What Different Printing Methods Are Used On T-Shirts?


So you have finally decided to custom-print T-shirts for your office party? Even if you managed to find a reliable and a quality T-shirt printing service, you may still be unsure of what printing method would be right for you. There are many different printing techniques available today and knowing the basics can help you decide. Below we explain the different methods and their pros and cons to give you a fair idea.

  • Screen printing

This is the most commonly used method for printing on t-shirts. In fact this method was discovered accidentally in China and is also known as Silk screen printing. The method is very straightforward and uses a mesh screen through which a layer of color is printed on to the fabric.

  • Easy
  • Versatile
  • Reliable
  • Cost-effective


  • Colors used can be limited
  • High-definition printing is not possible
  • Multiple steps are involved to obtain the perfect image on to the fabric
  • Digital printing

This method is also called as DTG or Direct to Garment printing and uses specialized inject printers to print the ink directly onto the T-shirts. The ink is directly absorbed by the fibers of the garment and so you won’t feel the ink when you touch it as with some other methods.

  • You can use custom designs and prints with this method
  • High-definition printing
  • Unlimited color options


  • Can work out to be expensive for bulk orders
  • As the designs are directly printed on to the t-shirts the designs can be only printed on a particular area of the garment
  • Heat transfer

This method was adapted from the ceramics industry where the designs are finally and permanently added to the end products. As the name suggests, heat is used to transfer and set the print onto the t-shirts. Before the transfer process, the design is printed onto transfer papers that are specifically designed for this purpose. These designs are then transferred to the garments using a heat press machine. The heat press machine uses a combination of heat, pressure and time to permanently transfer and set the print on the t-shirt.

  • Though the method is very simple it can be used for high quality printing and to print complex designs
  • This is the most recommended method if you want full color printing


  • It can only be used on fabric that is not heat-sensitive as high temperatures are used for the heat transfer
  • The method is relatively slower
  • Due to the heat step darker colors may not be reproduced accurately
  • Vinyl printing

This is similar to the heat transfer method in that vinyl designs are cut and printed on to the t-shirts using heat. A special machine called the CAD cutter cuts the vinyl using special software. Sports t-shirts are commonly printed using this method.


  • The prints are bold and vibrant
  • Low set-up costs
  • The prints do not crack or fade with time
  • It can also be used on heat-sensitive fabric such as polyester and nylon
  • Best-suited for custom designs
  • Perfect for fluorescent and glow in the dark applications


  • The fabric will feel stiff in the printed area
  • Not suitable for larger prints as it can make the t-shirt look bulky
  • This method is also not be suitable for bulk orders
  • Sublimation printing

T-shirts that require a large area to be printed or those that are completely printed with multi-colors use the sublimation printing method.   

  • You can print both unique and repeat pattern designs
  • Ideal for large t-shirts and full garment printing
  • Unlimited color and graphic options


  • More expensive than other methods
  • Involves a learning curve
  • Only suitable for printing on polyester
  • Embroidery

This is not really a printing method but was used even before printing on fabric became a reality. It is the most preferred method for some high-end brands to sew on their logo and is also used in golf tees. A design or text is directly stitched onto the t-shirt with a machine.

  • The designs last the life of the garment
  • They are good for professional-looking garments


  • Not very versatile
  • Finer details are difficult to reproduce with thread

Final words
Now that you know the different techniques of printing used for t-shirts, you can now easily choose the type that fits your requirements. You can even uses multiple methods on a single garment if you do not have a budget constraint. Let your imagination run wild!   


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