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Garment printing methods

Garment customisation method guide

When looking to customise clothing you might often see terms such as ‘screen printing’ or ‘heat transfer’. But what do these terms mean? in this guide, we will break down the pros and cons of what each method has to offer, and how they can be used so you can gain a better insight into which print method would be most suitable for your garments.

You can print onto clothing garments using a multitude of techniques such as applying ink onto paper which is then transferred directly onto the garment. Or applying film to embed the prints into the fabric. So why are there so many different methods? It all comes down to which method type is most suited for cost, effectiveness, quality and environmental impact. As well as consideration for garment material as many methods are restricted by the fabric types they can be applied to. When choosing a print method another thing to consider is that certain methods are perfect for printing on one or two shirts but would not be time or cost-effective for mass production or large-scale orders.

Heat transfer printing

Heat transfer is a method of printing that uses the process of heat to transfer an image created with wax onto garments or objects. This printing method can be achieved both by layering wax-based dyes directly onto the clothing or, more commonly, by pre-printing an image onto a wax sheet.

For the materials need to perform heat transfer you’ll need a print machine that utilises wax-based inks used for the heat transfer process, the special inks will then create a carbon ribbon which is then pressed against the garment, while the heat from the press is applied on the opposite side. This allows the inks to melt off from the carbon ribbon leaving the image applied to the garment.

To break down the process of heat transfers, first the design is printed onto special transfer paper, while the garment is placed into the heat press which stretches out the fabric, this allows the inks to cling to the fabric with ease. The transfer paper is then placed against the garment and the heat press is pushed down letting the wax-based inks melt onto the article of clothing. The garment is then released from the press and given 15 seconds to cool down, once its fully cooled the transfer paper can be removed leaving you with a vivid and durable design.
The process of heat transfers has become popular due to the heat resistant, water resistant and durable nature of their prints, which are high in resolution and vibrant in colour, ideal for photographic images and designs with lots of bright colours involved.

Garment printing methods

Pros

Due to the hands-on process its popular with smaller establishments, meaning

they can get small quantity orders out same day.

Ideal for printing photographic images, as resolution won’t be lost.

Perfect for vibrant colours and can print in a full colour spectrum.

Prints Can be placed anywhere on clothing.

Cons

Not ideal for large batches of printing, the hands-on print method make it both time consuming and costly.

Prints can start to fade after washes and can’t be ironed.

Prints are firm, which can result in the garment feeling stiff.

Works better with light coloured fabrics, limiting the colour options of clothing this method can be applied to.

Garment printing methods

Sublimation printing

Sublimation printing is the process of using heat to combine special inks with fabric. These inks become gas when subjected to heat, as the pores of the fabric open up, the gas seeps in which embeds the print permanently onto the garment. Once the inks cool back into solid form it results in a full colour image that wont fade, peel or crack.

This print method is popular with small businesses offering one day services as its quick and effective, It’s also great for highly detailed or photographic designs. Sublimation printing is sometimes referred to as ‘ all over printing’ as designs can be printed stemming from seam to seam, which works perfectly for repeated patten prints as well as large-scale designs that cover the entire garment.
So how does the process of sublimation printing work ? Once your design is ready for print a sublimation printer is used to print onto special paper. Then using a heat press the design is embedded into the fabric. Once the heat press has been applied the paper is removed leaving you with the desired design.

Pros

Lots of freedom when it comes to design choice as the whole garment is printed onto making suitable for pattern printing.

Works great for photographic images due to the high-quality nature of its prints .

Has great longevity, plus it won’t fade or crack even with washes.

Great for small orders and same day prints as the process is quick and efficient.

Cons

Sublimation printing is only really applicable to polyester fabrics, while it is possible to print on cotton the results will be duller and will fade quickly, so it’s not recommended.

Only applicable to white or very light fabrics

White creasing : if there’s an area of the garment the design doesn’t reach moisture can form on the transfer paper leaving white creases

If you’re only looking to get a logo printed sublimation might not be the most ideal way to go about it as its more expensive to print all over.

DTG ( Direct to garment) Printing

Direct to garment or often known as DTG is a fairly new method of printing, the process is done by spraying ink directly onto the garment that soaks into the fibres, this process is very close to how regular paper printer works . As its extremely simple to set up its perfect for one-time prints. DTG print is one of the most popular prints with online print services as once the design has been uploaded it can be printed automatically.

To use this method first you must pre-treat the fabric, then you simply have to upload your image to a DTG printer, the printer uses advanced inks which prints the design directly onto the article of clothing. Afterwards the print is cured with a heat press, resulting in a design that wont crack or fade as the ink is permanently embedded into the fabric.

One of the biggest appeals to DTG printing method is it has a pretty sustainable business model. The one-time printing process means that once the design is set up, and in most cases already paid for, the machine is ready to go resulting in no wasted garments. As well, the printer works with water-based inks which are much more environmentally friendly than other ink varieties.

Garment printing methods

Pros

Suitable for detailed designs, with a large range of colour options, and can be printed on both light and dark garments.

Super-fast set up process with as well as being cheap. Making it ideal for one off designs.

Eco friendly, uses water-based ink, and its method provides no over production.

Works well with digital designs making it easy and accessible to use.

Cons

Only works with cotton garments, once again limiting the types of clothing you can use this method to print on

Not the most cost-effective way to mass produce, as its printing process is slow.

Limited design placement compared to the likes of sublimation.

Requires a pre treatment process before you can print

Garment printing methods

Screen Printing

One of the most widely used methods is screen printing, where in which inks are pushed through a woven screen. While the ink doesn’t fully soak into the material unlike other most of the other methods seen here, it instead simply lays on top of the fabric.

Screen printing requires a special screen to be created for each element of your design, each component of the design is then layered on top of each other, the more elements needed to create a design the heavier the print will become. The process for screen printing takes a long time to set up which is why its mostly limited to large bulk productions.

With the layering nature of screen printing it is typically reserved for basic typography and simple solid graphic prints, this is also in part due the fact that the screens are created using stencils meaning that intricate designs are not only time consuming but difficult to create. Screen printing also uses a limited number of colours, as each different colour of ink needs to be layered, because of this most places that use this method will limit colour choices to only 9 choices.

Pros

You can use screen printing on a wide range of print materials, rather than being limited to certain types of fabrics.

Perfect for simple and minimalist designs such as logos , the visual look of the layered designs can also be a popular graphical choice.

Ideal for bulk orders, the more prints you create the lower the overall cost will be. While the setup is a laborious process, it’s a onetime matter.

Screen printed designs are duper durable in contrast to their heat press, or digital equivalents

Cons

While their great for high volumes, one off or smaller batches of prints ends up running costly.

Unlike digital print options that can be set up in a matter of seconds, Screen prints have a much more complex and slower set up process.

Your forced to use a Limited colour spectrum making it impossible for photographic or detailed prints.

Due to the large quantities of prints needed to make screen printing worthwhile it can result in overproduction, not making it the most environmentally friendly method.

Screen prints are susceptible to cracking.

DTF ( Direct to film ) printing

Direct to film printing, also known as DTF is a print method that uses special water-based ink to print onto film transfer, when the film has dried a powered glue is used against the back of the film which has been heat cured, the glue provides a way that there’s no need for pre-treatment. Once the film is printed a heat press is then used to imprint the design onto the fabric.

DTF has grown in popularity due the freedom of materials it can be applied to, meaning that its not limited to one fabric type, and can be used on both light and dark fabrics. It also provides a low investment, as the materials and machinery used for the DTF process are more affordable than other methods.

This method is also ideal for branding on trade and construction workwear such as Hi Vis equipment, Work jackets and cargo trousers as the special water-based inks are highly durable and crackproof, keeping your logo looking professional even after the garments been subject to lots of wear .

Garment printing methods

Pros

Unlike DTG there is no pre-treatment required.

Compatible with almost any fabric type, and works on dark and light-coloured materials

The design is highly durable and won’t fade or crack after washing.

The process is fast and simple, and easy to set up.

Cons

The printed area is quite noticeable on garments, as it protrudes more than other methods.

The colour vibrancy isn’t as bright as other print methods, resulting in duller prints.

In contrast to other methods such as sublimation and DTG the prints can feel quite stiff.

Garment printing methods

Embroidery

Embroidery is a different form of customisation, being that it uses the stitching of threads rather than a print process. The stitching is done by a highly automated machine, and most can use up to 15 different coloured threads in a design. Embroidery is widely considered more professional looking than print, therefore its more likely to be used when customising workwear and other specialist garments.

One of the main appeals to embroidery is unlike printing methods, embroidery can not fade making it more long lasting and durable, it is also applicable to almost all garments, coats, hoodies, polo shirts and even fleeces as the threads are able to penetrate through tougher materials. There is no limit on fabric colour or material ether as threads can be applied to all. However due to the thick and bulky nature of embroidery, it’s not recommended for thinner articles of clothing as they will pucker with the stitching.

Pros

Embroidered logos are much more durable than printed ones and can last a long time, there’s no chance of fading unlike print options.

Considered to be professional looking, which makes it ideal for workwear and uniforms.

No limits on colours or fabric types it can be applied to.

Considered More cost effective due to the longevity of the threads.

Cons

More expensive than print methods.

Not recommended for thin garments due to puckering.

Can’t be used for large or detailed scale designs.

small number of colours that can be used in one design, and only solid colours.

If you’re looking for any extra information or advice on the types of print methods we use and what would be most suitable for the garment you wish to customise, we will be happy to provide any additional help, just contact us by dropping us a message at info@signsandstickers.co.uk or alternatively give us a call on 01202 798765