How to Custom T Shirt Printing Methods for Fast, High-Quality Turnarounds

Wondering which custom T-shirt printing method is best for you? Well, that pimarily depends on what you want the shirts for. Each method has its pros and cons and is best suited for specific use cases.

In a nutshell, modern methods allow for more flexibility, faster turnaround, and neater, lasting output. Traditional methods are fast phasing out, but some have stuck around or morphed into a modern form.

However, there’s an ideal method out there for each specific use case, whether you want custom shirts to expand your wardrobe, for your corporate events, or for your online clothing line.

The choice between printing methods might be as intricate as your custom shirt design idea. Factors like the design, color combination, quantity of shirts, and budget determine which method can best deliver the job.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, we’re here to help you put it all together. We’ll show you everything you need to know to choose the best custom T-shirt printing method, from making proper plans to choosing the right design tools and printers.

white hotel-printed crew-neck shirt on black surface

Laying the Groundwork for Custom T-Shirt Printing

We’re assuming that, before you got here, you must have already figured out every other aspect of your custom T-shirt project. If you haven’t yet, then jumping into custom t-shirt printing techniques now is like putting the cart before the horse.

Before proceeding to this stage, you need to have figured out things like the purpose of your custom T-shirt, your budget, material, and quantity. A lot of brainstorming and research should go into this stage. Research your ideas thoroughly to find the best ways to bring them to life. Check similar projects that have been done in the past. Choose your design elements with care. If you don’t want to outsource the design to a graphics pro, try experimenting with different shirt styles, colors, typography, imagery, and other design elements to find the most suitable options.

When choosing the size and fit, you should also consider many things like your budget, target demographic, and use cases. You also need to choose your shirt material meticulously. Your choice of custom T-shirt printing method also largely depends on your materials. For instance, heat transfer doesn’t pair well with 100% cotton, and so on.

Choosing the Right Custom T-Shirt Printing Method

With other aspects of your rarecustom t-shirt firmly established, you’re now in a better place to determine which printing method suits you best. There are tons of methods out there, but let’s look at the popular ones that you can easily get started with:

Screen Printing

Screen printing is one of the oldest and currently the most popular method of printing. It’s evolved over time, and today, it can be done either manually or mechanically. It’s handy, flexible, fast, and reliable for both one-offs and bulk prints.

One huge advantage that screen printing has over others is the quality of the ink used. It uses a thicker, higher-quality ink that makes for a more vibrant, long-lasting print. The higher quality of ink makes for cost-effective production, especially for bulk orders. Since the ink is of higher quality, the quantity required for bulk prints is far much less compared to inks for other methods, resulting in lesser expenses. No wonder screen printing is the most widely used custom t-shirt printing technique.

A major drawback, however, is the monocolor print. If you want a multicolor design or intricate artwork, you’ll have to imprint each layer of color one at a time, and that might end up gulping up more time and money.

However, screen printing remains the most cost-effective method for printing single-color designs at scale.

DTG Printing

For intricate, multicolor designs, DTG or Direct-to-Garment printing is your best bet. DTG uses inkjet technology to spray vibrant, multicolor prints directly onto a shirt. The versatility of inkjet technology allows for limitless design possibilities.

And unlike screen printing, where each shirt takes multiple steps to print, DTG printing is relatively straightforward. It’s as simple as loading the design template on the DTG machine and then simply running the shirts through.

The quicker setup means a faster, easier turnaround. Also, there are no ink mess and clutter to clean up after, making it hassle-free. Plus, the injected design is deeply embedded into the fabric, making for a highly vibrant long-lasting print.

However, DTG is limited to low-volume orders – it gets messier and more expensive the higher the number of prints. It’s also limited to only 100% cotton shirts – shirts with a relatively thick quantity of fabric to hold the injected ink. The print fades faster the thinner the material. Also, the high cost of DTG machines can be prohibitive to those who want to print from home.

So, if you want a cost-effective, hassle-free method for printing dazzling designs on a few custom t-shirts outdoors, DTG is right up your alley.

Heat Transfer

Heat transfer is one of the most complex, intricate printing methods, but it’s also highly versatile. It works on a wide variety of materials, embeds all sorts of designs, and allows for time-efficient, cost-effective batch production.

There are many different heat transfer techniques, but basically, they all involve transferring designs from a laying sheet to a shirt under extreme heat and pressure. Today, the most popular variation of heat transfer is dye-sublimation printing, which entails digitally printing a dye-based graphic on a layering sheet and then placing it on a shirt under high temperature and pressure to embed the design on the shirt. The dye-based design turns gaseous under heat and pressure and is absorbed by the fabric, where it hardens back after cooling. Under the gaseous state, the ink fuses permanently with the fabric, allowing for a deep, lasting imprint.

Perhaps the most significant drawback of dye-sublimation printing is the cost.


Direct-to-film (DTF) printing revolutionizes the image transfer process by allowing direct printing onto specialized films for subsequent application onto diverse surfaces like textiles. This technique eliminates the need for traditional transfer papers, resulting in improved color vibrancy, fine details, and durability. DTF printing involves using advanced printers, such as the STS Mutoh DTF printer, which ensures precise color reproduction and exceptional quality. With its versatility and ability to create vibrant designs on various materials, DTF printing has become a preferred choice for businesses in the fashion, apparel, and promotional industries.

Other popular variations of heat transfer include printing plastisol transfers and CAD-cut vinyl printing. The only major difference between them is the printing materials – the layering sheet, the ink, the heat transfer apparatus, etc., which could affect the quality of output.

Wrapping Up

Custom t-shirt printing isn’t rocket science. You don’t even need any prior technical background to pull one off successfully. Once you’ve sorted out your design, budget, size, and quantity, the right printing technique instantly becomes obvious.