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I'm deciding which method I should invest into buying equipment in, for my custom order, short run shirt business I'll be opening.

My understanding is that each method has its pros and cons. I've complied a list based on my research and understanding. Please let me know if I'm correct, and if there are important details that should be included.

Screening Printing
- Creating screens pressed up against cloth to place paint onto shirts one color per screen. Pros: cost effective, high quality, professional, durability. Cons: each color requires a separate screen, messy, need to print many shirts at once with the same design to be feasible.

Heat Press/INKJET/LASER Transfers - Print transparent inks using a computer onto a special piece of paper. Use heat to adhere the ink and paper onto the cloth. Pros: easy to print multi colors and complex designs, does not require different colors to be applied separately, great for small orders, easily customize different shirts. Cons: heavy feel of transfer, the cloth is the brightest part of the design: works well on white shirts, but doesn't work on dark shirts, cracks, fades away easily.

Heat Press/Plastisol Transfers
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Vinyl Cutters
- Use a machine to cut out designs on special solid color sheets of vinyl. Use heat to adhere cut vinyl to adhere vinyl to paper. Pros: high quality, durability, easily customize different shirts, great for small orders. Cons: have to separate and cut out each color independently, doesn't work well for designs with complex patterns or designs that show a lot of background of the shirt inside the design.

Direct to Garment
- Print inks directly onto cloth. Pros: reduces steps, patterns doesn't have heavy feel like screen printing, great for small orders, easily customize different shirts. Cons: the cloth is the brightest part of the design: works well on white shirts. There is more of a challenge to the DTG operator to get dark prints to come out correctly, but it can be done.

Dye Sublimation - Dye sub is great for full color designs on white or light colored garments. It has no feel to the design but is a little trickier to master than inkjet heat transfers. Also, it tends to be a bit more expensive. You can also use this process on non textile products such as mugs, mousepads, tile, puzzles, coasters, key chains, etc. Dye sub is used only on man made fabrics like polyester (with various results on blends and pre-treated fabrics). You cannot print on 100% cotton t-shirts with dye sub.
 

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Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

I didnt know DTG doesnt work well on Dark t-shirts. That sucks
I'm sure we'll have some dtg'ers on here that will chime in shortly.
 

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Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

i screen and have dtg, honestly transfers seem to be the cheapest way to go!
DTG is great but screening still gives you the best coverage and look. Some of my customers don't like the dot patterns in the ink on DTG printing.
 

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Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

I do DTG on lights and darks and get great coverage, with bright prints. My garments wash really well and with the new inks and pretreatments fading is alot less.

Lisa I have heard that the detail is not as great with the print heads on the brother as we get with the epson printheads, maybe that is the dot patterns you are talking about, I dont see any dots at all with my printer.
 

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Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

No dots here either, and yes, I believe it does have something to do with Brother's printheads.

To add to the list dye sub con: only prints on polyester. That could be a pro as well, if your into that poly stuff.
 

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Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

Screening Printing - ........ need to print many shirts at once with the same design to be feasible.
This depends alot on the number of colors in the design. A simple 1 or 2 color design may not require a high volume of shirts to make it worth while.

Heat Press/Heat Transfers - ........Cons: heavy feel of transfer, the cloth is the brightest part of the design: works well on white shirts, but doesn't work on dark shirts, cracks, fades away easily.
There are new papers out now (IronAll & SoftStretch) that do not have a heavy feel and stretches thus avoiding the cracking problem. The Softstretch appears to be much better when it comes to fading.

Also classified in this catagory are plastisol transfers (indirect screenprinting) which can have a very soft feel to them and are just as durable as direct screenprinted designs.

Vinyl Cutters - ........Cons: have to separate and cut out each color independently, doesn't work well for designs with complex patterns or designs that show a lot of background of the shirt inside the design.
I don't know if this is a typo but the vinyl actually works better when you utilize the shirt color as one of the design colors. The more "open" the design (i.e shirt colors showing through) the better vinyl works since it won't feel as heavy and stiff.

Direct to Garment - .........Cons: the cloth is the brightest part of the design: works well on white shirts, but doesn't work on dark shirts, fades away easily.
Although, printing on dark shirts is more difficult to master and more expensive, it works very well when it is done correctly. Many folks have had issues in getting this right (including myself) but it is probably the best way (along with screenprinting) to print a design on dark shirts (IMHO) and certainly the best way to print a full color design on a dark shirt (again...IMHO).

Dye Sublimation - ???
Dye sub is great for full color designs on white or light colored garments. It has no feel to the design but is a little trickier to master than inkjet heat transfers. Also, it tends to be a bit more expensive. You can also use this process on non textile products such as mugs, mousepads, tile, puzzles, coasters, key chains, etc.
 

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Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

This depends alot on the number of colors in the design. A simple 1 or 2 color design may not require a high volume of shirts to make it worth while.
Your right, screen printing dosn't necessarily require a high volume. What I meant was screen printing isn't necessarily practical for printing a single unique design. You'll want to create multiple shirts (more than one) with the same design to be worth the engergy, time and supplies.

I don't know if this is a typo but the vinyl actually works better when you utilize the shirt color as one of the design colors. The more "open" the design (i.e shirt colors showing through) the better vinyl works since it won't feel as heavy and stiff.

Yes, cons might not be bad depending on the designs, and how you utilize them. However, lets say you have simple text message printed on the shirt. You wouldn't want to choose a font face that's particullarly messy, with a bunch of stray marks and a bunch of splotches of background shirt color coming through. It can be done, but from my understanding, it would be a pain to weed the design for each shirt.

Although, printing on dark shirts is more difficult to master and more expensive, it works very well when it is done correctly. Many folks have had issues in getting this right (including myself) but it is probably the best way (along with screenprinting) to print a design on dark shirts (IMHO) and certainly the best way to print a full color design on a dark shirt (again...IMHO).
I could be wrong, but I thought that DTG uses transparent inks, not opaque inks? A yellow circle would show yellow on a white shirt. Would it still be yellow on a green shirt? Would it even show on a black shirt?

By no means am I an expert on any of these printing methods. I'm just trying to get a working knowledge of the different methods, along with their pros and cons so I know what will work best for me.

I imagine there isn't the one best method, and that having skill and equipment for atleast two methods would give you greater flexibility and range.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

So dye sub is used only on man made fabrics like polyester (with various results on blends and pre-treated fabrics)?

Is it an actual ink, or does it change the property of the fabric (like how thermal paper in fax machines work)?
 

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Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

Dtg' white ink is opaque so if you were to print on a dark color shirt you would use a dtg machine that has white ink.
 
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Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

So dye sub is used only on man made fabrics like polyester (with various results on blends and pre-treated fabrics)?

Is it an actual ink, or does it change the property of the fabric (like how thermal paper in fax machines work)?
Yes, its my understanding that dye sub is only for polyester and things like coffee mugs.

Dye sub starts as an ink and a transfer. But when you press the transfer the ink turns into a gas.

How does thermal paper in fax machines work?
 

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Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

Add to the list, Dye Sub using inks that print on 100% cotton. The paper is more expensive, but overall the look is better. Not to mention customers seem to prefer cotton. The con of using only light colors still apply to this method. However you can also use this con as an advantage. For example, I have a design in which the main lettering is basically white in the design. Each of the colored shirts I print changes the hue of the lettering to its own. Making it appear that the design was custom made for that color shirt.
 

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Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

The difference in cost between dye sub and what I guess would be called dye sub on cotton is in the paper. Typical sublimation paper cost about 17 cents per sheet for 8 X 10 paper. The other cost around 75 cents per sheet. There is a hybrid system that will allow you to lood one of the printers bay of ink wells with the ink to do dye sub and the other bay of ink wells to do sublimation on cotton. Giving you the ability to do both cotton and polyester shirts as well as other supplimation products. There are various companies that have startup kits. The equipment and materials are basically the same, so it is a matter of finding the company you are most comfortable with and trust. Both systems can produce an image on 50/50 blends, however you do lose quality.
 

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Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

You have forgotten the vinyl print / cut systems like the Versacamm. It can be used for both dark and light garments along with short and long runs. The greatest part of the versacamm is that you can use iot for other money making purposes when it is not running shirts like stickers, signs, banners etc! If you are looking for DTG and are worried about volume to justify cost of the machine, I would definatly look at the versacamm.
 

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Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

So for the dye sub on cotton, who produces these systems/inks?
The inks are produced by Sawgrass, the same company that produces sublimation inks. The inks for cotton go under the name of Chromablast. You can google either and get more information on systems, cost and other information. Sawgrass doesn't sell direct to the public, but they do list their distributers.

As with the sublimation inks, the ideal printers are Epson. They now have a complete line of printers to handle just about any need on the market.
 

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Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

Dye sub isn't a one stop shop either. There's a learning curve with that as well and if you don't get it right, you'll spend a lot of money on blanks and ink before you know it.
 

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Re: Pros and Cons of Each Shirt Imaging Method

Dye sub isn't a one stop shop either. There's a learning curve with that as well and if you don't get it right, you'll spend a lot of money on blanks and ink before you know it.
Very true.

Things to learn:

1. Color profiles.
2. Printer maintenence. With dye sub, you need to do nozzle checks more often.
3. Know your inks. You would think each ink is the same, however there can be variants within the colors of the same brand of ink. For example, in sublijet IQ, the black ink is more oily than the others. So if you have a design heavy in black, you will need to use more buffer paper than normal.

AJ...
 
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