How to print T-Shirt designs

By in T-Shirt Design on December 2, 2014

Once you have finished designing a T-Shirt, now it is the time to print the design. Usually T-Shirt designer just send the design to the contract screen printing shop and just wait for the final result. Somehow if you know how to the design is printed on the T-Shirt, maybe you can try to start a home business or small business by offering T-Shirt design and also printing the design as well. Save you cost and means more profit to you. T-Shirt business only needs small start up cost, but high profit margin. So it is not possible to start a T-Shirt printing business if you know the required equipment and how to do it.

There are three methods that can be used to print a T-Shirt that are:

  • Screen printing (silk screening )
  • Heat transfers using heat press machine (heat printing)
  • DTG printer (direct-to-garment printer)

T-Shirt printing using screen printing method


Screen printing is the traditional method to apply a design to a shirt. This method needs many materials before you can start printing and the most complex out of the three methods. As the learning curve for screen printing is too complex, I am not going to explain about it in detail. However the small start up cost and the good quality result is the reason why screen printing become the choice for some printing shop.

Despite the pros, screen printing is not suitable to print complex design with tones and lot of colors. As screen printing use a screen to print a color on a shirt, more colors will need the usage of more screens. Thus it is impossible to use screen printing to print design with tones since tones consist of lot of colors with quite similar intensity.

T-Shirt printing using heat transfers method

Printing T-Shirt using heat transfers need the use of a machine called heat press. This is machine is not as expensive as DTG printer, and printing using heat transfer is not as complicated as screen printing. That’s why heat printing is suitable to hobby T-Shirt designer or for someone who just want to start a T-Shirt printing business with less capital.

So, how does this the printing using heat transfers work? Firstly you need to print the design using normal printer. Yes, just a normal printer that you can find from any computer shops However you still needs special inks called sublimation ink for the shirt printing purpose. To use the ink, sublimation paper should be used instead of the normal printing paper. Sublimation ink need to be used because once heat is applied to the printed design, the ink from the paper is transferred to the T-Shirt to produce permanent image. That’s why this method is called heat transfers. Actually the transfers can also be done using iron, but the end results will be no good. That’s why a heat press machine is needed to properly transfers the ink from the paper to the T-Shirt.

image heat press

Picture: Sublimation ink (Left) and heat press machine (Right)

The heat transfers can be found in various size. The small one is less expensive and can be used for hobby purpose. Although the price is cheap, do consider to buy heat transfer that has quite a big size so that it can be used to transfers big design too.

Another thing to note with heat press machine is that the machine needs different approach to print black color T-Shirt. Instead of sublimation paper, dark garment paper is used. This paper has white color thin film. After printing the design on the dark garment paper, the thin film is taken out and will be used with the heat press machine. However, if you ever think of consolidating your business, then you must first find out all the small business energy suppliers in your region to choose the best one. This is important because these machines use a lot of power.

The same process using heat transfers is also use in printing mug, cap, plate, or even flask. The only different is that each material  needs different type of heat press. If you’re living in Malaysia, you can get a 6-in-1 Heat Press for a really cheap deal at MesinCetak Dot My. The 6-in-1 heat press comes with heat press for T-Shirt, heat press for cap, heat press for mug, and heat press for plate just for RM3000 while there is still promotion (actual price including bonus is RM4000). The 6-in-1 Heat Press also come with 1 year warranty. So you do not have to worry about warranty issue during the period. After one year, I bet you do not have to worry about warranty issue anymore since you will have sufficient profit to pay for replacement parts or even to buy a new set.


RM3000 to start a T-Shirt printing business is damn cheap if you ask me. If you buy shirts in a bulk, you can easily get RM6 for a shirt. If sublimation ink and paper needed for a design costs around RM3, you can easily gain 100 percent profit margin if the printed T-Shirt is sold for RM18. Remember, a T-Shirt with price above RM20 is still considered good bargain in Malaysia. In two months time, you should be able to get back the start up cost if you can managed to print five T-Shirt daily. If you have lots of friend that is working at government or school teacher, you can easily get around 300 orders every month. Since the 6-in-1 heat transfer not only give you the ability to print T-Shirt but also mug, cap, flask and plate; you can expand your business territory easily. If you are a housewife, you can really take this opportunity to start a small scale printing business at home. Who knows if you can beat your husband salary once your business is running.


T-Shirt printing using DTG printer

imagePrinting shirts using DTG (design-to-garment) printer is the easiest once you’ve learn the learning curve to handle the printer. Using DTG printer, you do not need to separate the task of printing the design and then transferring it to the a T-Shirt. Using DTG printer, everything is all in one. You only need to know how to setup the printer and adjust necessary settings so that you will have the best printing outcome at your T-Shirt.

The price for a DTG printer is more expensive than the equipment needed for heat transfer but DTG printer should able to handle large order of T-Shirt printing in a quicker time compared to heat transfers method.

Heat transfers vs DTG printing

DTG printing should only be used if for those with big capital since the price for a DTG printer can goes from RM20,000 up to RM80,000. The benefit of DTG printing is that the time needed to print T-Shirt is less than heat transfers. This is due several steps involve in using heat transfers. If you think you really need a DTG printing, you can try asking the supplier to opt for monthly payment. Once your business is running, you can round your profit to pay for the DTG printer.

Both heat printing and DTG printing are able to print T-Shirt with lot of colors without any increasing in cost but the end results should slightly different as DTG printing is all in one printer while heat transfers combine different products to do the printing job. Logically, printing results using heat transfer cannot beat what DTG offers. This is because you need to transfer the print from the sublimation paper, not from the printer. There might be slightly reduced in printing quality because of the transfer. However the reduction is still acceptable and not noticeable enough.

Heat transfers vs Screen printing

Printing T-Shirt using heat transfers can the same outcome as using screen printing if the equipment that you use for the heat transfers is good and work well with each other. Do not forget that heat transfers need:

  • A printer to print design
  • Sublimation ink (as printer ink)
  • Sublimation paper (to be used for design printing)
  • Dark garment paper (to print on black color T-Shirt)
  • Heat press (a machine to transfer ink on sublimation paper to the T-Shirt)

To be honest, it is hard those products in one brand. That means you need to combine a few brands as preparation for heat transfers. When different brands are used, sometimes they don’t work to well with each other. For example the HP inkjet printer that you has might not go well with the sublimation ink of another brand. After heat pressed is done, the result might not be as you hope. Although heat transfers method is less complex compared to screen printing, you still need to try and error of choosing correct products in order to get the best of printing result from heat transfers method.

If you are really interested in starting a T-Shirt printing business using heat transfers, I suggest to order the 6-in-1 heat press machine. Aside the heat press machine, they give provide you with Epson printer, sublimation paper, dark paper, and sublimation ink. Instead of trying and error to find the products that should work for heat transfers, it is good decision to just order it from someone who already figure it out.


Besides that, heat transfers method is suitable for someone that wish to supply printing on demand service. Unlike screen printing, heat transfers method does not use any block or screen for printing purpose. Thus print on demand is one thing you can offer to customers to beat the rest of the competitors in your area that still depends screen printing. Somehow the costs needed for screen printing greatly reduce for bulk printing since the same screens or blocks can be reused again and again. This is different for heat transfers method since new sublimation paper need to be used for each T-Shirt.

Screen printing vs DTG printing

If done correctly, the end results of the T-Shirt printed using DTG printer should not be noticeable compared to screen printing. Although screen printing bring the best results in term of quality, the end results could get worse if the steps is not done correctly.

Although the printing quality for both methods are not noticeable, screen printing cannot beat DTG printing in giving good price for design with complexity and lot of colors. Besides that DGT can print numbers of T-Shirt in less time than screen printing. If you have lot of returning customer, having DTG might be a good choice since you can rest assure to fulfill the orders in the promised time.

Heat transfers vs Screen printing vs DTG printing

Heat transfers Screen Printing DTG Printing
Print on demand Yes No Yes
Time needed Average Slow Fast
Durability Good Good Good
Print quality Good Good Good
Cost Average Save for bulk printing of T-Shirt with same design Cost effective to print different design of T-Shirt


Every printing methods have their pros and cons. Whether which type of printing suitable for your business is up to what you have and what you need. If you have less capital and just want to start printing business, either screen printing or heat transfers will do the job. Since both methods is not too expensive, you may find that using both methods will not do any harm.

Once your T-Shirt printing business already shown positive feedback and you already got good number of customer base, then there is the time to get a DTG printer. Although DTG uses digital printing, the durability of the printed color is almost the same with screen printing. T-Shirt printed using DTG printer is not going to fade away easily. Thus durability issue is not something for you to worry about.

Learn about other kinds of printing at

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