Types of Print Methods for Apparel Explained

When looking to get custom printed apparel, there are several options available.  The option that is best for your project depends on several factors included quantity of garments, the number of colors in your graphic, the type of material the garment is made of, cost, and personal preference.  In this article, I will explain the pros and cons of each print method to help you identify the print method that may be right for you project.  It is always best to consult the print company you are working with to get their expert opinion.  Also, not all print shops are equipped or specialize in every print method explained below.

Screen Printing

Screen printing is the most common form of textile printing and is usually how garments that you see in retail stores are printed.  The print is achieved by creating stencil on a screen and then forcing ink through that stencil and onto the garment.  For every color included in the graphic being printed, a separate stencil or “screen” has to be created.  There are a wide variety of ink types and even specialty inks available which makes screen printing very versatile and it can be used to print on virtually any substrate or fabric type.

Pros:

  1. Bright, Vivid Colors
  2. Excellent Hand feel
  3. Lower Price on Large Runs
  4. Specialty Inks available (Glitter, Puff, Neon, Reflective, Glow in the Dark, and more)
  5. Can be printed on almost any fabric type
  6. Excellent Wash Durability

Cons:

  1. Setup Cost
  2. Higher Minimum Order Quantity
  3. Lower resolution for photographic images

DTG (Direct to Garment)

DTG printing uses a commercial ink jet printer to print digitally and directly to the garment.  An ink printer is basically the same technology used in your home or office printer.  DTG can produce full color prints without any setup involved.  The inks however, aren’t as versatile as screen printing inks so DTG has limitation on the fabric types that it can be successfully printed on.  Since it uses CMYK along with white ink, there are limitations to the types of colors it can produce, which neon colors specifically being off limits to DTG.

Pros:

  1. Low Minimum Order Quantity
  2. Great for high color counts
  3. Can print high detail (smaller dots)
  4. Works great for photographic images

Cons:

  1. Colors can look muted compared to Screen Printing
  2. Works best on 100% Ringspun cotton
  3. Only works on a limited amount of material
  4. More expensive than screen printing on medium to large runs generally

DTF (Direct to Film)

DTF printing is similar to DTG in that it uses an ink jet printer; but instead of printing directly to the garment, it prints to a transfer film instead. The ink on the transfer film is then cured and then heat transferred to the garment.  This method has some advantages over DTG.  The main advantage is that it can be applied to almost any fabric type.  The other advantage is that the colors tend to be brighter and more vivid.   

Pros:

  1. Low Minimum Order Quantity
  2. Great for high color counts
  3. Can print high detail (smaller dots
  4. Works on a wide variety of material
  5. Excellent wash durability

Cons:

  1. More expensive than screen printing on medium to large runs generally
  2. Print can feel slightly like plastic depending on the graphic

Embroidery

Embroidery is the method of decorating garments using a needle to stich thread into the fabric.  This is most commonly done with an embroidery machine.  In order for the embroidery machine to stich a design, the design first needs to be digitized.  Digitizing is the process of converting artwork into a digital file using a software that allows embroidery machines to understand the needle’s path.

Pros:

  1. High quality and perceived value
  2. Excellent for hats or small graphics
  3. Embroidered graphics tend to last the life of the garment; they don’t crack or fade

Cons:

  1. Cost prohibited for large graphics
  2. Digitizing fee required to convert graphic
  3. Usually more expensive than other print methods

HTV (Heat Transfer Vinyl)

Heat transfer vinyl uses a plotter to “cut” the design or pattern into a thin sheet of vinyl attached to a carrier sheet.  The excess vinyl is then removed or “weeded” from the carrier sheet and you are left with the graphic.  The graphic is then heat transferred onto the garment.  This is great of doing numbers or names on athletic jersey where customization is required.  The weeding process is labor intensive so this method of printing is best for small runs.

Pros:

  1. Low minimum order quantity
  2. Great for adding custom names and numbers to athletic jerseys

Cons:

  1. Only feasible for low color count graphics; single color is usually best
  2. Expensive for medium to large runs compared to screen printing.
  3. Print can feel slightly like plastic depending on the graphic.
  4. Only works for simple spot color graphics.

Final Thoughts

There are many print methods available for garment printing.  Let our experts at Birdhouse Printshop help you choose the best method for your next project today!

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