When launching your own clothing brand, picking the printer that will produce your custom apparel is one of the most important decisions that you will make. Printers vary wildly on things like cost, printing method, shipping, and turnaround time. Finding the printer that works best for your clothing brand will help greatly in making your brand a success. Here are some important questions you should ask when choosing your printer.
1. WHAT PRINTING METHOD DO THEY USE?
There are several different methods for printing your artwork onto your custom apparel. The three most popular are screen printing, digital printing, and embroidery.
The most common method used for clothing brands is screen printing. Screen printing can trace its roots all the way back to ancient China, but did not become popular in the western world until the 1960s. The technique involves using a woven mesh stretched over a frame, and a stencil formed by blocking off parts of the screen in the negative image of the design to be printed. The attached stencil forms open areas of mesh that transfer ink onto the garment by the printer pushing the ink through the mesh with a squeegee. The different colors of the design are then layered one at a time to create the final image. Screen printing is ideal for clothing brands due to its cheap cost and scalability (the more shirts you print, the less it costs per shirt). However, the more colors your artwork has the more expensive the shirts will be. The newest method, digital printing, applies a design directly from a computer file to the garment. It works similarly to how your computer printer at home does, except it prints the image onto a garment.
Digital printing is best for artwork with a lot of colors and lots of details (like a photograph) since it can produce designs at a much higher resolution than screen printing. The downside of digital printing is that it is more expensive (and the price doesn’t scale), and works best with natural fibers (so no polyester). That is why digital printing is often recommended for small orders, and is only used by clothing brands for special occasions.
The embroidery process is one of the oldest fabric decoration methods. It consists of strands of various thread sewn into the garment to create your design. The threads are applied in various patterns, lengths, and thicknesses to produce an array of different visual effects. One of the most common embroidered apparel that you’ll see are baseball caps. Embroidery is the most expensive option, and works poorly with detailed artwork as the details tend to get lost in the embroidery process.
2. WHAT TYPE OF INK DO THEY USE?
If you choose a printer that uses the screen printing or digital printing method then the next question you should ask is what type of ink do they use. The most common inks are plastisol, waterbased,and discharge.
Plastisol inks are what have traditionally been used by screen printers since they are the cheapest option, and are easy for the printer to manage. The inks are made from plastic, and work well with almost any type of garment. With plastisol inks you can feel the ink on top of the shirt (called heavyhanded in the industry), and as a result, the apparel is considerably less breathable.
Waterbased inks are made with a mixture of water with dye or pigment. The water acts as the main solvent to keep the pigment or dye in liquid form. Waterbased is more expensive as the drying process takes longer, and printers must work harder to maintain the ink. Waterbased inks are softhanded so you do not feel the ink on the shirt, and it dries in such a way that it gives the design a “vintage look.” Waterbased inks are rising in popularity, but can only be printed on white or light colors for standard acceptable visibility.
Discharge is a waterbased ink mixed with an activator and is used for printing on dark or colored garments. This ink bleaches out the fabric color while depositing pigment so the print color is visible. Discharge inks only work on 100% cotton fabrics, and the ink reacts differently depending on the treatment and dye, so the final result can be unpredictable.
3. WHAT SHIRT BRANDS DO THEY CARRY?
After you’ve picked out the method and type of ink, the next question you should ask is what type of shirt brands does the printer carry. If you are unfamiliar with the common brands look at the tag on your favorite shirts, and do research online. When choosing a brand you should consider how fashion forward it is, the sizing, and where the apparel is produced. Remember, the brand you choose will significantly affect the price you pay. Brands like Gildan and NextLevel are considered cheap and well made, and tend to be a popular choice. American Apparel is known to be expensive, but is popular since it is fashion forward, high in quality, and made in America. Also make sure to take into account what type of fabric you want the apparel to be made of for your clothing brand as this will impact the price and the quality of
4. WHAT IS THEIR TURNAROUND TIME?
It is important to know how long it takes for the printer to receive your order, make your custom apparel, and ship it to your door. When talking with a printer make sure that both sides can agree on a turnaround time, and that the printer delivers your order on that date. If a
printer turns out to be unreliable, don’t be afraid to switch to a different one. With your first orders it may not be a big deal if you receive your order late, but somewhere down the line, you may need a rush order by a specific time, and you will want to be assured that your
printer will be prompt.
5. HOW MUCH FOR SHIPPING?
One would naturally assume that going to the local printer will get you the cheaper deal since you don’t have to worry about shipping.Sometimes local isn’t always better. Local printers often have a monopoly on the area, and therefore, higher prices. If you look elsewhere, you could be saving money for your clothing brand. In addition. with larger orders, printers will often lower the cost of shipping to win your business. Do not let shipping costs deter you from looking at printers outside of your local area.
The printer you choose will greatly impact the success or failure of your clothing brand. Getting it right the first time will help your clothing brand expand and grow by providing quality apparel, and will make your life a whole lot easier. Choose wrong and it could lead to headaches and a poor product. Take the time to properly vet screen printers, and don’t be afraid to ask these questions.
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*Image source: KingScreen, a Taggler verified screen printing company.