A Guide to Selecting a Digital T-Shirt Printer
Most people who are interested in craft ideas, such as printing designs on clothing, will find the cost of special printing equipment to be daunting. But, there are lots of cheaper alternatives. You can buy heat transfer vinyl for Cricut machines, and then apply the vinyl design with a special heat press. Besides just printing on T-shirts, you’ll see that they can personalize all sorts of other items.
We’ll look at some of the hardware that you’ll need to get started printing your own personalized T-shirts. Many of them can produce professional results. Maybe you’ll even decide to prepare personalized T-shirts to order!
What is digital printing?
Digital printing refers to the process of printing electronic files onto physical surfaces. This can be done with a variety of machines and methods, but the most common type of digital printing is inkjet printing.
Why should I use digital printing on a t-shirt?
There are many advantages to using digital printing on a t-shirt.
Less manual labor than silk-screen printing: One of the most popular advantages is that it allows for full-color printing without the need for color separation or screens. This means that your design can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be, without worrying about the limitations of traditional printing methods.
Faster than silk-screen printing: Another advantage of digital printing is that it is typically much faster than traditional printing methods. This can be a huge benefit if you need your t-shirts in a hurry.
Can cost less: In silk-screen printing, one color is applied at a time, while in digital printing, the colors are applied all at once. Since there is less effort involved, digital printing usually comes out cheaper. However, you may have to order T-shirts from a special fabric to ensure that the ink will adhere. That can make digital printing more expensive since silk-screen printing ink adheres to more types of surfaces.
Types of Digital T Shirt Printer
A digital T-shirt printer looks much like a typical inkjet printer. You’ll notice that there are several options:
Direct-to-Garment (DTG) printers: These are printers that print directly onto a T-shirt. They employ water-based ink, which is then dried in a heat press to evaporate the water, which finalizes the print on the T-shirt. These are quite expensive, with printers ranging from $15,000 and up!
Direct-to-Film (DTF) printers: This type of printer will deposit dye sublimation ink onto a film. You then iron the image from the film onto a T-shirt. An example is the Punehod DTF Transfer Printer with Roll Feeder. You’ll see that it comes with bottles of Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Key (Black) ink. These are significantly less expensive than a DTG printer. But the printer can still cost around $2900.
Punehod DTF Transfer Printer with Roll Feeder
Cricut Machines: The most affordable printers are what Cricut has to offer. For example, the Cricut Joy Machine can cut vinyl decals that you can then transfer onto garments.
Cricut Joy Machine
As for actually transferring images to a T-shirt, the Best Reviews Guide list provides a few options:
Clamshell press: In this type of press, you set the time and temperature, place the T-shirt on a platen, center the print on the T-shirt, and lower the press onto the T-shirt. An example is the FancierStudio Digital Heat Press. It has a 15” x 15” platen and allows you to set the exact time and temperature.
FancierStudio Digital Heat Press
Swing-away press: There are presses for T-shirts that use a “swing-away” design. These tend to take up more space to operate, but they also allow you more space to set up your project to be pressed. Customers say that the swing-away design allows you to get the hot upper platen out of the way. That makes it safer than the clamshell design since there is less of a risk of burning yourself. An example is the F2C 5-in-1 Pro Heat Press Machine. It also has special attachments to print on hats, mugs, plates, and mouse pads!
F2C 5-in-1 Pro Heat Press Machine
Cricut iron: Cricut makes a whole series of cutting machines for craft ideas that can be applied with their Cricut EasyPress heat press machine. The press comes in three sizes: 6” x 7”, 9” x 9”, and 12” x 10”. You select the precise temperature and time to apply the decal, and the device shuts off automatically after the assigned time.
What reviewers say
Here are some of the impressions of customers regarding their choice of digital t-shirt printing hardware:
Use heat-resistant gloves: A customer who used the FancierStudio Heat Press said that you have to be very careful when placing the garment and removing the carrier sheet, since the top platen is already very hot, at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s best to use heat-resistant gloves when working.
Be sure to apply the right amount of heat: A customer who followed the instructions from the manufacturer’s website about the recommended temperature and time to apply the heat press said that some parts of the decal didn’t stick to the shirt he was preparing. He found that he would have to apply a temperature of 380 degrees, instead of the recommended 330 degrees! Eventually, he found out that the manufacturer had to recalibrate the thermostat on the device.
Here are some tips and features of digital t-shirt printers that may help you make a decision when shopping:
Creating heat transfer decals: Manufacturers of sublimation ink printers usually also sell starter kits with their printers. When you buy a Sawgrass Virtuoso SG500 Sublimation Printer, you can also receive sublimation ink, special sublimation paper, tape, designs, and more!
Sawgrass Virtuoso SG500 Sublimation Printer
Not just T-shirts: You can transfer decals onto more than just T-shirts, as long as you use the correct material. The Vivohome Multifunctional Swing Away Clamshell Printing Sublimation Heat Press Transfer Machine has 8 different options, with attachments for printing on hats, mugs, ceramic plates, ceramic tiles, coasters, mouse pads, and jigsaw puzzles!
We studied some of the various implements and printers for preparing personalized T-shirts. We saw presses that work with heat transfer vinyl (=HTV) or sublimation ink. They’re a much simpler alternative to the traditional silk-screen printing method. Once you start with the hobby of personalized printed T-shirts, you may want to expand to other items as well!