Different ways of printing clothing items

There are many printing technologies being used in the market for custom t shirt printing or custom textile printing. In the following text we are going to discuss some of the best printing methods that we are also using for local t shirt pinting in Dallas.


Screen printing or silk-screen is a printing process in which ink is poured – by the pressure of a squeegee or puller – across a prepared screen. The screen (screen printing matrix), normally made of polyester or nylon, is stretched onto a frame (frame) made of wood, aluminum or steel.

The “recording” of the screen takes place through the photo sensitivity process, where the matrix prepared with a photo sensitive emulsion is placed on a photolith, this matrix+photolith set being placed in turn on a light table.

The dark points on the photolith correspond to the places that will be hollowed out on the screen, allowing the ink to pass through the fabric, and the light points (where the light will pass through the photolith reaching the emulsion) are waterproofed by the hardening of the photosensitive emulsion that was exposed. the light.

It is used for printing on various types of materials (paper, plastic, rubber, wood, glass, fabric, etc.), surfaces (cylindrical, spherical, irregular, light, dark, opaque, shiny, etc.), thicknesses or sizes, with different types of paints or colors. It can be done mechanically (by people) or automatically (by machines).

Direct digital printing (DTG)

Have you ever imagined putting a t-shirt in your home printer and printing a print directly on it? Roughly speaking, this is what DTG printing consists of.

Direct digital printing (also known as DTG) eliminates the need to manufacture matrices or cylinders, in addition to enabling small-scale production. However, due to the high cost of ink and machinery, digital printing costs on average 3 times more than other traditional printing methods.

Another big difference with digital printing is the high resolution of these fabric printers. It is possible to print even HD photos using this technique.


The biggest wave at the moment is certainly sublimation. It’s incredible how the use of this technique has grown in recent years, and is growing every day.

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I believe this is mainly due to the fact that sublimation is cheap and easy to perform . With less than R$5000.00 initial investment and 1 week of training, anyone can start creating prints with sublimation.

Sublimation consists of a process of transferring an image from paper to fabric using a thermal press. The ink contained in the paper is transferred to the fabric or other material you want when the paper is subjected to pressure and high temperature for a few seconds.

As the paper printing process is done using a computer, there is no limitation on the number of colors, however the quality of the result, depending on the type of fabric/mesh where the sublimation is applied, may leave something to be desired.

For example, as sublimation printers do not print in white ink, prints look better on white, or light, substrates. It is difficult, for example, to print a black t-shirt without needing another auxiliary technique.

Another important limitation of sublimation is the material that can be printed on. In sublimation, the products must be made of polyester, that is, if you want to print a t-shirt with sublimation, it must have at least 80% polyester in the composition for the print to be good.

Of course, there are currently auxiliary techniques that allow printing cotton pieces ( OBM , for example) but so far they all leave something to be desired in terms of durability.

Transfers and thermal adhesives in general

Do not confuse sublimation with transfer processes and other thermocols ( OBM , dark transfer, laser film, hotfix, etc.). Although all of these techniques use heat to print, they differ greatly from each other in several aspects.

As it is not possible to sublimate cotton, many people use complementary techniques such as OBM and transfers to carry out this task. And they actually work, but all the ones we’ve tested so far leave something to be desired in terms of durability .

Some fade with washing, others start to peel off or even crack with daily use. So be very careful and do a lot of testing before you start using it.

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Do you understand the difference between transfer and sublimation technique? To make this clearer for you, we wrote the article Is sublimation the same as transfer?

DTF printing

The acronym DTF comes from direct-to-film , a relatively new technique that emerged as an alternative to sublimation and transfers.

It basically consists of printing your art on a special transparent film, then applying polyamide powder to this film and then applying it to the pieces using a heat press.

Unlike sublimation, DTF allows printing with white ink, which makes it possible to print dark pieces, including black ones.

Polyester powder being applied in DTF printing

Laser Printing

Due to its limitations, laser printing on fabrics/knits is currently little used in clothing. By “printing” (or better yet, burning) in just 1 color, the effect is always the same, similar to a corrosion effect done in screen printing.


Embroidery is not considered a print, but I decided to mention it in this post because it is another technique for customizing clothes.

Although it can be done by hand, the garments make use of industrial embroidery, which allows for greater quality and speed of up to 1500 stitches per minute (something impossible in manual embroidery). The embroidery designer creates the design using software specially created for this purpose, and then transfers it via floppy disk or USB to the machine, which reproduces it faithfully.

In addition to embroidery, modern embroidery machines apply sequins, ribbons, etc. Some even perform laser cutting.

Are there other ways to print?

When this post was first written in 2012, these were basically the ways to print t-shirts and clothes in general . Now, in the year 2021, to be honest, not much has changed.

What we can currently observe is an increase in the use of sublimation and direct digital printing (DTG), while screen printing has seen a small decline. Another way of personalizing clothes that is widely used today is the application of thermal adhesives, such as rhinestones, films and OBM.

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