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Apparel Printing Tips: Choosing the Best Print Method

From the artwork to the fabric to the method to the delivery, there is a seemingly infinite number of options in the process of bringing your idea to life which can make ordering your printed apparel overwhelming - but it doesn't have to be. We've started the Apparel Printing Tips blog post series to help guide you through the maze of possibilities to find the best fit for your need.

Choosing the Best Print Method

There are many different ways to transfer a design to a garment, but Infinite Prints uses 4 main methods- silkscreen, direct to garment, sublimation, and embroidery. Each of these main 4 methods have their pros and cons, so care should be taken to ensure the best fit for the needs of the design or apparel.

Silkscreen / Heat Transfer Plastisol (HTP)

The most traditional method, silkscreening has been tried and true for decades. Silkscreening consists of burning an image onto a stretched out screen per each color ink to be used in a design. The screen is then loaded with ink and pressed through onto the garment with a squeegee. Water based or plastisol inks can be used, with water based providing a softer feel and more faded color while plastisol provides a thicker feel with vivid colors. (Infinite Prints actually takes it a step further, and transfers the plastisol silkscreen ink via heat press to provide a smoother ink surface and reduction in waste). Silkscreening is great for large quantities due to its cost effectiveness, however rather expensive for small or one-off runs. Due to the nature of this printing method, it its harder to achieve accurate gradients, shadows, and full color images.

Direct to Garment (DTG)

A newcomer in comparison to silkscreening, direct to garment (or DTG) printing is a game changer for the printing industry. Garments are loaded into a specialized large format inkjet printer which is able to print full color designs in minutes. Providing opaque inks similar to those used in silkscreening, the upside of no required setup is balanced out with the longer print time. Like a regular inkjet printer, DTG printers are able to achieve full color photo-like prints using the CMYK color spectrum. When done properly, DTG prints can last as long as silkscreened prints. DTG Printing is better suited for smaller order quantities where silkscreening would be too expensive.

Dye Sublimation

Dye sublimation provides some of the highest quality prints, with possibilities of photo-like quality (not only do we print some shirts using this process, but also products such as our wrapped canvas and coffee mugs). A specialized inkjet printer is used to print dye-sub ink onto dye-sub paper to create a transfer. This transfer is then applied under high heat where the dried ink sublimates into a gas, and the ink molecules attach to the fibers of the garment. Once sublimated, the design will never wash out, fade, bleach, or come off the garment, and the dye cannot be felt. With all of these upsides, dye sublimation is however constrained to being used only on white color garments and synthetic fabrics; it will not work on cotton.

 PRO TIP: Using dye sublimation on a cotton/polyester blended fabric will provide a washed out look that will never fade away.

Embroidery

Embroidery isn't exactly a print method per se, but we included it on this list because in many cases its used in place of the previous three options. Rather than printing, stitching a logo or words onto a garment provides a higher quality and aesthetic look. Embroidery is typically used on polos, jackets, fleece, and hats. Embroidery is typically limited to smaller overall designs and a low number of colors.

 

Method Pros  Cons
Silkscreen / HTP

- Durable

- Cost effective at high quantities

- Volume discounts

- Expensive in lower quantities

- Unable to achieve good shadows and gradients

- Constrained to simpler designs

- More ink colors = more expensive

Direct to Garment (DTG)

 - Similar in look, feel, and durability to Silkscreen/HTP when done correctly

- No setup = cost effective at low quantity or one-off runs

- Able to achieve photo-like prints in the CMYK color spectrum

- Longer print time

- Not cost effective at high quantities

- No volume discounts

Dye Sublimation

 - All over, photo-like, high quality prints

- Ink doesn't fade, wash out, or crack

-Print cannot be felt on the fabric

- Constrained to white synthetic or blended fabrics

- Not cost effective at high quantities

- No volume discounts

Embroidery

- Professional, stitched look

- Best option for polos, jackets, fleece, and hats

- Volume discounts

- Smaller and simpler images / designs

- limited number of colors