2009 January 27

Part 2: Types of Equipment – Which Machine is Best for You?

The Heat Press:

A heat press is the most important machine in any t-shirt printing business – with an inferior model you’ll discover that final prints lack both colour and clarity. Selecting the right heat press will ensure consistency throughout your t shirts. There are three basic types of heat press you should consider.

  • Clam Type Press

The clam type is ideal for absolute beginners and those for who space is tight. It has a small frame so doesn‘t take up much room.


  • Swing Press


An evolution of the clam type, the swing press is essentially a modified design. The swing press works on the same basis as the clam type but is hinged to allow easier access to the t shirt being printed, improving both speed and accuracy.

  • Pneumatic Press

The pneumatic press is an advisable purchase if you’re looking to expand or mass produce your t shirts. It is more expensive than either of the other two variations mentioned but operates a more precise heat and pressure application.


Companies such as Target Transfers and Xpres supply a full range of heat press types and models so be sure to check out their websites for ideas on price. For a free informational video on how to operate a basic flat heat press go Here There is also a more in-depth analysis of various heat press manufacturers and models Here.

 The Printer:

Once you have the right heat press for your business the next step is to invest in suitable printer. Essentially you are presented with a basic choice: inkjet or laser?

  • Inkjet

Inkjets are cheaper than laser printers and produce bright colours with a vibrant contrast. However this is offset by the fact that ink can be expensive and the texture from these prints is noticeable different from commercially printed tees.


  • Laser

Laser printers produce prints that last longer and posses a more natural feel. However, they are more expensive and the colour output is dimmer.


Your decision will come down to whether you are willing to accept a slightly less professional texture, in exchange for a reduced set up cost and brighter colour. For either type you’ll find that the major printer brands such as HP, Canon or Epson will have a printer in their range that will meet your requirements. Note that for sublimation printing you may need to invest in a different kind of printer, along with special inks. Xpres produce their own brand of Subli-Print sublimation inks that are specifically catered for the heat sensitivity that the sublimation process requires.

The T-Shirt:

OK, not technically a machine – but the type of t-shirt you choose to print your design on to is just as crucial to the feel and look of the final product as the appliance you use to do the printing.

  • Brand

Generally speaking it’s best to stick to the products from tried and tested manufactures such as Gildan, Fruit of the Loom and Hanes, all proven distribution outlets and recognisable brands.


  • Supplier

Search the internet for ‘t-shirt’ and millions of results will be returned (145 at the last count!), of which thousands might well be your potential supplier. Choosing the perfect one for your business is a tricky task, but one that you must get right. You can opt to find an online supplier, where the convenience of ordering what you want when you want is desirable for a small business. Alternatively you can find a supplier who will deal with you over the phone during office hours.

Either way you should ensure you work with an established wholesaler or distributor you can trust to deliver the goods you want on time and in good condition. There are plenty of websites that are out to exploit the naïve start-up business but you can spot these as they usually eschew a telephone number, have poorly written content and shoddily designed site navigation. If your business is to become a success you will need a competent supplier who can provide you with a regular service. It is important not to be drawn into a snap decision when choosing your supplier; many of the larger dealers will offer competitive prices but expect regular large orders which your company might not be able to fulfil immediately. Buying in bulk may seem attractive but can offer a false economy – there is little point in getting cheaper units if most of them will lie unused on the floor. The ideal supplier will offer competitive prices without the obligation to order a minimum quantity.

With the technical aspect of printing a design onto a t shirt taken care of it is important for any fledgling designer to understand how to run their business successfully, and this is what we shall examine in Part 3.

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.

2007 August 13

Since most digital printers operate using water based inks you will need to cure your t-shirts to achieve the best quality look on a printed garment. ‘Curing’ involves heating the t-shirt at a prescribed temperature so that any residual water left by the digital printing process evaporates. Currently the two curing methods available are heat presses and conveyor dryers.

Assuming you are not a major producer or distributor one machine will be enough to meet your needs. Most t-shirts will need between 30-90 seconds to be cured; for an exact guide and a recommended temperature be sure to consult the requirements for the ink you are planning to use provided by the manufacturer.

Though not incredibly expensive (a basic heat press starts at approximately £350) it is recommended that you don’t immediately purchase the cheapest model available. As with any new machine to be incorporated into your business you should thoroughly research the options available to you and seek out previous customers of the prospective company you are to be dealing with, after all you may need technical support. It is probably best to look at a fully digital heat press that will automatically raise itself once the pre-set time has expired to ensure against scorching the shirts. The Geo-Knight and Company‘s digital heat presses (such as the DK20S, below) are usually a popular choice in this market for precisely the reasons outlined above.


The chances are that if you are a screen-printer and are moving into digital printing that you already own a conveyor dryer, and this will work fine, albeit slower than a heat press. But be aware that you will have to slow your dryer belt down from its settings to allow for a full cure. A full guide to price a specifications to the most popular models of heat press can be found elsewhere on our website Here.

2007 August 10

Often the most prohibitive obstacles facing a small embroidery or garment printing business is the massive initial outlay on expensive technology and machinery, meaning that it is often difficult to break even in the first few years of business, let alone post a profit. The heat press manufacturer J&A International offer a unique solution which could help your fledgling business find its feet and weather the growing pains it encounters.

Pioneering a rental scheme entitled ‘Seal-Deal’, J&A are offering a new 3030 heat press with a choice of heat plate sizes, all repairs and maintenance covered (excluding non-wear and tear damage), an immediate replacement in the event of malfunction and carriage of machine for a small monthly outlay. There is no long term commitment necessary with the minimum term lasting just three months and the 15×15 headed machines start at just £15 a week, with the smaller machines costing even less. Obviously this is no long-term solution but for a small businesses the inherent benefits of rental are evident, with no capital outlay and low administration costs cash flow will be greatly improved and money will be freed up for other costs.


Another reason people may wish to join J&A’s piloting scheme is that they might wish to invest in a 3030 but would like to test the compatibility of the machine with their pre-existing framework. Adrian Apletree, the Sales & Marketing Director for J&A International told Printwear Today: “Many people use a try before you buy service, as it provides an ideal opportunity to work with the equipment and assure them that it is suitable for their needs before investing in the actual purchase. Furthermore, it provides the flexibility of being able to exchange a machine as their business and heat sealing requirements evolve.”

Whether you are looking to free up cash for a start-up business or looking to test-drive a prospective heat press it looks like this innovative scheme could be extremely popular.

2007 May 8

There are five items you need to consider when shopping for a heat transfer press:

• Ease of use
• Pressure Control
• Versatility
• Durability
• Price

Ease of use

When testing a heat transfer press, take note of the ease in which you can lay the garment between the plates, the amount of pressure needed to create a clean press, and how easily the machine works overall. If you choose to buy a swing-head manual press, make sure that the handle creates a tight seal on the clothing so the heat transfer is clean. The machine must be suited to the operator that is going to use it. Manual presses need a degree of physical strength and stamina particularly if they are to be used on a constant basis. If the operator can’t handle a particular press you have a problem.

Pressure Control

Nylon, cotton, and blended fabrics require different amounts of pressure in order to complete heat transfers. The more control you have, the more items you will be able to transfer print. A manual press relies on the strength of the operator to force the two plates of the heat press together. In contrast a Pneumatic press, relies on air pressure, supplied by an external compressor. This allows the heat press to close at the push of a button rather requiring the operator to close the press manually. This allows greater consistentcy of pressing from garment to garment. However the major benefit of the pneumatic press is greater productivity per operator. If productivity is critical to your business then chose a pneumatic press.


In order to choose the right press you need to know what you are going to print. Even if most of your customers are looking for printed t-shirts, you may need to be able to use your press in other ways. Will your customers want logos and names on bags, hats, umbrellas as well as other items.
If you want this versatility, buy a press with an interchangeable bottom plate so that you can print a variety of products.

Think about your business in terms of what you want to accomplish and buy a press that meets these needs.


There is a wide difference in heat press prices.

Unfortunately, there are presses that although low in cost, do not live up to expectations. A heat press is a piece of machinery that will eventually wear out. The manufacturer, Adkins guarantees the heat platens (plates) for life. Although they expect their machines to last 5 years they don’t offer any long term guarantee or extended warrantee for their press. If you need a press in order to stay in business, choose one that will last

In deciding which press to buy, it is important to consider what will happen if the press goes wrong.

Is there a warranty?
Are spares easily available?
Who will repair the machine and how quickly?
How will your business manage while the press is being repaired?

You may want to consider

• Demo Press – J&A offer the option to try out a press before you buy it. Effectively you are renting the machine on a 3 month contract but it gives the option of trying out the press.

• Loan Presses – The Magic Touch offer a loan press in the event of a press requiring repair. However, conditions may apply to this offer.

More than Just Price

Better quality manual presses offer a number of benefits of cheaper rivals. They are able to achieve a far greater pressure with less force required. Cheaper presses require more force from the operator and may deliver uneven pressure.

There are some good cheap heat presses around. If you are just dipping your toe in the water, a cheap press might be fine but if you are building a business it might be well worth considering a more expensive item with the backing and support of an established company behind it.

2007 March 27

We have compiled a list of the main heat transfer press suppliers. So if you are looking to get into the world of T-shirt printing these are the people to speak to. If you think we have missed any please let us know.

1. Xpres
01332 855085

2. A Adkins

3. Geo Knight
01702 345777

4. Hix
07771 987452

5. Hotronix
01376 326351

6. Mirical Emblems
01623 490114

7. Victory Easipress
01246 570570

8. J&A International

2007 March 8

Of the Big three – Hanes, Gildan and Fruit of the Loom only Hanes was present.

Hanes were promoting both the Hanes and Stedman ranges on separate stands.
The Hanes stand was a minimalists dream, big lights and 3 plasma screens. A bit like Foxtons, the London estate agents, there was little evidence of product on display. The Stedman stand had the product behind bars, guarded by people dressed painted to look like wild animals. What was the slogan “Bite the Customer” or was it “Fight the T-shirt” I can’t remember.

Continentals stand reflected a cool fashion image, a sort of French Connection ready for print or embroidery.

At embroidery machine stands Baruden, Tajima, SWF and Midwest ……, things were much as usual – embroidery machines busily beavering away. No hint of minimalism here.

The suppliers of heat presses and vinyl seemed to be getting plenty of traffic.

The newer technology digital printing took my interest. There were several stands including YES and Amaya offering rival machines that could print multicolour prints straight onto a t-shirt.

Notable new stands included Trutex the schoolwear supplier. I didn’t really understand the logic of their strategy of offering free embroidery on their products when the majority of visitors at the show were printers and embroiderers.

Back at our JHK stand things were busy. Could the customers get past the marketing manager from Blue Max /Stag taking photographs of our stand? Had Kustom Kit’s people had been round for a third time for brochures and price lists. No wonder we were running out. How could we politely stop the people who had decided that they wanted to win the Ipod and that they were going to do this by going through all the scratch cards. Things had started to turn nasty when they decided that the only reason that they hadn’t won was because that we weren’t really giving one away.

There were plenty of interesting moments. “Could the person who picked up the promotional bag with the lap top inside, please return it to the organisers office”.

The show was a great opportunity for new printers, embroiderers and find suppliers.
After 3 days of scoffing biscuits and multicoloured M&M’s which reflected the colours of our T-shirts it was time to go home. As for next year why does this show have to be in Birmingham again….. London or Manchester would make a nice change.

Image JHK stand at Printwear and Promotion Exhibition