You have a shirt – or a tote bag – or a mug or mouse pad – and you want to put a design on it. You also have, since this my scenario, access to several methods by which you can print these items – a direct to garment printer, a screen printing press and inks and a sublimation printer and inks. The question many people would ask at this point is the question in the title; which of these options is the best printing method? The answer we’d give you?
There are several factors which will determine what printing method works best, and there is no single method that will always be the best option in every situation. Determining the print method that should be used requires knowing things about the substrate your going to print as well as understanding the properties of the machines and inks you’ll be using to make the print. If you understand both the substrate and the process you’ll be using to print it, you’ll make the best choice and produce the best print – both for the substrate in question and for your customers.
So, that said, what should you look at when deciding which method to use?
First, look at fabric type. Fabric type can make a difference because certain fabrics won’t work well with certain printing disciplines. Sublimation, for instance, only works on polyester. It can be done on polyester blends, but only if a distressed look is the end result. On the other hand, screen printing on polyester can be problematic because of dye migration, which means the ink bleeds into the fabric. Some of this can be avoided by using an underbase, but it should be considered. If the fabric is cotton, sublimation is out, as it won’t work on cotton. Screen printing or direct to garment printing would work, it just depends on the sort of finished look the customer desires.
Second, color is another issue. Sublimation does not offer a white ink option – so it only works on light colors. If the goal is to sublimate a dark shirt, about the only option would be to sublimate a lighter piece of poly fabric and attach it to the shirt. Direct to garment printing and screen printing both allow for the printing of a light colored underbase, over which a colored print can be laid, so they’re often better options for dark colored garments.
Third, hard goods have different rules. If the substrate to be printed is not a garment, the printing choices become somewhat more limited. Should the item in question be blank that is coated for sublimation, then sublimation would clearly be an option. In some cases, posters for instance, screen printing might be an option. Screen printing can also be done on things like can coozies and certain types of water bottles. Direct to garment printing, as the name implies, is generally confined to wearables.
Obviously, this is a basic overview, but it offers a bit of insight into printing methods and how to determine which one will work in a given situation. The main thing to remember is that each printing method will have strengths and limitations, and knowing those strengths and limitations will ensure that you offer the best option to your customer when the time comes to print.