From over 5+ years of printing custom tees, I thought I would share the lessons I’ve learned along the way in this (surprisingly long) article. I recommend reading the entire article, but you can jump to the conclusion if you’re short on time.
Printing Method: Online Printing/DTG vs Screen Printing
There are two main technologies for printing custom tees: Screen Printing, and DTG (direct-to-garment) - what online printers like Customink use. When it comes to online printers, there’s really only one company that does a half-decent job: Sticker Mule. All the others tend to have really scratchy shirts.
Screen printing is the highest quality print method - much better than DTG. The downside with screen printing is that you have to pay up the more colors you use, so you have limited color options (1-3 colors unless you want to pay up) - which can make it more expensive than DTG (do your own price analysis!). The upsides to screen printing massively outweigh the downsides. Generally, you get more options with fabric choice when you go with a local screen printer (which is a huge deal - we’ll get to that), and the print doesn’t fade nearly as fast as DTG. With DTG, I’ve seen some shirts fade within months of owning it, whereas my screen printed shirts have held up for years. Unless you’re only printing a few shirts (<10), go with a well-regarded screen printing place, you won’t regret it
FYI: I’ve been using Under Pressure Screen Printing here in Austin for years, they do a great job.
I want to lay down one rule before we get into this section:
Never, ever, under any circumstances buy Gildan shirts, if you can’t afford not to - don’t buy shirts.
Fabric is the really important thing to get right, if your shirts are uncomfortable, nobody will wear them. Generally, you’re going to want something that’s not 100% cotton unless you know that it’s going to feel light - lots of 100% cotton shirts end up feeling very heavy, but there are some 100% cotton shirts that feel nice. I personally avoid using heathered triblend because they can end up feeling too light and soft - to the point where they don’t feel substantial enough. I like regular triblend (50% polyester, 25% cotton, 25% rayon) and use it quite a bit - people love the feel. Personally I prefer a 50-50 polyester/cotton blend, but it’s not as popular. Find what works for you.
In terms of specific blank recommendations, I love Bella + Canvas shirts - they are high quality, the print doesn’t fade for a long time, they feel great, and they’re not made in sweatshops. I’ve been using the 3413 triblend series for years, and had no issues with them. I’ve also used the 3650 (50-50 poly-cotton) recently for a project, because they had an interesting color I liked (Black Speckled) - people liked the shirt, but they found the speckles a bit annoying. Unfortunately, my print shop told me that that style might be in the process of being discontinued - but it’s April, I bought the shirts in October, and it appears they are still listed on the site ¯\(ツ)/¯.
Aside from Bella + Canvas, I haven’t tried many brands. Anvil was solid but they got bought up by Gildan unfortunately and haven’t tried them since. Alternative Apparel’s blanks felt great but the print doesn’t stick to them and they wore out quickly so I can’t recommend them.
If you’re ordering anywhere from above 10-ish shirts to somewhere around 200, you’re going to be looking at about $12/shirt for a good quality blank and print. Printing tees isn’t cheap - and if you have to sacrifice blank quality to meet a budget (print quality isn’t vital), then it isn’t worth printing shirts. Invest your money somewhere else like stickers/pins/etc.
My blanket recommendation is this: if you’re ordering more than 10 shirts (otherwise just get them done at Sticker Mule), go to a well-regarded local screen print shop, and get your design printed on Bella + Canvas 3413 triblend blanks.
If you have to cut blank quality or use Gildan, then it’s not worth buying tees and you should give people some other swag of higher quality.
Thanks for reading!