Although t-shirts originally evolved from being worn as undergarments, they have since become popularized as casual wear.
Not only are they popular clothing for both men and women, but there are no endless ways in which t-shirts are designed.
We’re going to go over the history of t-shirt printing here—don’t worry we won’t bore you with too many details.
Printing methods have evolved over the years. They’re so affordable nowadays that even the best heat press for small business won’t break the bank. You can definitely print t-shirts at home as a hobby.
Screen Printing: the Origins of Printing on Fabric
In 10th Century dynastic China, silkscreen printing was developed. It was a complex process that hasn’t changed much when compared to the methods we use today—ink is forced through a mesh one color at a time, and is printed onto the fabric.
These days you can get into screen printing using plastic mesh screens, and it’s a great hobby to pursue.
Tie Dying: Psychedelic Design
Remember those groovy designs the hippies wore in the 60s and 70s? The process was actually developed in multiple continents (namely the Indian subcontinent, the Caribbean, and Africa) centuries ago but only recently reached western fashion.
Tie-dying is pretty simple really, all you need to do is tie up a t-shirt (or any fabric, really) and dip or pour different colored dyes onto it. Once the dye sets, dry it and you’re good to go.
The problem with tie-dying is predicting the resulting pattern. Of course, there are many tutorials online that help people learn how to get a specific tie-dye pattern on a t-shirt.
In the 60s when this method was developed, the methods were shared between people via word-of-mouth.
In search of better methods of printing designs onto t-shirts, a new method of printing was developed. Heat Transfer Vinyl enabled t-shirts to be designed without the need of printing each ink onto the t-shirt separately.
Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV) uses vinyl sheets (they come in a roll usually) with the design printed onto them. The design is transferred using a heat press machine. Of course, there are large-scale operations that can print t-shirts in large quantities.
There are also hobbyists that can print using HTV and smaller heat press machines or even an iron.
A relatively newer invention, dye sublimation allows for a wider variety of colors to be printed onto fabrics. The catch? You can only print onto substrate fabrics.
That means you’re limited in the type of fabric you can use in t-shirt printing using dye sublimation.
However, it’s convenient because dye sublimation can be done using a household inkjet printer, a small heat press machine, or a regular iron.
The process can be scaled up or scaled-down, but the basics are relatively easy to get the hang of.
What Is the Purpose of T-shirt Printing?
Although you’d think the only reason people use t-shirt printing methods is for the visual appeal, t-shirt printing is far more useful. Many businesses use t-shirt printing as a promotional tool.
Think of how many times you’ve seen people sporting t-shirts with the logos of popular brands printed on them. That’s all considered part of their branding strategy, and the concept is used by small and large businesses alike.
Some people even use t-shirt printing in a recreational sense. For example, people who have come together for a family reunion, wedding, or similar event, could wear custom-made t-shirts that are decorated using any of the printing methods we’ve mentioned above.