7 ways to print t-shirts using digital technology

Opening your own business and managing your professional life is the dream of many. We at Roland have a privileged vantage point and we see tons of people doing this by opening a t shirt printing business. But how are t-shirts printed? Is it hard to learn? Need a special t-shirt printer? How much would something like this cost? There are many options to choose from and below we will list different ways to personalize your t-shirts. Each method has its advantages, but by the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll likely be able to decide which option is best.

T-shirt with heat-transfer materials for cutting

If you have never heard of cutting plotters, now is the right time to find out more. These peripherals, intuitive to use and affordable in terms of price, carve the different thermo-transferable materials available on the market such as colored, flocked, glittered, stretchable, three-dimensional and many others. Cutting plotters are widely used in the world of t-shirt customization and are used daily by hundreds of operators in every area where clothing and garments need to be customized: sports, work, leisure and fashion. The process for customizing a garment, and in our case a t-shirt, is quite easy to learn and you can immediately obtain excellent results by experimenting with the different materials available on the market.
  1. First, you create the graphic file using a vector graphics program such as Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw or Roland CutStudio . Since we are cutting, the files to be used are only the vector ones, i.e. composed of vectors, which can be resized as desired without compromising the quality of the graphics.
  2. Once the material has been inserted into the plotter, a cutting test is recommended to understand the right blade pressure. This prevents us from “breaking through” the material if the pressure is too much or from not applying sufficient force to the blade, thus causing problems in peeling off the excess material.
  3. When the file is ready, the material is correctly loaded and the blade pressure is set, we can send the file to the plotter which will start cutting the material following the incoming cutting data and optimizing the movements to perform a fast and precise cut.
  4. Once the cut is finished, the excess vinyl is removed from the support sheet using a special tool, called a peeler. They are usually given by the material supplier.
  5. Now you can move the peeled graphic onto the t-shirt which will already be on the press platen. It is sometimes advisable to vacuum-press the shirt so that it is perfectly smooth to accommodate the heat-transfer material.
  6. Now you can press the material onto the t-shirt.
  7. Let the t-shirt and material cool for a perfect grip on the fiber before removing the material backing.

The advantages of printing t-shirts with iron-on transfers

  • Cutting plotters are versatile and can be used to create a variety of products other than t-shirts. In fact, you can customize sweatshirts, trousers, sneakers, hats, bags, tracksuits with many effects thanks to the many materials available on the market.
  • The results usually last once the graphics have been successfully transferred to the garment.

To be considered when printing t-shirts with iron-on transfers

  • You need a space to prepare the t-shirt and to perform the peeling operations.
  • Designs are limited by the colors of iron-on available, although multi-colored designs can be created by transferring multiple colors onto the T-shirt.

T-shirt with heat-transfer for printing and cutting

If you want to personalize your t-shirts with printed graphics instead of single colours, then you can consider a print and cut device . This type of peripheral integrates both the printing and cutting functions, allowing not only to cut the vinyl, but also to print and contour it in the desired colors and shape. Many companies that start with a vinyl cutter end up investing in a print and cut machine as well. The Roland BN-20 printer and cutter is perfect for anyone starting out in their own custom t-shirt printing business: it’s compact, reliable and delivers exceptional print quality. The process of creating an iron-on printed and cut t-shirt is quite similar to that of a t-shirt where the material is simply cut away.
  1. Once the graphics have been created with our application, it is necessary to add the cutting lines to make the plotter carry out the contouring of the image in the desired shape. The file thus created can be saved in pdf or eps format.
  2. As before, you load the vinyl and do a test cut and test print, to verify that the head is printing correctly.
  3. Now however, the graphics to be printed and cut must be sent to the RIP software. This software processes the image and makes it digestible to our printing & cutting plotter. For those who want to learn more, there are other articles where we talk about the Roland VersaWorks RIP software.
  4. Once the printing and cutting operations have been completed, the excess vinyl must be removed.
  5. As before, transfer the print to the t-shirt and fix it using the heat press.
  6. Again, allow the print to cool before sending and remove the backing.

The pros of printed and cut t-shirts

  • You can print color graphics with high quality.
  • Here too, print and cutter devices can be used to create many other products.

To consider

  • You need to learn how to use both graphics software and RIP software to maximize production quality
  • Cheaper materials can feel stiff when worn. It is always better to personally test the materials.

Heat transfer T-shirt with doming

Here is a very special effect for a heat transfer print. A glossy, raised texture can be added with doming, a resin that is placed on the cut material that adds a three-dimensional glossy effect. To do this, you need a doming kit. The latter allows you to add a liquid resin that hardens to form a transparent dome-like effect. There are different types of resins that give different effects, all to try. In the custom t-shirt market, you need to do everything you can to stand out and this is an attractive product to add to your portfolio.
  1. Print, cut and remove excess material.
  2. Carefully apply the doming resin, allowing it to reach the edges without letting it come out. The surface tension on the cut edge will hold the resin naturally.
  3. Leave the resin to harden for approximately 24 hours (consult your supplier about this).
  4. Transfer the graphic to the t-shirt.
  5. Turn the shirt inside out before heat pressing.

The pros of doming t-shirts

  • They are unique and interesting.
  • A higher price may apply.

The cons

  • Doming takes practice to get right
  • Doming resin takes some time to harden

T-shirt with sublimation printing

Using a dye-sublimation printer is another method of personalizing fabrics. A bright, long-lasting print is produced by heating liquid ink until it turns into a gas that permanently colors the fibers. You can use this method much like heat transfer by applying the graphic to a small area of ​​the t-shirt. Typically, the design is applied to the entire T-shirt before it’s even cut and sewn together, and this is more common for sportswear, such as soccer jerseys. These methods usually involve the use of a calender, a device that passes the fabric through heated rollers. Here’s how it works:
  1. Load a roll of sublimation paper or fabric, depending on your printer.
  2. Print the design in mirror mode and use the RIP to send it to the printer.
  3. Apply the sublimation paper to the t-shirt and heat press.
  4. If a direct-to-fabric printing method is used, the fabric can be fed directly into a calender.

The pros of sublimation printed t-shirts

  • The colors are bright, bold and lively
  • The result is very long lasting

The cons of sublimation printed t-shirts

  • Works only with synthetic fibers
  • Works only with light colored fabrics

T-shirt with DTG print

DTG is the acronym of “ direct to garment ” (directly on the garment). This technology uses a pigment ink and works on a wide variety of fabrics. These devices are available in different sizes with a variable number of “plates”, or shapes that hold the garment in place during printing. Here’s how it works:
  1. Place the t-shirt on the plate, making sure it lines up correctly.
  2. Configure the graphics in the software and print.
  3. After the printing operation is complete, the ink must be cured using a separate heating unit.
  4. After a few minutes, the heat will fix the ink onto the t-shirt, which is ready to wear.

The pros of DTG printing

  • Ideal for large volume production
  • High quality print with a very fine texture to the touch

The cons of DTG printing

  • The equipment requires a greater investment
  • T-shirts must be pre-treated before printing.

Adding rhinestones to t-shirts

Brilliant effect! Rhinestones are a popular solution on t-shirts and clothing. Their use allows you to add an extra touch to printed t-shirts. Here’s how it works:
  1. Create your model using Roland R-Wear Studio .
  2. Using a vinyl cutter, cut out the template from the adhesive sandblasting stencil film.
  3. Apply the film to a flat surface, such as a tray, and remove the holes.
  4. Pour the rhinestones onto the film until all holes are filled.
  5. Apply the transfer paper over the rhinestones and use it to move them onto the t-shirt.
  6. Use the heat press to fix the rhinestones on the t-shirt.
  7. Allow the t-shirt to cool before removing the transfer paper.

The pros of adding rhinestones to t-shirts

  • It’s an inexpensive way to use your existing equipment
  • It is very popular for children’s and teenagers’ clothing

The Cons of Adding Rhinestones to T-Shirts

  • It takes practice to create effective models
  • It can take a long time

T-shirt with screen print

Using screen printing means making t-shirts in the traditional way. Screen printing has been around for almost a thousand years and is still used today by many companies that produce custom t-shirts. It works by using stencils to create a design and then using a squeegee (squeegee) to apply the ink to the material that is framed. It is very simple, very manual and very “artisanal”. These stencils can be cut by hand and applied to the frame. But you can speed things up by using a cutting plotter to create the stencils to put on the frames. Subsequently a coat of waterproof will be given so that the frame has some parts permeable to ink and others that are not.

The pros of screen printed t-shirts

  • The ink is long lasting and wash resistant
  • Small-scale basic equipment is inexpensive

The cons of screen printed t-shirts

  • Preparation is time consuming and customization for short runs is difficult and expensive.
  • Multi-color images or high-definition photos may not be reproduced as accurately as digital printing


Regardless of which approach you decide to use, it’s undeniable that digital printing technology offers many ways to create personalized T-shirts and achieve attractive margins. If you want to find out which solution is best suited to your needs, just contact Roland DG for free and precise advice.
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