There are multiple ways to custom decorate apparel with advantages and disadvantages to each method. The most commonly used methods of application are screen printing (or silk screening), direct-to-garment, (also known as digital printing,) heat transfers, cad cut vinyl, and embroidery. We’ll examine the differences between these methods and the best uses for each one.
Heat transfers are probably one the easiest routes when looking to apply decorations permanently to a t-shirt. It’s great for complex images and full color photo quality prints or when you need a full color print on a polyblend tee. The design is digitally printed onto the transfer material and then applied using heat and pressure on a heat press. The downside to using this method is the feel and certain limitations to the product used. It’s literally a big sticker so you can imagine how it might feel to wear a big sticker on a t-shirt. The ink is melted into the fabric so it may leave you feeling like your walking around with a plastic badge on your chest. The products used for this method have to be heat tolerant as well so care need to be used when applying to this.
Cad Cut Vinyl is pretty much the only cost effective way to print t-shirts with custom names and numbers as in team t-shirts. It’s also the only way to print high sparkle glitter t-shirts and other special effects like shiny foil and holograms. The vinyl is cut out on a plotter machine using digital software. The image then requires manual weeding away of the excess vinyl surrounding the image. It is applied in the same manner as heat transfers meaning it must be adhered to the garment using a heat press. The disadvantage is that this application can leave the decoration vulnerable to peeling off if the garment is improperly washed. Bleach should never be used to launder the garment and an iron is never recommended.
Screen printing is probably the most widely used method to decorate custom apparel. It produces vibrant colors and the print will last the life of the garment which is not always the case when using other methods. It’s by far the best option when ordering many t-shirts with the same design. There is virtually no limitation when it comes to colors or product type which can introduce some difficulties using other print methods. The drawback is the cost for small runs. In no way could screen printing ever be economically done for less than a six shirt order. So it’s no good for gift t-shirts or joke t-shirts. Each color requires an individual screen to be burned so if you need a really complex design, with more than 7 colors, it’s not recommended. Additionally screen printing with many colors can be quite expensive because of the extra work required in creating all the screens. We recommend screen printing as the most cost effective method to produce a large number of shirts with a relatively simple design using one or a few colors.
Direct-to-garment printing basically revolutionized the custom t-shirt industry. This method allows us to print a single custom t-shirt and offer it at a reasonable price for our customers. There is no limitation to the number of colors that can be used and photo like quality is a standard result. The ink is printed on and it soaks into the garment. Any color t-shirt can be used for almost any design because a white base is layered onto the fabric before the rest of the colors are applied. After print, it’s cured using a heat press. Because of the application process, we are however limited to the use of t-shirts made of 100% cotton. These products can be found on our website marked “no minimum.” Another drawback to digitally printed tees is they will not hold up to wash and wear as well as screen printing. The ink is not melted into the fabric like other applications.
Embroidery is typically the higher end of custom decorated apparel. The design is reproduced with embroidery thread and stitched onto the garment. This method is ideal for polo shirt decoration and provides a very polished look to business wear, hats, and uniforms. This method is very sturdy and will last the life of the garment. There is virtually no limitation to the type of garment that can be embroidered upon but we have recommendations based upon the design. Embroidery is priced by the stitch so to keep costs under control we don’t recommend very complex designs that require a lot of detail. In fact, a detailed design will lose a lot of clarity simply because of the limitations of an embroidery machine. Small trademark symbols are virtually lost. Because of setup costs, there is the requirement of a minimum order of six and it requires a longer production time.
So with all of these methods available to personalize your wardrobe what’s the best solution for your needs? Here’s a breakdown of the questions you should ask yourself. How many items do I need? Do I need to mix and match colors or product types like unisex, ladies, juniors, or youth sizes? Is my design complex? Does my design require a lot of colors? Does the garment need to hold up to lot of wear over time? Will I need to frequently wash the garment in hot water with harsh detergent? Is price the most important factor? Do I need performance wear or a product with a high polyester blend? Do I need specialty effects printing , (outside of glow in the dark, neon, puff, regular glitter, or crystalina?) Am I going to need this design duplicated in the future with varied quantity requirements?
If you’ve answered all of these questions but still aren’t sure
which print method is the best for your needs, our highly educated customer service team is ready to help you with recommendations and pointers. Call, email, or chat with a live representative.