Custom T-shirt printing used to be a fancy privilege for our ancestors. But nowadays, fashion is more vibrant than ever, and colorful prints are the norm on T-shirts, tank tops, hoodies, hats, and other clothing items.
We’ve also seen a rise in demand over the past years for custom T-shirt prints. As a result, many stores will offer to print your custom design on a T-shirt for you for a price.
And while it’s great to have this privilege, the costs can add up if you like to print a lot. So the best way to save money and keep printing your designs is to do it yourself at home.
Once you have the necessary equipment, you’ll find that printing T-shirts at home is very easy and gives you a new sense of flexibility. So read on as we’ll talk about the essential equipment you need to print T-shirts.
The Short Answer
There are a few methods to print custom designs on T-shirts. And each technique requires mostly different equipment. But regardless of which printing method you choose, you’ll need a blank T-shirt and a design saved in a digital vector format, such as PDF or EPS.
Here are the best printing methods for personal use and their essential checklists:
- Direct-to-garment: pretreat spray or machine, DTG printer, heat press machine
- Vinyl printing: vinyl, a vinyl cutter with software, heat press machine
- Screen printing: screens, fabric ink, cutter, emulsion, dryer
What You Need to Consider First
Printing is versatile, and many variables will shape how you print. But there are also constants. For example, you need to have a design ready on your computer, ideally in a vector format like AI, PDF, or EPS.
Second, you’ll also need a blank T-shirt. White and other light-colored T-shirts are standard, but you could also use darker T-shirts for most printing techniques. You should also check the T-shirt material, since not all materials can be printed on by all print methods.
And before you start your shopping journey, you need to think about some other needs. For instance, what’s your budget? How much do you plan to print? And so on.
Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing is the most modern way to print on T-shirts. It works similarly to office printers. But instead of printing on paper, DTG printers print on fabric.
As you might expect, DTG printing is fast and straightforward, and it yields excellent and consistent results since it’s all automated. It’s also ideal for printing complex or high-resolution designs.
It also prints on cotton shirts, and the prints themselves are high-quality, look vibrant, and will last through washes.
The main drawback to DTG printing is its relatively high cost. Since DTG printers are still relatively new devices, their prices are currently higher than alternative methods.
What You Need for DTG Printing
One of the things that makes DTG printing so convenient is that you only need three pieces of equipment to get started, which are a pretreat machine (or spray), a heat press machine, and a DTG printer.
Before you start printing on fabric, it needs to be pretreated. This isn’t a big problem if you have a pretreat machine, since it’ll only take about a minute.
However, if you use a pretreat spray, it’s more tedious and time-consuming. So factor in your budget when considering pretreatment.
After you’ve pretreated the T-shirt, you’ll need to put it through the DTG printer to get the design onto it. This is a straightforward step since it works a lot like how you’d print on paper.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the importance of heat pressing. If you have a manual heat-press, you’ll put the shirt inside with protective paper under it to protect it from the heat, then close the lid.
Or, if you have an electric heat press machine, you can get the job done much quicker.
Printing on T-shirts with vinyl works similarly to designing vinyl stickers, but with more pressing so that the sticker won’t peel away with washing and wear.
Vinyl printing on T-shirts is a popular method because it’s affordable and suitable vinyl washes excellently. It’s also a fairly straightforward method that you can nail down in a few attempts.
The problem with vinyl printing is that it can be laborious. So if you’re planning on printing a large volume of T-shirts, you’ll probably want to avoid this method.
What You Need for Vinyl Printing
The first thing you need when vinyl printing is vinyl. Vinyl typically comes in large and colorful rolled sheets.
You’ll also need a knife to cut the sheets down to the size you need since you won’t use the whole sheet for a single design.
After you’ve trimmed down the sheet to your desired size, you’ll put it through a vinyl cutter, which comes with computer software that lets you choose what the design looks like.
Optionally, you can get a weeding table. It’s not mandatory, but it’ll help you weed off the vinyl much easier.
Finally, it’s time for the heat press machine. You can get any heat press machine that suits your budget, and they should all work well with vinyl printing.
Before turning on the heat press machine, you can use a ruler to align the design with the transfer paper. This is necessary for beginners who haven’t nailed the technique down yet.
Lastly, we’ll talk about the traditional way of printing on T-shirts: screen printing.
This method stood the test of time as it’s been the preferred method of most fashion designers because it allows them to print on a large volume of T-shirts relatively quickly.
Screen printing is ideal for simple designs. So if you plan on printing a high-res explosion of colors onto your T-shirt, this method won’t cut it.
What You Need for Screen Printing
Before screen printing, you’ll need an emulsion to apply to your screens since they’re naturally sensitive to light. The emulsion will reduce sensitivity and allow your screens to print designs seamlessly.
Unlike most other printing techniques, screen printing uses a screen set instead of a heat press machine. You can make your own screen printing set, but it’s best to buy a professional set if you’re on a higher budget since it’ll yield you higher quality prints.
You’ll also need a separate screen for each color, so make sure your set has all the color capabilities you want.
Ink is probably the most accessible material to obtain here. You can easily find screen printing ink online, but make sure it’s compatible with your T-shirts’ fabric.
Lastly, you’ll need a dryer to cure the design and allow it to set on the fabric. This is a crucial step if you want your designs to look better and last longer through washes and wear.
I am a bilingual, meticulous, and hardworking professional. As a high-energy professional, and printing specialist who offers high-quality printing services I possess excellent oral and written communication skills coupled with an ability to establish and maintain strong rapport with clients. I am able to prioritize workloads and handle multiple projects simultaneously and efficiently. My work experiences have made me accustomed to working in fast-paced environments with the ability to think quickly and successfully handle difficult situations.