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T-Shirt Printing Techniques for Various Fabric Types

T-Shirt Printing Techniques for Various Fabric Types


Mastering T-Shirt Printing: Techniques for Various Fabric Types

T-shirt printing has risen in popularity over the years, and when it comes to t-shirts, it’s almost impossible to miss someone not wearing one. It’s mainly due to a couple of factors, one of which is creativity. T-shirt printing brings out the creativity in people and brands, allowing them to create something that differentiates them from the rest of their competitors.

Another factor is that custom t-shirts are a worthwhile investment for any business. Suppose you already have your design and your business set up. In that case, it can give your business more eyes at a lower cost than having to spend on online marketing or any ads. Now, to be able to utilize t-shirt printing to its full potential, you may need to understand the different nuances of the different fabrics that are present. If you understand fabrics and you couple them with the proper printing technique, this will help you achieve the best personalized t-shirts that money can buy.

That said, this blog will extend your knowledge of the different fabrics involved in different methods of printing custom t-shirts. After you’re done reading this, you will be equipped to get the most optimal result for any custom apparel you want for yourself or your brand.

Printing on Dark vs. Light Colored T-shirts

First, printing on dark-colored t-shirts is different compared to white-colored ones. Light-colored shirts generally allow for more vibrant and true-to-color prints, as the ink colors stand out vividly against the light background. On the other hand, printing on dark shirts requires special considerations to achieve similar vibrancy and clarity. Looking at the shirts above, you can’t see light-colored designs on white shirts since they lack contrast and simply wouldn’t stand out that much. It is better to have them on darker-colored t-shirts.

Dark Color T Shirt PrintingLight Color T Shirt Printing

Additionally, to achieve vibrant colors on dark shirts, it's crucial to use an under base, a layer of white ink before the colored inks. The underbase acts as a foundation, preventing the dark fabric color from affecting the ink colors on top. This will ensure that the colors pop and appear vivid.

When you want to have better prints on dark shirts, a process called flash curing is done. It involves briefly drying the under-base layer with a heat source before applying subsequent layers of colored ink. This step helps to set the underbase and prevent it from mixing with the colored inks, resulting in cleaner and more defined prints. That said, it's essential to carefully manage the amount of white ink used to avoid bleeding or a chalky appearance on dark shirts. Using the right amount of white ink and ensuring proper curing between each layer can minimize ink bleeding and enhance the print quality of dark-colored garments.

Now, if you’re experiencing any white ink bleeding, there should have been a problem with the process. It mainly involves using a lower mesh count, thicker ink, or not having enough under base before printing the color layers. In other cases, the flash curing process may have been too fast, meaning the ink didn’t dry as intended. These problems will only arise if you’re the one DIY-ing your custom t-shirts; however, if you’re having a t-shirt printing company do it for you, you shouldn’t be having these issues.

Choosing the Right Ink for Different Fabrics

It can be tempting to skip this part since knowing the inks might not be your job; however, this information can help you prevent fading and cracks in your prints after it’s printed. It may also help you if you’re printing yourself. The most common inks used for various fabrics are water-based, plastisol, discharge, and specialty inks.

Inks for Different Fabrics

1) Water-based inks


  • Water-based inks are ideal for lighter fabrics such as cotton. They are eco-friendly and easily absorbed into the fabric, resulting in a softer feel and less noticeable print. 

  • It works best on 100% cotton fabrics compared to plastisol ink; however, it may need to be more vibrant. 

  • Requires a longer drying time or curing time since its base is made out of water

2) Plastisol ink

  • It’s the type of ink that is not air-dried; instead, it is cured with heat, resulting in a highly opaque, vibrant, and durable print on various fabrics.

  •  It can be used on cotton, polyesters, and blends. 

  • It offers a lot of versatility; however, it has a thicker feel compared to water-based inks. 

  • Despite being more vibrant than water-based inks, it can crack or peel over time, especially if the fabric is stretchy.

3) Discharge Inks


  • These inks are water-based and have a specific purpose: to remove the dye from dark-colored fabrics during the curing process. The result is custom-printed apparel with a soft, breathable print that blends into the fabric.

  • It’s mainly used to achieve vibrant prints on 100% cotton or polyester blends, specifically on dark-colored garments, without using a heavy layer of ink. 

  • The only caveat here is the technique usage. Printers should be careful when handling the ink and be able to cure it properly. If not, it's going to result in undesirable color shifts.

4) Specialty Ink


  • These inks have a unique formulation to create a specific effect or texture. Here are some examples of them: 

    • Foil inks – used to achieve a metallic or shiny effect in printed designs 

    • Puff inks – used to achieve a raised, textured effect on printed designs 

    • Glow-in-the-dark inks – create designs that emit light in low-light conditions. 

    • High-density inks create prints that have a tactile feel since they have a thick and raised texture.

  • These inks have a specific application technique and equipment to achieve the right look. The only thing that’s the same is the skill needed since you may need a printer who knows what they are doing to fully utilize these specialty inks.

In general, these inks have their own specific fabric where they are used, but for the most part, plastisol inks are the ones that are used most of the time. It’s also essential that if you’re custom printing by yourself, you test the ink on the fabric to see whether it will work. Ideally, it should work, but there are rare cases where the inks bleed or do not dry properly. Therefore, you should take that into account as well. To ensure that you won’t encounter any problems after you’re done printing or if you have received your garments, follow the guidelines for curing temperatures. Once cured, allow it to cool down before handling or washing. When you wash them, avoid using bleach or harsh chemicals since this could be why they fade faster.

Printing on Specialty Materials

It could be a challenge in instances where you’re not going to be using the usual 100% cotton and you opted for performance shirts or any shirt that has different materials (i.e., shirts with specialty materials). These fabrics are more difficult to print because of their synthetic composition and moisture-resistant coating. If you decide to print on them, you first treat them with a specialized coating or pretreatment ink. By improving the surface tension of the shirt, the coating or ink will help you with whatever ink you’re using, allowing it to bond correctly. 

Additionally, suppose you do decide to print on them. In that case, you must consider specialty inks since they are tailored for the specific material they have. These inks are unique since they may be flexible and stretched, allowing them to withstand the stretching of the garment and not crack or fade throughout time.

Printing on Speciality Material

Best Practices for Printing on Different Fabric Blends

Now, what if you’re printing on fabrics that have different blends? It’s the same; however, the main difference is how you will consider the absorbency and heat sensitivity of the fabric. You don’t want that once you start to layer your ink, it will not be absorbed by the fabric, or if you cure it, the ink won’t dry on time for the following processes. To prevent problems from occurring, it’s best to do an ink compatibility test to determine the best ink formulation for each blend. Make sure that you adjust it appropriately to achieve the ink that sticks and lasts over time. 

Preparing and Pretreating Fabrics for Optimum Print Quality

If you want to have the best quality printed shirts, it’s essential that you prepare and pretreat them. This will ensure that the fabrics are clean, free from contaminants, and ready to receive the ink for the best adhesion and vibrancy of colors. Pretreatment methods include the following processes: 


  1. Pre-washing the fabrics – this will remove the residues present, and pretreatment sprays will be used to enhance the ink receptivity, especially if you’re printing with performance apparel. 

  2. Heat pressesing the fabric – this process,, though not applicable most of the tim,e, will heluniformly applyion of pretreatment solutions across the fabric. This helps with consistent prints on fabrics that have received pretreated treatment.

  3. Follow manufacturer guidelines – sometimes a shirt or apparel has a guideline for printing on it. Try to follow it as much as possible, especially for pretreatment applications and optimizing for the best printing result.

Wrapping Up

Mastering t-shirt printing is a challenging, and it takes years to master. At first, you’ll experience a lot of trial and error, which may result in a misprint, a bleed, or an error overall that will leave you disheartened; however, note that this shouldn’t discourage you. It’s not that easy to do; however, it is possible to master it with repetition. Now, for you to be truly successful in this craft, you must understand the different fabric types, the inks, and the processes involved since, without knowing them, you might lead yourself to doing things that will lead to the problems we’ve mentioned. And we don’t want that. Experiment and have an open mind with the different techniques and inks and find out what works best for your specific needs.

Tee Vision Printing
920 E Hunting Park Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19124
(267) 538-5331

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