2009 January 20

As technology makes it easier than ever for those of a creative persuasion to commit their fantastic ideas to paper (or rather to the computer monitor) those with a penchant for design and a passion for fashion have a wonderful opportunity to enter the t-shirt design industry. With design software and t shirt production growing ever more sophisticated and accessible, young aspiring designers are finding that they do not have to be snapped up by a large fashion label for their designs to be found on the front of a trendy tee. Design business can be a part-time venture for a bit of extra cash or even a hobby where the money isn’t particularly important to you as long as your designs are out there and enjoyed. Of course it can also serve as a full-time career and a primary means of income.


If you are just starting out there are probably many questions you have, and there are probably some that you might not even have thought to ask! Hopefully this three-part article will serve as a handy starting point for all those who wish to begin the exciting journey towards starting their own t shirt design company. Before anything else it might be a good idea to familiarise yourself with some of the jargon used by those in the industry, The A-Z of T-Shirt Printing is a good place to find out the meaning of some of the more technical terms used in this article.

Part 1: Types of T shirt Printing – Which Method is Best for You?

So you’ve got your design all sketched out and are wondering which type of t shirt printing method will suit your emerging business best. There are several ways of printing a design onto a t shirt and all should be considered as you formulate your business strategy. Each has its benefits and drawbacks – there is no ‘best’ method, so tailoring the technique to your business is very important. There are five main options:

  • Heat Transfer Printing


Arguably the most popular choice for small businesses. This involves taking a high resolution image and printing the image onto commercial quality transfer paper. One can print multi-coloured images in most formats including BMP,TIF, GIF, AI and JPEG. Once the image is on the transfer paper it is then taken and applied using a commercial heat press to the t-shirt. Transfer printing can handle any coloured design on white t shirts but might fall down when attempting colours on a darker tone – for example trying to transfer a yellow icon onto a navy blue t shirt will often result in an undesirable greenish tint. The quality of the image produced is directly related to the quality of the image supplied so it is important to design a quality image.

It is ideal for small quantities.
It is fast.
It requires relatively small machinery.

It isn’t as lasting as other methods.
It has a tendency to crack more often.
It struggles to deal with certain colours on darker garments.

Best for: Those designers just starting out.

  • Vinyl Transfers

Vinyl transfers are perfect for colour layering and producing high quality final prints. The process involves embellishing a garment through cutting out a logo or design from a specific vinyl sheet. The design is then imprinted on the garment through heat pressing. This method is best used for single or small-print t shirts For a free video on the vinyl transfer technique click Here. The cost here is fairly high, with a matching quality. Note that if you’re interested in the vinyl manufacturing option, you will need an actual vinyl cutter which can be expensive to obtain. A good cutter is absolutely paramount to your success in the vinyl market and a company such as Roland will provide a large range of cutters, of which we recommend one with an 8 inch range, which should fulfil your basic needs. A video on how to cut vinyl can be found Here.


It provides a very high quality product.
It is perfect for lettering and distinct contrasting colours.

It is fairly expensive.
It is not suitable for mass production.

Best for: The dedicated designer who does not mind sacrificing some extra money for a higher quality product.

  • Sublimation

Sublimation works by dissipating ink through heating, which improves output when compared to the more traditional heat transfer printing method. This machinery only really works with lightly coloured synthetic materials though (such as polyester and acrylic) as the ink will struggle to permeate anything else. T-shirts printed through sublimation feel very different to those produced under the other two methods due to the fact the toners used are applied below the surface of the substrate. For a free video showing how to create a designed t shirt through sublimation, click Here.

It allows extremely fine control of primary colour ratios.
It enables you to obtain a good quality picture even with relatively low printer resolution.

It is fairly specialised.
Limited availability of the necessary synthetic clothing.

Best for: Those who have a supply of synthetic clothing to hand and wish to concentrate exclusively in this area.

  • Screen Printing

Screen printing is the traditional method of transferring colour to a t-shirt or polo shirt by applying colour with ink. In order to screen print an item the design has to be separated into the component colours (nowadays handled by a vectored design program) and then each colour has a separate screen produced using light reactive chemicals. The ink can then be screen printed onto the t shirts directly or via transfer paper and a heat press. Screen printing is ideal for large quantities of printed garments but can be expensive for smaller orders requiring more than one colour.

It is excellent for large quantity orders of your design.
It provides very good quality tees.
It can deal with complex multicoloured designs.

It is very expensive to buy and run.
It is not economical for small orders.
It requires screens to be set up.
It is not economical for simple designs.
It require a large space to operate.

Best for: The successful independent t-shirt designer who needs to expand.

  • DTG Printing

DTG (Direct To Garment) printing is the modern way to put a complex multi-layered and multi-patterned design on any colour t shirt. It utilises a fully digital printing method that offers far superior quality in comparison to full colour transfer printing. Rather than transferring a design via paper a DTG printing machines prints directly onto the garment, resulting in a fantastically high quality print and maximum detail.

It handles both large and small quantities adeptly.
It provides superb quality for both simple and intricate designs.
It dispenses with screens.

It requires a massive initial outlay.
It has a small limitation in speed.
It requires regular maintenance.

Best for: Those with a rich uncle.

So now you have decided on the best method for printing designs your attention must be focussed on how best to transfer your painstakingly created design onto a t-shirt, and indeed where the best place to acquire said tee is. Part 2 will address both of these major concerns.

11 Comments | Add your own
  • wholesale clothing&hellip
    January 23rd, 2009 at 1:20 am

    very interesting blogs!!now i know how to start a T-shirt design business. thanks for the advice,, i learn a lot here!! nice post!!


  • Buildingbrick&hellip
    April 20th, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    What about flock and Flex printing?

  • Hooded Tops&hellip
    December 29th, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Good points all over but these tips are not just for the t shirts but also apply to all kinds of printing on hooded tops etc Good job you have not mentioned FAST T-JET (for direct to garment printing) since that is not a very reliable machine

  • BJ&hellip
    February 16th, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    We recently got a transfer press to do transfers in our store. I’m a bit concerned about the fumes. I did around 8 shirts a few days back. And that smell was with me the next day. It was almost like I could taste it, it lingered in my nostrils. We are using transfers made with silkscreen inks. Is this toxic? Is there any information on this anywhere?

  • Sublimation Business&hellip
    May 27th, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    When it comes to T-Shirts. You can’t put a price on the quality of your product.

  • sublimation companies&hellip
    June 3rd, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    In my opinion, dye sublimation techniques are the best selection to impress your products. Even there are some cheaper alternatives, with dye sublimation the results are so much better as the impression becomes part of the tissue. Due to it, the imprints last longer and the colors are more vibrant

  • low key tshirts&hellip
    October 15th, 2010 at 5:46 am

    As someone who wants to spend most of my time designing, I had a hard time determining which process to go with. I really wanted to buy screenprinted shirts at bulk prices but it’s still too expensive for 10 or more designs w/o customers. Not to mention the hassles of fulfilling orders. Spreadshirt vinyl transfers ultimately won out for me, at least until I can build a large customer base.

  • jenni major&hellip
    November 12th, 2010 at 7:10 am

    Anyone of any age can have fun with customized Tee shirts, especially when choosing a slogan or certain design means expressive freedom that gets to be seen by all. But it doesn’t stop at just a slogan or design, but styles and color as well.

  • The Polo Shirts Guy&hellip
    September 4th, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    I have a site on polo shirts and would like to use it to sell political shirts going into the 2012 presidential campaign as shirts with the candidates always do well. I’m now looking into printing equipment and hope to get it up and running within 4 months. Thanks.

  • clothing blanks wholesale&hellip
    October 5th, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    The most important part of starting a t-shirt company business and almost always overlooked is the type of t-shirts you are going to use. It is important to know what type of t-shirts you are using because certain types respond better depending on what way you are transferring the graphics to the t-shirts.

  • emperor wears&hellip
    September 5th, 2013 at 7:52 am

    Is good to know all the types of t-shirt printing available in the market. Thanks to you.

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