Tag Archives: how it’s done

How It’s Done: Screen Printing T-Shirts

Silk screen printing is one of the most used and the oldest form of making t-shirts. There are stories and pictures dating back to the 900s about how its origins. It’s considered an art form in Asia and has evolved into America’s classic way to make t-shirts. The basic process of silk screening involves paint or ink being forced through a mesh screen with a stencil with a tool called a squeegee. Silk screening traditionally used screens made of woven silk stretched over a wooden frame. Now, the mesh screens are typically made of polyester. Because polyester fibers are so smooth, they have to be roughed up so the paint and ink will stick. Then, it’s stretched over a steel aluminum frame to prevent rusting. There are some artists that prefer using natural fibers for silk screening. The expense of silk makes it impractical for most. So, some use cotton to make the mesh screens.

Silk screening used to mean hand cutting a stencil and gluing it to a screen. This had to be repeated for every color involved in a design and for every change needed like a different name on different shirts. It was a time consuming process. Now, designs can be printed from a computer. A thermofax stencil is the popular choice for printers. The image is fed through a machine that burns away the image areas for the stencil. Then, it’s ready for ink and paint to pass through.

Inks and paints key to making your t-shirts look their best. It’s a real chemistry experiment for t-shirt makers to coordinate the right ink thickness and the right screen size. It all depends on the level of detail each design requires. If the ink is too thin, it will run and your image will not be clear and defined. If the ink is too thick, it will not easily press through the screen.

Squeegees are very important to the silk screening process. They are similar to the tool you use to clean your windshield at the gas station. Squeegees force the ink and paint through the stencils. Typically, they are made of rubber, plastic or polyurethane depending on what type of ink is used.

The advantage of using silk screening is you can do it on any color t-shirt and any fabric blend. You’ll want to wash your shirts gently for the design to last longer. It’s traditionally an easy and relatively inexpensive way to make large batches of professional looking matching t-shirts. That’s if you have the pros do it for you. There are silk screening kits made just for consumers to give it a try at home. You can find them at craft stores and online. Keep in mind that it’s time consuming to make the stencils and screens for every color you want to use. And, all the ink makes it a messy process. But, trying it on your own might be just the kind of project you and your family have in mind for a creative day.

If you are looking for an easier way to create a t-shirt you may want to consider designing a t-shirt using our tools and we can print it using our advanced direct-to-garment printing method.

Heat Press

How It’s Done: Heat Press T-Shirt Printing

Heat PressYou remember iron-on patches. That same low-tech method our mothers and grandmothers used to do a quick repair on our jeans is still one of the most popular ways to put images on t-shirts, but new technology is making it easier to make your own designs. Instead of making your first stop the fabric or craft store, head to the computer or office supply store. There you’ll find that t-shirt making is going high tech. New printers, transfer paper, inks, and computer programs are making designing and printing your own t-shirts at home easier than ever. Start with the right transfer paper for your printer. Check the package and be sure it’s compatible. The pros say it’s easier to transfer images to light colored shirts. If you are planning on using a dark t-shirt, there is paper specifically designed for those colors.

While you’re at the computer store, check out programs that design shirts for you! They come with images, graphics, fonts, frames and more. The programs help you pick the right image size for where you want the design to go on your shirt. You might want a larger image if it’s on the back than on the front. Or, something small if it’s a simple name or logo over the left front pocket. T-shirt design programs also have photo-editing programs if you want to put a picture on your shirt.

You can also create images on your own or use logos and print them right onto the transfer paper. Just follow the directions that come with the paper. You’ll want to check those directions for heat temperature, too. It’s important that your iron is just right to prevent cracking and to be sure the image adheres to the shirt fabric. New developments in how transfer paper is made and how it works with your printer are solving the cracking problem. But, you want your design to stick for more than one trip through the washing machine. When you wash the fabric, it’s best if you do it by hand or wash it in the gentle cycle so the image does not crack or fade.

The quality of t-shirt is important, too. It used to be that you could only use heat transfer on cotton or cotton blends. Now, new transfer papers allow you to apply heat transfer images to 100% synthetic materials. Again, be sure to check the transfer paper package to be sure which fabrics produce the best results. Heat transfer is an ideal way to make one t-shirt or a small batch of t-shirts at home. You just create the design on your computer, print onto the transfer paper and then iron. It’s easy to make small adjustments like adding a different name for each shirt, making small design changes, or moving where you want the design to be on a shirt. Just make the changes on your computer and reprint onto new transfer paper.

If it sounds like too much work you might want to consider designing your own t-shirt and having us print it using our advanced Direct-to-Garment printing.

How It’s Done: Embroidered T-Shirts

Choosing the right design for a custom t-shirt can be tricky, especially in the office. It may seem impossible to choose a design that both the CEO and your co-workers will approve of but the answer is simple: embroidery.

Embroidery takes the idea of a custom t-shirt to the next level. One step beyond the age-old tradition of silk-screening, embroidery still allows the customer to choose his or her own design but the result is a much cleaner and up-scale product.

The embroidery process may seem simple to the average customer, but if you choose to design your own shirt, you will soon realize that this procedure is a bit more complicated. Embroidery is commonly seen as a three step process: artwork, conversion and production.

The artwork stage is where the image for the t-shirt is created. The customer presents his or her desired image to the artist creating the shirts and he or she works with the client to create a final design for the shirts. Some original designs may need to be slightly altered in size or style to fulfill the needs of both the client and the t-shirt artist.

Once the design has been finalized, the conversion stage of the embroidery process begins. Conversion is a complicated process that requires the two-dimensional image to be converted into a three-dimensional, thread-based design. Nowadays, most custom t-shirt companies go about this digitally, using specific computer programs to convert the paper image into a digital file that programs the sewing machine directly. The stitch type, size, and color are all recorded digitally. Once the new, three-dimensional design is programmed into the machine, the final stage of the process can begin: production.

Production may seem like the easiest stage of the process but, in truth, it can be extremely complicated for the machine operator. While the image was digitized during the “conversion” step, the operator still needs to program the machine with the correct sewing speed and sequence of stitches. The operator then loads the appropriate colors and amount of thread needed for the design. Finally, each t-shirt is individually loaded onto the machine, embroidered, and removed.

Although the production phase of the embroidery process is commonly seen as the last step, it is always necessary to examine each garment for quality and consistency. Loose threads and excess backing material must be trimmed and the inspector looks for uniformity in each design. Once the t-shirts have passed this quality inspection, they are ready to be packaged for delivery or pick-up by the client.

The entire embroidery process can seem a bit daunting at first but a polished, professional product is well-worth the effort. An expert, classic embroidered t-shirt is the perfect solution for corporate garments, professional uniforms or any other situation that requires a more refined appearance.

How It’s Done: Dye Sublimation for Custom T-Shirts

How dye sublimation printing works is different than more traditional t-shirt printing like silk screening and heat transfer. In dye-sublimation printing, colors are not laid down as individual dots, like inkjet printers. Instead, there is a cellophane ribbon of color. Sublimation is what happens with dry ice when H2O goes right from a solid to a gas, skipping the liquid phase. That’s what happens with the ink. Heat causes the dyes to vaporize and stick in the fabric or on glossy surfaces and then they dry. So, the dye is actually in the fabric instead of sitting on top of it like the other printing types. This means there is no cracking or peeling over time. If you wash your t-shirt gently, the colors should have staying power without fading, too.

Because of the color spectrum used in dye sublimation, the end result is colors that look more like they do in nature. Instead of just the primary colors and their combinations to choose from, you get hues and shades giving your pictures a real life look and definition right on your t-shirts.

It’s important that you choose the right t-shirt. Light colored shirts produce the best result. Here’s why. With dye sublimation, the colors are embedded right into the fabric. The makers of dye sublimation printers explain it this way: if you add a dark red or green to black, you still have black.

The flip side of using a light colored shirt is that its colors will mesh with the colors of the image you print on it. For example, if you use a yellow shirt, the colors in the photo or logo will have some yellow, too.

There are some special transfer papers you can get to use dye sublimation with darker t-shirts. The quality of the t-shirt is important, too. It needs to be at least 50% polyester. The more polyester, the better quality and more vivid your image will print.

When using this printing method, you can simply scan a photo into a computer. Then add text or names and make adjustments. Then, you print. There are printers that you actually put the t-shirt through and print directly on the shirt. The other option is that you print on dye sublimation transfer paper and then heat press or iron the image into your shirt.

Because most of the work is done on the computer, it’s easy to make changes when using dye sublimation. This means if you are ordering shirts from a professional printer there are no screen set up charges and usually no minimum orders required. The cost of dye sublimation printers is dropping. If you’re doing it at home, just be sure to get the appropriate transfer paper, a polyester t-shirt and follow the instructions to get the right temperature for your iron. You’ll be putting clear photo-quality images on your t-shirts in a snap.

How T-shirts are Made

You wear them almost everyday. Whether you put one first thing in the morning, wear on to work-out in or to sleep in; the T-shirt is part of nearly everyone’s daily life. It is definitely present in some form in every wardrobe in every household in America. We pull them on, tug them off, and throw them in the laundry, but have you ever stopped to wonder how they’re actually made? Like almost all products, they are largely made by machines in large factories. But there’s definitely more to it than that.

While making t-shirts is pretty simple and straight-forward, there are still a lot of steps that bolt of cotton, polyester or cotton-poly blend goes through before it becomes a t-shirt for you to wear. Special machines have been designed to integrate cutting, assembling, and stitching. There are different seams that can be used to put the shirt together. One type is the superimposed seams, which use an over edge stitch and results in a flexible finished seam. A second type of seam that can be used is the bound seam, and may be stitched together using the chain stitch, lock stitch, or the over edge stitch. This type of seam is typically found at the neckline of your tee.

Of course, the style of the t-shirt is important. Once the design has been decided on, the dimensions are transferred to patterns, with adjustments made for different sizes.

The different sections of the t-shirt consist of a tube body or separate front and back sections (depends on design, here), sleeves, and optional pockets and trim.

If a tubed body is not being used, the front and back sections are joined first, by stitching them up at the sides. An over edge stitch is most commonly used in this step.

With sleeves, there are a few more steps involved. First of all, the hems must be finished before they are sewn to the body of the tee; it’s much easier to hem the fabric when it’s flat. The seam, however (found on the underside of you arm) is not stitched yet. That comes later, when the sleeve and side seams are done at once. If the sleeve is being attached to a tubular body, the sleeve is completely sewn together (hem and seam) and fit into the body.

Next, the t-shirt body is hemmed. Again, the most commonly used stitch here is the over edge stitch, which helps the tee remain flexible and allow stretching. Sometimes, a combo of edge finishing stitches is used.

After the sleeves have been hemmed and attached (and seamed if going onto a tubular body), and the body of the tee hemmed, the pockets can be added. High quality tees will come with an inner-lining in the pocket; this helps the pocket hold its shape throughout all washing and wearing of the t-shirt. Pockets are simply laid in place, and the machine stitches it.

Shoulder seams are next. They typically require a simple superimposed seam, and may be reinforced with tape or a strip of elastic.

Attaching the neckband varies depending on the style of the shirt. With crew necks, the edge closest to the neck should be a bit shorter in circumference than the edge where it is attached to the garment. Tubular neckbands must be applied by hand; it’s important to prevent bulging, and a machine cannot be relied upon to be that precise. V-necks require an extra step; the point of the V must be overlapped or mitered. Another way of attaching the V-neck is to sew the neck band to the shirt, and then sew a tuck in to form the V.

Labels are inserted next. They are usually found at the back of the neckline, on the inside. More and more, labels are printed directly on the shirt, as opposed to on a tag. Comfort is the main reason that manufactures are moving to this type of labeling.

Now that the shirt is assembled, decorations may be added. Screen prints, air brushed designs, or trim are added last. Snaps or buttons are added to t-shirts made for infants, as these shirts have larger opening at the neck to accommodate baby’s head.

Finally, the shirts must be inspected for flaws and then packaged and distributed to the merchants who will be selling the tees. In the end, you go out and buy yourself a new t-shirt and perhaps wonder just exactly how that shirt was made. Now you know!