What type of T-Shirt Printing business I should opt for – Screen Printing, Transfer Print, and DTH printing – A comparison

Mockup T Shirt Shirt Tshirt Wear  - MockupLab / Pixabay

The T-shirt business is one of the most profitable businesses. Owing to their easy market penetration and relatively less-investment profile, many new brands are jumping into the t-shirt business. This means that there is a very huge scope and demand for T-shirt manufacturers and printers.

If you plan to start a t-shirt printing business, this post will be much helpful for you.

I have been working for the t-shirt industry for the past 10 years. I have been designing t-shirts, and have created my own t-shirt brand, sold t-shirts online and offline, sold customized dropshipped t-shirts, and so on. So as a designer and as a business owner, I understand your position very well. In this post, I would like to try to explain some basic details regarding the t-shirt printing business which will allow you to decide which type of printing is good for your business and their relative pros and cons.

So to start with, there are several t-shirt printing techniques out there. However, we will be discussing the three most common techniques of t-shirt printing – transfer printing, screen printing, and digital printing.

Transfer printing

What is transfer printing

It is a technique where the actual printing is done on a special type of transfer paper using an inkjet printer and is transferred to the t-shirt using heat or other techniques. Depending on the technique it can be heat transfer or cold transfer.

Note: This is not to be confused with sublimation printing which can also be classified as transfer print.

Pros of transfer printing technique:

  • Less initial investment – you will need an ink-jet printer, transfer papers, and heat-press or household iron. Blank t-shirts are easily available.
  • You do not need any elaborate set-up. You can easily start transfer printing in your room.
  • No color limitation and no gradient limitation. You can print absolutely anything – photographs, images.
  • The printing cost is low.

Cons of transfer printing

  • The print quality is not good. Prints are not bright enough
  • Prints are usually of A4 size unless you are using special large format inkjet printers
  • Dark t-shirts are not possible. Works best on only white T-shirts
  • Life if the print is not much. The print fades off in just 2-3 washes. Also, you need to wash the garments with utmost care.
  • Not good for retail. Good for promotional T-shirts only
  • You might not get bulk orders. Usually only one time clients.

Screen printing

This is the most preferred method of t-shirt printing. Here the artwork is separated into different colors. The next screen/stencil is created for every single color. Each color is printed using the screen one over another.

Pros of screen printing

  • Colors and prints are very bright
  • You can create absolutely any color. Since you can mix and match your own color, the possibilities are endless.
  • Special effects like glow in the dark, Sweat-activated (gym Tees), Black light-activated (Disco tees), Sunlight activated, can be easily achieved. You have to use special colors.
  • Can be printed out on absolutely any type of fabric
  • Can be printed on any color of the T-shirt
  • Design Can be of any size. The only limitation is the six=ze of the screen.
  • Prints are very long-lasting and can withstand rough use.
  • This is the most preferred method of printing for centuries and is going to stay.
  • It can be easily washed without any special care and the print will stay as it is.
  • The cheapest method of printing if printed in bulk. Most of the brands go with this type of printing.
  • Great for Bold and solid color works. Solid color typography designs just pop-up
  • Usually, the only printing technique which works great on dark t-shirts and looks really bright with awesome contrast and clarity.

Cons of screen printing

  • Customized printing is not possible. Since it takes time and money for creating screens, creating a screen for a single customized t-shirt is not economically feasible although technically possible
  • Gradients, one color changes to another color, cannot be printed. Although you can fake gradient using techniques like half-tone as your news-paper print does. However, the process is tricky.
  • Maximum 5-6 color can be used in the design
  • It can create problems if the design has overlapping colors. Bleeding and registering can cause issues. Techniques like trapping can be used but require additional artwork editing by the printer using trial and error.
  • A photograph cannot be printed unless the special technique is used like halftone
  • Labour and time-intensive process. Takes time to develop the screens and printing, curing, and drying the printed shirts.
  • Investment is huge. A huge setup is needed, skilled manpower is needed, space is needed for printing rigs and drying and storing raw cut fabrics and printed fabrics and drying them.
  • Cannit be usually applied to readymade t-shirts. First, the fabric is cut, their printing is done, and then stitched. So if you are not cutting and stitching inhouse, you will need an additional cartridge(transportation cost). For other printing techniques discussed here, printing is done on readymade t-shirts.

Digital direct to garment (DTG) printing

What is DTG printing

This is a technique in which printing is done directly on the T-Shirts. Here is a special type of printer, called Direct to Garment Printing machines, is used which resembles an inkjet printer.

Pros of DTG Printing

  • This type of painting is great for customized printing. A single customized t-shirt can easily be printed.
  • It can be used for immediate delivery. The process takes 10 to 15 minutes. It can be used in many scenarios where traditional printing fails.
  • This is great for print on demand business. Most of the traditional printing brands are now having a separate branch which caters to on-demand printings and much new business are aiming for this model.
  • No need to manufacture beforehand or keep stock. The t-shirts can be printed after you get an order. Only raw blank t-shirts need to be stocked.
  • Less risky as you don’t have to worry about which design will work and what won’t. You can print only after receiving an order
  • Images photographs gradients can easily be printed
  • Can print on dark T-Shirts using a white base.

Cons of DTG Printing

  • DTG printer is seriously costly and requires high maintenance. They start usually from 5 lakh and can go up to 15 lakhs in India. However previously owned machines can cost less, but you can not be sure of the quality.
  • An additional cost is required for pre-processing and post-processing machines – like heat-press which will cost 10-15 K in India.
  • The prints are good but do not usually last as long as screen printed T-shirts do. However, improvements are being made.
  • Special care is needed while washing dishes
  • Don’t expect to get bulk orders.
  • Printing cost is a bit on the higher side and as such the final product is costlier. It does affect the business negatively.
  • Regular printing needs to be done. If the machines are not used even for a month, the machine printing heads get jammed and need replacement. These babies are costly!
  • Technical issues would need specialized care for repairing. It means you need someone from the authorized technician to visit, and it might take time. Not good if you have work to deliver.

Conclusion and My Views

Each of the techniques has some pros and some cons. The question as to which is the best printing technique depends on your requirements and your investment.

However, from my point of view, I would suggest going for screen printing if your budget and investment allow. This is the most in-demand type of printing. Since this type of painting can be used on almost any fabric and has no limitation as to the size of print and colors most of the customer’s demand can be resolved using this technique. This translates to the fact that you will never be short of work. Also, the setup is usually low tech and does not require much maintenance. Any type of maintenance or repair can be easily made on your own unlike DTG printing or transfer printing. Manufacturing cost is low and the profit margin is high if you usually get a bulk order.

You can also go for DTG printing if you want to and provided your budget for investment allows. However, I would suggest that you tie-up with the courier company so can so that you can offer print on demand drop shipping services. since the demand is less you have to take orders from all over India and will also have to deliver all over India to make decent e profit. Also considering developing a website to take orders and API to connect with your client websites seamlessly. Online startups that provide customized t-shirts are the only ones who are interested in DTG printing, so you will get business only if you can provide drop shipping services and other technical implementations like APP, API, etc. In case you cannot provide drop shipping services, DTG printing does not make much sense.

For the third type of printing that is transfer print, I would suggest you don’t go for it unless you are using this as a hobby or additional side business. Also since most of the photography shops are providing services there is more supply than demand. And therefore it won’t be a profitable business option.

Please do visit this blog again as I’ll be posting a relative scoreboard for each of the design techniques against the different business elements.

[su_note note_color=”#f5f5f5″ text_color=”#000000″ radius=”5″]Featured Image | ‘Screen printing course in Berlin‘ by Berlin available at www.flickr.com under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic[/su_note]

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  1. […] was suggested by my mentor at ContentVidhya. Being a designer myself, I must say I am totally in love with the simplicity of this […]

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