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The Fine Print: Let's talk about tees!

How to Maximize the Life of your Custom Printed T-Shirts

Laundering custom t-shirts

It’s one of the most disappointing experiences when you have a custom t-shirt printed for fun, an event, or commemoration of some occasion just to have the print fade or the shape of the garment change after an initial few washes. You’re probably pretty familiar with the concept of shrinkage when laundering clothing but apparel that’s screen printed or digitally printed needs a little extra care to make sure the design stays vibrant over time.

First of all digitally printed tees use a different type of ink application than screen printed tees. For the convenience of offering affordable prices for single or low quantity orders we offer this print method. Products available for no minimum required custom t-shirt printing are marked "no minimum" on our website. It’s also ideal for full color photograph designs. When we use this method to print custom tees, the ink is absorbed into the t-shirt product. Basically the method is much like the kind of ink application your home printer uses to print images onto paper. This method also does not require screens to be burned with a press setup therefore it’s far more affordable for small orders. With all of these benefits, there are some drawbacks when it comes to the life of the design printed on the tee which we’ll address.

Screen printed custom t-shirts offer a lot more durability because the ink used is plastisol which literally has PVC particles in it making it a tougher ink. However some designs and effects cannot be replicated using this method. The ink rests on top of the fabric which also lends to more durability over time but screen printed apparel also requires basic care to lengthen the life of the print and the garment itself.

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The first thing we recommend when you’re ready to launder your tees is to always turn the garment inside out. This will help colors stay vibrant longer and may also assist to keep abrasive surfaces like zippers and buttons from agitating against the surface of your design. This can also help to clean the inside of the tee more efficiently which is ideal since the inside is what makes contact with sweat and oils from skin.

Separate by color and fabrics. Most people are already familiar with the concept of keeping colors separated like not washing whites with red, or pigment dyed clothing with color fast clothing. When colors are transferred in the wash, it will likely be permanent. But separating by fabric types can also be beneficial. Rougher materials like denim can cause damage to softer fabrics like 100% cotton by abrasion over time.

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Always wash in cold water. This isn’t just true for custom printed t-shirts; this is true for almost any fabrics. Hot water not only introduces the possibility of shrinking the fabric, it’s more caustic to the fiber and can cause degradation of the fibers over time. Reserve washing items in warm or hot water for when the fabric is heavily soiled or if you’ve come into contact with something that requires serious sanitation. If it’s only soiled in a spot or two, use a pre-treatment but try to avoid applying this directly on any printed area.

Stay away from bleach. Bleach is caustic soda and chlorine. Besides being ruinous to adhesive applications like custom names and numbers for sports team, it also can produce deadly gases when combined with other household cleaners. Bleach and dish soap creates WWII era mustard gas. Bleach and ammonia creates deadly gas as well so beyond the safety factor, it’s not something recommended for textiles in spite of what your grandmother may say. There are other alternatives, but here again, it’s not recommended to apply any whitening agent directly to a custom printed design.

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Keep your clothes out of the dryer. Drying custom printed clothing in clothes dryers is certainly time saving and convenient but it can cause damage to both screen printed and digitally printed t-shirts. Screen printed designs can crack or peel and it degrades the vibrancy of digitally printed designs as well. Not to mention the dreaded shrinkage factor of the t-shirt overall. For the safest method of drying your clothes, either hang dry inside or lay on a flat surface after reshaping to extend the life of your printed t-shirts. Don’t hang dry outside because the sun can also have a bleaching effect on your design. Over long periods of contact with direct sunlight, the design can fade significantly.

Never iron a custom printed t-shirt. It seems like an unusual scenario for most but ironing over decorated apparel can cause sublimation of the dye used to colorize the fabric into the design itself plus it weakens the ink used to print the design.

Garment care has evolved dramatically over time primarily because we now have an excess of affordably manufactured garments and the luxury of household appliances that do most of the hard work for us. In past ages, decoration of apparel was done either by embroidery, applique of gems, beads, and lace, or through dying with pigments, and stamping with blocks. Textile designs were also created through weaving. Screen printing textiles in the modern era is most closely associated with wood block printing as different blocks would need to be created for each color used in the design like using different screens for different colors of ink.

Decorated apparel was primarily reserved for the rich as any of these methods used to customize cloth was labor intensive and thus costly. Caring for these luxury items must have given any poor wash maid anxiety when handling such delicate and expensive clothing particularly when the process of cleaning garments was basically brutal.

To clean clothing and household linens like sheets, and bedding, the dirt was literally beaten out of the fabric with tools that were little more than sticks. Urine and ash was used to make soap so you can imagine that while the item may have looked clean, it probably had a curious smell to it.

We’ve advanced tremendously as a society since those days however the care of custom apparel to extend the value and life of garments has not changed all that dramatically.

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