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Methods of Decorating Garments


One of the greatest difficulties facing customers today wanting garments decorated, is having enough knowledge of which decorating system to choose.



With good advice from a garment decorating company this should not be a problem. But it is still important for you to know enough about these systems to be able to make an informed choice.

In general, garment decorators have not shared information with customers about the advantages of one system over another. Apple Screenprint believes you should have this knowledge.

As you can see from the list above there are now many decorating systems, but we are of the opinion they are not always suitable for the customer’s needs.


You will have noted that I am using the term decorating and not printing. The reason for this is that all companies that work in our industry are decorators but not all of them are printers. Customers are advised to check with the decorator which method they intend using.


Complaints about other decorators and the methods they use

We have had an increasing number of customers with complaints about garments decorated by other companies.

Recently we were approached by a customer wanting some high-tech sports garments printed for The London Marathon. The problem was described to us, as the logos having a clear square background around the outside of them. These shirts were rejected by their customer because of the way they looked.

We have had other customers complaining of decorations on garments splitting; especially when garments are for retail or long term use. Garment transfer decorating systems have their place, but are not always the appropriate method for every job.

When we first started decorating garments, almost 30 years ago there was only two methods of doing so, screen printing and embroidery. Things have changed a lot since then.

We are always happy to advise customers as to which technique would be suitable for what they require.


Methods of Decorating Garments

Direct to Garment Printing/Screen Printing and Inkjet DTG 


Silk Screen printing

Screen printing is a direct to garment printing system. Ink is squeezed through a fine mesh directly onto the garment. The ink is then cured so that it fixes into the fibres of the fabric. Screen printing can be used to print tones and photographic images, as well as solid areas. There are videos on our video page that show how this is done.

Obviously we think screen printing is the most tried and tested method of decorating garments as well as the most versatile. After all we have spent thirty years perfecting our skills at using this method. Screen printing unlike the newer digital systems requires a lot of experience and knowledge to do well.


Screen printing is a direct to garment printing system. Ink is squeezed through a fine mesh directly onto the garment. The ink is then cured so that it fixes into the fibres of the fabric. Screen printing can be used to print tones and photographic images, as well as solid areas.


Long lasting

The durability of Screen printed logos on garments is very good. Screen printed logos can last for hundreds of washes.


Screen printing can be done to almost any type of garment as long as there is access to the outer layer.

It is possible to print large open or solid colours as well as fine detail. The use of screen printing to produce four colour process printing on light and dark coloured garments is standard practise. Simulated process screen printing is used generally on dark coloured garments.

Screen printing is the least expensive method of printing large numbers of garments.


The water proof coating on some garments can affect the adherence of the screen printed ink, this is also true for all transfer systems.

Screen printing is not a 1 hour process and is cost prohibitive for one off printing.


Unlike both laser and vinyl cut-out the setup cost decreases with the increase in the number of garments printed.  Each colour printed in a design needs a separate screen. Artwork has to be broken down to make a screen for each colour printed. Each screen has to be registered on the printing machine so that all the colours to be printed end up in the right place on the T-Shirt. The cost of this work is a one off charge for each print run. This means that if you were having for example 12 T-Shirts printed with one colour, the cost of the screen would be £20. This spread over 12 T-Shirts is £1.67 per shirt plus the garment and printing costs. Over 24 T-Shirts the screen costs would be £0.83 per shirt, over 50 T-Shirts £0.40 per shirt, 100 £0.20 etc.

Screen printing can be used to decorate any type of garment as long as the correct ink is used. Inks come in many opaque colours as well as metal effects, Gold, Silver. Pantone colours can be matched. 


Inks come in two main types, plastisol and dye.

The dyes are used on white and light coloured garments. They dye the fabric itself and leave the printed area with the same feel as the fabric they have been printed on.

Plastisol inks have a plastic or robbery feel when dried, more so on dark garments.


The disadvantage is the cost of screen printing on small print runs (below 12 garments).



Screen printing cannot print in as fine detail as the new digital systems. Screen printing on garments can only print at 60 dots to the line inch = 60dpi. Laser printers and photocopiers print at around 600dpi. Jersey knit fabrics ‘t-shirts/sweatshirts have gaps caused by the knitting process. 600dpi dots when printed direct to the garment can miss the thread and fall into some of these gaps. This means that the size of the dot we use 60dpi is big enough to avoid this problem.

Laser printers and photocopiers print direct to a solid substrate ‘transfer paper’ which holds the 600dpi dot in place when it is transferred to the garment.


Inkjet Direct to Garment Printing

This method of decorating garments is relatively new.


When used on white and light coloured garments the dies enter into the fibres of the fabric, given the printed area the same feel as the fabric.


There is some loss of colour in the first wash. As the fibres of the garment have a capillary action this causes a slight blurring of the image.

The inkjet printer uses four process colours (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) to create the illusion of thousands of colours on garments or paper. Photocopiers and laser printers use the same four colours, because of this they have difficulty in replicating some colours.

When used on dark coloured garments a fixer is sprayed onto the garment which acts as a glue for the white ink that is printed before the four process inks. The white ink acts as a substrate for the process inks to be printed onto. There is no appraisable loss of colour after washing.

Inkjet Direct to Garment Prints were originally guaranteed to last for 20 odd washes.


Transfer Decorating


Laser Printer/Photocopier Transfers


One of the relatively oldest transfer methods of decorating garments is laser printer/photocopier transfers. The toner from the laser printer is heat sealed onto a special substrate ‘Laser transfer paper’. This paper has a translucent substrate that holds the coloured toner laser printed onto it. The transfer paper is then placed onto the garment. Heat and pressure is applied to transfer the translucent substrate from the paper to the garment.

Pros: Laser printer/photocopier transfers are great for one off events, such as Hen Nights, one day advertising events or photo shoots etc. This is not because the transfers will not stay on a t-shirt for many trips through a washing machine. It is because of the long term stability of the image.

Cons: In our opinion they should not be used if garments are for retail, or long term use.

The drawback is the clear background which is caused by the special transfer paper used to create the transfer. Over time the clear background can become darker as dirt gets trapped in the fibres behind the transfer. This causes the image and the clear background to darken.

Not all laser or photocopy transfer systems leave a clear background but can be cost prohibitive for larger garment decorating runs.

The cost of laser and vinyl cut-out stays the same regardless of the quantity of shirts decorated making them more expensive as the number of garments decorated increases.

Laser Printer/Photocopier Transfers use four colours of toner to create thousands of colours in a print. They have a problem with recreating some colours such as metallic colours, florescent, greys, and pantone spot colours. 


Vinyl Cut-out

Vinyl Cut-out or to use its other name ‘sticky backed plastic’ started out just being used for the making of signage and the livery on vehicles. Over time it has developed into another method of decorating garments. This system does not leave a translucent background to the logo.

Pros: Strong spot colours with sharp edges and colours. In our opinion Vinyl Cut-out works best on woven fabrics, such as Raincoats, Hi-Viz jackets Sailcloth or any tightly woven fabric.

Cons: Vinyl Cut-out is only available in solid colours or pre-printed patterns. Vinyl Cut-out cannot be used for tones or logos with gradations of colours; which screen printing and the other transfer systems can. Vinyl Cut-out is prone to splitting over time where there are sharp angles. This happens when Vinyl Cut-out is used on jersey-knitted fabrics, such as T-Shirts and Sweatshirts. This is because Jersey-Knit fabrics flex and stretch in three directions and a combination of all three. Woven fabrics flex in one direction and do not stretch.

Vinyl Cut-out adheres to the surface of the fabric it is applied to and does not key into the fibres of a fabric.


Sublimation Ink Printed Transfers


This kind of transfer is only used to transfer an image on paper to white polyester fabrics. Sublimation inks do not work on dark colours. The reason sublimation inks only work with white polyester garments is that the inks are translucent. You have probably seen a white area on the back of supporter team football shirts; this is so a sublimation transfer can be added later. Cycling clothing is also decorated by sublimation transfers. If the design on the outer surface of the garment is coloured and the inside of the garment is white then it was done by sublimation transfer.

Pros: the sublimation dye is transferred into the polyester. Washes very well and colour remains fast after the first wash.

Cons: Dye sublimation can only be used on white polyester and special cotton polyester garments, only white.



This method of decorating garments is probably the oldest. These days’ machines are used for the production of embroidery.

Pros: embroidery is long lasting and washes very well.


Cons: we would not recommend using embroidery for waterproof garments, as it will compromise the waterproofing.

Embroidery can also present problems when applied to thin fabrics.

Not suitable for fine detail or small lettering.