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How to print on Promotional Products - Screen Printing - Sublimation - Digital Transfer - Direct Garment Printing

Updated on August 11, 2009
Direct Garment Printer
Direct Garment Printer
Home Sublimation Printer
Home Sublimation Printer
T-Shirt and Mug Heat Press
T-Shirt and Mug Heat Press


When I started working as Graphic Artist back in the 70's Screen Printing was the main way of printing Promotional Products. T-Shirts, Caps, Drink Holders and T-Towels were all printed in this way. As time went on methods changed a little: For instance Plastisol Transfers were Screen Printed onto Transfer material and Pressed onto the products at the customers factory. This significantly changed the Cap industry, but not the T-Shirt market. Embroidery came along in the 90's and became the main way of decorating Caps, it hit the Plastisol Transfer Printers Hard. The Screen Printers were still kept busy with T-Shirts however.


The next big Technology change came when Sublimation Printing hit the market. Offset Printing had been producing Sublimation Transfers for Fabric for some time, but it could only print on Polyester, which made uncomfortable 'clingy' garments. Sublimation Inks were developed for Ink Jet Printers after 2000, and at the same time the 'Cool Dry' Sports material was developed using 100% polyester. Cool Dry material is radically different than the old Polyester and actually lets moisture out. Inkjet Printers can print full Photographic Prints and are not limited to colors. There are no films or screens and the set up is vastly cheaper than Screen Printing and a lot less messy. Sublimation Transfers can also print on the Neoprene Drink Holder Material and rapidly took over this huge market which had been exclusively Screen Printed.
Sublimation Printing can be done small scale at home with an Ink jet Printer and a Heat Press. It is a cheap way to get involved in the Promotional industry. It also prints on Mugs, Plates and many other specially coated objects. Cool dry shirts are readily available as is a ready local market of Sports Clubs and Small Business. You can viably print small print runs (one item if need be). Sublimation Printing is also used Large scale on huge Plotters producing the majority of today's sports clothing


There has also been substantial improvements on Transfer Materials designed to work with Ink Jet Printers or Laser Printers using the inks that come with these printers. The Heat Pressed transfers are both permanent and durable if pressed with the right equipment namely a good professional heat press.

Unlike Sublimation Printing, these transfers will print on all fabrics that can withstand the temperature of a heat press, which includes cotton T-Shirts.

Again this is a very cheap way to get into the Promotional business.


The last big nail in the coffin for Screen Printing is Direct Garment Printing. These amazing machines print fabric ink directly on to the Garment. They can even Print White inks. Small machines are available for as little as $15,000 dollars and are rapidly taking over the T-Shirt printing market. These printers will print onto virtually any kind of material and cure the ink by using a heat press or a heat tunnel.


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      lalith 7 years ago

      I fully agree and have experienced the things given in the writeup and have been doing all this from 1986

      and just two days back have booked the roll transfer heating machine to do large format sublimation printing if you can guide me in what all we can do by the Sublimation process

      will be of great help

      Lalith Jain

    • profile image

      Promotional Products Australia 8 years ago

      Hi Rodrick,

      Thanks for the article, although I don't agree with all of it. While it provides a good overview of different decoration techniques, I don't agree with conclusion that direct garment printing will kill screenprinting. Rather, I think it will grow from a niche product to take away all work that is low-mid volume and multiple colours. However unless the technology comes a long way both in terms of cost per print and in terms of the opacity of inks on dark garments i can't see it hurting screenprinting too such in the area of t-shirts.

    • siennapacific profile image

      siennapacific 8 years ago from California

      I am in love with DTG. Can't wait to get my hands in one of those printers. Thanks for the complete info.