Is there a cheap, high-quality screenprinting kit for T-shirts?
December 15, 2003 4:55 AM   Subscribe

For a while now, my ex-fashion student Kaffrin, and writing student Me have been wanting to hop aboard the t-shirt printing bandwagon. Is there a cheap, high-quality screenprinting kit out there? Or any better suggestions than inkjet iron-ons to get images and text from a computer screen onto fabric?
posted by armoured-ant to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If your okay with outsourcing your production needs entirely, can do it all for you as well as put your digital works on a ton of other products, and you'll have the nice side effect of being able to sell online as well. They'll make them up and ship to the customer, but the shirts are $13.99 each. I did check though, and if you order 15 or more the costs go down to $9.09 each. You could then stock/sell them as needed.

I'm sure you can get a cheaper deal elsewhere though I'm not sure where. Doing it on your own, for sure, would be cheaper in the short run but if you factor in costs of ink and equipment failure from overuse (no idea how modern desktop printers can handle this sort of thing) it might not be worth it. Cost of the "blank" t-shirts would also come into play as you probably won't want the $3 t-shirts that fall apart at the slightest breeze. Outsorcing sort of helps you implement economies of scale before you could do so on your own, meaning a higher quality shirt and lower costs of printing (we hope), and labor, for the same price. The reduced labor costs alone might be worth it, giving the designers more time to innovate rather than deal with production.

Oh, and if you do end up using an online method, I recommend ordering one copy of your "finished" product before unleashing it on your consumers. It saved me from having unhappy customers and it'll let you be comfortable with the quality of the product. I've no idea of how good cafepress' t-shirts are so it might be a good idea.

P.S. Anyone know of any of cafepress' competitors? I wanted to make this post seem less ad like but... I can't locate anyone else to link to!
posted by jwells at 6:31 AM on December 15, 2003

There's Zazzle...
posted by taz at 6:47 AM on December 15, 2003

jwells has a good argument - my sig.other is writing a book, and she is going to publish it on cafe press and do all sorts of other "branding" things. If you want to screenprint [it is fun] Dick Blick sells a Complete Photo/Textile Screen Printing Kit for US$300, but here are some DIY cites:

The DIY Guide to Screenprinting
A DIY Guide to Screen Printing T-shirts for Cheap
Valley Litho Supply
Speedball Catalog
posted by plemeljr at 6:52 AM on December 15, 2003

If your design is stencil-friendly, well, make a stencil. Cheap and effective.
posted by tomharpel at 7:06 AM on December 15, 2003

Kind of aside, but not really: Has anybody out there actually seen a CafePress T-shirt in physical reality? I mean, how do they look? Since the company's still around and I haven't seen any real negative buzz, I gotta assume they're OK quality, but I'm just going on circumstantials so far. I'm considering doing some CafePress stuff but don't know anyone who can definitively vouch for the quality of these items... anyone?
posted by soyjoy at 7:17 AM on December 15, 2003

Here is a useful t-shirt stencil printing tutorial.
posted by tomharpel at 7:20 AM on December 15, 2003

soyjoy: I haven't seen the t-shirts but I have a mug and mousepad of my own creation. Those seem fine to me... I also got one of the large framed prints (10in. x 14in.) which looks fine from 3 inches away but if your right up to it it's possible to see lines and abberations from the digital printing process. I'd imagine the t-shits would be the same, though I'm working with photographs here. Simple logos might be a different world.
posted by jwells at 7:25 AM on December 15, 2003


Uh oh... Freudian slip?

Thanks, though.
posted by soyjoy at 8:31 AM on December 15, 2003

I have a ton of CafePress shirts. The cotton is nice, the shirts are printed on Hanes Beefy-Ts. The quality of the printing is really dependent on the submitted images. Be sure to read all of CafePress's image prep recommendations, and have as many pixels in the image as they ask for (usually anywhere from 150-300, depending on the product). Wash inside-out in cold water. I've been pretty happy with them for the past five years.

I would have our t-shirts printed more cheaply through a regular printer-- it's the order fulfillment that would kill me. I didn't want to turn my apartment into a t-shirt warehouse, and I didn't want to have to deal with packaging, calculating shipping costs, and hitting the post office every day, so CP was a good solution for us.

Bonus: They have kick ass customer service.
posted by astruc at 8:45 AM on December 15, 2003

CafePress shirts are fine for one-offs and the like, but I, unlike others would never do anything that needed to be *professional* with them. CafePress has good customer service and automagic website and fulfillment (you don't have to cash checks or take credit cards -- they do it -- and they ship the stuff, too). But the shirts kinda homemade.

Basically, what they do is print out your design on an iron-on and then iron it on for you. This means that your design will have transparent (but noticeable) rectuangular border around the edge. The iron-on is kinda shiny and also changes the drape of the shirt. It's a poor-mans solution and basically the best that can be done.

The expensive part of screen printing is not the printing or the ink. It's the screens -- cutting screens is basically the entire cost of the printing. So if you want to make just a few ( 1 to 30 ) shirts, you're basically out of luck. At 3 dozen, the price-per-shirt starts to drop dramatically and at 50 or so, you're better of having them done by a professional.

Fyi: Pixeltees does something similar -- but with a chunky techno aesthetic.
posted by zpousman at 11:33 AM on December 15, 2003

CafePress shirts are ugly, to put it bluntly. I bought one, and have never worn it, because it just looks crappy... and not in a good, ripped-shirt-aesthetic kind of way, either. The iron-on is really blatant and obvious.

There are some smaller shirt printers out there, though... I'm into Black Metal, and the size of the scene pretty much means that 100 band shirts is a pretty big order, yet screen-print shirts still get printed. Anyway, you might try checking here, they claim that they can get you a variety of quotes from custom screenprinters, some of whom are supposedly "happy to do a run of 10 shirts". It might cost more than the Cafepress shirts, but if you want them to look professional, there's no substitute for screen printing.

If you'd rather go with a low-cost solution, though, I'd suggest stencils on thrift-store T-shirts rather than Cafepress. Done right, the look is quite cool, and nothing's cheaper. You might be surprised at how many really nifty blank-on-at-least-one-side shirts the local Goodwill has.
posted by vorfeed at 1:15 PM on December 15, 2003

I have a cafepress shirt that turned out fairly well. The design itself was small enough (7 inches wide by 3 inches high) that you don't notice the iron-on rectangle that much. I chose white on white which I think is a good choice. Of course I intentionally avoid wearing it as I know it'll only be good for 10 or so washings before it looks crappy. Basic summary: cafepress is good enough but not great.
posted by woil at 2:15 PM on December 15, 2003

Response by poster: I've already toyed with the CafePress idea, and even started a store (no link, find it yourself), but given that I'm in the UK, they're less convenient (although not inaccessible). I've looked at tshirtcandy and pixeltees, but I hadn't seen Zazzle (any ideas of the quality at the last two?).

Points for homescreen printing have been most lovely so far. Thankyees! Continue!

Also: AskMeFi own0rz.
posted by armoured-ant at 7:05 PM on December 15, 2003

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