the design from the film to the T-Shirt using a heat press.  The same heat press process can be used to place precision cut vinyl lettering or designs onto T Shirts.  This is most commonly used for placing surnames or nick names on the back of sports uniforms or year 12 jerseys.

Heat Transfer is a great option for smaller runs that require full colour designs.  As the print is done using basically an inkjet printer, the cost of a full colour print is no more than a one colour print.  However heat transfer is a time and manual labour heavy process that is generally not cost effective on larger run jobs.  Also the sharpness of print is generally not as good as can be achieved with screen print.

Process Print: This is a print process that has been borrowed from general printing and applied to T Shirt printing.  Using the 3 primary colours plus black, these are applied to the garment in different percentages and mixed together to achieve any colour of the rainbow.  In the printing world this is also known as CMYK printing (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key).

This is a cost effective way of achieving full colour print , especially on larger run jobs as the process is run through a standard screen print machine which can be mostly automated.  The process is not cost effective for smaller run jobs as 4 screens are required at a cost of around $75 per screen, meaning approximate setup cost of $300.  Print quality and colour matching is good, but as good as can be achieved with extra colour and extra screens (at a higher cost).

Direct T Shirt Print:  This is a relatively new print process where a full colour print can be applied directly to the garment, without having to go through the extra stop of a heat press.  Again this is a slow process that is best suited to smaller runs, or even personalisation of T Shirts for bucks parties, hens nights, etc.

While this is a cost effective print process for small runs, the quality and cost effectiveness is not comparable to screen printing on reasonable sized runs.

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