Nowadays, there is a wide range of different technology in the garment and apperal decorating industry. It’s easy to get lost in choosing suitable technology to create our own custom printed and designed fabric. What printing method is best for you and your print shop? From screen printing and sublimation, the terminology can leave a lot of people confused. See several main kinds of apparel printing technology below with explanation of production process and its pros and cons behind each to get some new ideas and inspiration!
Design is dye-based ink printed on sublimation paper through inkjet printer and then heat press onto garments. This is a digital printing process that transfers special sublimation dye-based ink printed designs onto garments using high heat and a commercial press.
Pros: it the most permanent transfer since the dye ink becomes part of the garment. Transfer is bright-color and lifelike.
No limitation on design: transfer photographs, full color designs, bright or light colors and gradients
Limitation on fabric: this process works only on white/light polyester garments or polyester coated items.
Heat transfer paper
Process in which the design is printed on a transfer paper through inkjet or laser printer and then pressed onto a shirt.
Limitation on fabric: this process works only on cotton garments.
Limitation of paper: light heat transfer paper is applied to white/very light colored garments. Dark heat transfer paper is applied to dark/color fabrics and design need to be cut out.
Plus, with new technology, now there is self-weeding transfer paper which can transfer the design without cutting it out.
Heat transfer vinyl
This is a simple process of cutting designs out of heat transfer vinyl, a one-color/one-material on a roll, weeding away the material that you do not want in your transfer design, and simply pressing them onto a shirt! There is a huge variety of vinyl, far beyond just standard colors: sparkly glitter, soft flock, shimmery metallic, and more!
Feature: simple process, one-color/one-material on a roll, cut the designs out of heat transfer vinly, simply pressing them onto a shirt, without printing.
Limitation on design: vinyl transfers are great for lettering and simple clipart/graphic designs.
Digital printing process that requires a special solvent printer (generally wide format) which then prints on specialty solvent-design paper or vinyl.
Limitation on fabric: it is often used for water proof or weather resistant signage, car decals, stickers, wallpapers, window decals, but is also used for t-shirt transfers.
Pros: highly durable and very rarely results in fading or cracking.
Silk Screen printing
The old school and proven stencil method that uses a mesh screen which is coated with a light sensitive solution and exposed to light with a stencil that results in open areas of the screen through which the ink is pressed onto the garment with a squeegee. Each color is run through its own screen which can be a lengthier process.
Pros: no limitation on fabric. This works great on any color or material shirt since the ink is opaque and sits on top of the fabric.
Cons: limitation on design. Since multiple screens must be set up for each color, it’s not best for true photographic or full-color output, and smaller orders are nearly impossible to make profit on after set-up time is considered.
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