I have had many of my customers ask me why we print their products using different methods at different times.
This is a valid question and for the sake of educating the larger masses and for those that are interested I will outline the difference between the printing process and how they may apply to your project. There are generally four printing methods, they are screen printing, heat transfer press, and embroidery "well this is not really printing but I place it there as you still need to place an image on a t shirt". The last and the latest technology is direct to garment. This process can produce some fantastic high resolution photographic printing but it is at a cost.
Screen printing is most likely the most popular method of printing promotional t shirts, the set up process is similar to offset traditional printing methods where you need to provide your images in to separable colour files, for example if you have a four colour file you need to supply a CMYK file which the print production firm can break each colour down and isolate them from each other creating, four separate print images, one for the cyan colour, one for magenta and one each for the yellow and K being black or grey scale.
Now that the CMYK files have been separated a separate screen is produced for each colour in total four screens a C screen, M screen, and one each for the Y and K screens. So each colour has its own separate screen. After the screens have been produced and have been quality tested and all adjustments have been made they are mounted on to the screen printing press were each colour is aligned to the next using registration marks on the screens. What this means is that each colour is printed separately on the promotional T shirt. Now that the screens have been set and have been tested we can begin the printing the t shirts.
In summarising screen printing we note that there is quite a bit of setup work to be done, you need to allow a hefty lead time for the turnaround of the promotional T shirts, also as the setup process is so intensive there is a substantial cost involved about $70 to $150 per colour so in a four colour print it would be between $280 and $600 depending on the print, and you have yet to print one good promotional T shirt.
The good news is that the set up is the costliest part of the screen printing process and from now on each t shirt is at a minimal price. To sum up, screen printing is the best process for producing large amounts of promotional T shirts, a minimum order of a few hundred and upwards.
Printing Promotional t shirts with heat transfers involves the digital reproduction of a heat transfer image on to specially coated paper that is then reversed printed and heat pressed on to the promotional t shirt.
The advantages of printing t shirts with heat transfer are that it is conducive to short runs. For example it is possible and cost effective to produce as little as one promotional t shirt. Therefore if you need only a few t shirts this is the method to be used, unfortunately this process comes with a huge restriction, you can only print on to white t shirts, now you may think that that's not real good but considering over 80% of promotional t shirts that are printed white the option is not that bad.
As I previously mentioned in the introduction of this article embroidery is really not a printing process but fundamentally you are placing an image on to a promotional t shirt, so I have decided to include it, if for nothing more than clarifying the process used to embroider promotional t shirts.
In a very simple explanation embroidery involves re scanning the image in to a stitch pattern or more so this creates a digital stitching map for the embroidery machine to follow. One of the limitations of embroidery is that it is only conducive to stitching smallish images like a logo on the breast pocket of the t shirt or a club emblem on the sleeve of a polo shirt.
Embroidery produces highly durable products, commonly used for corporate clothing it is not limited to t shirts or polo shirts.
Direct to Garment Printing
This is the latest in printing promotional t shirts, a fully digital process; it works similar to your home inkjet printer. The t shirt is placed on a movable platen and is guided through the print heads with extreme accuracy to produce some of the highest quality printed graphics to date. This printing method is capable of printing on to any coloured t shirt, as it uses white ink as the base colour on coloured promotional t shirts.
With digital direct to garment printing all you do is mount the t shirt on to the platen and press print on your computer just as you would when printing a word document. The direct to garment process is medium priced and is getting more cost effective as new technology are being released on to the market. It is possible to produce a single high quality t shirt to several hundred in a cost-effective manner
The screen printing process is very intensive and costly to set up but when done it is the most cost-effective method for printing large volumes of promotional t shirts. The heat press method is only able to print on white t shirts, but you can print very small runs and is perfect if you only want a single t shirt.