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Not All T-Shirts Are Created Equal, Part 2: Printing Techniques

Posted on March 18 2015

Alright, so now you have a better idea of the material quality that we start out with. Now how do we get our design onto that super soft shirt? After investing and spending so much time on selecting the best 100% combed ring-spun cotton and triblend shirts, we couldn’t use just any printing process.

Ok let’s first start out by clarifying one thing - we are not a “print on demand” operation. There are many services out there like CafePress, VistaPrint, and others that basically wait for an order to come in, then print your shirt using a special inkjet printer. This is what is known as Direct To Garment (DTG) printing. Now we don’t have an issue with this method, it’s just that we aspire to higher quality levels than current DTG technology can provide. Additionally, we didn’t want our customers to wait a week or so after they place their order to get their shirt!

So DTG is a quick and cheap way to get a graphic onto a shirt. But the result in our experience, is an inconsistent print quality, and often times the ink feels rubbery and colors do not look very bright at all. I do like to use this method for prototyping though, because I can print just one shirt at a time quickly to review the graphic and material options. But we never use this for mass production.

We don’t use these.

OK so DTG is out, then what other options are there? So screen printing is still the traditional way to make a t-shirt graphic look consistent and vibrant. The old school screen printing method uses ink called plastisol, and the prints using this ink will come out a bit on the stiff side. You probably have some shirts in your closet printed with this method and it’s a bit strange wearing a soft tee but then have this stiff and heavy print on your chest or back. Because of the thick ink, it’s not very breathable either. However, because it goes on very consistently and the colors do pop, we do use this method for our hoodies. You don’t notice the texture very much on a heavier garment, and I like the tougher texture for outerwear.

For our ADV Addicts Premium Tees, we use a couple different types of printing. One of them is called water-based printing or discharge. This actually uses an agent to remove the original color from the t-shirt fabric itself, then essentially re-dye it to the color we want. So the print actually becomes part of the shirt! There is no ink on top of the fabric! So as a result, you get a suprt soft print to go with your super soft shirt. And it’s more breathable than the traditional print method. This does take more time, and as a result, has a higher cost.

Another method we use for our tees is a hybrid of both the traditional plastisol and the dye methods. So what we do is use a discharge underbase, then use a soft mix ink on top of that. So for each graphic, it’s actually printed twice! So this is sort of the best of both worlds - you get a bright color print without the plasticky, heavy feel of the traditional ink techniques.

Why do we care so much about this? After all, it’s just a t-shirt. Well, I couldn’t bring myself to put our brand on just any cheap product readily available. Representing the most passionate ADV and Dual Sport riders out there, we wanted to obsess over each small detail of our shirts, just like ADV Addicts do with their bikes and gear.

This is what we do.

Hybrid Printing - it’s a big graphic, but not too heavy or scratchy. Colors still vibrant!

Waterbased / Discharge Printing. Handmade with a vintage look & feel will always have some natural variation in colors due to the fabric types, for example tri-blends.

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