Once you're ready to print your T-shirts, options abound. And most experts have definite opinions about which way is the best.
Many people use traditional screen-printing, which involves pushing ink through a mesh screen to transfer an image onto a shirt. One newer technique is "direct to garment" printing, in which a large inkjet printer prints the image directly on the tees. "It doesn't make much difference how you do it," says Peter Rinnig, owner of QRST's , a T-shirt printer in the Boston area. "Just research what's best and most cost-effective for you."
John Earle has always stuck with traditional screen-printing for Johnny Cupcakes , a T-shirt company in Hull, Massachusetts, and he has no complaints. "It's been around the longest and is the most reliable," he says, "although this year, I plan on testing out a few new methods--dye, enzyme washes, cut and sew, embroidery, direct-to-garment printing and more."
If you plan to purchase your own equipment, you can get a used screen-printer for $5,000 to $10,000. Direct-to-garment printers cost considerably more--roughly $20,000 for a good one, according to Rinnig. It's a newer technology, and only a handful of companies are making the machines.
If you use a print shop, you don't have to worry about equipment. But you do need to make sure you're satisfied with the quality. When shopping for a printer, consider working with a company like QRST's that does all its work in-house. Some printers actually serve as "brokers," outsourcing the printing to someone else. If that's the case, you lose some control over the process.
Rinnig also advises caution if you're considering an online print shop, for the same reason. Some websites let you upload images for printing and even selling directly on their sites, but not all of them print the shirts themselves. "The unwitting customer goes to [one of these sites], and it's actually out of those websites' hands because they're not doing the printing," he says.
QRST's prints all orders itself, as does Spreadshirt Inc. , an online print shop in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Jana Eggers, the CEO, agrees that a level of caution is wise when hiring a printer--not only for the quality of the shirts, but also for the quality of customer service you receive. "There's a big difference between different printers and printing techniques, as well as the logistics and customer service," says Eggers.
Ultimately, putting the effort into selecting the best printer and printing technique will serve you well. Be patient throughout this process; it may take time to find the one you like. "There's a lot of technology that can help you be responsive to trends and make good money," adds Eggers, "but it's not something where you just flip the switch and get going."