Four methods of apparel decoration. Which is right for my project?

woman with a question

At some point every group or business wants to have shirts, hats, or some other piece of apparel decorated with a logo or special phrase.  Custom t shirts promote community and teamwork among members of the group. No mater the reason almost everyone thinks of screen printing first, but is screen printing is not the only method of apparel decoration. Following are some of the most common forms of decoration for garments.

Methods of apparel decoration

  1. Screen printing or silk screen: Other than painting directly on clothing, screen printing is one of the oldest forms of decorating any type of garment. In screen printing ink is forced through a screen (traditional methods used silk as the screen) with a stencil.  Multiple colors are pushed through multiple stencils to build up the print colors. Screen printing works for almost all fabrics. If you want to learn more here is the wikipedia article about it – Screen Printing
  2. Sublimation: Using special inks and high heat ink is turned into a gas and bonds directly with the fibers of the garment. Sublimation works only with garments that are polyester or have a high polyester content.
  3. Vinyl or CAD Cut or Print and Cut: A special material is cut to exact shapes and heat bonded to the garment. The material is usually a vinyl type material but other materials have also been adapted to the process. Vinyl works for just about any fabric with specialty materials for almost any use.
  4. Rhinestones: Special cut glass beads are arranged on the garment and head bonded to it to create the design wanted. Rhinestones can be applied to most fabrics but is not suggested for garments that get a lot of contact, like a uniform.

What method for me?

When deciding what method to use you have to consider some questions for your project.

  1. How many garments do I need? Knowing how many garments you need can make deciding on the method easier. If you have anything under 20 garments your best bet would be anything but screen printing. The setup for screen printing can be expensive and generally that cost is passed on with the cost per garment. So the lower the number of garments the higher the cost per garment. In numbers over 50 or 60 it becomes better to consider screen printing as your primary method of decoration.
  2. What type of garments do I need? If your garments are 100% cotton then sublimation is not even a consideration. The only options then are screen printing, vinyl or rhinestones.
  3. How many colors are in my design? As a general rule the more colors the more expensive the decoration becomes, except for sublimation. If you have a lot of colors, like a photo, you may want to consider a process color screen print or sublimation to keep the costs reasonable.  If you only have one or two colors then almost any apparel decoration method will be reasonable.