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SPEAKING PROMO – VOLUME 5: Tee Talk Decoration

Oh hey, everybody!  We recently talked about the types of tee shirt fabrications you have to choose from when it comes to choosing the perfect tee for your event.  Now let’s talk about the decorating methods on each. 


100% COTTON – HOW TO PRINT  100% cotton is a screen-printer’s dream, and since cotton is a natural fiber with texture, 100% cotton absorbs ink like no other, making the risk of bleeding or dye migration almost non-existent.  Have you ever seen a red tee shirt with a light pink imprint and you’re pretty positive it’s supposed to be a white imprint? That’s dye migration, and we’re not a fan. Overall, cotton is super easy to work with, leaving the printing possibilities seemingly endless.  


SCREEN-PRINTING  This is the most common way of printing on tee shirts (and sweatshirts alike) and uses one of three types of ink: Plastisol Ink, Water Based Ink or Discharge Ink.  


Plastisol Ink is a plastic-based ink designed to print on apparel, which makes it the industry standard for screen-printing.  The upside to printing with plastisol, is it’s the least expensive, easy to use, and since plastisol ink lays on top of the fabric, colors will print the brightest.  Downside?  We’re not gonna lie, it prints pretty thick which makes it heavy in comparison to the weight of the tee shirt, and can sometimes have an almost-rough feel to it.  Because of this, plastisol ink eventually breaks down, meaning it will eventually crack and peel off with continuous washes.  


Water Based Ink is an ink that literally soaks into the fabric of the shirt when printing, resulting in a super soft imprint that feels as if it’s a part of the shirt itself (well, it essentially is).  It’s most commonly used in retail printing, and water based inks don’t contain any toxins or other harmful ingredients, meaning they have the lowest impact on the environment. Upside? Besides knowing you’re saving the planet one printed tee at a time, the imprint lasts as long as the shirt, with no chance of peeling or cracking.  Downside?  Water-based inks by themselves don’t offer a high opacity (coverage), so the colors can range from bright (when printing on light colors) to almost faded (when printing on dark shirts).  


Discharge Ink (Discharge Printing) is also a water based ink, only as it absorbs into the fabric, it literally strips the fabric of its original color and replaces it with the intended ink color.  Pretty cool, right? Discharge ink is created by adding a ‘discharge agent’ to a water based ink that removes the dyes from that ink so it can work it’s magic. This technique was created to achieve the same results as the above, only with the ability to print on darker colors and get the same great results as water based inks have with light colors.  Upside? You can now have that perfect imprint on any tee shirt color your heart desires. Downside?  Because the ink is interacting with the existing dyes of the fabric, the results of each shirt printed can vary, meaning every shirt printed in the batch won’t necessarily be EXACTLY the same.  Although you can honestly tell your client that they’re tee is a one of a kind, which adds a warm and fuzzy feel to the tee each time they put it on.


*Other types of decorating methods for 100% cotton are heat transfers, sublimation (except with combed / ring-spun cotton) and DTG (direct-to-garment), defined in our previous blog:  https://brand-on.us/speaking-promo-volume-3-apparel-decoration/


50/50 TEES – HOW TO PRINT – Because the polyester adds a trickier printing component, screen printing using plastisol inks, sublimation, or DTG are going to be the way to go with 50/50 blended tees.  Water based inks and polyester don’t play nice together, which means those as well as discharge ink are out.  


TRI-BLEND TEES – HOW TO PRINT – Tri-blends have a more difficult time when it comes to decorating, but they sure are a fan favorite.  The rayon in this fabrication makes for the softest tee shirt you’ll ever wear, but it also proposes some printing complications, which is why you might get a small charge for the decoration.  The rayon makes the shirt a little slippery when holding it down to the pallet it’s printed on, so screen registration has to be extra tight. The best way to print these tees is with water-based or plastisol inks, and you can create some pretty phenomenal imprints using discharge on tri-blends.  While the printing process is slightly more labor intensive than printing on other tee shirt fabrics, we strongly encourage this option, because we know the end result is going to make for the ultimate brand recognition. Fun fact: water based and discharge inks on tri-blends can be done to really give the tee shirt a super cool vintage look.  Vintage everything is trending, and we love it.


Stay tuned for more of our education series, where we’ll take deep dives into the various art files and coloring systems mentioned, as well as decorating methods, apparel fabrics, and so much more as our capabilities to amplify your image continue to evolve. 

For more ideas on how we can help you amplify your image, go to brand-on.us/contact-us/ where you can also subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest on sales, product releases, industry news and more.  Don’t forget to follow us on instagram using the handle @brand_on.life – all the cool kids are doing it.