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Custom Apparel Printing Techniques

Updated: May 20

It is easy to get confused in the details of creating your custom t-shirts and branded apparel with so many options available. Once you've picked the best shirt, you need to know how to decorated it.


To help ease some confusion, we are breaking down the most popular decoration methods:

  • Sublimation

  • Direct to Garment (DTG)

  • Screen Printing

  • Embroidery

Knowing the benefits and constraints of each method can help you plan better to get the custom goods of your dreams.


stack of folded t-shirts in a variety of colors

 

Sublimation

Known for it's sharp and precise resolution, sublimation printing gives picture-perfect results due to its unique chemical process of a solid turning directly into a gas without going through the liquid state. When heat and pressure are applied, the ink bonds with the fabric making a long-lasting print with crisp details.


Sublimation printer

Benefits

  • Once the sublimation ink has become a gas, it is permanently bonded with the fibers of the garment and creates a highly detailed print.

  • Sublimation uses CMYK colors meaning there is no limit to the amount of color or detail that sublimation printing can produce.


Constraints

  • Sublimation ink is pricier than ink used for screen printing or DTG.

  • There are some apparel material limitations, sublimation is best on polyester materials or blends. It will not work on garments that are 100% cotton.

 

DTG (Direct to Garment)

DTG is known for being one of the quickest printing techniques with the least amount of setup. DTG prints vibrant, detailed color with hardly any limitations. DTG printing uses inkjet technology to digitally add ink to the garment.


Instead of sending paper through a printer, imagine sending a shirt through a much bigger printer. Once the ink has been sprayed onto the surface, it soaks into the fabric of the shirt.

direct to garment printer

Benefits

  • Since DTG is a digital form of printing, it has nearly unlimited color and detail capabilities. This is best for photorealistic imagery.

  • Because there is less set up involved, DTG is good for small quantities to print quickly


Constraints

  • Similar to sublimation printing, DTG has the potential to use lots of ink in order to achieve that crisp detail, which raises print costs.

 

Screen Printing

Screen printing is a widely used, reliable way to print custom t-shirts and apparel. It is a printing technique in which ink is pushed through a screen and onto a surface. The screen acts as a stencil and only leaves ink where the custom screen allows it too. Screen printing is the most common form of custom printing in the industry.

screen print in action pulling ink over screen

Benefits

  • Typically less expensive per shirt than DTG or sublimation printing. This is especially true for large quantity bulk orders.

  • Print on any garment in multiple locations. Screen printing doesn't have the same limitations in material or decoration location as the digital printing methods.


Constraints

  • Designs are generally limited to only so many colors per shirt. Creating a new screen for every color and pushing the ink through the screen means the design is typically limited to 6-7 colors per shirt before being cost prohibitive.

 

Embroidery

Known for its professional look, embroidery is a long lasting way of putting your design on a custom t-shirt, polo, hat, or much more. Embroidery is the act of stitching thread onto a garment with a computerized machine. The results are a textured, raised design that is a part of the garment.

embroidery machine stitching the word success

Benefits

  • The embroidery process is quick and offers an entirely different result than printing. The high speed machines can often embroider multiple garments at once.

  • Most common decoration method for hats, dress shirts, and polos because of the clean line and professional quality.


Constraints

  • Embroidery is priced by stitch count and typically used for smaller designs as larger designs would be cost prohibitive.

 

Next Steps

Now that we've broken down some of the benefits and constraints of the most popular decoration methods for custom apparel, do you see the possibilities for your brand's custom products?


Whether you have an exact idea in mind or need more guidance, we are here to help execute your vision and elevate your branded goods.


NOTE: Be aware there have been delays in shipping and inventory shortages across the industry due to Covid-19. The earlier you can begin the process with us the better we can navigate any uncertainties and ensure your order arrives with no stress.


Let's work together to take your custom t-shirts and apparel to the next level!



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Want to learn more about Custom Apparel?

We are sharing our expertise to help you make an informed decision. Check out our blog posts on choosing the right t-shirt for your brand and differences in screen print ink.