Alternatives to Heat Transfers for Custom T-Shirts

When creating a custom t-shirt for yourself or your group–be it a youth group, volleyball team, school club, corporate event or family reunion–there are many options to mull over. There are four obvious choices–embroidery, silk screening, heat transfers and Direct-to-Garment (DTG)–each come with their own rules and regulations but in the end we believe Direct to Garment is the way to go and is how we do the majority of our printing.

Embroidery is a classic option that uses minimalist principals to create a clean end product but you can’t just get one single t-shirt unless you pay a premium. Silk screening has the same issue but is an increasingly versatile method that employs fabric stencils and special ink and different screens can be used to create a layered, multi-colored image. Then there is heat transferring, which moves the image from the paper to the cloth using special transfer paper and an iron or heated transferring machine.

Heat transfers allow a direct reassignment of an image from the page to the fabric and unlike embroidery and silk-screening where the image must be examined and often altered by the t-shirt artist in order to match the abilities of the equipment at hand, heat transfers offer a direct design approach for the customer. In general there are two types of heat transfers: professional and at-home. Whether you choose to complete your shirts yourself or to have them professionally done, the process is very much the same. First, an image must be created. This is most often done on a computer. Programs such as Printshop or Photoshop can make creating an at-home transfer design easy. These programs allow the customer to combine text and images — including photos–in their design. If you choose to have transfers done professionally, the t-shirt artist will use comparable programs to help you create a unique design. Once the design is created, the design must be printed it on special t-shirt transfer paper and ironed onto the shirt.

The problems with heat transfer are that it’s not a very good print compared to other options. Many times you can see a film on the shirt around the graphic. Heat transfers can look cheap and homemade.

The last alternative is (and best choice) is Direct to Garment (DTG) printing instead of the heat press, embroidery or screen printing. Direct to Garment technology has really improved making it possible to just print one t-shirt and get a high quality and professional look. Silk screening is a great option if you need to print hundreds of shirts but if you want to create a custom t-shirt for a reasonable cost, little waiting time, and a professional appearance we strongly recommend that you choose a service with Direct to Garment printing.

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