If you’re looking into printing t-shirts (or even hoodies) there are a lot of factors to consider that can save you a lot of money in the long run. Are you a business owner, or just need a few dozen shirts printed? In this blog, I’ll share a few tips for comparing the heat transfer, screenprinting, and DTG printing methods and how to choose the one most cost effective for you. Before you decide between DTG, screen printing, or the heat press method, here is a few things to keep in mind:
5 Questions to Ask Before Selecting a Printing Method
I’m by far not a t-shirt printing expert, but have picked up a few things that helped me save money when printing shirts. Since some methods require minimums, you need to ask yourself a few questions beforehand:
1. Who Will Be Wearing your Shirts?
If you’re planning on promotional t-shirts or one-time-event type shirts, is it worth the extra cost of selecting a higher quality and more expensive shirt? Probably not. On the other end of the spectrum could be an online consumer buying your brand. Someone once told me: “you may trick someone into purchasing a cool design once – but if printed on a cheap shirt, good luck with finding repeat customers”. In this case, you’ll want to select a quality material you can stand behind. So what type of material do you need?
2. What Type of Material Will Suit your Needs?
If you’re planning to start an apparel line, quality is everything. If you’re looking to save money when creating an apparel brand, it’s probably best to do that during the printing process, and not when selecting shirts. At the end of the day, you’ll want a fabric that feels good to your customer, instead of a starchy, 50 cent shirt you picked up at the store.
Polyester and cotton blends are a good starting point that are really comfortable to wear. One brand that I’ve personally used is the Next Level CVC line. They wash up pretty well, and offer a more slimming, modern fit. Not really a tight fit, but one that looks good on most body types. I get tons of compliments when I wear these!
100% cotton is probably the most common material, and is what pretty much all cheap shirts are made of. If you want a softer fit, choose a ringspun cotton. That being said, some 100% cotton shirts can get expensive. Gildan is probably the most common industry-standard brand, and is a good budget choice if you are planning on printing more than about 50 shirts. They are always in stock, and actually wash up pretty well. I’ve never had a problem with the standard Gildan Ultra Cotton t-shirts before, and screen printers always have the Gildan brand in stock.
***Keep in mind shirt sizes can vary in cost. Many screen printers charge $2 more for anything 2XL and higher.
3. What’s the Size of your Design?
It’s a small detail, but the size of your design can really limit what method is practical for printing. Many heat presses are not big enough to successfully print really large designs on your shirts – there just isn’t enough surface area. Only commercial heat presses are capable of printing a large surface area of around 400 square inches (or 22” x 22′) and they cost around $5,000. However, with screen printing, the screen printer can create screens that fit your design – avoiding this problem altogether.
4. How Many Shirts you Need?
Depending on how many shirts you need to have printed can dictate what method to use. Another factor to consider is how long you intend the shirts to last. Here’s a good starting point for most people:
1-10 shirts? DTG or Heat Press
If you are planning on printing 1-5 shirts, direct to garmet (DTG) printing is going to be your best bet if you’re not looking to start a t-shirt line. There are a TON of options for only printing one or two shirts, and most can run you anywhere from 10-25 dollars apiece (including the shirt) depending on the material and sizes.
On the other hand, heat pressing t-shirts can be a good option if you need to constantly print t-shirts on a regular basis for a large group (without going to a screen printer every time).
10+ shirts? Screen Printing or Heat Press
If you are printing more than 10 shirt shirts of the same design and aren’t looking for a DIY solution, screen printing is definitely the way to go. In some cases, heat pressing shirts yourself may be a good option if you already have shirt blanks and transfers ready to go.
5. How Many Colors Do You Need?
In terms of colors, you need to factor in a couple of things:
- The color of the shirt you want to print on
- The number of colors in your designs (only for Heat press/screen printing)
If you are looking for the absolute cheapest option for printing, white is definitely the shirt color you will want to choose. If you plan on printing these yourself, you can typically pick up a basic shirt on Amazon for a couple of bucks apiece.
For the actual ink colors, most screen printers require setup fees for every screen (more on that later), that can cost anywhere from 4 to 8 dollars per color. The same goes for the heat press method, since you will need what are called plastisol transfers which also require setup fees for this process. DTG printers allow you to print whatever colors you want for no extra cost.
Option 1: Heat Press
Best for starting a t-shirt line with $500-$1,000
A heat press makes sense if you are looking to create a t-shirt line for an apparel company, as it can be more cost effective than screen printing small batches. The reason being, is that you may not know if certain designs will sell, and don’t want to get stuck with 25 of design A in blue, 25 of design B in black, and so on. Costs can really skyrocket. I recommend buying t-shirt blanks in several different colors, that way you can press your plastisol transfers onto your shirts on-demand as orders roll in.
What exactly are plastisol transfers? Plastisol transfers in very simple terms are sheets with high quality printed ink on them. There are only a few companies that make these, like TransferExpress.com. These are not in any way like the cheap iron-on transfer sheets you can pick up at Walmart or Amazon, but intended for screen-print quality shirts.. For example, you can order 16 copies of a front pocket design on a single sheet, and just cut them out when you are ready to begin pressing.
PowerPress 15” x 15” T-shirt Heat Press
For most beginners, you’ll probably want to go with a basic and affordable machine like the PowerPress 15” x 15” Clamshell-type heat press pictured above. Just make sure you buy one that heats evenly to get a good quality print. Click here to view some best sellers on Amazon for around $200. They also make heat presses that swing-away. These are ideal for pressing large quantities fast.
Option 2: Screen Printing
Best for quantities of more than 20, with a budget of around $100.
Screen printing is probably the best method out there in my opinion, but plastisol transfers are really good these days. Most people probably can’t tell the difference. The reason screen printing is more expensive is because the screen printer has to set up separate screens for each color you print, and they usually charge a fee of around $3 to $8 per color. It really depends on the screen printer, and the minimums they require. Check with your local screen printer for an estimate. Most of the time, they will be able to purchase t-shirts for you, but some may let you bring your own.
If you are really feeling creative, you can actually screen print yourself! If you’ve never done anything like this, proceed with caution, but you can pick up screen printing kits for less than $100 on Amazon. Again, you get what you pay for. Check out these videos to get an idea of the process.
Professional Screen Printing
DIY Screen Printing
Option 3: DTG (Direct to Garment) Printing
Best for single quantities and low-budget printing. Starting at $7-$20 per shirt
DTG printing is the cheapest way to print shirts, due to the fact there is virtually no screen setup fees. The downside is that you will get a slightly lower quality print than screen printing or transfers can deliver. They also tend to fade more after washing, but are a great option in you need a few shirts you don’t expect a lot of wear out of them.
A couple of really good DTG options that I have used to print shirts are:
PrintAura.com – Print Aura is one of the best companies I have ever worked with that offer DTG printing of shirts. Keep in mind, that you will have to create an account and understand what file formats they will accept. If you are working with a designer, they should be able to create an account and get your order going.
Tshirtgang.com – T-shirt gang is another great option for getting shirts made really quicky, but they also cater towards business users that are selling on platforms like Amazon and eBay. However, if you need only one or two shirts, you can get them made for around $13 per shirt including shipping. It’s probably the cheapest option I have found for printing t shirts, but you’re limited to only 1 or 2 cheaper brands to choose from.
Amazon or eBay – You may not think of these e-commerce giants as a place where you can get t-shirts made, but there are plenty of great sellers who will ship custom t-shirts right to your door. Just send them your design, and you’re done! Use the links above to explore pricing options.
Zazzle.com – Zazzle is a print-on-demand company that is really good at doing just that. You can have t-shirts, hoodies, posters, mousepads, mugs, and just about anything else you can think of printed up in a matter of hours.
You can make T-shirt printing as easy or as involved as you would like. Keep in mind, if you’ve been tasked with printing some shirts for the office, your best bet is to find a good screen printer in your area. If you don’t have artwork available, you can try services like Fiverr.com or Upwork.com, where you can work with designers for as low as $5 to $10 per design. Just ask your screen printer for a spec sheet to provide to the designer.
There’s a lot that can go into printing shirts, but the best thing to do is to find what works for your time and budget. Good luck!