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We all wear T-shirts at some time, sometimes when dressing casually and on other occasions when presenting a more formal appearance. We dress in T-shirts which are either aimed at expressing our individuality and unique approach to life in general, or which unite a group of people in a common cause, wordlessly telling onlookers that each member of the group is part of a single team. T-Shirts are used as a form of passive yet forceful advertising, proudly bearing a company’s logo as part of ongoing visual marketing. Whilst this kind of advertising is relatively low-key, it is definitely noticed, whether the observer is aware of it or not. T-shirts are mostly easy-going clothing - easy to wear, easy to see and read, easy to care for and great for packing into hold-alls when travelling. Want to say something? Want to get your message across without actually speaking a word? Use a well-designed and eye-catching slogan on a T-shirt. Want to make people laugh, encourage them to think, transmit a message, remind them of your name? Print your message on a T-shirt and then get out there and wear it!
I remember seeing a young boy a long time ago who looked to me like a typical “Dennis-the-Menace”, full of mischief and liable to get himself into all kinds of scrapes. When he turned to walk away from me, his T-shirt said it all - printed in large letters on the back were the words, “It Wasn’t Me ...”. That message stuck in my head for so many reasons, yet the wearer had not said a single word. The bridegroom at a relaxed wedding wore a white T-shirt with a black tie printed on it under his casual jacket, which summed up the atmosphere of the occasion perfectly. A bright red-T-shirt worn by a particularly attractive young woman had the words, “I do it in ...” on the front and a large single word “Style” on the back, with the telephone number of the hair salon of the same name. Eye-catching, and very effective marketing! Sporting clubs often have their own printed T-shirts, as do companies, especially at team-building events, which serve the further purpose of uniting individual members into a cohesive team. Whether wearing a T-shirt which identifies you as an individual who has something to say, or unites you with others in a common cause, the possibilities are almost endless.
Screen Printing. This is the most common and cost effective of method of T-shirt printing for larger quantities, used by both professionals and home hobbyists, and uses two basic types of ink. Screen printing is a specific printing process in which a mesh is used to transfer ink onto a specific surface. Areas which are not to be printed may be protected from ink saturation through the use of a blocking stencil. Screen printing is generally used for basic letter printing or single colour images. Originally an ink compound called Plastisol was widely used as it was extensively absorbed by fabric, allowing for fairly lengthy durability as it was not easily washed out - or peeled off - by repeated washing. The second type of ink is water-based, which is becoming the more popular choice, mainly due to its eco-friendly properties and ease of clean up using only water. Plastisol inks can only be cleaned up through the use of hard solvents which are non-biodegradable. Plastisol inks themselves contain harmful substances such as PVC, phthalates, CFC, HCFC, lead or other heavy metals, which are obviously not a welcome addition to any wardrobe. It is recommended that screen printing be done on cotton or cotton blend fabrics, i.e. natural fabrics as opposed to man-made materials, as these absorb the ink better. However, screen printing may be carried out on 100% polyester using special inks with additives.
Once an item has been ironed or heat has been applied to the material, the screen print becomes permanent, although it can be removed with acetone.
Direct to Garment (DTG), also called digital garment printing and inkjet to garment printing. In this method of printing, a specialised printer is used to apply general CMYK water-based inks direct to the fabric using inkjet technology. The most common use is in the application of graphics to a garment, especially T-shirts. Shirts printed in this manner need to undergo a curing period, as with screen printing, in order to withstand washing processes. They may also be overprinted with a hot stamping foil which can be exceptionally eye-catching, as well as presenting an overall impression of luxury. However, over time and exposure to harsh sun and detergents, digital printing images will eventually fade.
Dye Sublimation. In this type of printing, heat is used to transfer dyes onto light-textured man-made materials such as nylon, certain plastics, and polyester fabrics, as these contain polymers which, when heated, enable the bonding of ink to the fabric. This type of printing is a good option for large or complex designs. It is not suited to natural fabrics such as cotton due to the lack of polymers in the material, and the results will therefore be poor on these fabrics. This type of T-shirt printing is not economical for small quantities.
Heat Press Machine Printing. This type of printing is a good option for many different types of fabrics where the image is transferred by heat onto the receiving material, and is particularly good for printing onto T-shirts. Heat presses are more economical on shorter runs.
Vinyl Cutting. This is a heat transfer process using pre-cut vinyl stencils in the colours of your design. The vinyl itself is cut per individual design, and then applied to the T-shirt through a combined process of heat and pressure. This process uses individual colours separately, and does not offer full-colour images as such. It must be noted that normal adhesive vinyl cannot be used in this process, as it will not last since it is similar to sticking a label onto a piece of material and expecting it to remain there permanently.
Since businesses are catching on to the marketing potential of printed T-shirts, and many clothing stores are now offering T-shirts with a wide range of designs, it is clear that printed T-shirts are constantly growing in popularity and demand. T-shirt printing specialists can easily be found through advertisements in magazines, clothing catalogues, newspapers, flyers and the Yellow Pages. They are most easily located through searching the internet, as many of them now have their own websites. Uptasker is a highly useful resource when looking online for T-shirt printers in your local area, as it lists specialists in specific geographical areas, providing the names, contact details, links to websites (if available), online rating and customer reviews. Through this site, you will be able to request quotes from different contractors for easy and quick comparison, and will be able to see exactly the sort of printing each company offers, to see which best suits your needs. Many of these T-shirt printing specialists have their own online catalogues, in which they showcase previous commissions. Any T-shirt printing specialist should be able to offer a design service and to produce artwork as required. It is probably personal choice whether you want them to provide the T-shirts to be overprinted, or prefer to supply these yourself. If you are planning a long run (large quantity) of T-shirts for any specific event or club, and want to assure yourself of the quality of the final printed product, ask to see previous samples at the printer’s premises, or check around for personal referrals to obtain the best recommendation.
T-shirts are more than items of clothing. Carefully designed T-shirts are a silent but powerful marketing tool which gets your brand or company name out into the general public in a non-forceful manner. Quirky advertising gimmicks often include slogans printed on T-shirts, which either amuse or catch the eye of potential customers and make your identity stand out from others. On the other hand, if you simply want to highlight your individual views or opinions, make people laugh or draw attention to a cause close to your heart, wearing a T-shirt with your own message will do much of the work for you. Never under-estimate the power of this simple garment. For more tips, see our T-shirt printing specialist articles.