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Best method to print T-shirts

T-shirts are among the most worn and popular garments of present clothing used today. To be specific printed T-shirt is one of the sought garments currently. Due to the revolution in the textile printing industry any theme with color can be printed and can depict the wearer’s persona.

Best method print T-shirts
Figure 1: T-shirt is the most worn item globally. Courtesy: Instagram

The T-shirt market was valued at US$ 185.1 Bn in 2016. The market is further growing at a CAGR of 6.0% over the forecast period 2017 – 2025, according to research.

In this article, it will be discussed which method is best to print on a T-shirt, including vibrancy, color matching and durability. Two of the most used method to print a T-shirt, one is direct to garment (DTG) printing and another is screen printing.

Screen printed T-shirts have been a standard form for as far as the history goes back. But became widespread in the ’70s and remains the most widely used mode of T-shirt printing. Modern innovations have made this form more efficient and higher quality.

Direct to Garment (DTG) has been around for barely 15 years but exploded globally due to higher-quality prints, easy affordability and cheap attributes.

In recent years, the direct to garment printing is seen a rise due to economical, faster, cleaner methods and requires a small initial investment. In the process of automation, direct to garment printing (DTG) is a new process of printing on textile materials in an automatic process by a specialized printer – costs anywhere from $15,000 up to $800,000.

A company can start taking low-quantity, on-demand orders without the usual setup cost and effort of screen printing. In fact, maximum online on-demand printing companies are using DTG printing machinery.

Let’s find out which method is best suited and why:

Vibrancy: In terms of color saturation and brightness screen printing stands out. It uses plastisol ink – typically composed of PVC particles – which are tremendously dense and available in a wide range of precise colors.

screen printing vs DTG vibrancy
Figure 2: A dramatic difference in color vibrancy: screen printing (left) vs. DTG (right). Courtesy: Collected

Whereas, digital printing uses water-based inks – the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) color model to make various shades – which lack the opacity and vibrancy, especially on darker garments.

Color Blending: To create smooth gradients and a range of colors by blending a lesser amount of colors DTG printers exactly do that. With a giant inkjet printer and using CMYK color blends create a spectrum of colors with excellent color blending.

DTG printing machine
Figure 3: With a giant inkjet printer and using CMYK color blends DTG print creates a spectrum of colors with excellent color blending.

Whereas, screen printers can take spot colors and create a spectrum making it less efficient, especially for smaller orders.

DTG inks are water-based and more transparent than plastisol that allows the ink to overlap and blend, making beautiful, smooth gradients.

Color Matching: Matching colors precisely is greatly important when it comes to corporate branding. Using Pantone color-matching system, screen printing can replicate any color the client needs. That includes those outside the range of CMYK, super-saturated colors and specialty inks.

Pantone screen printing vs DTG
Figure 4: Pantone 807c in screen printing (left), DTG will almost always going to be off (version right). Courtesy: Collected

With DTG, matching the colors will almost always going to be off. The key cause is that the underbase isn’t opaque enough, so the shirt color drains through. Darker shirts and color shirts can easily become problematic when trying to color match.

Meaning when a manufacturer needs to completely need to match exact colors for a brand, screen printing is the answer.

Printing details: Nowadays in the textile printing industry, printing detail is the smallest parts of the design on a T-shirt – fine lines, small type, textures or tiny elements – is gaining popularity.

With screen printing, making tiniest of dots to make even a magnifying dot is no way possible. Screen printing uses halftone dots. Most screen-printing halftones are output from a raster image processor (RIP) program at anywhere from 30 to 65 lines per inch (LPI) before being burned to screens. The lesser the LPI, the bigger the dot.

Printing details, DTG vs screen printing
Figure 5: In terms of printing tiniest of details DTG (Right) is best. Courtesy: BELLA CANVAS

DTG uses halftones as well, and these digital machines can print up to 1,200 dots per inch (DPI), and use diffusion dither. Makes much better imitation of small details.

Durability: Durability means after how many washes the color of a T-shirt will still hold without fading. There are various factors that will ensure this – quality of the machine, the inks used to print, the pretreatment, the underbase and the curing.

Durability in DTG vs screen print
Figure 6: Durability is apparent in screen printing (Left) and DTG (Right). Courtesy: Rushordertees

Direct to garment printing always limped in this due to the above-mentioned factors and will last countable washes (be it 10 to 100++). On the other hand, screen printing doesn’t have this durability issue.

Comfort and Feel: Comfort and feel in a T-shirt means:

  • If the ink clogs up the fibers
  • How heavy the print feels on the shirt
  • If the texture is rough on the skin

In screen printing inks are heavier on a T-shirt. Whereas DTG does not have these issues and are really comfortable.

Versatility: Means the ability to print on a variety of textiles, as well as a variety of garment styles, print locations and placements.

polyester screen print t-shirt
Figure 7: screen printing works on cotton, blends, polyester, canvas, denim fabrics. Courtesy: Collected

Here, DTG is limited to some extent. It mostly works excellent on cotton but struggled with 50/50 blends, and executes poorly on polyester. It doesn’t work on moisture-wicking fabrics at all without special treatment, and even then, it’s not recommended. Though the newer systems proclaim printing on all kinds of fabric but are not widely used in the industry.

On the other hand, screen printing works on cotton, blends, polyester, canvas, denim, performance and moisture-wicking fabrics like rayon, and any color garment.

Consistency: In this segment, screen printing has to ensure many processes critically the exact way, like; screen tension, clogged mesh, ink viscosity, dot gain, flash dryer temperature, squeegee sharpness, squeegee pressure, squeegee angle, registration, and placement. Each of these can make a difference.

screen printing
Figure 8: Screen printing has a lot of procedures.

In DTG, a machine processes a digital file and prints directly onto the shirt, there are almost no variables to fear about. Meaning consistency is equal to DTG.

Special effects: It is all about adding additional dimensions to a print – raised print, textures, shines, sparkles and glows. Examples of specialty inks and additives are commonly used like water-based, discharge, puff, fluorescent, metallic, glitter, glow in the dark, suede, high-density, soft hand, clear gel, shimmer, crackle, cork, plasticharge.

Women Embossed Printed T-Shirt
Figure 9: Screen-printing specialty inks can depict a T-shirt design like nothing else. Courtesy: Collected

Specialty printing on T-shirt is a trial and error at first, but once the manufacturer gets the hang of it, successful results are extraordinary and satisfying. Screen-printing specialty inks can depict a T-shirt design like zero else, and expressively intensify the value for resale.

Globally when people think about T-shirts, they reflect screen printing. Though DTG has made some progress but no way near to specialty printing. When DTG technology becomes more advanced, and more universal, to the point where people can’t tell the difference, then popularity might no longer be a factor. Till then, screen printing remains favorite.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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