In this guide, I will be telling you how t-shirt printing works and how you can get into it and start printing off your own designs and make money (hopefully)!
There are a few things you should know before diving into the t-shirt printing biz including how to not waste your money and how to actually do it!
First, there are a number of different ways to print a design on a t-shirt which are as follows
Screen printing involves directly printing onto a garment using a template and by far gives the best quality prints what is more once you have everything set up it is the cheapest of all the t-shirt printing technique to use. However, it does have its disadvantages including
Effort and time. Creating a template for screen printing can be very costly and time-consuming and because you can only screen print one colour on a t-shirt at a time templates so must be created for each colour.
Creating a screen print template involves :
-Printing out a black film positive of your design
-Applying a special emulsion to a silk screen
-Placing the film positive on top of this silk screen and placing in a dark room or box with UV light shining on the screen template.
-The light will then solidify the areas on the screen which are being exposed to the light whilst everything in darkness on the film positive will not solidify.
-Then you simply wash off the emulsion that has not solidified.
You can then use this template to push ink through the holes created on the template.
The more complex and the more colours used in a design both makes screen printing more complicated and costly this is why screen printing is unrealistic for custom/personalised t-shirt printing and printing t-shirts with a photograph or many different colours.
However, there are many advantages with screen printing included prints that tend not to fade or crack as easily as with other printing technique plus the ink absorbs into the garment fibres giving better more crisp and refined look to the print. Screen printing ink is a lot less expensive compared to other inks used for other printing techniques plus any excess ink still left on the screen printer can be collected and reused.
You can also get plastisol screen printing transfers which you can order online. These transfer sheets which you can apply to your t-shirt with a heat press can be created by big companies with a powerful setup and can deal with multiple colours and complexity. The good thing with these is if you don’t know how to make your own templates or have a very complex design with lots of colours.
Direct to garment printing AKA Dtg
Dtg stands for direct to garment printing and is basically a technique whereby you use a computerised printer to simply print your designs straight onto the garment with little effort. Dtg printing is very useful for creating custom t-shirt prints easily and quickly (basically all you have to do is press the PRINT BUTTON and that’s it!).
Despite the ease of using a dtg printer these beasts are very expensive costing around £10, 000 not to mention the inks are also very expensive.
The printers also need constant maintenance and repairs can be expensive. Making sure to store the dtg printing machine and inks in a room with a moderate temperature is needed as if the temperature either gets too high or too low the ink can ruin.
Dtg printer must be constantly running else the ink in the printer heads will dry and clog up the printer. There are also problems with white on black printing and printing on garments that are not 100% cotton.
If you use a dtg printer to print on a 100% white cotton t-shirt you can create some incredible vivid prints quite easily and these prints are going to be the closest thing you are going to get to the quality of a screen print.
Heat transfer printing
There are many different heat transfer techniques. The heat transfer technique compromises of printing using either an inkjet or laser printer onto a sheet of heat transfer paper. There are some disadvantages to this technique which are…
A good printer (which can be expensive) is needed to print on the heat transfer paper and compatible inks (expensive) inks must also be used to print out the heat transfer paper to avoid cracks and fading.
Designs printed on normal heat transfer paper will need to be cut out to avoid white space around the design being printed onto the garment. Self-weeding heat transfer paper can be bought (even more expensive) which doesn’t require you to cut out your design but is a two-step process of printing out on one sheet and transferring it to another.
Heat transfer paper can be very expensive especially self-weeding heat transfer paper which can cost £1 for an A4 sheet.
Did I mention that heat transfer paper can only be used once?
A good heat press is needed! Pressure and heat it is really important to get this wrong and you have just wasted both the heat transfer paper and your blank t-shirt! DOH!
Using iron on heat transfers will get you terrible results which will either rub off by had or fade totally when you put the t-shirt in the wash.
However, heat transfer paper if done correctly can make some really good t-shirt prints and is a lot more affordable and beginner friendly than DTG printing.
Now you want to start selling your prints on sites such as eBay? Sorry, you just cant! The supply simply out strips the demand for custom t-shirt designs on sites such as eBay has reached a point whereby unless you are wanting to receive pennies in profit after going through the effort of first trying to sell your t-shirt then contacting the buyer to see what design they would like to then actually printing out the t-shirt and finally packaging and sending the t-shirt off really is NOT WORTH IT. For instance sellers on eBay are selling custom t-shirt prints for as little as £5.75 for custom text on the front of a t-shirt and £7.50 for a custom image and text. Using for example the heat transfer technique and working out the expense of materials such as the t-shirt and heat transfer paper as well as the delivery and eBay/PayPal fees even using the cheapest and lowest quality materials (which will just create rubbish prints which will fade and crack after the first wash) the seller is left with peanuts afterwards. That’s capitalism for you!