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Creating high quality custom T-shirts
January 21, 2005 4:25 PM   Subscribe

I want to create a few custom T-shirts (1) where my image covers the entire shirt, not just a small rectangular area on the front or back, and (2) that are fitted, not those loose nerdy things, and (3) online. Accurate colour reproduction is fairly important. Is there an online store รก la CafePress that lets me do this?
posted by gentle to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I think you're going to have to find a real local screen printer, and be willing to buy more than a few of the same shirt.
posted by smackfu at 6:20 PM on January 21, 2005


I was afraid of that.
posted by gentle at 9:29 PM on January 21, 2005


If you're going to do an image over the entire shirt, why not ask a printer if you could work the printer's logo into the shirt somewhere (on a sleeve, or something similar) to get you a discount? If you're only buying a few shirts anyway, the printer won't be doing much better than breaking even, so he or she might be willing to give up a paltry profit for a little bit of advertising.

Unless, of course, your shirt is advocating anticonsumerism or something... heh... that would be a tasty irony. :)
posted by socratic at 9:52 PM on January 21, 2005


It's going to be real hard to find someone who can do an entire shirt; I sell shirts I design, and no screen-printer I know has a print-area larger than 15 or so inches. It'll have to be a multi-screen job, and will be a fair amount more expensive than cafepress. If you want, message me, and I'll send you the emails of the people I use.
posted by 235w103 at 11:55 PM on January 21, 2005


One way to do All-over t-shirts is to overprint them. This involves laying the shirt flat atop a large pallete and printing over the entire length and width of the shirt. This was popular briefly in the late 80s and early 90s as a secondary or primary imprint for a shirt.

Drawbacks: Registration for multiple colors is sloppy, like 1" sloppy. Monochrome is strongly encouraged. When the shirt is overprinted, wrinkles and everything are printed, including the collar, sleeves, hem, and everything. Screens are extra large and extra expensive. Expect 100-300 dollar screen charges per color.

This technique has probably died out. There were only a few domestic t-shirt shops in the states set up to do this at production quantities. My Dad's shop was one of them, but like a lot of other large scale production T-shirt imprinting shops, it was driven out of business over a decade ago by overseas and over the border outsourcing.

Note, that doing a multi-screen tile as 235w103 suggests probably wouldn't work well at all. It'll have even greater alignment/registration issues than overprinting. T-shirts are squirrelly, and don't take well to being moved or adjusted between print passes. They're not like pieces of flat paper that can be mechanically handled with repeated accuracy as in an offset press.


Another way to do this would be to print unsewn flat stock.

Find a digital print house with either a "grand" format inkjet printer or a large format inkjet banner printer that has a machine that can handle fabrics like canvas and cotton and whatnot.

With some experimentation you should be able to inkjet directly to jersey-knit t-shirt fabric or something like it. Then you'll have to sew the shirts yourselves or contract with someone who can. Chances are really good the digital print house doesn't ever do this sort of thing, so you'll have to take it to an actual sewing house or the like. Check the garment district of your nearest major city.

Many of the cool, over-the-top style graphical shirts you see with full-bleed full-color printing are printed as cut-piece or on the roll. Printing techniques vary widely, from direct inkjet, to dye sublimation, to continuous transfer print, to direct screenprint (in large swaths the width of the bolt of fabric and a few times that long per screen. Huge, barn-door sized screens!), roller prints, and more.

There will be issues with these direct imaging techniques as well. The ink may not hold on the fabric. Washing the printed fabric may make the colors run or wash out, depending on the fabric. Many fabrics may not feed well through the inkjet printer's substrate-drive system.

As for doing any of this online, it's as online as you're willing to make it with phonework and laying out the cash for the research and testing.

But for a few units, you're talking about some pretty expensive T-shirts. You might even consider just going down to the local airbrush monkey at the mall kiosk with a photo of what you want and the shirts you want it on.
posted by loquacious at 1:56 AM on January 22, 2005


Another avenue you might want to explore is companies that produce custom bike jerseys. Custom bike jerseys typically have a custom design over every square inch of fabric, so they're clearly set up for this kind of thing, and often work in pretty small lots (though probably bigger than you have in mind)

I don't think it'll be cheap, and they may not be set up to print on any kind of cut or fabric that you'd actually want to use, but it's worth googling and seeing what you can find.
posted by adamrice at 12:22 PM on January 22, 2005


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