Launching your own clothing brand is exciting! All the decisions that need to be made, the euphoria spawned by daydreams of your new business taking off into the sunset – we get it! We’ve all been there before. But keep in mind that a lot of the decisions that need to be made will literally make or break your business! Today, I’m here to talk to you about the 10 best questions for your t-shirt printer. When launching a clothing brand, the printer you choose is probably one of the most important, and intimate business relationships you’ll make. So let’s help you make the right choice!
#1 What type of printing do they do?
This question isn’t that important right? Wrong! There are more types of t-shirt printing out there than I could list here today – and they’re not all the same. Here are the three big ones:
Everyone’s heard of it; no one really knows what it is… Screen printing is a print style that has been around for centuries, but didn’t become popular in the western world until the 1960’s. The technique involves a woven mesh stretched over a frame with a stencil, and a special fabric ink is passed through the mesh. The different colors in a design are layered onto the t-shirt with a screen for each color. Screen printing is ideal for clothing brands due to its cheap cost and the volume-centric business model (the more shirts you print, the cheaper it is per shirt!). However, the more colors in your design the more expensive it’ll be.
This printing method is still very young, and has only been around since the end of the 20th century. This technique involves putting a t-shirt in a very expensive ink-jet printer, and printing the image from a computer directly on to the t-shirt. This print method is great for full resolution images (photos), and for printing shirts to test the market. It doesn’t really work on polyester, or poly blend shirts. The pricing doesn’t scale like screen printing because each shirt takes the same amount of time to print; so it’s not cost effective for more than a dozen or so shirts.
Embroidery is one of the oldest decorating techniques, and involves a series of thread sewn into the garment for your design. The threads are applied in various patterns, thickness, and lengths to produce different visual effects. Embroidery doesn’t retain much detail, and is very expensive for a large design. Embroidery is the most common print method for hats.
#2 What type of inks do they use?
If you choose screen printing or digital printing, then this question is for you. Not all print shops are the same! Here are the three most common types of inks that are used:
This ink has been around for quite a while, and is the reason screen printing has gone down in price so much in the last few decades. The ink is comprised of 100% PVC (plastic), and very easy for any printer to manage. This ink also works the same on any type of garment so the results are always very consistent. Plastisol is also the cheapest option, but because the ink lays on top of the garment it has a very heavy hand (a hard touch), and significantly less breathable.
These inks use a pigment with a water-based carrier to deliver the color to the garment. The result is a very soft and breathable print in comparison to plastisol. With water-based ink you can do more unique printing like over the seams and jumbo printing. Water-based inks are more expensive than their plastic counter-parts, due to the serious amount of work involved to maintain the ink in the correct state, and the increased drying time.
This ink is technically water-based, and in most situations a water-based printer will also use discharge in their arsenal. Discharge ink uses a special blend of base, pigment, and activator to essentially bleach the design out of the t-shirt. This ink leaves the softest print possible, since the design literally infuses with the shirt.
Discharge will only work on cotton, so if you discharge a blend then you’ll have a distressed vintage look to the print (which may be just what you’re looking for!). Consult with your printer if this is what you’re looking for. These inks also react to certain t-shirt dyes differently – purple shirts for instance, a white print will end up a burnt out yellow. If you’re dead set on discharge, then it’s really advised to talk to your printer about your expectations. Some printers will swap out water-based and discharge inks to get you the best looking, and highest quality print possible.
#3 What is their turnaround time?
Turnaround time is the time it takes them to print the shirts and deliver them to you from the time you place the order. Every shop is different in this regard, and whether or not you’re going local, you may have to include shipping time as well. The print shop you work with should be clear from the beginning how long the turnaround time is, and if there is going to be a delay then they should let you know A.S.A.P. Any shop worth their salt will be on top of this, and you shouldn’t sacrifice service quality for cost – if they can’t deliver your shirts on time, who’s to say they can even print them right?
#4 What type of shirts do they use?
9 times out of 10, the print shop you work with will not have your shirts already stocked and ready to print. It is way more cost efficient to order the shirts from the distributor as needed, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t “shop favorite” brands! If you have a specific brand in mind you should let your printer know so they can see if they can get it. Some shops can also get some brands cheaper than other shops; it all has to do with their networking and their long term goals. A print shop that focuses on businesses won’t really have the best relationship with American Apparel, for instance.
#5 Are they local?
You may be tempted to go with the local shop to save on shipping. This isn’t always the best option! Local shops usually have a monopoly of the region, which means they can hike up their prices and gouge the customers afraid to order online. Shops that sell online exclusively will most likely beat your local shop – even while charging shipping! And since they have to compete with the whole country, their quality will be on par with any local shop.
#6 How do they handle misprints?
Every shop has misprints – it’s part of the job. But the question is how does the shop handle these misprints? Most shops have a quality control stage of each order, where a person briefly inspects every shirt that goes through the shop for misprints. Every shop has a certain margin of error to go by when determining if a shirt is deemed unfit, so check with your shop to get that information.
A lot of shirts have a waste percentage allocation – which basically means that there is a certain amount of shirts that may be misprints depending on the total quantity that they are not responsible for. This is common with huge (2000+ shirt) orders, and contract printing. But what happens if you get a shirt that is totally wrong and completely unsellable? This is what you need to ask your printer.
#7 Are there any extra charges?
T-shirt printing is a business, and as such everything costs something. When getting a quote from a printer you should be asking about extra costs. Some shops charge a screen costs, ink change costs, setup costs, base costs, art costs, while some shops put all those costs into the whole quote. If a quote seems low to you, then they most likely don’t include the extra costs into the quote.
#8 Discounts on reorders?
This question isn’t the most important one you can ask, but it’s still a good one to gauge how well the shop wants to keep you as a customer. Assuming your design sells out, you’re going to want to order more shirts right? Well, you’re going to want to use the same print shop to ensure the design turns out the exact same as the previous one – even if a different shop uses the same type of ink, there are hundreds of ink brands out there who don’t use the exact same shade of certain colors.
A lot of shops will offer discounts for reorders, especially if it’s within a certain amount of time and the design is the exact same. Ultimately you want to find a shop that wants to keep you! They should be jumping on the chance to offer you a discount on a reorder!
Still looking for a t-shirt printing company?
Then stay tuned! We’re currently compiling a list of shops to narrow down the best choices. I’ll update this post with the link when it’s done!