Creativity and experimentation go hand in hand when indulging in any artistic endeavour and t-shirt printing is no different. Constantly tweaking and adjusting the designs to certain colour schemes is one of the most enjoyable aspects of t-shirt printing. But to really get the best out of the experience, you need to understand the intricate relationship between printing and fabric.
If you’re serious about t-shirt printing, then quality is everything. Understanding what printing techniques are most optimal for certain materials will make all the difference in its final appearance. You would feel slightly cheated having gone through all that effort of designing 100 beautiful printed t-shirts only to find that your design is soon peeling off like cracked paint from a wall.
But before we dive into the different techniques used, let’s have a look at the most common materials used for t-shirt printing and their main benefits.
What are the different fabrics I can use?
You can place fabrics in three main categories: natural, synthetic and a blend between the two. Each category encompasses a wide range of different fabrics that are typically used for creating t-shirts.
When choosing a t-shirt to print on, you first need to decide what it’s going to be used for, since all fabrics have their pros and cons. Let’s explore this further.
As you would guess, natural fabrics are all derived from nature, the only human input being the process of blending animal or plant-based fibers together into a textile. Garments made from these natural materials are perfect for people born with super-sensitive skin, where anything synthetic is likely to cause irritation.
Putting them under the microscope, we can reveal that each fabric offers its own set of unique advantages:
- Allows skin to breathe
- Provides a luxurious feel
- Sweat absorbent
- Wrinkle resistant
- Repels moisture
- Provides warmth
- Strongly absorbent
Here we cross over into artificial territory. Although they may not give you as much warmth or comfort compared with natural materials, t-shirts made from synthetic fabrics are best worn when doing any form of physical activity due to their ability to deal with sweat.
Have you ever played a sport wearing a t-shirt made of cotton? If you have, then you would know that things start to get heavy very quickly. Cotton soaks up the sweat like a sponge whereas synthetic fibres are able to wick away the moisture, giving you a lighter feel by helping to dry the sweat faster.
To put it simply, you’ll never see a 100m sprinter wearing anything made from cotton and nor should you if you’re planning on doing rigorous training. If you’re looking to create personalised sportswear through t-shirt printing, then polyester will be your go-to fabric. Here’s a list of the most popularly used synthetic fabrics:
As the name suggests, blended fabrics are a fusion between natural and man-made materials. Blends add an interesting dynamic to these garments, where the synergy of both materials offers its own unique set of advantages.
For example, if you blend cotton and polyester together, you get a garment that enjoys the advantages of both. The polyester adds strength to the garment while the cotton improves absorbency.
The cotton-polyester combination is an excellent choice for business shirts since it provides both comfort and excellent durability. Here’s a list the most common blended fabrics used:
Printing techniques and their preferred fabric
Now, when it comes to t-shirt printing, your approach should be that of an artist’s – the materials that you have at your fingertips will determine your approach. By discovering the relationship between different printing techniques and their preferred fibres, you’ll get a better finish on the design of the t-shirt.
Being one of the most popular printing techniques, screen printing involves pushing several layers of ink through a mesh or stencil onto fabric. This technique is favoured in the industry due to its ability to produce fantastic results with regard to quality.
Best fabric to use: Cotton
Although screen printing can be used on a variety of different fabrics, the thickness of cotton allows more of the ink to be absorbed into the material, creating a more intense and vibrant finish for your personal design.
Direct to garment printing (DTG)
Imagine using an office printer but instead of using paper you’re printing on fabric. DTG printing is an excellent method for those who are new to the activity since it requires less knowledge and skill than other techniques. Here you can enjoy customising different t-shirt designs that are more intricate and detailed in their colouring.
Best fabric to use: Cotton
Since DTG inks are water-based, they need to work with material made out of 100% cotton to allow the print to fully sink into the fabric. Unfortunately, polyester material has a similar relationship with water as oil has – they don’t mix well at all. Polyester is made to repel liquid, making it difficult to fully absorb the ink from DTG printing.
Transfer printing is mostly used for sportswear and team kits. This printing technique involves using a special machine that cuts out designs and letters from coloured pieces of vinyl. Using a special heat-press, you then transfer each piece of vinyl onto the fabric that you are working with.
Best fabric to use: Polyester
Transfer printing can work with almost any material. But since transfers are made from plastic, they tend to attach most effectively to polyester.
T-shirt printing is an industry full of artistic creativity where you have the freedom to constantly refine and experiment with your ideas. Overtime, you’ll understand what t-shirt printing techniques work best with certain materials to get the best results.
As a rule of thumb, any printing technique using ink will deliver phenomenal results with t-shirts made from 100% cotton. This natural fiber is a thicker and heavier material than most, which allows the ink to be fully absorbed, delivering a more intense and colourful look.
Using blended fabrics for t-shirt printing can be a bit tricky since your approach will have to be a bit more technical. To get the best results, you’ll have to do more homework on the limitations of each fabric, since you’ll be printing on a garment made from two different fabrics.
Based on the advice given, keep testing and experimenting with new ideas until you find what printing methods best bring your t-shirt designs to life. But most of all, just make sure that you have fun with it!