Hi everyone! I am starting a short blog series about my day job as a graphic designer at a garment print shop. I will go over a few of the process we use to print our t-shirts like DTG, Vinyl, and Ultra Print.
I'll be starting with DTG. DTG stands for Direct To Garment. It is pretty versatile and we can print near anything on a shirt from your photos, your kids drawing, vector art, and your company logos. It is my favorite way we print shirts and I have lost count of how many shirts I have that I made at work.
For me it starts with the art. Almost everything I do personally is vector art that I have made. Vector art is the easiest to print because it can be sized to what we need and doesn't require much cleaning up. I can also change the colors in the art to match swatch colors that I know will print well. When printing a child's drawn artwork, for example, I will scan the art into my computer and clean it up (erase pencil marks, take out the paper background color, that sort of thing). Basically I need to make the image as clean as possible so it prints well on the shirt.
I will also do a lot of recreating artwork. You might be surprised how many business owners have business cards made, truck wraps done, facebook pages, a website, and billboards, but do not have a copy of their own logo. Bit of advice; when you have a logo made for your company, save it in at least three places. This will make it easier for everyone involved. If I have to recreate your logo based on your business card there is a chance I could get a color wrong, miss a small detail, or not be able to find the font you used. By saving it and giving it to your print shop you make your logo exact across everything you do. If you have five different people recreate it, but not get the file from any of them, you run a chance of having five slightly different versions of your logo out there.
Once artwork is squared away we begin to print. DTG uses a digital printer that uses a water based ink. It works very much like a home printer with print heads that zip back and forth spitting ink. Well, that's an easy way of saying it at least. The shirt is laid smooth across a platform. Any large bumps or creases can cause the print heads to scrape the shirt, damaging both the shirt and printer. The artwork is sized on the computer based on the size of the shirt. We use a template that shows where the art should be located and how large it should be. I press a giant print button and the platform moves into the printer and the print heads move across above the shirt. It is a quick way of printing and is usually done in less than 30 seconds. Then I carefully remove the shirt from the platform after it comes out of the printer. The ink is still wet and will smudge if touched. The shirt is placed on a heat press and pressed for half a minute. When it comes off it is warm but completely dry and ready for wear. Because there are no harsh chemicals you can wear the shirt right off the press.
Overall this is a very easy way to print shirts. Everything from start to finish takes less than a day for a single shirt. I can print one shirt just as easily as hundreds. But as with everything, there are some downsides. Because this process uses a water based ink the ink is thin and soaks into the shirt.
Plus side: you can't feel it and it breathes, so no sticky sweat patch in the middle of summer.
Down side: the shirt color comes through the ink. If you try this with a darker color of shirt the ink will all look dark. Light shirts, like what I used for this post, print beautifully. Red, royal, purple, and other similarly dark colors will only successfully show black ink. Also, the ink will fade from synthetic materials over time. Polyester is a water repellant material designed to dry fast; this will cause the fabric to reject the ink in a way and will fade in the wash.
Keeping this in mind, you can still created wonderful shirts for yourself. And any print shop worth their salt will show you samples of how shirt colors will effect your end print.
Even with some drawbacks this is by far my favorite way to print shirts!