The T Shirt Screen Printing Process, Part 2: T Shirt Printing Methods


This is a continuation of Part One of The T Shirt Screen Printing Process.

Nowadays, there are a number of ways one can transfer designs onto clothes, such as t shirt screen printing, digital printing, vinyl, and heat transfer. Screen printing is the oldest method of placing designs on cloth though, and people can use this technique to design their own shirts at home. These four shirt printing techniques each have their own advantages and disadvantages, which are discussed below.

Digital Printing

Digital printing is also known as direct-to-garment printing (DTG), and it is the most recent method used to transfer designs onto t-shirts. This is similar to printing images on paper, except that the images (and in some cases, text) are printed on the shirt. This technique is ideal for making t-shirts that have high resolution and/or detailed designs. Although this is arguably the quickest way to print designs onto t-shirts, the quality of the design tends to be poor when transferred onto black or other dark-colored t-shirts. The design is also prone to fading and cracking.

Vinyl Printing

Vinyl printing, on the other hand, is mostly used to print patterns on sports clothes, such as jerseys and varsity shirts. This technique uses special cutters that cut the letters and designs from a sheet of vinyl. The unused vinyl is removed, while a heat press is used to place the vinyl design onto the t-shirts. Vinyl printing is a cheap way to transfer patterns onto cloth, but it is not ideal for prints that have more than two colors. The size of the prints is also limited, and it cannot transfer complicated images or patterns.

Heat Transfer

Heat transfer requires a heat press machine that irons a print directly on a shirt. Many small t shirt printing businesses use this method, which lets one apply colored prints on shirts in five minutes. However, this technique doesn’t provide high quality prints; the design would even wash off after some time. Just like digital printing, t-shirt prints made through heat transfer tend to crack and fade.

T Shirt Screen Printing

This technique has been around since the Song Dynasty in China, and it involves the use of screens and stencils that help transfer the design on the t-shirt. Unlike the other procedures, t shirt screen printing takes longer to finish, but it is ideal for large orders. The design is first printed onto film, which is then used as the basis for the stencils. These stencils are placed on wooden frames, and are set directly on top of the shirt. Ink is then smoothened over the stencil using a fill blade, which helps shape the print.

The t shirt screen printing process is the best way to apply prints on t-shirts. The only disadvantages of this procedure are that it takes a long time to print and can be expensive (depending on the number of stencils that need to be prepared). However, this procedure is able to produce long-lasting and high quality prints, which makes it more cost effective than shirt designs produced using the other methods listed above.


The T Shirt Screen Printing Process, Part 2: T Shirt Printing Methods was written by L. Taylor

The T Shirt Screen Printing Process, Part 1: Step-by-Step


Ever wondered how designs are permanently “printed” onto t-shirts? There are several techniques that are used to transfer various designs onto t-shirts, and the most common technique that is used is t shirt screen printing. This technique involves the use of stencils and woven mesh plates, which are placed on top of the cloth. This is also known as serigraphy and silkscreen, and was first used in China sometime during 960 A.D. While screen printing may sound complicated, but it is actually quite easy to do. Here are the steps.
1. Gather all the needed materials. The materials needed to screen print a t-shirt are the stencils, a wooden frame, the mesh cloth, a squeegee/fill blade, and the fabric paints.
2. Prepare and print the design. Most t shirt screen printing businesses allow customers to send the designs that they want to be screen printed through email. These designs are turned into composite copies and the customer checks the proofs that are sent to them by email. Several copies of the design are then printed onto film and sent for processing.
3. Process the film. Now that the design has been printed onto film, it is covered with photosensitive emulsion. Finally, it is exposed to metal halide light and washed.
4. Block the screen. More complicated designs – especially those that have a lot of colors – would need a handful of stencils (one for every color), which is why several copies of the design need to be printed in Step 2. Each stencil is placed in a single mesh frame and helps block the other areas of the cloth that don’t need to be filled with a certain color and/or design.
5. Tape and setup the screen. These stencils are taped onto the frame and set up on a special clamp, which prevents the frame from moving while the ink is applied onto the t-shirt.
6. “Print” the design. Once the ink has been poured into the frame, a squeegee is used to push the ink through the mesh and onto the cloth. The frame is removed and the ink is left to dry. The next stencil is placed after the ink has dried, and the process is repeated until the entire design has been filled out onto the shirt.
One may also follow these steps to do t shirt screen printing in their homes, but the process would be slightly different. Instead of processing the film, one can directly trace the design onto the mesh fabric and use latex paint to block certain areas, such as those that need a different color. The needed materials for doing t shirt screen printing at home would be the stencil of the design that one wants to transfer onto their t-shirts, an embroidery hoop, a transparent curtain or fabric with small holes, latex, watercolor, and black fabric paints, a sponge brush, and a t-shirt. Most of these materials may be bought from a local crafts store.
There it is: a step-by-step guide to t shirt screen printing. Now that you know how to use this method, starting your own t shirt screen printing business should me a snap! : )

This T Shirt Screen Printing article was written by L Taylor for Nova Custom T Shirt Printing. Read part two here.