What is the cheapest way to print T-shirts?

printed custom T-shirt

What is the cheapest way to print T-shirts?

Printing custom T-shirts is a popular option for businesses, brands and charities. Custom T-shirts can be used for brand promotion, team uniforms, raising money or can of course, be a business in itself. Whatever the reason for purchasing custom T-shirts, price can often be an important factor and businesses will want to find the cheapest way to print their T-shirts. This article will explore the popular options for printing T-shirts and how they can impact cost.

Is it cheap to print T-shirts at home?

Printing T-shirts at home can be one of the most cost-effective options for custom T-shirts as it will cut out the need for a professional printer or equipment. Blank products can be purchased from wholesalers or high-street clothing shops and the print can be completed using iron-on transfers, all you need is the printed iron-on transfers, an iron and a T-shirt. 

You can also purchase your own printers to use at home. The most economical machine to buy is a heat press which can be picked up for around £100 or you can buy an embroidery machine for a little more. This could be a worthwhile investment if you plan to decorate T-shirts for yourself, your friends or perhaps if you are starting a small business. However, once you factor in the running costs including electricity, materials such as inks, transfer paper and threads and include the cost of your time, costs can quickly build up. Printing T-shirts at home with your own machines will only really become cost effective once you are printing in bulk; for a small amount of printed T-shirts the cost may not be worth it.

It is also important to have realistic expectations for printing T-shirts at home. The results when using something like iron-on transfers or your own embroidery machine are going to be quite different to professionally printed results. Whilst printing T-shirts at home can be cost effective, professional print machines can cost upwards of £500,000 and the difference will be evident in the print quality, vibrancy and longevity. The T-shirt itself used can also impact cost. A standard cotton T-shirt without ethical or sustainable credentials will be much cheaper than higher-quality, heavy T-shirts that may be made from organic or Fairtrade certified cotton. Therefore, if you require sustainable T-shirts for your project, be prepared to pay a higher cost for higher quality products.

Is it cheap to use iron-on transfers?

Iron-on transfers are widely available to purchase online for as little as £1 or they can be made at home which makes them a good option for small batches of T-shirts. However, iron-on transfers are not known for their longevity, so if you are looking for printed T-shirts that last a long time or can be reused for multiple events, iron-on transfers may not be the best option. The colours are generally not as vibrant as with professional printing and the designs can fade quite quickly. Printing T-shirts at home using iron-on transfers can be the cheapest option, but the results won’t last as long as a professionally printed garment and you may end up spending even more by replacing the prints in the long-run.

Is it cheap to screen print T-shirts?

Screen printing can be one of the cheapest methods of printing T-shirts when ordering in bulk. The screen printing process is manually intensive, involving different screens being created for each colour in the design and then the designs are cured once printed to ensure longevity. For this reason, multi-colour designs are more expensive than single-colour designs. If you require a smaller quantity of T-shirts, using a different print method may be more cost effective if you have a colourful design.

Due to the intensive process, screen printing is more expensive on smaller orders but can be extremely cost effective on larger orders due to the economies of scale which in turn are passed onto the customer in bulk order pricing. Screen printing can also be done onto almost any fabric, so you won’t have the constraints of certain fabrics associated with other print methods.

If you are starting a new business or perhaps require uniforms for staff, screen printing can be an economical option as producing your printed T-shirts in larger quantities will allow you to take advantage of the bulk order discounts. However, holding and shipping the stock yourself can be inconvenient, so it may be beneficial to look into using a fulfilment service. This means that the service provider will hold your stock for you and deal with shipping and returns for your products. This allows you to take advantage of the bulk order discounts whilst taking away the stress of dealing with the stock yourself.

Screen print ink
Screen printing inks being applied to the screen.

Is DTG printing cheap?

For smaller brands, the larger quantities required for screen printing to be the most cost effective print option may not be suitable. In this case, Direct to Garment printing might be a cheaper option for printing your T-shirts. 

DTG printing is a more modern technique compared to screen printing and uses a large form of digital printer to inject ink into the fabric of the T-shirts. This ensures a vibrant print even on dark garments and can give a softer hand-feel than screen printed T-shirts. Due to the digital technology it also allows for detail and colour accuracy that may not be achievable using other print methods. However, DTG is only really suitable for high-percentage cotton garments, therefore, if you require printed T-shirts made from other materials, you may be advised to use DTF (Direct to Film) or vinyl printing instead. These print methods will ensure better longevity for your prints onto non-cotton fabrics. 

DTG printing typically has no minimum order quantities (MOQ’s) but still benefits from bulk order pricing. There are no set up fees or multiple screens involved which allows printers to set a lower price for smaller quantities than with screen printing. This makes DTG a great option for printing T-shirts at a low cost. The low MOQs mean that you can test your designs on smaller orders without the cost and quantity commitment of other print methods. The results of the print are vastly superior to at-home printing methods and have great durability ensuring that you won’t need to replace your garments as often as you would with at-home methods which in the long run will save you money.

Inside DTG printing machine
Inside one of our DTG print machines when printing.

Which print method is cheapest? 

The cheapest way to print T-shirts will depend on factors such as quantity, fabric composition and budget. At-home printing methods such as iron-on-transfers can be economical for small projects but won’t be as high quality or as durable as professionally printed T-shirts. Screen printing will be the cheapest print method for larger orders, whilst DTG printing balances lower cost without the large order commitments. Your printer will be able to advise on which print method would be the best for your project and budget so if you have any questions on the cheapest way to print T-shirts for your needs, get in touch today

Not sure which print method is best for you? Get in touch with us today and one of our dedicated account managers will be happy to help.