First, screen printing is not cost effective or even quick enough for small jobs. A new screen has to be cut for every design. Actually, screen printing is suitable only when we’re talking of a minimum of around 100 t-shirts. Now that I don’t normally print such a huge number of garments, I always go for vinyl printing.
Under appropriate use, both methods should produce results that last for years. Here’s a look into the lifespans of the two methods and how to maximize it.
It’s important to create a barrier between the hot iron and the vinyl itself; in one of my tests, I allowed the vinyl to get too close to the heat, and it puckered a little bit like if you were to touch flame to a piece of plastic. The best reviews I read recommended using sheets of plain printer paper in between the iron and the vinyl (five sheets thick worked well), and to that point, I found that the paper was transparent enough that you could start with a single sheet over the graphic (just to see through and ensure that none of your details were shifting around). Once I could tell that the graphics were held in position under one sheet of paper, I was gave the paper a quick tap with the tip of the iron (no steam!) to begin to bond the vinyl, and then laid the other 4 pieces of paper on top before ironing over it for 15 seconds to affix it completely.
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When you’re ready to iron it onto your shirt, center and lay the vinyl shiny side up.
All you’ll need is a vector design, a blank screen, a squeegee or credit card, ink, and masking tape. Icecreamterror recommends printing out a negative of your design and taking it in to a sign printing shop to have them transfer it to vinyl and cut it for you for a few bucks. This saves you a little money from getting the usual emulsion screen made (or doing it yourself). From there, you’ll just need to affix the design to a screen with tape, cover any surrounding parts you don’t want to print, and start squeegeeing away.
There’s been a lot of debate on which one is better between vinyl printing and screen printing for t-shirts. Although both methods offer high-quality, lasting results, I use vinyl printing and with this article, I will tell you why.
Before I reveal to you my reasons for choosing vinyl over screen printing, let’s first have a quick comparison of the two.
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With this method, I can help my customers with small jobs of even 2 or 3 items. That way, I’m able to keep my costs low and my customers happy.
Quite honestly, going old school and cutting your own vinyl graphics is wonderful because you can scale and design them however you want. My design for this shirt was inspired by one of my favorite artists (Cheers to Charley Harper).
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Under normal use, the design should last more than five years. I recommend following these care guidelines to maximize the lifespan:
If you’re to do orders of more than 100 t-shirts, it would be better to get a good machine with 2 heat presses in 1 and lasers to help accomplish the task quickly.
With the top layer of plastic lifted, the shirt is immediately ready for wear! This is so exciting, guys. The patterns I chose to do include the above leaf and a lady bug (both Charley Harper inspired, even though the lady bug also looks a little like a robot, oops), and initial tank tops for both of my daughters. The possibilities are endless! Perfect way to dress up or customize shirts for the kids or events.
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One easy way to tell if your iron-on transfer is bonded is to check a corner of the graphic, to see if you can easily peel up the clear plastic glossy layer. If the colored vinyl lifts, you’ll need to apply heat for another few seconds, but if it lifts easily like this, feel free to remove it completely.
Step 1: Select Your Vinyl Step 2: Cut Shapes Step 3: How to Cut Letters Step 4: Position Vinyl Step 5: Overlay Paper on Graphic Step 6: Apply Iron to Graphic Step 7: Remove the Plastic Layer Step 8: Ready to Wear
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Your choice of a printing method depends on the size of your orders and the complication of the designs you’re looking to create. If you’re hoping to do just a few orders with simple designs, I recommend going for vinyl printing but if you’re looking to do many orders (over 100) with complex picture designs and fonts, it’d be better to use screen printing.
Of course, there are numerous advantages of screen printing. Most importantly, it helps you complete the job much faster and with less toil. With vinyl printing, you have to cut each design from a vinyl roll and then weed out the unwanted parts, such as the inside of most letters including a, b, d, e and g. Moreover, you have to repeat the process for every color of the design for every shirt.
Ever had a t-shirt printed and after washing it several times noticed peelings, fading or cracking all over it? This is another annoying issue with screen printing when the garment is not used appropriately. Of course, the graphic should last the garment’s life but that is if you wash it inside out with cold water each time. But, who remembers to do that?
There will be a shiny side, and a matte side to the vinyl when you unroll it. The matte side is what’s going to press against your fabric when you position it for ironing; the shiny side will actually peel away, leaving you with a permanent, matte graphic.
After owning the t-shirt for around 4 years now, and cleaning it for more times than I cared to count, the front printing is faded. In fact, it is now virtually freckled with the original color of the t-shirt showing through. On the other hand, the back has remained as I printed it.
If you have an awesome idea for a shirt, but don’t want to spend a lot of time or money actually making it, Instructables user icecreamterror has a simple guide for making shirts quickly and efficiently by using a vinyl cut out.
My MOQ (acronym for minimum order quality) for screen printing is 25 t-shirts. Setting up screen printing takes much longer compared to vinyl printing but as soon as the set-up in done, the printing process is swift. The high speed is because nothing needs to change from t-shirt to t-shirt, provided the designs remain the same. Screen printing is the right method if you’re looking to work on large orders.
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Vinyl printing is all about heat transfer. You use a machine to cut out letters and designs from colored vinyl and heat-press them onto the t-shirt to transfer the color to it. Vinyl printing depends on a combination of pressure and heat.
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Five pieces of paper fully covering the graphic was enough to disperse the heat and bond the vinyl to the fabric. One tip – check it after every 10 seconds or so, because iron settings can vary and if you leave it on too long you risk the vinyl over-melting. When it overheats, not only could it pucker, but it can also bleed outside the edges of your intended design! A very big problem if you’re looking to have crisp lines.
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Vinyl printing is best suited for simple graphics. If you’re looking to create basic shapes or text-based designs, this is the method to use. Need to print jersey numbers for your high school soccer team? Excellent! Want a sleek photograph of the Penguins of Madagascar on your t-shirt? This method just won’t cut it. With vinyl printing, there’s no way you can come up with true gradients (blending of colors); fine details will easily get lost.
The graphics produced through screen printing should last for the t-shirt’s life under normal, proper use. To make the graphic last the garment’s life, be sure to wash the garment inside out, with cold water only.
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If you want to produce letters without completely free-handing them, print your letters in black ink on a piece of standard printer paper, and layer it with the vinyl material against a window for the classic letter tracing technique.
So, you might wonder why I use vinyl over screen printing despite all the benefits associated with the latter. I will tell you why.
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Do not dry clean the garment. Rather, machine-wash it warm, with mild detergent.Dry the t-shirt at normal setting.Do not use chlorine bleach on the garment.Wait for at least a day (24 hours) before the first wash after printing.
For larger graphics, I found it helpful to bond the fabric and graphic in stages, and not try and do it all with one swoop of the iron.
Now, let’s take a look at the differences between screen and vinyl printing when customizing a t-shirt. Remember, both will deliver quality, long lasting results if the garment is used correctly.
Vinyl printing is suitable for very small runs of up to 16 t-shirts. That’s due to the fact that the set-up time is little relative to that of screen printing. However, this method is much slower than screen printing as each t-shirt needs its own set up. This, therefore, makes it too time consuming and cost ineffective beyond the 16-t-shirt mark.
If you’re looking to print that photograph of the Penguins of Madagascar on your shirt, screen printing is the method that will do it for you. this method gives you access to a much high level of color and detail, making printing of photographs possible. As a matter of fact, complex designs come through effortlessly and definitely beautifully. Furthermore, screen printing gives you access to a full range of colors; you can mix whatever shades you prefer.
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For more complex designs, I found that drawing on the shiny side of the paper with a non-permanent marker was effective at helping guide my design. (Don’t draw on the matte side, because that will be stuck behind the graphic when you iron it on, and you’ll be really sad if black marker is showing through the permanent decal!) For straight lines, I relied on a straight edge to help with cuts.
In this method, you need actual screens. Essentially, what you have to do is cut them to make templates for the designs. You then spread ink over each screen (only one ink color per screen) and let it pass through to the garment underneath; you will need several screens to come up with the final product.
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If you’re like me, and working on fabric, choose your preferred colors of iron-on vinyl. I’ve heard good things about the Cricut product, but like I mentioned already, there are less expensive options for vinyl products too, especially if all you’re doing is free-handing your design and not needing to run it through a cutting machine. I’ll tell you right now that I really did like the finished quality of this product, the ironed graphics were really soft, flexible, and the material was easy to work with. If you’re planning to apply the vinyl graphic to something other than fabric, you’ll want to look into the other products available (like the traditional or premium vinyl for temporary applications, or for things like customized hanging signs).
The best thing about vinyl printing is that the design will not fade or crack. In fact, I have a t-shirt that I always use as a sample when folks ask how my vinyl printing washes. When I got it, the t-shirt had a screen-printed design on the front that said “I Love Tennessee” on the front. I, then, decided to vinyl-print it on the back, with the words “I Love Alaska”, all before ever washing it.
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